I think it's fair to state that the average American woman has a pretty rocky relationship with dieting. And who can blame her? With so many dieting products, systems, and findings telling her what to eat and avoid to stay healthy and slim, it's hard not to get a little neurotic about it.
Even some of the fittest women we know still stress about their eating habits. But according to Andrew Johnston, holistic nutrition guru and author of Spot On: Nutrition ($10), the only true mistake when it comes to dieting is dieting in the first place. That is to say, our bodies simply aren't meant to go through the restrictions we so often put them through. "One needs to ensure that caloric (and nutritional) intake is sufficient to convince our biochemistry that another Ice Age isn't coming!" he says.
The following seven diet habits are restrictive, unnatural, and unhealthy, but even so, plenty of healthy women still think they are good for you. According to Johnston, as well as two other nutrition experts, nutrition doesn't have to be so complicated. Read on to find out seven of the most common diet mistakes (and what you can do to fix them)!
"Using synthetic, lab-made chemicals to add sweetness to your food should be avoided, especially if you're trying to lose fat," says Diane Sanfilippo, certified nutrition consultant and bestselling author of Practical Paleo. According to her, here's why: Our bodies store toxins in our fat cells in order to protect our organs, and these sweeteners only serve to further burden our bodies with toxins.
Instead of artificial sugar substitutes, try sweetening your food with small amounts of natural sweeteners, like dried dates, honey, maple syrup, and berries. We're also big fans of the natural sugar substitute Lokanto ($19), an amazing monk fruit–derived sweetener.
You might think gnawing on sugar-free gum and celery throughout the day will satisfy your snack cravings, but it actually does just the opposite. "The action of chewing sends a signal to our bodies that food is coming and time to ramp up digestive function to prepare," Sanfilippo says. "But if you're not delivering calories through food after you start chewing, you're sending mixed signals to your body." This can cause you to feel hungry when you don't need to be.
To keep food cravings at bay, avoid chewing on anything in between meals. Instead, Sanfilippo recommends sipping on sparkling water with mint and cucumber until you plan to give your body some actual food.
Some of the world's fittest women swear by juice cleanses and liquid detoxes. But according to Sanfilippo, the logic behind them "couldn't be more wrong." See, the body has its own, natural detox function, supported by the liver. Some of the nutrients necessary for the liver to do its thing include B vitamins and choline, which aren't typically found in liquid detoxes. So by doing a liquid detox, you're preventing your body from doing its own.
"Many people rely on green juices to help support detox, which isn't a bad idea, but they don't need to be consumed in the absence of real, whole foods," Sanfilippo says. "The best way to drink them would be alongside high-quality protein sources, not instead of whole foods."
Apparently, this myth drives nutrition experts especially crazy. "The fact is that while numerical values may be the same, little else is the same when it comes to the calories between an avocado and a cookie," says Candice Seti, a clinical psychologist and certified nutrition coach. "Sugary foods, highly processed foods, and the like—even those low in calories—trigger inflammatory reactions in the body, promote cravings, and deprive the body of much-needed macronutrients and micronutrients."
The bottom line? "When it comes to calories look at quality before considering quantity," Seti says.
This mistake has everything to do with your mindset surrounding food and nutrition. "The idea of 'cheating' on your diet is commonly spouted advice from a range of different health professionals," Seti says. "The problem? This philosophy makes your eating habits seem like a restricted, temporary diet rather than an optimal healthy way of eating."
This doesn't mean "naughty" foods are totally off-limits, either. "Feel free to indulge in a treat now and then—it will help keep you from feeling deprived—but, don't have a regularly scheduled day to 'cheat,'" Seti says.
As much as diet experts advise against it, even fit women often flat-out skip meals to cut down on calorie intake. The mistake here is that when you don't eat enough, the body freaks out, and as a survival mechanism, it produces more fat-making enzymes and fewer fat-burning enzymes, says Johnston. "Frequent feedings keep your metabolism elevated," he adds. So make sure to feed your body frequently. Try a protein-rich snack, like an apple with organic cashew butter ($19).
Plenty of otherwise fit women are still stingy with their fats, but Johnston says this is a mistake. "Eating fat actually curbs appetite by triggering the release of the hormone that causes fullness," he explains. "The right type of fat helps mediate the response to carbohydrate and protein to help stabilize blood sugar."
Want more doable diet tips? Check out seven legitimate weight loss tips we learned from extreme diets.