I get asked more questions about nutrition than exercise, hands down. For some reason, exercise seems fairly straight forward (although only half of moms actually do it), but eating well feels like a shot in the dark. I think the root of the problem is the sheer number of diet trends, healthy eating cookbooks, nutritionists and doctors promoting their own plans, and our own social circle touting this or that eating style. It gets so confusing.
What ends up happening is we make a lot of mistakes with both our food choices and our attitudes toward food. Very rarely do I coach a client and am able to say, “Yep…you eat perfectly! We don’t need to make any changes.” I usually see several problems with their eating habits that can be easily remedied.
Here are the most common nutritional mistakes that I see moms making:
1. Poor planning. Many moms fly through the day without any purposeful thought to when or what they will eat. The rest of the family is a high priority (breakfasts are made, lunches are packed and dinner is planned), but mom’s meals just don’t happen like they should. What happens when you don’t plan a good lunch, 2:00 rolls around and you’re starving? You make a bad decision. Make sure you know what and when you will be eating every day.
2. Skipping breakfast. This usually happens because of poor planning. Moms tend to just run out of time in the morning. No, there is nothing magical about breakfast. It’s not the most important meal of the day. And if you skip it your metabolism will not be shot for the rest of your life. Many very healthy athletes and nutritionists don’t eat breakfast. The problem is that for most moms, skipping breakfast means that nothing else is planned, and a bad food choice is imminent. Make sure you eat a good breakfast, because you will most likely make better food choices the rest of the day.
3. Food entitlement. This means that we feel like we “deserve” food, or have “earned” it in some way. How often have you planned and executed a perfectly good day of eating, and then feel entitled to a big dessert? Or how many times have you had a really emotional or taxing day and feel like food will help make it all better?
Don’t let your mind ever think that you have earned something unhealthy.
If you do eat something that’s not healthy, then go for it, but plan ahead and enjoy it like crazy…don’t eat the big dessert because you feel like you deserve it. Remember, we are human beings that NEED food to survive…it is not something you should earn. (That’s a big mindset shift, right there!)
4. Thinking “all or nothing” is absolute. Moms have a tendency to throw in the towel if they give in to something unhealthy. “Well, I ordered the burger, so I might as well have the fries and dessert, too.” If you do have something that’s not so healthy, you don’t have to overindulge.
My husband and I have gotten in the habit of splitting a burger for dinner at restaurants, and having a salad on the side, not fries. Generally, half of a burger is all you need and you won’t miss the fries. Go ahead and have the burger, pizza, or whatever it is, but don’t eat until you’re sick and balance it out with some vegetables. You do not need to take the all or nothing approach.
5. Not eating enough vegetables. I have not met a single mom that eats enough vegetables, myself included. We should all be eating about 8-10 servings of veggies per day. Most of us only get 2 servings per day. We eat plenty of fruit, but vegetables are an afterthought.
To achieve 8-10 servings per day, you should be having about 2 servings of veggies with every meal. This is not as hard as it sounds, but it does take some thought.
6. Demonizing fruit. Fruit gets a bad rap because it is higher in sugar than vegetables. What we forget is that just about everything is higher in sugar than vegetables. Vegetables are the magical food (see above), but fruit is only one notch down from this. Fruits contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, and should be essential in your diet. However, so many moms believe that fruit is too sugary, so they turn to chips, crackers, protein bars, cheeses and less nutritious foods. These foods are the problem, not fruit. Definitely aim for 8-10 servings of veggies per day, but feel free to fill in the cracks with fruit. Two to three servings of fruit per day is not a problem.
7. Eating your kids’ food. I’m raising my hand as a guilty defendant with no defense argument. And I know that I’m not alone. This is so stupid, but why do we do this!? Fruit snacks, goldfish crackers, graham crackers, granola bars, leftover sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and the list goes on. I cannot explain why we eat our kids’ food, other than it’s a completely mindless action.
We are mentally lazy on this one, and we completely let down our guard.
We have the ability to say no to other tempting foods, but if we see some extra goldfish crackers laying around, they slip in under our radar. Let’s all commit to strengthening our resolve against eating kid foods. Recognize when you’re reaching for the kid food and stop yourself. This will be hard, but we’re adults, not kids.
8. Buying organic processed foods, thinking they’re healthy. I see this particularly at Costco—a cart that is loaded up with pita chips, breakfast cereals, frozen bags of pasta, packages of sausage, English muffins, popsicles--all organic. I have a feeling this mom thinks she’s doing her family a healthy favor by purchasing organic versions of processed foods. Listen to me—organic macaroni and cheese is still macaroni and cheese. It is not healthier for you AT ALL. In fact, organic foods do not contain more nutrients than conventional foods. Stop worrying about whether or not you eat organic and just make sure you’re not eating out of a package.
9. Not eating enough. Most moms I know make this mistake. Severe calorie restriction is just as bad as overeating. When you think “less is better”, you run the risk of tanking your metabolism. This makes it incredibly difficult to lose weight and maintain healthy muscle mass.
Not only do you sabotage your metabolism, but over time you can mess with every system in your body, especially your stress hormones and your sex hormones. Your menstrual cycle can get wacky, your cortisol levels increase making you gain weight, your sleep becomes interrupted—what a mess! Don’t skip meals, don’t eat like a bird, and don’t count calories. Just stop.
10. Eating too much. Well, yeah, this is a big mistake too. Moms tend to vacillate between not eating enough for one meal and then eating way too much for another meal. What a roller-coaster. Obviously, if you eat too much, overindulging on a regular basis, you will gain weight. This happens slowly over time, but it’s usually because we’re not tuned in closely to when we feel satisfied. We just keep eating, not realizing that we were completely satisfied about 10 minutes ago. You don’t have to eat everything on your plate. Choose good, nutritious foods, and then practice pushing the plate away the first moment you feel satisfied.
There are certainly more mistakes that we, as moms, make with our nutritional habits. But in my years coaching women, these ones are the most common. I would be completely floored if none of these resonated with you.
Which mistake stands out to you? Do you eat your kids’ food? Do you eat enough vegetables? Perhaps you don’t eat enough at all? Or most likely, you simply neglect to plan and prioritize your own meals.
Challenge yourself this week—pick one of these mistakes that stuck out to you and work on improving in this area. I know what I’m working on--not eating my kids’ foods! Oy…
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Megan P. Dahlman
Hi friend! I'm a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Wife to Scott, and Mom to two crazy boys, Calvin & Peter. I train hard, eat well, rest just enough to keep going, and do my best to maintain a heavenly perspective. I'd love to coach you to do the same. Cheers!
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