A healthy lifestyle is an ideal that we all strive for. Eat right, exercise regularly, get enough sleep. It seems pretty simple, right? But, we all know that it’s much more complicated than a few simple words. While you might be successful in one area, like meeting your diet goals during the week, you can easily fall short in another by not exercising regularly. If you’re still in « diet » mode, temporarily changing your habits just until you reach your goal, then one of these dieting dilemmas could be preventing your from reaching your goals – and achieving a permanent, healthy lifestyle. Your diet might be making (or keeping) you fat if…
You fail on the weekends.
You strive to eat well and hit the gym throughout the week, but once you leave work on Friday evening, all bets are off. Weekends should definitely be used for unwinding and relaxing, but be careful not to go overboard and cancel out all of the hard work you put in during the week. One weekend of overeating, overdrinking, and under-exercising can easily undo the healthy diet and exercise program you followed for five days, stalling your progress towards your goals.
Instead, view weekends as a chance to do the things that you enjoy and spend quality time with your family and friends. « Weekends » should not be synonymous with calorie splurges or alcohol binges. Use your free time constructively: plan your menu for the upcoming week, design a new workout routine, take your time grocery shopping, and read your favorite health magazine. Try cooking up a big batch of healthy meals on Sunday that you can eat without much fuss during the week.
Take advantage of your time away from work to get outside and be active. Weekends are the perfect time to play tennis, go on a walk or work in your yard. Get your kids and other loved ones involved as well; weekends are YOUR time to enjoy physical activity—without watching the clock or keeping a strict schedule!
You make exercise excuses.
No doubt, it’s difficult to make exercise a priority in your life. Perhaps you had an extra busy week and didn’t have a spare moment to get the gym. Soon thereafter, that exercise-free week turned into two, then three weeks and so on. Exercise can help you reach your weight loss goals much faster than dieting alone. Plus, strength training builds lean muscle that fires up your metabolism so you burn more calories all day long. Are you really « too busy » to include even a little exercise, a few times a week, or are your priorities elsewhere? Taking a 10-minute walk IS better than no exercise at all. Anything that gets your heart rate up and blood flowing is a good start.
You don’t care where calories come from, as long as you are under your goal.
It’s easy (and important) to focus on the calories, but you should also focus on the quality of foods your calories are coming from, as well as meeting other nutrient goals. There is a huge difference between eating 400 calories of chocolate for lunch and enjoying a 400-calorie salad, loaded with leafy greens, beans, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers. For one, the salad will fill you up longer, and boost your protein, fiber, vitamin, mineral, and health-enhancing phytochemical intakes. Chocolate, on the other hand, will leave you hungry for the same number of calories.
Make sure you get the most out of what you are eating. If you eat too many high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, you’re more likely to overeat and less likely to meet your body’s nutritional needs. This increases your risk of lifestyle diseases related to diet, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis. Think about the sources of your calories as you plan out your daily menu.
You starve during the day and gorge during the evening.
You might think that eating as little as possible throughout the day will help you lose weight. Perhaps you skip breakfast altogether and only eat a small snack during the day. But if you don’t fuel your body regularly throughout the day, you’re more likely to binge in the evening—at dinner and into the late evening. Plus, without adequate nutrition all day, your metabolism will wane, and slow, making your energy levels low and weight loss even harder.
Instead, space out your meals and snacks evenly throughout the day. Always start with breakfast, which is proven to help people lose weight, and enjoy a good balance of nutrients—lean protein, whole grains or unprocessed carbohydrates (fruits for example), and healthy fats like nuts—every time you eat. Eating at regular intervals will keep your energy high and your metabolism boosted while warding off hunger.
You go « off » your diet on special occasions.
This is a very slippery slope once you step onto it. An extra drink for a friend’s birthday, a high-fat dessert at your co-worker’s retirement party, and pretty soon, you view almost every « special occasion » as a way to justify overindulging in excess calories. You enjoy these special treats so often that you’re « off » your diet again, eating everything with a last supper mentality until you’re ready to re-start your diet next week, next month, or next year.
Be careful. One key to a healthy lifestyle is moderation, and moderation means setting limits, applying portion control, and making choices based on long-term health goals, not immediate gratification. If you know that you have a family picnic (i.e. unhealthy food fest) coming up, do your best to maintain your healthy eating and exercise habits in the days prior to it. Go on an extra walk or make an extra trip the gym. Make sure that you eat a balanced breakfast the day of the event, and consider eating a healthy meal before you arrive so that your hunger won’t tempt you to overindulge. It’s okay to enjoy yourself and to celebrate important events in your friends’ lives, as well as your own. Make your friends and experiences the center of these occasions—not the food.
When you’re « on a diet » excuses like these make it easy to go off of it. After all, you just go back on again once you’re done having your fun. Forget the « diets » and start going on a « healthy lifestyle » instead.