The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Trying to Eat Healthy

Eat Healthy
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

So you've decided to start eating healthier -- wonderful! Perhaps you'll join a fancy gym. Maybe you'll seek weight-loss advice from people who've dropped pounds before you. And it's entirely possible you'll step on the scale and still not see the progress you were after.

Well-intentioned diets can go wrong in so many ways. Here are some sneaky diet mistakes that may be screwing up your progress.

Being too trusting with "healthy" labels

If you're looking to lose weight, you may be drawn to foods marked "Fat-free!" or "Low-calorie!" Little portioned packs of cookies can seem like a virtuous alternative to the real thing, but when companies reduce the fat or calorie content of a product, they often use more salt, sugar, and additives to make the food taste good. Additionally, studies show that people who perceive something to be low-fat or low-calorie actually consume more than they normally would. Think about it… can you really stick to one of those sad little 100-calorie packs? Try these filling snacks instead.

Ignoring moderation because "it's healthy!"

So you're eating fresh, whole foods. You've learned that avocado is a great source of healthy fat! While there are plenty of delicious foods that are nutritional powerhouses, that doesn't mean you can shovel three large slices of #avocadotoast into your gaping maw every morning and expect to shed pounds. Portion control is key, and while you may hear that you can eat as many fruits and vegetables as you want, you need to be aware that even whole foods contain sugars, starches, and calories… and they add up.

On the flip side, restricting yourself too much

When you don't give your body enough calories, you're basically stunting your potential for progress. If you don't take in adequate fuel, your metabolism slows way down to compensate. It needs stored energy, a great source of which is body fat. You'll be holding on to that fat and instead breaking down precious calorie-burning muscle tissue. Also, you'll be hungry and tired as hell, often leading to overeating and half-assed workouts. Talk about a backfire.

Thinking carbs are the enemy

There is no such thing as a no-carb diet. You need carbohydrates to function, as they provide the body with glucose, your primary source of energy. Weight-loss expert Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, says, "Low-carb diets may jump-start your weight loss in the short term, but it doesn't last in the long term." That's because everything from beans to yogurt contains carbs -- you can't eliminate everything. Instead, follow the daily American dietary guidelines, which suggest filling every plate half-full with fruits/veggies, a quarter-full with proteins, and a quarter-full with healthy carbs. As for processed options like white bread and pasta? Yes, those guys are actually the enemy.

Skipping breakfast to shed pounds

There are tons of reasons why people skip breakfast: morning meals upset their stomach, they "don't have time," they ate pizza at 4am. But the most stupid reason for skipping breakfast? Thinking it'll help with weight loss. A recent study done by Ohio State University shows that skipping meals leads to abdominal weight gain. "Skipping meals to save calories... sets your body up for larger fluctuations in insulin and glucose and could be setting you up for more fat gain instead of fat loss," confirms Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State. Why is this so important for morning meals? You're literally breaking your nighttime fast. Get that metabolism humming early to reap benefits all day.

Thinking all calories are created equal

If you're going to count calories, make sure you're paying attention to quality in addition to quantity. You need to be consuming foods that are satiating and nutritious, especially if you're incorporating exercise and strength training into your weight-loss plan. Eating 1,500 calories of chips, cookies, and soda is not the same as eating 1,500 calories of lean proteins and whole, unprocessed foods. There are different types of calories that can determine how effectively your body can torch them. Aim for filling, whole foods and you may find yourself consuming far fewer calories than you thought you needed.

Completely eliminating "unhealthy" foods

Have you ever been told you couldn't have something and then found yourself becoming obsessed with having it? There's psychology behind this phenomenon. By cold-turkey depriving yourself of something you enjoy, you're setting yourself up to fail and eat the forbidden fruit (though let's be real, it's probably not fruit in this case). This practice often leads to cycles of binging and guilt, making it less likely to sustain a diet. Live by the 80/20 rule: 80% healthy, whole foods with 20% indulgences. This way, you don't feel like you're missing out on anything and can better savor said indulgences.

Forgetting about the calories you drink

You're tallying every morsel you put into your mouth, you can't stand another bite of grilled chicken, and you've finally kicked your soda habit… so why isn't the scale moving? It's time to think about what you're drinking. With all the options out there, from coffees to green juices, it's easy to overlook all the calories you could be slurping up on a daily basis. Take notice of how much cream goes into your coffee and whether the huge happy hour glass of wine is really a standard pour. You may find yourself cutting hundreds of calories per day with some small adjustments.

Assuming a smoothie bowl is a smoothie bowl is a smoothie bowl

Just because something has a "health halo" doesn't mean it's right for your goals. You can scroll through the Instagrams of fitness models sharing their matcha teas and bowls of acai, but that doesn't mean the one you go and order won't have 700 calories and a million grams of sugar. Make your own versions of praised health foods so you know exactly what's going into them.

Overloading on protein

While protein is an essential part of a balanced diet, loading up on more than you need will not lead to extra #gainz, just extra weight gain. There's only so much protein your body can process, just like any other macronutrient, and the rest will just be converted to fat. You should aim for about .8g per kilogram of body weight if you want to protect your muscle mass, which amounts to about 8g per 20lbs of body weight. An overall takeaway to live by is "everything in moderation."

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Sarah Anderson is a former Thrillist employee and current law student. She sometimes eats whole watermelons by herself and knows it’s wrong, OK?! Make sure she’s eating breakfast @smileforsarah and @sarah_jfa.