7 Common Diet Pitfalls

Whether you have recently decided to embark on a New Year plan which involves healthy eating or you have been on a diet for a while, you will expect considerable results for your hard work. The reasons for following a healthy diet may vary from wanting to achieve an aesthetically pleasing physique to improving health or losing weight under doctor’s orders. If you have reached a plateau or you are not seeing the results you consider appropriate to your lifestyle change then it may be that you are victim to one or more diet pitfalls. By identifying and dealing with the issue, it is possible for you to immediately rectify the problem and move on to a more effective, successful diet and achieve the results you deserve. That is not to say that any lifestyle change is a walk in the park, but with determination and good instruction you will be on the right path to reach your goal!

Underestimating Calorie Intake

Unfortunately, even experts slip up in this department. It is very easy to inaccurately measure the calorie intake for each day, particularly if you eat out or do not use scales or specific portion related measures. There are ways to avoid this. First of all, where it is possible avoid eating out. That is not to say do not have any fun or socialise, but portion sizes at restaurants tend to be larger than they should be and are not served to you with nutrient information. This leads to guesswork which can cause us to underestimate substantially. If you are eating out, try to choose a meal with no sauce or dressing as this will increase the calorie content significantly.

The best way to keep track of your daily calorie intake is not in your head, you have other things to be focussing on during the day and the odd snack, test bite and drinks are typically forgotten or left out of the end of the day estimate. Keeping a food diary with you at all times and jotting down the food, portion, total calories and nutrients will be a great way to keep track. The other benefit of using a food diary is that it makes you more aware of the foods you eat and more likely to make healthy food choices instead of opting for junk snacks.

Being Unrealistic

Resorting to extreme dieting is not something which will help you achieve your goals in the long run. In general, fad diets are unsustainable, deprive you of key nutrients and negatively affect your mood. There a number of ridiculous diets around that people turn to for rapid weight loss, but if you want to achieve weight loss which you can maintain you need to focus on changing your lifestyle.

Make healthy eating part of your life, enjoy nutrient-rich meals, exercise regularly and you will find that you can enjoy yourself while you work towards a better you. That sounds much better than feeling fatigued, grumpy and hungry while still being 5lbs away from your target doesn’t it?

Overestimating Energy Expenditure

For the average person, it takes a deficit of 500kcal per day to produce a 1lb loss each week. For most, the loss of weight will be more drastic than this, particularly in the early stages of this calorie alteration. However, it is difficult to keep an accurate measure of the calories you burn off during activity for a few reasons. Firstly, when they tell you ‘zumba class burns 800 calories per session’ this is the top end of calories it is possible to burn but the actual amount will be dependent on weight, body composition, level of activity and age. When you jump on a cardio machine at the gym and watch the calorie burn stack up it is useless unless you have entered your weight and age into the system.

Try not to use the gym as an excuse to indulge. Do not be counting calories burned and think I can allow myself a chocolate bar now because I have worked off 600 calories and deserve it. Remember that you are working hard for long-term benefits and not short-term binges. If you acquire your calories from natural, healthy foods this will be far more valuable to you for a number of reasons. It will allow you to eat good portion sizes while keeping calorie intake low, it will provide you with the energy and endurance you need for a great workout and it will enhance overall mental and physical well-being.

Inadequate Sleep

We live in a fast-paced world where sleep seems to be becoming more of an inconvenience and less of a health necessity. Sleep deprivation is terrible for you in many ways, but one of the issues it causes is weight gain. With a new study showing that ~28% of adults get 6 hours or less sleep each night, it seemed only a matter of time before sleep and diet were found to be linked.

When we feel tired, we reach for our morning coffee/tea in a bid to make ourselves feel more alert. We may even reach for a high sugar snack on the morning commute to boost our energy levels. The problem with this is that by the end of the day we are on a caffeine and sugar low, with no energy to do any exercise. The rapid highs and lows of blood sugar will also make it more difficult to sleep so the cycle continues relentlessly unless we make a conscious effort to stop it.

Sleep loss is shown to affect the secretion of cortisol (stress hormone). Stress is associated with ‘comfort eating’ which goes some way to explain the weight gain of sleep deprived subjects. A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that sleep deprived subjects consumed 549 calories (on average) more per day than those who slept as much as they wanted.

Sleep loss may also interfere with the body’s ability to metabolise carbohydrates which increases carbohydrate stores in the body. An increase in carbohydrate storage will be accompanied by an increase in water retention leading to weight gain.

Studies on this matter indicate that sleep restriction results in decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased levels of cortisol (particularly in the evening), decreased levels of leptin and increased appetite. The evidence points toward sleep deprivation being linked with obesity and diabetes.

Being Unprepared

In other words, you don’t stock up your fridge/ you don’t buy healthy snacks during your weekly shop. This means that you run out of food and have no time to shop so you order in takeaway or you go out to work, have no healthy snacks to take with you and end up buying on-the-go junk food. Always be prepared, that way you will never get caught out when hunger strikes.

If you do eat something that you know you shouldn’t have, don’t throw in the towel and eat as much junk food as possible on that day. You will lose track of the calories you have consumed and it will lead to weight gain. Instead accept that you had a slip up (everybody does) and move on from it by eating healthy for the rest of the day.

Poor Meal Timing

The food clock helps us to make the most of nutritional intake. It controls gene expression and oscillating hormone levels which drive and suppress appetite. These variants are responsible for everything from nutrient absorption to the dispersal of nutrients in the bloodstream. The food clock is designed to anticipate our eating patterns and act accordingly to maximise our digestive efficiency.

Even before we consume a meal, our bodies begin to activate some of these genes and deactivate others, preparing for the ingestion of food. This goes someway to explaining why we feel hunger pangs at similar times each day. Each organ in our body has peak times where it is most efficient and rest times. This enables all of our organs to function optimally and dial it down a notch in each 24 hour cycle.

If we eat at strange times or consume food too frequently, the cycle becomes completely mismatched which leaves our bodies struggling to cope with the imbalance. Much like when a sleep cycle is disrupted, food cycle disruptions make you feel sluggish and unable to function efficiently. These feelings of fatigue can invoke a vicious cycle whereby we try to eat more or at times our body does not expect in order to boost our energy levels. However, studies suggest that 24 hour periods of starvation can help to ‘reset’ the circadian clock from the first meal we consume after the fasting period. This can help alleviate the issues associated with night shift working and jet lag.

The combination of massive portions, lots of starchy carbs, foods high in saturated fat and strange eating patterns are a lethal cocktail for rapid weight gain. Settle yourself into a healthy eating pattern and you will find that your energy levels will rise and those excess pounds will begin to disappear. Whether you are a fan of intermittent fasting, 5-6 small meals a day or the classic 3 meals a day, keep a consistent circadian cycle and your body will instinctively know when it is food o’clock.

Low Water Intake

We all know how important drinking water is. Not consuming enough water leads to dehydration, chemical imbalances, digestive disruption, aging badly..the list goes on. Yet the majority of the population still fail to hydrate themselves properly. If you want to lose weight, drinking enough water is vital. You may be restricting yourself thinking that by drinking water you will look bigger, but this just isn’t true.

Drinking a glass or two of water prior to your meals can help aid weight loss. It is believed that those who drink water before a meal will eat smaller portions of food. Findings published by the American Dietetic Association (2008) stated that dieters who drank water prior to meals lost 44% more weight than those on the same diet but with no instructions regarding water intake.

Water consumption may also spark the body to produce more heat, boost metabolism and burn more calories in the process. The best thing about drinking water though, is that you are less likely to reach for caffeinated or sugar-filled drinks. These drinks are crammed with calories and add to your daily total when you probably have not accounted for them.

It is also possible that you confuse thirst as hunger. When you feel the urge to snack, try drinking a glass of water instead. Wait for 15-20 minutes and see how you feel then. You will be able to better gage what you really want.

If you are exercising regularly to lose weight (hopefully you are) then you will need to keep yourself hydrated. The loss of electrolytes through sweat can be damaging if not replaced. Try dropping a High 5 Zero Xtreme tablet into your water. It will be a nice change from plain water and is only 11 calories per serving!


Patel SR, Hu FB, Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review, Obesity Research Journal, 2008, 16(3):643-53.

Spiegel K, Leproult R, L’Hermite B, Copinschi G, Penev PD, Cauter EV, Leptin Levels are Dependent on Sleep Duration: Relationships with Sympathovagal Balance, Carbohydrate Regulation, Cortisol & Thyrotropin, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2004, 89(11): 5762.

LeSauter J, Hoque N, Weintraub M, Pfaff DW, Silver R, Stomach Ghrelin-Secreting Cells as Food-Entrainable Circadian Clocks, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009, 106(32): 13582-87.

About the Author

Job Role Sports Nutritionist and Social Media Coordinator Qualifications Bsc Sport and Exercise Science Steph has a competitive athletic background which spans 19 years. As a child she performed with the English Youth Ballet and had performed on the West End stage by the age of 10. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness continued to grow as she did, encouraging her to learn more about nutrition and training. She began using her knowledge and personal experience to help others when she began coaching at the age of 16. From here, she went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex during which time she also received the Most Promising Newcomer Award from her University to mark her outstanding contribution to sport. During her first year of study she was introduced to partner stunt acrobatics and artistic gymnastics. After one year of dedicating herself to a lifestyle revolving around her sport, she was training with the best team in the UK who are currently ranked fifth in the world. Steph has worked in both the private and public sector coaching children and adults from grassroot to elite level as well as providing them with cutting edge advice on how to reach their goals. Steph has received awards for her choreography and has competed nationally and internationally meaning that she can back up her scientific knowledge with a wealth of experience. As our resident Sports Nutritionist, Steph is here to provide the most current and evidence based fitness, health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
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