Many of the choices we make about our health are ill-informed, illadvised or just plain wrong. Some may actually make us sick. What’s more, we repeat them! So let’s look at a few of the more common mistakes:
1. Eating “low-fat” treats
Increasing consumer demand for “low-fat” items has filled our supermarket shelves with all sorts of so-called healthy indulgences. While it’s important to cut down on dietary fat, many low-fat, fat-free and reduced-fat foods are also low in nutrients and high in kilojoules.
A number of fat-modified foods, such as desserts, yoghurts, cakes and biscuits are labelled “low fat,” yet still have significant amounts of sugar and, in some cases, fat. Desserts such as lowfat ice-cream do have a lower fat content but this is replaced with sugar, and while you may be consuming less fat, there’s little difference in kilojoules.
There may also be a psychological inclination to consume larger quantities of fat-modified foods or consume additional full-fat foods afterward as a balance or compensation.
Action: By choosing smaller portions less often, you can still indulge and consume fewer kilojoules. However, there is no substitute for natural, nutrient- rich, low-fat foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and wholegrains.
2. Eating too much sugar
We consume most of our sugar as an ingredient of processed foods, such as biscuits, drinks, cakes and breakfast cereals. Sugar is a highly concentrated form of energy and only has a minimal effect on fullness. For example, a 370 ml glass or can of fruit juice, soft drink, sports drink or cordial provides between 400-650 kilojoules but is no more filling than a glass of water. (This is equivalent to approximately 15–25 minutes of walking.) Foods high in sugar also tend to be low in vitamins and minerals. Sugar is an easy-to-use fuel source for the body, and it will be used for energy before the body will burn off dietary and body fat. Excess sugar makes fat less likely to be burnt off, making it harder to lose weight.
Action: Try to cut back on foods with a high sugar content. Give your taste buds a few weeks to adjust and soon you won’t miss it at all.
3. Not eating enough fibre
Many staple foods such as pasta, bread, rice, and flour-based products are highly processed, especially the “white” varieties. Processing often involves removing the outer layer of grain-based foods, such as the bran on wheat or rice, which diminishes its fibre and nutrient content. After processing, the remaining components of the grain are concentrated in kilojoules, which increases the likelihood of weight gain.
Not only does fibre give you maximum fullness and minimum calories per mouthful, it’s generally beneficial for your health in a variety of ways.
Processing foods increases their glycaemic index (GI), where glucose is easier to break down, resulting in rapid absorption. Over the long term, eating a lot of high-GI foods will increase your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
Action: Try to eat foods as close as possible to their original state, as nature intended. Try eating a wholegrain bread, wholemeal pasta and the whole fruit instead of just the juice (have water instead), as well as the skin on the fruit and vegetables.
4. Consuming large portions
It isn’t just the type of food that you eat that’s important but also the amount. Jumbo-sized meals rich in fat and sugar will obviously make you fat.
But it isn’t just fatty junk food that does this. Excess kilojoules from all types of processed foods can lead to the storage of body fat. One can get fat from eating healthy foods if eaten in excess.
It comes down to energy balance.
When you eat more kilojoules than you burn off (a positive energy balance), your body stores the excess. It’s that simple. If you have a positive energy balance, your metabolism will struggle to burn off the fat you eat, let alone that in storage around your middle.
Action: The serving size you need depends on your age, gender and activity level. While you don’t need to go hungry, it makes sense to limit your total energy intake, as well as your fat intake, to avoid overeating and maximise your chances of burning fat already stored in your body.
5. Not enough exercise
While a healthful diet is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise is just as important. There are numerous benefits associated with exercise, such as increased bone density, weight management, heart health and improved energy levels. Yet a large proportion of society fails to include exercise as a regular part of their lifestyle.
People who prioritise TV, work and other duties and distractions, ahead of exercise fail to realise that the time invested in exercise pays you back many times over in increased quality and quantity of life.
Action: It will take you time to begin enjoying the feeling of movement if you’ve been inactive for some time. So begin with small steps, easing into it.
If you can have a positive attitude and find ways to make your exercise more enjoyable, you’ll be much more likely to stick to it.
6. Not getting enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is vital for your wellbeing, allowing time for physical and spiritual rejuvenation, and helping to maximise your health. Adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night, although many get less than that. Children and growing teens need more.
But sleep is often sacrificed when people are busy. Sleep deprivation not only makes you feel tired but is associated with obesity, heart disease, insulin resistance, mental health disorders and increased risk of being involved in an accident.
Action: Improve the quality and quantity of your sleep by keeping your room cool, quiet and dark; establish a regular time to wake up, and reduce or eliminate caffeinated and alcoholic beverages in the evening. Regular exercise and stress management can also make it easier to fall asleep.
The dangers of smoking tobacco are well established. Smokers are between two and six times more likely to suffer heart attacks, and up to 10 times more likely than non-smokers to develop lung cancer. Smokers also have an increased risk of getting cancers of the bladder, breast, cervix, kidney, mouth, pancreas, esophagus and throat. Smokers are also more likely to suffer from strokes, respiratory illness, emphysema, premature menopause, osteoporosis, problem pregnancies, infertility and lower levels of fitness.
Smoking not only damages your health, it endangers the health of those around you—especially children— through passive smoke.
Action: Quite simply: don’t smoke and avoid passive smoke in the presence of others.
8. Skipping breakfast
Breakfast is the most-often skipped meal of the day, yet it’s the most important.
If you miss breakfast, you may notice a drop in your strength, endurance and memory. You are also less likely to get enough fibre, B-group vitamins and iron over the day.
Skipping breakfast can also be unkind to your waistline, as it will slow your metabolism, increase hunger and reduce your willpower to make healthy choices, increasing the likelihood that you will over-eat during the day.
Action: Eating breakfast will add significantly to the nutritional value of your daily diet, ensuring a greater intake of several essential nutrients. Many traditional breakfast foods are healthy and easy to prepare. Include cereal with skim or non-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, fruit and wholegrain toast (with minimal butter or margarine). Or try a skim milk and fruit smoothie.
9. Skipping the weights
The people who would benefit most from weight training (women over 40) are least likely to do it. The major misconception about strength training is that it will bulk you up, while in reality, it’s likely to have the opposite effect. Women receive great benefit from strength training, as they naturally have less muscle tissue than males. As they get older, both men and women naturally lose muscle tissue, which reduces strength and energy levels, and can result in middle-aged spread. Lifting weights can reverse this process to a much greater extent than cardiovascular exercise. It is also an effective way to strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis.
Action: Don’t do weights instead of cardiovascular exercise but use it as an addition to your health and fitness regimen.
Aim for two or three days a week by using any or all of dumbbells, body weight or gymnasium equipment.
10. High expectations
People often make dramatic lifestyle changes in the hope of dramatic results, starting out with high yet unrealistic expectations. It then becomes hard to maintain any lifestyle changes when you are focused on results that don’t come.
High expectations and a focus on results is a major source of frustration, often causing people to give up their health regime.
Action: Changes to improve your health take patience and commitment.
You need to make slow, gradual changes and expect slow, gradual results. It will be challenging but it’s worth it.
Expect it to be challenging and to take time.
If you approach weight loss and health improvement realistically, you will be much more likely to succeed.