By: Jeremy Partl, RD
You are tired of not seeing progress on the scale, and just want it to budge in the right direction.
So, you’ve decided to overhaul your diet. Your training program is fine, and you are having fun, making progress, and thoroughly enjoying it.
You don’t feel like your nutrition habits are horrible, but feel like they are preventing you from moving forward.
So, you decide to go all in. You take steps to completely overhaul your diet. You are proud to proclaim to yourself and to others…..”I am going to start eating healthy”.
Fast forward a month from then, and you are more stressed, isolated, and your performance has tanked in the gym. But, on the bright side, you are getting leaner than ever. Even better, the rate at which you are progressing is astounding.
Is it worth it? Sometimes our efforts to eat “healthy” can be taken too far, and often turn into unhealthy behaviors and outcomes.
Here are 5 ways that “healthy” eating can become unhealthy.
Only Eating “Clean” Foods
Plain chicken breast, sweet potatoes, brown rice, broccoli, egg whites. These are the staples of your diet.
No longer do you eat anything with over 5 ingredients, anything that comes out of a package, etc. You have even started off the month by adhering strictly to the Whole 30.
You tell yourself, these are not acceptable….they are not “healthy”.
But, you find your cravings at an all time high, even for something like Honey Nut Cheerios, or any other sugar sweetened cereal. You weren’t even very fond of those before you started “dieting”, but know you are tired of plain old oatmeal with berries.
One day you cave in. You pour a bowl of your son’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch. You take one bite. OMG. You take another. Next thing you know, the box is empty.
What happened is very common. The more rigid you become, the more likely your weight loss efforts will be sabotaged and de-railed. Even the literature suggests that rigid patterns of eating lead to worse outcomes than incorporating flexibility into your diet [1,2,3].
Avoiding Social Engagements
Bringing Tupperware to family barbeques, turning down your friends to go out for dinner on a Friday evening, and saying that you are too busy to attend your best friends birthday party because it involves a meal at his house.
Unless you are dieting for a physique sport, you really don’t need to avoid eating meals out of the house. Even then, one meal is not going to harm your progress.
But, by avoiding social situations and engagements that avoid food is a sure-fire sign that your “healthy” eating has become unhealthy.
Letting the Clock Rule Your Life
8 AM, 11 AM, 2 PM, 5 PM, and 8 PM. On the dot, you are going to scheduled to eat these times.
It doesn’t matter what you are doing, where you are, or who you are with, you are ready to eat.
So, you take the time to prep 3 Tupperware containers for the first 3 meals, when you will be out of the house. 8 AM comes and you are in the middle of a meeting. Time to eat.
11 AM rolls around and you are out running errands. No worries, you just pull over the car, pull out your Tupperware, and don’t budge an inch until you finish your last bite.
You get your 2 PM meal in, but were on the phone. So, it was 5 minutes late. Now, anxiety sets in.
At 5 PM, your son wants to play outside. But, it’s time for dinner. So, it’s time to come back in.
When 8 PM rolls around, you have your meal already made and put in the fridge. You can’t risk eating too close to bed, and you need 12 hours between your meal to get the fat-burning effect.
A perfect day of eating, right?
Not at all. By the end of the week, you have had to cancel important events, lived watching the clock so you eat at the right times, and have had to spend tons of time prepping food.
Letting the clock and a schedule of eating rule your life is not okay. You don’t have to evenly space out your meals to the minute, eat every 3 hours, or only eat for a specified time frame.
These are habits that may be healthy, but if they control your life, they are not.
Counting Every Gram of Food
If you have to break out a measurement scale to weigh every ingredient in a recipe, break off a small edge of the chicken breast because you need 4 oz. exactly, or turn down a meal because it is a casserole that you can’t calculate the macronutrient and calorie count, then you need to relax.
While it seems like an important detail, knowing that your banana weighs 100g (which you have to peel the banana beforehand and weigh it without the skin), versus just considering it a medium-sized banana is not all that earth shattering.
Over time, things will work out as long as you are consistent. You don’t always have to be perfect.
Not Eating Enough to Support your Activity and Effort in the Gym
Your goal of 1500 calories wasn’t making the scale move fast enough. Besides the fact that you couldn’t finish your weights workout because you had absolutely no energy, your diet seems to be working.
So, it’s time to drop your calories even lower, to 1200 this time. But now, you can barely lift 75% of what you started out lifting, and can barely make it a 10 minutes before your kids wear you out on the playground.
While we need a caloric deficit to lose fat, too severe of a decrease in food intake will negatively impact your performance In the gym and overall quality of life. Even worse, it is more likely that we will lose a lot more muscle if we aggressively diet too hard.
It is important to find a balance between cutting calories and letting it affect your life. Aiming for a small deficit closer to your maintenance calorie intake for a longer amount of time is much more sustainable and can even support performance.
Are any of these behaviors something that you struggle with, or have identified with in the past?
There are plenty of ways to eat “healthy” and create unhealthy behaviors, habits, and patterns. It is great to have take ownership and control of your diet, but when you go to the extreme, things can start to work against you.
It is important to incorporate flexibility, be less rigid and controlling, and let food be more than fuel.
If you would like help making sure that your nutrition habits do not turn unhealthy, go to our services page. We offer affordable nutrition and training coaching programs that guide you through setting up and maintaining a sustainable, healthy diet and training program that is tailored to your goals. Most importantly, we can help you to maintain healthy behaviors and avoid the extremes.
- Stewart, T. M., Williamson, D. A., & White, M. A. (2002). Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women.Appetite, 38(1), 39-44.
- Meule, A., Westenhöfer, J., & Kübler, A. (2011). Food cravings mediate the relationship between rigid, but not flexible control of eating behavior and dieting success. Appetite, 57(3), 582-584.
- Smith, C. F., Williamson, D. A., Bray, G. A., & Ryan, D. H. (1999). Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes.Appetite, 32(3), 295-305.