You've decided it's time to start eating healthier. Although it won't be easy to give up that nightly bowl of potato chips or daily white chocolate mocha, you're looking forward to feeling better and having more energy. Fast forward a few weeks into your new eating plan, and things aren't going as expected. You're cranky, your belly hurts and if you have to look at one more piece of spinach, you might swear off all green foods permanently. What went wrong?
Even with the best intentions to improve your diet, it's easy to make food mistakes that leave you feeling both physically and mentally fatigued. Before you throw in the towel, use these expert tips to help you correct or avoid those minor mistakes completely.
1. Cutting carbs too much or too quickly.
"People who cut out or greatly reduce carbohydrates in order to lose weight can suffer from mood swings, constipation, irritability and fatigue," says registered dietitian Holly DeLong. "Carbs provide us with a readily available energy source, fiber and B-vitamins. When people eliminate these, they feel deprived, tired and experience a worse mood, as B-vitamins are crucial for mood and energy." Instead, DeLong suggests replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains such as whole wheat, brown rice, farro and quinoa. "Aim to get a large majority of your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables for even more nutrient density and fiber to keep you feeling full [and] energetic [while keeping] the bowels regular," she advises.
2. Focusing only on nutrients and not satisfaction.
Registered dietitian Colleen Christensen believes that satisfaction is key in creating sustainable eating habits. "You can eat all of the kale in the world, but if you don't like kale it probably won't foster a healthy eating style for you. Why? Because you're missing out on satisfaction!" she asserts. "You'll be physically filling your stomach yet not 'hitting the spot', [which] will likely leave you searching for something else to do it, leading to overeating and frustration. Instead, focus on the foods you enjoy versus the foods your friend enjoys or you see trending on Instagram."
3. Significantly increasing fiber intake.
Registered dietitian Kristin Gillespie reminds her clients that it's best to proceed with caution when increasing fiber. "Although fiber is a nutrient that helps keep us healthy, suddenly and dramatically increasing your intake may lead to unpleasant side effects, including bloating, gas and generalized discomfort. If your body isn't accustomed to consuming high amounts of fiber, it may take time for it to adapt." She recommends increasing your fiber intake gradually to avoid unpleasant side effects. "This can be accomplished by adding one serving of fiber daily for one to two weeks, and then increasing as tolerated."
4. Creating a diet that lacks variety.
It's easy to fall into the trap of sticking with what works. You like your new lunch, so you eat it every day—but there are a few problems with this strategy. First, eating a variety of foods ensures that you're getting a variety of nutrients. No single food is going to give you everything your body needs! Second, eating the same thing every day can get boring, and when you start feeling bored you're more tempted to fall off track. Food is meant to be enjoyed, so mix it up regularly.
5. Ignoring portion sizes of nutritious foods.
"Be aware of portion sizes with nutritious, yet calorie-dense foods," cautions health coach Katelyn Barrons. "[Foods such as] nuts, seeds, avocados and green juices are all packed with nutrients [but] are also packed with calories. Adding these foods into your day without regard for portion size or adjusting other parts of your diet accordingly might lead to feeling too full or sluggish from the high fat intake." She suggests monitoring your food intake to be sure that adding items like these into your diet don't push you past your calorie and nutrient goals.
6. Switching to a plant-based diet.
Eating more plant-based foods and less animal products can have a positive impact on your health. However, registered dietitian Shannon Henry warns that this style of eating can lead to some nutrient deficiencies. "Keep a check on vitamin D, iron and vitamin B12," she advises. "These are the most common nutrients people become deficient in when they switch to a plant-based diet." Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal products, so consider adding fortified cereals or veggie burgers to your eating plan if you don't consume dairy. Vitamin D is found in fortified cereals and orange juice, as well as dairy products and your daily dose of sunshine, while iron is found in eggs, nuts, beans and legumes. If you are concerned that you are deficient in any nutrient, consult your doctor before deciding to take supplements.
7. Experiencing heartburn for the first time.
"Many fruits and veggies, as well as spices and onions contain compounds that relax your esophageal sphincter, which is responsible for closing off your stomach from your esophagus," explains personal trainer John Fawkes. "[When this happens], you're much more likely to have digestive acids work their way up the esophagus. It's uncomfortable but usually short-term when you learn how to balance your plate." Fawkes suggests starting with foods that are less acidic (such as broccoli, cauliflower, banana and melon) and then slowly adding higher acidity foods into your diet. "Be mindful of portion sizes and make sure you're drinking plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated [and help avoid heartburn]," he suggests.
8. Dramatically changing your eating regimen.
Do you typically have an "all-or-nothing" diet mentality? By making drastic changes to your diet all at once, you set yourself up for an upset stomach and feelings of deprivation. Consider this: Your body needs time to adjust to the increase in fruits and veggies and decrease in sugar. Your mind needs time to adjust to fewer snacks between meals and not freely grabbing whatever pantry item you crave. Instead of purging all the foods you've come to love, consider switching out one unhealthy snack per day with a healthier option that will leave you satiated. After a few weeks of success, try changing up your breakfast. By slowly replacing the unhealthy foods with healthier alternatives and cutting back on unhealthy habits incrementally, you set up less of a shock to your system and, thereby, a greater chance of success.
Any changes you make to your eating plan should be sustainable long-term so that it becomes a permanent lifestyle change instead of a temporary diet. By making a few small tweaks to your eating plan, you can end up feeling better—minus the belly aches and with more satisfaction!