5 diet mistakes that can sabotage your health

There are eating rules -- more vegetables and fewer sweets -- that are, obviously, helpful to improving your general health, body weight and, in turn, blood sugar levels. Yet, there are other rules that are simply wolves dressed in sheep's clothing, only appearing to be healthy on the surface.

Can you identify the wolves in sheepskin roaming the pasture? Or, are you letting your guard down and falling prey to poor eating behaviors?

Break free from these diet mistakes

To help you determine if you've fallen into the trap of misguided nutrition, we've selected five common ways people sabotage their eating habits, and have included included tips for turning nutritional duds into nutritional studs.

Skipping Meals#1 - Skipping meals to 'save on calories'

"While you may think you're saving calories by cutting out a meal a day, or even a few times a week, skipping meals, especially breakfast, actually leads to spikes in hunger, causing you to overeat later," says Ashley Reynolds, a registered dietitian and nutrition communications expert in Boston, Massachusetts.

The 300 or so calories you may have had as a healthy breakfast most likely will be made up in double or triple in the form of a mid-day candy bar, an extra portion at dinner or some mindless munching in front of the television.

Our tip: The best course of action, is to have small, frequent meals throughout the day.

Doing so prevents the intense hunger that can lead to overeating and makes it easier to make healthy meal choices.

Concentrate on having a breakfast that includes whole grains, fruit, and low fat dairy; followed by a mid-morning snack such as nuts, or fruit and yogurt; a healthy lunch; a mid-afternoon snack; and then a balanced dinner including lean protein and plenty of veggies.

Devil Food#2 - Labeling a food or food group as the 'enemy'

"Making a food or food group the 'enemy' especially when its something you like leads to judgement of being a good/bad person for avoiding the food or eating it, and then the dreaded guilt after the fact," notes Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian in Washington DC.

In addition, banning foods increases their desirability incredibly -- you know, the old 'you want what you can't have.' Instead of giving them the complete heave-ho, try to fit your favorite, less-than-healthy foods into your eating plan.

Our tip: Focus on smaller portions of the foods you love.

Instead of digging into a big bag of chips every night -- how about having a one-ounce bag a couple of times a week? Instead of eating half of a large pizza, try 2 slices of a plain cheese or veggie-topped slice with a garden salad on the side. Instead of a full-size candy bar every afternoon, have a mini-one as a treat with lunch.

Taking simple steps like these can help prevent feelings of both deprivation and guilt, and keep you on your path of healthy eating.

Healthy Salads#3 - Thinking all salads are healthy

To start, salad can be an integral part of a healthy diet. However, what goes into your salad can turn it quickly into a certified nutritional disaster area. A large bowl of greens mixed with tomatoes, peppers, carrots and the like, with a small topping of your favorite vinaigrette is a sure-fire winner.

Once you start introducing cheese, bacon bits, croutons and gobs of creamy dressing, your salad transforms into a calorie- and fat-loaded bomb.

Our tip: Add the right types of toppings to your salad.

If you want a simple salad for lunch, that big bowl of fresh veggies on its own could leave you feeling hungry soon after. Be sure to top those veggies with some lean protein to improve staying power -- water-packed tuna, lean turkey, or hard boiled eggs are all great options.

Coffee Drinks with Whip Cream#4 - Pounding down flavored-enhanced coffees and smoothies

It used to be a cup of coffee was, just that, a moderate-sized cup of coffee. Today, you're more likely to encounter massive serving sizes, multitudes of flavored syrups, mountains of whipped cream and more. That small, friendly cup of Joe has become a 300 to 400 to 500 cup of calories.

What about your favorite smoothie? Ordering one from a restaurant may be up to three times the size you need and, in some cases, could push 600 calories. Those 600 calories? That's a meal's worth of calories you just drank through a straw.

Our tip: Stay away from super-sized coffee drinks, forgo the whip cream and limit the sugar-filled flavorings.

For your smoothie fix, mix some fresh fruit and fat free Greek yogurt for a fantastic, tasty beverage.

Fat Free Labels#5 - Trusting pseudo-health labels

There's an abundance of overly-processed foods on the market that are labeled in a way that make us think they're healthy or even worse, have no dietary consequences whatsoever. Just because a company slaps 'fat-free,' 'sugar-free,' or 'gluten-free' doesn't mean the food is particularly healthy.

"This 'health-washing' of less-than-healthy foods leads to people ignoring their body's satiety cues and overeating because it was 'safe,'" warns Virginia-based registered dietitian Cheryl Harris.

Most of these foods are filled with artificial ingredients instead of real, whole foods and eating them provides little to no lasting satisfaction. In addition, many of them aren't that much lower in calories than their traditional counterparts.

While eating 4 or 5 regular crackers can easily fit into a healthy eating plan, eating 15 or 20 'fat-free' crackers most likely adds a good deal of unnecessary calories to your day.

Our tip: Bottom line, if you can keep your portion sizes in check, foods like these may be helpful to you. If you tend to go overboard on these foods, you may be better off having a small amount of the real deal.

See any mistakes you're making? Know that you're not alone, and give our suggestions a try to get on a more effective track to better health.

Have a nutritional question for Heidi? Head over to our Ask the Expert question and submit your question today.

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About Heidi McIndoo

Heidi McIndoo, MS is a registered dietitian who has been counseling women, men, and children about healthy eating for twenty years. She firmly believes food should be enjoyed and all foods can fit into a healthy diet -- it's just a matter of how much and how often.

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Pauline says:

10 October 2012 at 4:54 pm

This is my bad habit. First thing in the morning I go in for my morning tea which stifles hunger. Breakfast gets delayed into a grand brunch at 11 a.m. followed by another meal at 5 in the evening and a late supper ends the day. The only change to this habit is when I have to go out in the mornings. Things, and what needs to be done when fall into place well during those days.

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