The internet is beyond saturated with dieting advice, and constantly reading about what we're supposed to eat or not supposed to eat to stay fit can be stressful. Americans have a deep-seated obsession with learning what models, celebrities, and athletes are eating to lose weight, and as a culture, we're constantly trying new dieting tips (though we often fail to meet our fitness goals). However, according to personal trainer Andrew Johnston, author of Spot On: Nutrition (and the first leukemia survivor to finish the Hawaii Ironman World Championship), out of all the advice on the web, there is only one dieting tip we need to remember throughout life.
We asked Johnston to tell us the number one dieting mistake that even the world's fittest women (celebrities included) tend to make. And his answer was surprisingly refreshing.
Want to do something good for your physical, mental, and emotional state? Keep reading to find out the terrible diet mistake you're probably making (and how to fix it).
The Diet Mistake You're Probably Making
"Dieting at all" is truly the worst thing you can do for your mental and physical health, says Johnston. That's right: The mere act of dieting is messing with your mind and body. What Johnston means by "dieting" is forcing yourself to eat less, even when your body is signaling that you're hungry. Dieting is something that society tells us we need to do, but our physiology as humans has not caught up with that demand, so when we restrict our calories, Johnston says we're setting our bodies up for failure. As he explains, "One needs to ensure that caloric (and nutritional) intake is sufficient to convince the biochemistry that another ice age isn't coming!"
Intuitive eating counselor Vania Phitidis puts it like this: When we restrict our caloric intake, a primitive part of our brains tells us we're in danger of starving. Our brains don't understand that we're not in an actual famine, so it tells the rest of our body to behave as if we were. Our metabolism slows down, and when we finally allow ourselves a cheat meal, we become ravenous. That puts us in an anxiety-inducing cycle of depriving our bodies of nutrients, then rapidly gaining weight.
The Boston Medical Center has reported that an estimated 45 million Americans go on diets every year, meaning a huge percentage of the population is falling victim to this unhealthy process.
What You Should Do Instead
Trainers, nutritionists, and doctors all agree that instead of restricting calories, the key to healthy eating is making sure you simply eat the right foods to your heart's content. Registered dietitian Lauren O'Connor defines a healthy eater as someone who has a "well-balanced diet, thrives on whole-food nutrition, limits highly processed foods, and has a healthy relationship with food." In other words, the only foods you need to limit are the ones that make you feel mentally and physical unwell (pre-packaged snacks, fried foods, etc.). Once you embrace the mindset that healthy foods are meant to be enjoyed and eaten in abundance, you'll never think of "dieting" again.