The lead-up to summer is a popular time to diet. Whether you’re preparing for swimsuit season or have pledged to get in shape, springtime can renew focus on nutrition.
Before you go full-speed-ahead on that new diet your friend swears by, make sure you're doing it in a way that's safe, healthy and effective.
Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health, shares the common mistakes you should avoid when trying to reach a healthy weight and body composition.
Thinking of eating healthfully as temporary.
"People tend to think of dieting as black and white," says Hunnes. "Either you're on a diet and constantly thinking about the types of food you're eating, or you're not."
That's a mistake, says Hunnes, who advises people not to be so stark or extreme with their nutrition. "Eating habits like consuming only one type of food or avoiding all carbs are not sustainable long term," she says.
Instead, we should make nutrient-dense, non-processed healthful foods the norm for our daily food intake.
Relying on fad diets.
New fad diets crop up every day – from juice cleanses to the ketogenic diet to meal plans that eliminate entire food groups; however, new diets do not necessarily offer a comprehensive solution to nutrition.
Hunnes says there are many potential problems with such diets.
"Fad diets can have quick burnout," she says. "They can cause people to not feel satiated, and they can slow your metabolism down significantly."
Instead of looking for a silver bullet, make sure to balance your meals with protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Treating exercise as the whole answer.
If you think you can just shed the calories of anything you eat through exercise, think again.
"It only takes a couple minutes to out-eat any exercise you do if you're eating poorly," says Hunnes. "Walking for half an hour is not going to offset a cheeseburger."
Instead, Hunnes suggests focusing on consistency when it comes to meal make-up. Eating a mostly plant-based diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes will keep you on the right track.
Focusing only on short-term benefits.
Dieting tends to imply a short-term focus, with the diet viewed as temporary and the benefits considered over months instead of years. Often, we don't realize the lasting benefits of healthful nutrition, says Hunnes.
"We tend to overlook the long-term impact of a healthy diet and weight," she says. "In the long run, a healthy diet and weight can reduce our health-care expenses."
Even if minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods can seem more expensive than other foods, consider the potential savings for the future. And it doesn't hurt that oftentimes, locally-sourced, healthful foods can be more affordable than processed ones.