Whether trying to lose some weight, tone up, or feel healthier overall, that picture-perfect diet is the key to success… right? Hold up: With the growth of various “health fads — like liquid diets and all-you-can-eat cabbage soup — mixed messages about the best ways to stay healthy flood the airwaves. And some experts believe it’s the message certain diets support that cause them to flop, because they focus on losing weight instead of adopting an overall healthier lifestyleWeight science: evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Bacon, L., Aphramor, L. University of California, Davis, CA. Nutrition Journal, 2011 Jan 24;10:9.. Here are some of the most common diet mishaps and how to help ditch them to turn any lifestyle into a healthy one!

Diet Downers — The Need-to-Know

Caesar Salad
Photo by Marissa Angell

Sneaky slipups are the biggest offenders at hindering an otherwise healthy diet. Here are eight to keep in mind when getting ready to chow down:

  • Supersized portions. Sure, that plate of roasted vegetables is healthy — but too much of any food can put a damper on the diet. In the end, maintaining a healthy diet is usually about amount of calories consumed, so make sure to keep everything in moderation.
  • Falling for labels. Don’t let packaging play the fool. Foods and drinks labeled fat- or sugar-free aren’t always healthier choices. In some cases, fat and sugar substitutions may even cause weight gain — eekFat substitutes promote weight gain in rats consuming high-fat diets. Swithers, S.E., Ogden, S.B., Davidson, T.L. Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN. Behavioral Neuroscience, 2011 Aug;125(4):512-8.!
  • Munching on dangerfoods. Watch out for those sneaky foods that may not be as healthy as they seem. Foods like peanut butter and granola can be a tasty treat, but are still high in calories and fat. Enjoy on occasion (and in moderation!) but don’t let them become a diet staple.
  • Over-fueling post-workout. Secret’s out: Exercise may not lead to weight loss. The reason? Re-consuming all those calories burned in the form of post-workout snacks — plus more. Just remember, a sweaty bootcamp doesn’t always warrant a bacon cheeseburger dinner! Choose healthier options with a balance of carbs, fats, and protein to satisfy hunger without undoing all that hard work.
  • Kicking back booze. No matter how clean the diet, knocking back too many vodka tonics is never healthyIs alcohol consumption a risk factor for weight gain and obesity? Suter, P.M. Department of Internal Medicine, Medical Policlinic, University Hospital, Switzerland. Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, 2005;42(3):197-227.. So watch out for all those happy hours — empty calories (we’re looking at you, cocktails!) can lead to weight gain!
  • Lovin’ liquid calories. Aside from alcohol, the amount of calories in any beverage can add upLiquid calories, sugar, and body weight. Drewnowski, A., Bellisle, F. Center for Public Health Nutrition, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007 Mar;85(3):651-61.. Talk about a scary sugar situation! Steer clear of soda, and other “healthy” beverages (Vitamin Water, anyone?) and start calling water “Best Friend Forever.”
  • Eating too little. Skipping out on snack time won’t necessarily lead to weight lossHypothalamic lipophagy and energetic balance. Singh, R. Department of Medicine (Endocrinology) and Molecular Pharmacology, Member of the Diabetes Research Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY. Aging, 2011 October; 3(10): 934–942. Low calorie consumption can actually slow metabolism — so make sure to fill up on just enough of the good stuff! Calculate how many calories your body needs, and consider consulting with a nutritionist for more specific guidelines.

I’m Healthy and I Know It… — Your Action Plan

With some tiny tweaks, a good-for-you diet can be even better. And while exercise can be key, make sure to eat enough to allow muscles to recover and grow — and not give in to over indulgenceEffects of exercise on appetite control: loose coupling between energy expenditure and energy intake. Blundell, J.E., King, N.A. BioPsychology Group, School of Psychology, University of Leeds, UK. International Journal of Obesity, 1998 Aug;22 Suppl 2:S22-9.. (Sorry, one workout doesn’t always mean one bottle of post-workout wine!) Other tips to stay on track include drinking water, catching enough Zzz’s, and keeping stress levels under controlStress and weight gain in parents of cancer patients. Smith, A.W., Baum, A., Wing, R.R. University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh, PA. International Journal of Obesity, 2005 Feb;29(2):244-50.Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Arlet, V., Nedeltcheva, M.D., Kilkus, J.M.Department of Medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2010 October 5; 153(7): 435–441..

And when setting new goals, be accountable! Tell others about your diet endeavors, and keep an exercise and food journal to track progress and catch any blunders that could be sabotaging a healthy lifestyle. And remember, sometimes a bike for one at spin class can be just as therapeutic as a table for one at that favorite pizzeria.

What’s your worst healthy diet pitfall? Join the conversation in the comments below!