While a healthy diet can go a long way toward losing weight, alleviating symptoms of chronic health problems, and just generally making you feel better, it’s not a cure-all and it’s not the only lifestyle factor that impacts our health. If you’ve been eating well for a while now and aren’t seeing results, there are several things that may be sabotaging your healthy diet.
Everyone needs a good night’s sleep. You’ve probably felt the effects of a poor sleep at some point in your life: Grumpiness, sugar cravings, depression, poor cognitive function, and, of course, tiredness. Just one night of bad sleep can throw our bodies out of whack. Two or three will have a negative effect on our digestion, libido, blood sugar, blood pressure, mental health… pretty much everything. It may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but prioritizing sleep is a must for anyone that wants to live a long, healthy life.
You know how being stressed out can ruin even good news? How it can make your favorite music sound grating or your favorite shows unwatchable? Stress does the same thing to your healthy lifestyle. If your body is in a constant state of fear, anxiety, and agitation, your healthy food probably isn’t digesting very well and all that extra cortisol is going to ruin your sleep. Stress management is a vital part of living well in today’s hectic world.
Most of us probably don’t get enough exercise, but too much can be bad, too. Most experts recommend at least 30 minutes of motion a day, whether it’s walking, swimming, dancing, running, or lifting weights. This is in addition to any other movement you might do every day (your body has probably gotten used to climbing the stairs up to your apartment after two years, so no, that doesn’t count). You should feel comfortably tired after a workout, not exhausted to the point of collapsing, and if you notice that you have diarrhea after every run or fewer periods than you did before you started exercising, you might need to dial it back. Like diet, exercise takes some tinkering with to find the right one and the right amount for you.
4. Not Enough Veggies
We all know what not to eat when we set out to “get healthy”. Cutting sugar, simple carbs, and processed foods might seem daunting, but we accept going in that it’s all part of the plan. What we often don’t realize is that we need to replace those foods with vegetables, not “healthier” versions of the same thing. My Celiac diagnosis was my wake-up call here. While it’s nice that we can get gluten-free bread and pasta and continue eating our usual meals, the ingredients in those items aren’t healthy, either. When I went gluten-free and didn’t feel any better, I took a second look at what I was eating and realized my diet hadn’t actually changed that much. I was still eating a lot of carbs… and hardly any veggies. Once I started eating the recommended 9 cups a day, I was amazed at how much better I felt.
5. Too Much Meat
There’s a misconception that diets like Paleo and the autoimmune protocol are all about meat. Beef and bacon all day, baby! But that’s not how it actually works. Meat should take up about 1/4 of your plate, with–you guessed it–a variety of veggies making up the rest. And of the meat you do eat, omega-3-rich seafood should comprise the bulk. Swap that bacon for some salmon!
6. Not Planning Ahead
How often do you find you have nothing healthy to eat when you’re hungry? Before I started batch cooking, it happened to me all the time. I’d come home from work exhausted, relax for a bit, and then realize I was ravenous. But when I went to look in the fridge… there wasn’t anything to make a meal out of. When you’re tired, stressed out, or busy, cooking might be the last thing you want to do, especially if you have to go to the store before you can do it. So make sure you have a meal plan every week. Grab what you need on the weekend, prepare as much as you can ahead of time, and keep leftovers in the freezer for a quick microwave meal on a busy, tired weeknight.
7. Being Too Rigid
There’s no one right way of eating for everybody. And what we know about nutrition only scratches the surface of how diet interacts with human health. We’re learning new things constantly and a lot of what we thought we knew ten years ago turned out to be wrong. So, don’t stress out over whether or not a random food like chia seeds are healthy. Don’t feel like you have to have maca in your smoothies to get the most out of them. Real, sustainable nutrition is affordable and accessible: It’s in your grocery store’s produce aisle, not bottled up as a supplement or ground into an “antioxidant-rich” powder. Instead of breaking the bank or sending yourself into a stress spiral, give yourself a break and some wiggle room to find what works best for you.
Of course, there are those of us on the other end of the spectrum, giving ourselves a bit too much wiggle room. There’s a reason purging your pantry is such a common piece of healthy-living advice: Having food around that tempts you to stray off the path to your goals usually results in, well, straying off the path to your goals. While everyone feels tempted from time to time, there are things you can do to help reduce the chance of being tempted, such as avoiding the baked goods aisle at the grocery store and keeping sweets out of the house. For the temptations you can’t avoid, see my post What to Do When You Have Cravings.
No, I don’t mean the kind you used to get for doing your chores. I’m talking about the foods we allow ourselves to have even though we’re trying to eat healthy. That beer before dinner, that chocolate bar from the vending machine at work, that soda from the drive-thru on the way home. You might think this “one little thing” won’t do much harm “just this once”, but the thing about this habit is… it becomes a habit. Those beers and chocolate bars add up, especially if they’re not foods you tolerate particularly well to begin with. Try to combat those urges to allow yourself a treat with exercise, meditation, or something safer like a piece of fruit.
10. Cheat Days
If regular allowances are bad, an entire cheat day every week is… also bad.
I mean, some people can get away with this kind of stuff. If you can gorge yourself on pizza and ice cream on Saturday and feel just fine as you get back to your healthy diet on Sunday, more power to you. If you can have that occasional chocolate bar when you need to and not let it become a regular thing that tempts you every waking moment, that’s awesome. If an all-nighter feels like no big deal, enjoy it while it lasts. But when we feel like we’ve been doing everything right and aren’t seeing the results we wanted, it’s important to be honest with ourselves. Have I really been following my healthy lifestyle, or am I cutting corners and making excuses? For me, there’s always something to try to improve. Maybe I’ve been eating perfectly for months but haven’t done a lick of exercise or stress management. Maybe a focus on sleep and exercise has made me neglect my diet, or I’m just not eating as many veggies as I should be. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope these tips help you stay on track for your goals!