14 Diet and Weight Loss Mistakes — and How to Avoid Them

If you’re eating right and exercising, but still not seeing results on the scale, it could be because of a little accidental self-sabotage. Find out if you’re damaging your diet with these common mistakes.

You May Be Sabotaging Your Diet Without Even Knowing It

Weight loss is complicated. There are lots of tips you can follow when it comes to how to make your diet work and how to lose weight. Keep a food journal. Prep meals (or ingredients) ahead of time. Get enough sleep. But there are a lot of things that can derail your diet, too — and quickly.

“There are many little ways that people undermine their weight loss,” says weight loss and obesity researcher Jennifer Linde, PhD, an associate professor in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis. Things like overestimating calories burned at the gym and not getting enough sleep can be sneaky diet saboteurs. And that’s a problem because not seeing results when you’re putting effort into a diet or weight loss plan can be extremely frustrating.

To get on the right track, remember to pick a diet and weight loss plan that fits your lifestyle. Does the plan seem like one you’ll be able to follow to lose weight and keep it off? Besides what you should be eating and how much exercise you should be getting, does the plan account for and help with stress, emotional health, sleep, medications, and other factors that can affect weight? These are all factors that are important components of weight loss plans, according to fact sheets from the National Institutes of Health.

One conclusion in the most recent obesity guidelines from the American Heart Association is that there is no one diet or weight loss plan that works for everyone — and that some plans can be more successful for some people than others, thanks to biological reasons, as well as differences in personal preferences and personal motivations for weight loss. More than 12 diet plans were systematically found to help people lose and maintain weight, even though each one prescribed a different way to accomplish that. The guideline was published in November 2013 in the journal Circulation.

And remember that attitude is important. Staying positive about weight loss and your weight loss goals can go a long way in keeping you motivated and keeping your plan for shedding pounds on track, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

And finally, once you get started, don’t let these 13 (all-too-common!) mistakes wreck your diet and weight loss plans. Here’s what NOT to do if you want to shed unwanted pounds.

Eating Too Few Calories Can Slow Weight Loss

Many dieters make the mistake of thinking that if they cut more calories, they’ll lose weight faster. Experts warn that the opposite is almost always true. Trying to maintain a diet that is very low in calories can cause people to binge and overeat later because they are so hungry — or give up on a diet or weight loss plan altogether in the long run.

Plus, cutting too many calories can actually stall your metabolism, which means you burn calories at a slower rate. That’s because feeding the body too little pushes the body into “starvation mode” to conserve energy rather than burn it off (in theory to protect you from actual starvation). But for dieters, extreme calorie deficits therefore can actually stall weight loss.

“In general, women shouldn’t eat less than 1,200 calories and men less than 1,500 calories a day, and even these levels are pretty tight,” warns Roberta Anding, a registered dietitian at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Putting Foods on a “Forbidden” List Can Lead to Unintentional Bingeing Later

Tell yourself you can’t eat a certain food, and you may end up seeing it wherever you look. “Making things forbidden can always cause trouble,” Linde says.

Instead let yourself enjoy a small amount of the “forbidden” food and you’ll be less likely to want to binge on that or other foods later, Linde says. Allowing yourself to indulge on occasion will help keep your diet plan doable for you — and help keep you on track with your weight loss.

Skipping Breakfast Could Leave You Way Too Hungry When Lunch Rolls Around

A healthy breakfast isn’t just a tasty way to start the day. It can actually help you maintain your diet and weight-loss commitments. Skipping breakfast (or any meal of the day) doesn’t really help you cut calories, because it causes you to get so hungry that you overeat at the next meal, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Some studies have even suggested that eating more calories at breakfast (versus later in the day at dinner) actually leads to better weight loss results than consuming the same number of calories each day, but with the larger amount later in the day. One study of 93 overweight and obese women who were all prescribed one of two diets for 12 weeks found that those following the diets where they consumed more calories in the mornings than the evenings lost on average 2.5 times as much weight as the women on the diets where more calories were consumed in the evening than the morning. The data was published in the December 2013 issue of the journal Obesity.

To ensure that your breakfast keeps you full until lunchtime rolls around, opt for breakfast picks with both fiber and protein.

Guesstimating Portions and Overeating Can Derail Diets

If you’ve already started losing pounds by tightening up on your diet, it can sometimes be easy to get lax about portion sizes — and that’s the perfect opportunity for those extra calories to creep back in. Even if you’re eating healthier overall than you were pre-diet, too-large meals can easily push you off track. A classic example is salad dressing, Linde says. “There’s nothing wrong with salad dressing, but if you’re not careful about how much you put on the salad, you’re undermining your diet,” she points out.

Measure and track all portions for consistent weight loss.

Taking the Weekend Off When It Comes to Your Diet Can Put a Big Damper on Weight Loss

Your weekends may mean time off from work, but they shouldn’t mean time off from your diet. The weekend makes up more than a quarter of your month — and that’s way too much time to spend being lax about your eating habits if you want to be successful with your weight-loss goal.

Instead, continue to watch portion sizes Friday through Sunday while also taking advantage of any additional time on the weekends to try new healthy recipes and squeeze in more calorie-burning activity. Snacking wisely and planning ahead when it comes to varied weekend eating patterns can keep your diet working hard, even when you aren’t.

Grazing Throughout the Day Can Result in Lots of Unwanted Calories

Many dieters are successful with frequent, small meals. But mini-meals aren’t quite the same thing as grazing throughout the day — a bite of pastry in the break room, a nibble of your coworker’s candy bowl offerings, a handful of peanuts at happy hour, and a taste of cookie dough while baking. All those bites can really throw your calorie count and nutrition out of balance. One pilot study that investigated whether or not counting and reducing the number of bites of food you take in a given day alone (regardless of what the bites of food were or how much you exercise) led to weight loss over a four-week period. That study, published in a 2015 issue of the journal Advances in Obesity, Weight Management & Control, was small, but implies that bites add up and matter when it comes to weight loss. For consistent weight loss, remember that portion control and no cheating matters!

Overdoing the Post-Workout Snack Can Add More Calories Than You Need

Remember, if you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. But if you’re allowing yourself to end each workout with a high-calorie sports drink or a meal-size “snack,” you’re almost instantly eating away the calories you just burned. Sugary sports drinks may be the biggest culprit in this regard, Linde says.

Your best bet is to stick to water to rehydrate after exercise. Keep post-workout snacks small — a stick of low-fat cheese, reduced fat chocolate milk, or half a meal bar that has both protein and carbohydrates will do the trick.

Sleeping Too Short or Too Long Can Throw Off Eating Goals

Sleep might not feel like it adds much to your diet and exercise strategy, but studies show that proper sleeping habits are essential for maintaining a healthy weight. Although there are still questions as to why a lack of sleep may cause weight gain or hinder weight loss, a study presented at the 2012 American Heart Association meeting found that sleep-deprived people eat more — about 550 calories more — throughout the day than those who are well-rested. If you’re trying to sleep yourself slim, aim for seven to nine hours of quality z’s every night, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.

Late Night Snacking Adds Up in a Sly Way

Kicking back on the couch to watch your favorite TV show may seem to be the perfect time for a bowl of popcorn or a bite of something sweet. But those calories can add up quickly, Linde says. “Some people eat [as much as] an extra meal late at night.”

The resulting “snack” can be just as calorie-laden as your dinner was earlier in the night. And these calories count, just like all the others in your diet. Change it up by either going to bed before that urge kicks in (and get weight-loss-boosting sleep) or saving calories in your daily budget for a late-night snack that’s high on taste, but low in calories.

If night eating is a habitual problem for you, try to eat more during the day so that you don’t find yourself starving at night. If you feel like you can’t control night eating, it may be time to seek professional help.

Letting Your Motivation Slip Can Squelch Weight Loss Progress

We tend to start new endeavors with a lot of energy and zeal. Remember how hopeful and energetic you were those first days and weeks, with your charts, nutrition books, food logs, and athletic gear? Over time, that enthusiasm can turn to apathy and all those food logs can seem a chore.

Check in with yourself and your goals along the way to stay motivated until you’ve shed that last unwanted pound. Things like weighing yourself regularly or checking in with a friend who is also committed to a weight loss plan can help keep you accountable to your diet goals.

If you need an extra kick to get you going, set up non-food rewards for yourself every time you reach a small milestone, such as a manicure if you make it to all of your scheduled workouts for two weeks running.

Taking Your Workouts a Little Bit Too Easy Can Hamper Calories (and Pounds) Lost

“It’s easy to get too busy to exercise,” Linde says. But if you consistently skip exercise or cut back on your workout to save time, you’re harming your weight-loss strategy. Get back on track by recommitting to the exercise plan that worked for you at the start of your diet. If you suspect boredom is causing the sabotage, you might need to rev up a stale workout by rotating in new moves, athletic goals, or group classes.

Overestimating Calories Burned at the Gym Matters

According to Anding, many people overestimate the calories they burn in a workout, leading to diet sabotage. Sometimes people perceive they’ve worked out a lot harder than they actually have, she says.

“Rather than count calories, think time and intensity,” Anding says. “If you plan to walk, walk briskly for 30 to 45 minutes.”

And, don’t underestimate your fitness abilities, she adds. “I see many women who use 2-pound dumbbells but routinely lift an 8-pound purse,” she says. Upping the intensity ups the calories burned and weight lost.

Yo-Yo-Dieting May Actually Make It Harder to Keep Weight Off in the Long Run

Last year you lost the weight, and this year much (or more) of it is back. Research suggests that cycles of dieting and then not dieting can actually make you more susceptible to weight gain, according to findings published in a 2012 issue of the International Journal of Obesity. Yo-yo and crash diets lead to a rebound of weight gain called “weight cycling.” Successful long-term weight loss is rooted in a commitment to healthy diet and exercise that you can live with, rather than in fad diets or short-term deprivation.

If you’re stuck in a yo-yo dieting cycle and nothing is working to keep the weight off, try hiring a registered dietitian to figure out which long-term habits might be best for you.

Liquid Calories Definitely Need to Be Counted, Too

Linde says many people ignore the full calorie content of their drinks, making costly diet mistakes like drinking too much alcohol or sugary drinks (including sweet tea, sodas, juices, and specialty coffees). “Even if you fill up on liquids, you still need to eat. So you end up consuming a lot more calories than you intended,” Linde adds.

Stick with water, unsweetened tea, black coffee, or unsweetened seltzer water.

Article originally posted on EveryDayHealth

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