What We REALLY Need To Know About Diets

We’re coming up on that time of year again. People start thinking about how their lives will magically change when the ball drops in Times Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve just because of the “resolutions” they’re going to make. Most people don’t create a plan for actually following through on those resolutions, but that’s a topic for another post…

Every year, for as long as I can remember, hundreds of thousands of people “resolve” to lose weight. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them decide to go with the latest fad diet to do so. As a health coach, this is pretty disconcerting, because so many of these “diets” are just not healthy at all. So, what should we REALLY know in order to make losing weight a smart resolution that will have us ending the next year in a healthier condition than we started?

Here are eight common mistakes we tend to make when trying to get a handle on our body shape. If you know someone who can relate, now’s your chance to guide them back to a healthier life. Go ahead, click “share,” I don’t mind.


1. Diets (especially those advertised on TV) Don’t Work

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. TV commercials for weight loss are some of my favorite things to laugh about. “Eat pizza, pancakes and cake and still lose weight!” Uhm…really? What about nutrition? And, how many times have I seen that paid celebrity endorser go back and forth between multiple dress sizes? If she’s getting PAID to lose weight and can’t keep it off, what on earth makes us think we’ll be successful?

Here’s the real deal: Most of these diets take a low calorie approach in order to get these supposed “great results.” The problem is that they have a huge failure rate over the long term. You see, once the diet is “over,” we go back to our regular eating, and quickly rebound to our old weight, but with even more fat than before. Why is that? Because the pounds that we lost eating just 1000 (or less!) calories a day, didn’t really cause us to lose FAT, instead, it caused our bodies to consume our metabolically active lean MUSCLE. Sure, the number on the scale went down, but it didn’t improve our health, and probably didn’t make us look any better naked, either. And, to top it off, we ended up slowing our metabolism, which makes it even harder to lose that fat the next time.

As if all of that isn’t enough to make us swear off diets forever, let’s not forget the emotional side of things. The behaviors that led us to add those 10, 20, 30 (or more) pounds never get addressed through a diet. No amount of eating prepackaged foods, or counting points is ever going to address this issue once we suddenly find ourselves on our own again. These programs aren’t designed to help us succeed. Think about it…if they were, they wouldn’t be around for long. They don’t want us to become a healthy eater, to build more muscle, or heal those metabolic challenges. Nope, they need us as repeat customers, losing that same 10-15 pounds over and over again. (We won’t even talk about the ingredients in those pre-packaged foods and what those can do to us long term.).

It’s important to accept responsibility for ourselves and the excess weight we have added. Put in some real effort to learn to prepare nutritious meals for ourselves and our families, stop being dependent on a “diet” and start focusing on a healthy LIFESTYLE.


2. Searching For The Secret Formula

We all seem to be on the hunt for some “secret formula” to this perfect body. It can’t possibly be boozing it up every weekend, daily pumpkin spice lattes, or a steady stream of breadsticks and pasta that’s causing us to fail. No, it clearly must be a deficiency in some sort of special Amazonian pink flower syrup! Yeah, right. *sigh*

Let’s face it, it’s hard to really be honest about what we’re eating. I think that most of us probably do have an idea of changes we need to make, but without having a Coach to say, “stop eating that,” we keep the junk in our diets and fool ourselves into thinking that we can just eat smaller portion sizes. For some reason, petite-sized servings of crappy food somehow make us think that we will end up with the body we want (go back to number one if you’re not sure why that’s a bad plan).

We must actually acknowledge that our daily behaviors are what cause the real problem. It’s not what we do SOME of the time that matters. It’s what we do MOST of the time. So, instead of scouring the internet or watching daytime TV shows for some sort of secret fat loss formula, we simply need a solid commitment to stop making bad food choices.

A daily food journal is a great tool. Write down everything that gets consumed, the time and how it makes you feel. What about snacks? Trips to Starbucks? EVERYTHING goes on the journal…even if we eat something that we know we shouldn’t, we owe it to ourselves to be honest. A Coach will evaluate the journal and point out where we’re cheating our body so that we can really begin to move forward towards our goals. No pink flower syrup is required.


3. Eating Fake Health Food

This is one of my major pet peeves as a Coach. Just because something purports to be a “health food” on the package, doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Let’s take fiber as an example. Say we want to increase our fiber intake because we heard that it helps with fat loss (That’s not a myth; it’s scientifically proven, by the way.). What do we do? We head to the aisles in the grocery store looking for anything that says, “extra fiber,” right? What we fail to look at are the details on the nutrition panel and the ingredients list. Frequently these fake “health foods” are nothing more than a great source of processed sugar. Sugar has many names, and some of them even sound uber-healthy…like coconut crystals or organic agave nectar syrup. The bottom line is that they still do the same thing in our body. Also keep in mind that foods advertising, “gluten free,” “fat free,” “sugar free” and “organic” can still make us fat.

Just to be sure I’m really getting through, let’s bring rationalization into play. If it’s “healthy,” I can eat all of it that I want, right? Not if we’re serious about successful weight management, we can’t. Those marketing ploys (that’s all the front of the box is, you know) don’t give us a license to just scarf it down. In fact, these processed concoctions frequently make us crave more and more sugar. They don’t contain good nutrition, and really serve no other purpose than to give us the false sense of being “good” when really, it’s not much different than just eating that Snickers bar in the first place (not that I’m advocating for you to do that, mind you).

The same is true for most all of the protein shake products that are on the market. They pretend to be nutritious, but if we read the nutrition label we’ll find that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Look at the carbohydrate to fiber ratio. You want the difference between those two numbers to be in the single digits, protein in the double digits and sugar content to be less than 4 grams per serving. Anything else isn’t doing us any favors when it comes to weight management. And, if we’re using it as a meal replacement rather than as a snack, we’ve restricted our calories to an extent that the weight we’re losing is most likely muscle (Yep, that’s right…go back and look at number one again.).

Stick with real foods: meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and fruits. And, if you do need a portable snack as a supplement for on-the-go, or workout recovery, let me know. I have access to the best of the best that not only won’t derail your weight loss efforts, they will support them.


4. Ignoring The Nutrition-Exercise Connection: The 80/20 Rule

Have you ever noticed that some people always seem to be “on a diet?” But, the weird thing is that for the most part, they’re usually perpetually a little on the “fluffy” side, am I right? I mean, really, what’s keeping them from ever reaching their goals? Failure to find that 80/20 balance, that’s what!

It’s true, we just can’t out-exercise bad nutrition (80% of the battle). But, at the same time, if we’re going for a lean body that allows us feel energized and be healthy, we can’t neglect it either. Building lean muscle through resistance training will help boost our metabolism. It’s a scientific fact that those with more muscle burn more fat. So, hit that 20% exercise and build up those muscles. And, yes, I mean you too, ladies.

A good cardio workout is also a must, but don’t go too hard, or for too long. We need to work at about 55-65% of our maximum heart rate so that our workout is FAT burning, rather than just burning sugars. Don’t forget to fuel up both before and after with a small balanced snack of lean protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates (Yes, I said carbohydrates…keep reading, you’ll see why.).

A word of caution: Even though exercise is good for us, it does create a stress on our adrenals. So, for that reason, more is not always better. Keep workouts to around an hour. It’s also important to exercise alternating muscle groups on alternating days so that the lean body we’re building will be balanced. All leg work, and nothing for the arms or core won’t give us the body we want to see. Remember: skinny isn’t healthy, but lean and fit looks great both in and out of clothes.


5. Not Understanding Carbohydrates

“I know I have to quit eating carbs.” I hear this from clients all the time, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. The issue is with what we think of when we say the word “carbohydrate.” Clearly we don’t need bread and rolls at every meal and potato chips and Doritos aren’t a fit person’s friend. But, complex carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables) are the body’s primary –and preferred– source of fuel. We simply must fuel our body for fat burning to avoid the pitfalls we discussed earlier (Gosh, it just keeps coming back to number one, doesn’t it?).

So, how do we know which carbohydrates are ok to eat when we’re trying to get a handle on our body shape? The key to successful weight management is to balance blood sugar levels, and keep the body in fat burning zone all day long. When sugar spikes (from eating the wrong things) or crashes (after the spike or from not eating at all), the body goes into fat storage mode. So, we want to make sure that the carbs we’re eating are low-glycemic, and always balanced out with an appropriate portion of protein.

The goal is to keep our net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) in the single digits. Let’s take for example a single serving of microwave ready mac and cheese. That’s a quick and easy snack, right? Well, that tiny amount packs a whopping 39 net carbs (definitely not a single digit number). Let’s compare that to a much more filling snack of two celery stalks and two tablespoons of almond butter for only 5.2 net carbs. It’s easy to see which one is the better choice. Now, before you start saying, “but, but…the fat!” recognize that the fat from the almond butter is basically all monounsaturated, while the fat from the mac and cheese is saturated. More about that in number seven. Here’s a spoiler: fat isn’t always the enemy.

So pay attention to the glycemic index of foods. Starchy vegetables and super sweet fruits are going to be high, and you’ll want to avoid them until you reach your goals (and then only eat them occasionally). Higher fiber vegetables will be much lower. So pair things like asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach and the like with much smaller portions of the veggies that are higher on the scale, and limit fruit to two servings per day.


6. Skipping Meals & Loading Up At Dinner

We all know about feast and famine, right? Well, so do our bodies. And, when we skip meals, our body thinks there’s a famine in the land, and it’ll go into self-preservation mode to make sure that it has fuel for later. How does the body do that? Well, it basically stores every single thing we eat in a fat cell. Yep, even broccoli stalks. Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, I can just look at such and such and gain 5 pounds?” That’s because they’ve destroyed their metabolism, and are inadvertently motivating their body to just hang on to everything all the time.

This is the issue I have with the points-counting type of plans (no, I won’t name them). Saving up for a “great” dinner later on doesn’t help in the long run. And, what’s worse is that it’s nutritionally devastating for the body. It wreaks havoc with our cortisol levels, increases fat retention, and even messes with our ability to produce appropriate hormones. Yikes! Talk about getting “hangry”! Let’s not go there. Our bodies simply need to be fed on a regular basis: at least every 3 to 4 hours. For some people (like me), it’s every two and a half hours. And, that’s ok. Eat a balanced plate every time. Focus on high quality carbohydrates from low-glycemic fruits and vegetables and sensible portions of lean proteins.


7. Going For A No-Fat Diet

Here’s the thing: a fat-free diet doesn’t necessarily mean a fat-free body. In fact, our body needs healthy (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fats to function optimally. Fats are a major source of energy, they play a role in the absorption of certain vitamins and are even necessary for creation of new cell membranes. But, all fats are not created equal. Trans fats should never cross our lips, and some fats are better than others. So, be sure to pay attention to the ingredients list on packaged foods and look for those that use olive, seasame or walnut oils rather than vegetable and canola oils. Anything that says “hydrogenated” is a no-no, even if the nutrition facts says zero grams of trans fat.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids are key in decreasing inflammation and also play a positive role in fat loss. Most of us don’t do such a great job of balancing our Omega 3s to our Omega 6s through eating, so supplementation is generally recommended. But, before you run to the pharmacy and pick up a bottle of fish oil pills, just like other fats, all Omega 3s aren’t created equal. Ask me about the high quality supplement I recommend to my clients.


8. Being Afraid To Say, “No”

I saved this one for last because it’s a little tricky. It’s really more of an issue for women than for men, but we’re all susceptible. We should never, ever, eat something we don’t want just to please someone else. Yes, Aunt Sally probably spent a lot of time and put a lot of love into making that pound cake, but that doesn’t mean that we have to eat a giant piece in order to show her we love her. A simple, “no thanks” goes a long way.

Truly, accountability is a huge motivator, so letting our family and friends know that we’re making changes to our lifestyle so that we can avoid just existing between doctor’s visits isn’t a bad thing. When we do that up front, it’s generally more likely that those who truly care about us will be supportive. And, if necessary, a gentle reminder never hurts. We can enjoy being around others without sabotaging our progress towards our goals.


So, are you ready to take back control of your body? I’m here to support, motivate and encourage you as you start or continue your successful weight management journey. Let me know how I can help.

~Coach Teresa

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Tom Gibson