Working hard to lose weight and then failing to reach your goals is frustrating. These are 8 weight loss mistakes you might be making and how to avoid them.
Focusing only on diet and exercise
Diet and exercise are only part of the weight loss equation. Stress levels and sleep patterns play a role in your success. One study showed that subjects who slept six to eight hours per night and who reported lower stress levels were more likely to reach a 10 pound weight loss goal. Adrenaline, corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH), and cortisol are hormones released in response to stress. While adrenaline and CRH supress appetite for a short time, cortisol increases appetite and has a longer lasting effect after a stressful situation. Research shows that people who sleep fewer than six hours per night also have elevated cortisol. To make matters worse, lack of sleep also causes an increase in the hormone, ghrelin (increases appetite), and a decrease in leptin (suppresses appetite).
All or nothing
A healthy lifestyle is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. You can’t let one bump in the road send you on a downward spiral of overeating and skipped workouts. Healthy habits such as eating more nutritious foods, controlling portion sizes, and exercising regularly must fit into the natural ups and downs of life. If you attend a dinner party and enjoy dessert, the next day cut back a few calories at each meal. If a late meeting forces you to cancel your workout on Monday, don’t give up the rest of the week. Add 10 minutes of exercise time on Tuesday through Friday to make up for it.
Not eating enough
For many people, weight loss plans include drastically cutting calories or skipping meals. Both practices lead to excessive hunger followed by overeating. According to nutrition and weight loss guidelines set by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), women should not consume fewer than 1200 calories per day, and men should have no fewer than 1700 calories per day. Doing so may be detrimental to body functions and metabolism.
Drinking your calories
Research shows that we often fail to compensate for the calories we drink. For example, if you drink a 250-calorie sweetened coffee instead of eating food as a snack, it’s unlikely that you will decrease the calories in your lunch or dinner to balance out the extra intake. The consumption of high calorie drinks (energy drinks, alcohol, coffees, sodas, and juices) make it easy for your daily calorie intake to creep upward, preventing weight loss. Record all of your drinks and any extras you add to them such as cream, sugar, or flavored syrups. Remember that even occasional sips throughout the day count, too.
Underestimating portion sizes
When following a weight loss plan, it’s important to weigh or measure your food to learn what a healthy portion looks like. This makes it much easier to estimate accurately when you are not dining at home. You can also use common household items to help estimate your food intake. (See Tips for Estimating Serving Sizes)
Forcing yourself to love an exercise
There are too many forms of physical activity out there to force yourself to love one that is not a good fit. Just because you heard that indoor cycling burns a lot of calories or your best friend loves the new kickboxing class doesn’t mean that these classes have to work for you. Try as many options as possible when starting out, and think outside the gym. There is nothing wrong with a weekly exercise program that includes 30 minutes jumping on the trampoline with your children, a 60-minute family bike ride, 45 minutes of yard work, 60 minutes of yoga in the living room, and a 30-minute swim.
Faith in the fads
It’s tempting to believe in the promise of quick-fix eating plans and supplements. Despite claims, only a healthy lifestyle that includes nutritious food and exercise will result in losing weight and keeping it off. Cutting out food groups, detox diets, and diet pills will not give you lasting success. These methods are not sustainable, and any weight you lose is sure to return.
Expecting too much, too soon
Weight loss takes time. In the first week or two, you may see a quick drop in weight due to water loss. Once you begin to lose fat, changes in the scale will slow. Don’t get discouraged. Experts recommend a weight loss of no more than two pounds per week for health and for keeping it off long term. Stick with it, the time will pass, and before you know it you will reach your goal weight.
Malnutrition occurs when there is a lack of necessary nutrients. It is often associated with starvation, but it is now evident that malnutrition applies to overeating as well as undereating. It is possible for a person to become overweight while also failing to get important nutrients.
Macronutrients, micronutrients, and empty calories
The macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) provide the body with calories for energy. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals necessary for health, but they do not provide calories. Empty calories is a term often used for foods which contain excess calories with little nutritional value (soda and junk foods). When these empty calorie foods make up a large part of the diet, you can gain weight without getting all of the nutrients you need.
Quantity versus quality
When we are hungry, we seek out food. But what and how much we eat is influenced by many factors, including time, convenience, environment, culture, and knowledge. The desire to satisfy our hunger often trumps a desire to make healthy food choices. When you choose quantity and convenience over food quality, you risk consuming empty calories.
Nutrients of concern
Many diets poor in nutrition do not provide adequate calcium. Those who consume sweetened soda often drink them in place of calcium-rich milk. Dark, leafy greens and broccoli are sources for dietary calcium, but vegetables are another major food group that are often missing in poor diets.
The chemicals in plant foods (phytonutrients) are not essential to life, but they have numerous health benefits, including protection against disease. A diet of highly processed foods with few fresh fruits, vegetables, or whole grains can be in short supply of these beneficial plant nutrients.
Malnutrition can affect anyone
Foods composed of empty calories tend to be cheap and quick. This makes low-income populations and those with busy lifestyles especially vulnerable to this “overweight and malnourished” phenomenon. The trick is to plan your meals in advance, which will help you keep your food costs down and help you avoid needing to grab something quick when on the go.
The direct link between water intake and weight loss is a topic of debate. While past beliefs that water flushes fat from the body lack scientific support, some studies do show that water can influence your weight in other ways. These are a few things we know about water, hydration, health, and weight loss.
About 55-60% of your body weight is water, which helps with temperature regulation, cardiovascular function, waste removal, and metabolism. To function at its best, the body needs to be well-hydrated.
Due to water loss through sweat, dehydration can quickly set in during exercise – especially in hot and humid weather. Dehydration leads to fatigue and poor exercise performance. This reduces the amount of time and the intensity at which you can exercise, decreasing overall calorie burn.
Drinking large amounts of water can result in hyponatremia (low sodium). When drinking too much plain water, electrolytes (especially sodium) are transported from the blood and tissues into the small intestine, resulting in a dangerous electrolyte imbalance.
One small study showed that following water intake, metabolic rate increases and remains elevated for over an hour. One reason for this increased calorie burn is thought to be the energy needed for the body to heat the water.
Another study, published in the journal Obesity, found that increased water intake was linked to decreased weight, waist circumference, and body fat in overweight women who were on a weight loss plan.
Thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger. Water may help reduce hunger, which can reduce overall calorie intake.
Sipping water provides a distraction to reduce mindless snacking.
Replacing beverages that contain calories with water will lower total calorie intake.
Do you think you need a diet pill to lose weight? Here are seven reasons why the dangers of diet pills far outweigh the benefit of any potential weight loss.
There is no guarantee.
Dietary supplements do not require approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before being sold to the public. With so many companies and products, it is easy for unsafe ingredients to find their way into popular diet pills, going unnoticed until adverse reactions are reported to the FDA.
They can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
The main ingredient in many diet pills are stimulants that have been found to increase risk for heart attack and stroke. Often these stimulants are prescription level drugs that have been banned from the market, but they illegally make their way back into these pills due to poor regulation of dietary supplements.
You can become addicted.
Diet pills often contain amphetamines, anti-anxiety drugs, and antidepressants. Not only is this a dangerous mix, but these drugs are also highly addictive.
You may experience multiple side effects.
Some diet pills contain fat blockers that decrease nutrient absorption and cause stomach upset. Other reported side effects of diet pills include constipation, headaches, and mood swings.
Labels are full of false claims.
Don’t believe every claim you read on the labels of dietary supplements. In a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an analysis of 127 dietary supplements (including weight loss pills) found that 20 percent made illegal claims on the labels stating that the product cured or treated disease.
They are ineffective.
Many diet pills are simply a combination of caffeine and other diuretics, which cause water loss. Initially this results in a lower number on the scale, but this is not true fat loss and the water weight will return. Additionally, extreme water loss due to diet pills can cause dangerous dehydration.
You won’t change your habits.
Long term weight loss requires a change in your eating and exercise habits to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Taking a pill as a quick-fix method does not encourage you to gain a better understanding of how foods and exercise affect your weight. You are less likely to check food labels, record your food intake, and fit in your exercise if you think a pill is going to do the work for you. Taking pills forever is not sustainable and once you stop, you’ll be back to your poor habits and initial weight.
Maintaining a healthy body weight is important, but it should not be confused with being physically fit. Simply being thin does not protect you from health conditions related to a sedentary lifestyle.
Research supports fitness.
A person can appear thin while having excess visceral fat -- the fat around vital organs that increases disease risk -- making weight alone a poor indicator for overall health. Researchers use the term metabolically fit to describe a person who is a regular exerciser and overweight, but is without health risk factors, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Studies show that, despite being overweight, the metabolically fit have no higher death risk than those who are fit and maintain a normal weight.
This research indicates that thinness doesn’t always equal fitness, but it is also no reason to abandon your weight loss goals. Maintaining a healthy weight puts less stress on your joints and can improve your energy levels.
Measure your fitness.
Fitness should be your goal regardless of your body weight. There are three components that define your total fitness level:
Cardiorespiratory endurance – Often measured by the step test, it is the ability of the heart, lungs, and vascular system to work together to transfer oxygen and carbon dioxide within the body during activity.
Muscular endurance, power, and strength – Measured by push up tests, sit up tests, and hand grip, it’s the ability of the muscles to contract, generate force, and sustain repeated contraction.
Flexibility – Measured by the sit-and-reach test, flexibility is a measure of the range of motion around joints.
Fitness centers, worksite health fairs, and university exercise labs provide tests for these components.
Pass these health tests.
Health tests help you identify risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Remember that those considered metabolically fit do not have health risk factors despite the fact that they are overweight according to their BMI. Regularly schedule appointments with your healthcare provider to assess these health indicators. He or she may recommend more tests to determine your overall health status.
Fasting blood glucose - 70 to 100 mg/dL is normal
Triglycerides - below 150 mg/dL is desirable
HDL cholesterol - greater than 60 mg/dL is desirable
Blood pressure - less than 120 mmHg over less than 80 mmHg is normal
Exercise regardless of your weight.
Exercise is a key factor in staying metabolically fit. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week for improved health. Also incorporate two or three days of strength training and two or three days of flexibility training each week for a balanced exercise program to improve your metabolic fitness.