5 dumbest diet mistakes: #2

photo: -Paul H- via Flickr

Obsessing about your weight isn’t helpful.  Trying to add up exact amounts of calories based on some estimate of your daily needs may not always be accurate.  Choosing food because it has some particular number of calories, rather than because it’s healthy, is another bad strategy.  Which is why #2 of the Top 5 Dumb Diet Mistakes is:

#2: Obsessing about numbers.

It’s a safe bet that most dieters weigh themselves frequently, probably every day.  Hopefully in the morning, before eating or drinking anything.  Even then, weight may fluctuate randomly due to fluid intake, the weight of the food you ate the previous day, sweating, hormone changes, increase in muscle mass and who knows what else.  Allowing the number on the scale to dictate your mood for the rest of the day is crazy, but plenty of people end up in that trap.

One solution: you can weigh yourself just once a week, or even once a month.  As long as you’re sticking to your healthy-eating-and-small-portions-for-life-plan, your weight will gradually reduce.  Weighing yourself isn’t going to make that happen any faster.  So if you’re one of those people whose day is ruined by seeing the wrong number on a scale, don’t weigh yourself.  A much better way to judge progress is how your clothes fit.  If they were a bit snug, and now they feel more comfortable, or you go down a clothing size, you’re making progress.  Who cares what the scale says?

Another problem with scales, which I’ve mentioned before: few of them sort out what’s being weighed.  What % fat, what % muscle, etc.  Some home scales attempt to give percent fat, but most aren’t very accurate.  A truly accurate measurement can be done with a DEXA scan, but that costs hundreds of dollars a pop.  If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re probably trying to lose fat.  A gradual decrease in body fat percent is your goal, regardless of actual weight changes.  If you have a scale that calculates % fat, you do want to see that number go down over time.  Even if it isn’t extremely accurate, it’s at least consistent, so any downward trend is a good sign.  Frankly I’d rather people focus on that, if possible, than on simple weight.

What about calorie counting?  Depending on your method, it may be reasonably accurate, or just in the ball park.  And to be meaningful, you have to compare those calories to your daily calorie requirement.  How do you get an accurate number for that?  Again, you might get something reasonably accurate from an online program, or you might just get a ball park number.

Another problem with calories: buying foods based on calorie counts.  Eating is not a numbers game.  Food choice is primarily based on taste.  Selecting food based on calorie counts isn’t likely to be a successful long term strategy, and isn’t likely to result in healthy choices.  It’s more likely to result in consumption of artificially sweetened fake fat “diet” foods (SEE: dumb mistake #5).  What is important is that you choose healthy foods and smaller portions than you’re used to.

So, if weighing or calorie counting helps motivate you to stick to your plan, then great.  But if the wrong number on the scale ruins your day and you drown your sorrows in food, that’s bad.  If tracking calories eaten or burned starts to become an obsessive behavior, that’s not good either.  It distracts you from the real goal: better food choices.

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