Maybe your weight has crept up, and your doctor wants you to shed some pounds. Or you’ve lost some weight, but those last stubborn pounds refuse to come off.
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Don’t let these 10 common mistakes sabotage your success:
1. Setting unrealistic goals
“A new study shows that weight loss success goes up with shorter-term goals,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD.
“Instead of trying to lose 100 pounds in one year, aim for 5 pounds in the next month. Then savor your achievement.”
2. Relying on fad diets/quick fixes
“Diets that focus on eating just one or two foods — like cabbage only or rice only — won’t succeed in the long run,” says medical weight management expert Karen Cooper, DO.
Quick fixes, often involving diet products, won’t bring long-term success. “Drinking shakes for five weeks so you can lose weight for a wedding simply isn’t sustainable,” says Ms. Kirkpatrick.
With liquid diets, you’re either not getting the right nutrients or you’re getting too many other things, depending on what you’re using and for how long.
“It’s OK to substitute a meal with a protein shake or a smoothie that isn’t high in sugar on occasion,” says Dr. Cooper. “But if you continue this pattern for a long time, it w on’t provide all the nutrients and energy your body needs.”
Similarly, cutting out whole food groups, like carbs, is a mistake. “You need carbs to fuel your brain,” says Ms. Kirkpatrick. “Most people can’t get used to eating extremely low-carb diets that are high in fat and high in protein.”
3. Using guilt as a motivator
“Stop trying to use guilt to help you lose weight,” says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, an expert on mindful eating. “When you feel like you’re doing things ‘wrong’ or ‘bad,’ you’re likely to give up completely.”
In fact, research shows guilt about your weight can actually boomerang and promote weight gain.
Encouragement, support and positive thoughts are what help you lose weight, she stresses.
4. Skipping meals/eating too little
During weight loss, you need to take in enough essential nutrients to support your body and allow it to thrive.
“When you skip meals, you’re robbing your body of these essential nutrients,” says Dr. Cooper. “And if you only eat one meal per day, you very often eat more than you realize. This may promote weight gain instead of weight loss.”
What about very low-calorie diets (VLCDs)? Some call for eating just 800 to 1,000 calories per day.
Diets providing fewer than 1,200 calories per day may require medical supervision. “Eating such a small amount of food requires extra support in the form of vitamins, minerals and/or blood tests to make sure no deficiencies occur,” Dr. Cooper explains.
5. Obsessing over the scale
“Too often, people use the scale as a weapon — not as a tool. They become obsessed with one number,” says Dr. Albers.
At the end of the day, feeling good and fitting into your clothes well are the best measures of weight loss.
If you must weigh yourself, use a range rather than focusing on one number. “Be flexible,” she advises. “Give yourself a break. Expect to see ups and downs — it’s natural.”
6. Overdoing high-intensity exercise
If you love to exercise at high intensity (70 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate), be careful not to overdo it.
“High-intensity interval training (HIIT) should be done no more than two or three days per week,” notes exercise physiologist Katie Lawton, MEd, ATC.
Not giving your body enough time to recover from HIIT workouts will backfire, especially when you’re on a low-calorie diet.
“If your body doesn’t get enough fuel for the workout, it can actually store fat and burn protein,” she explains. “As muscle depletes, your metabolism slows down, making it even more difficult to maintain your weight loss. That’s why some people regain their weight, plus some.”
Other fallout from excessive exercise? It can suppress your immune system, making you more susceptible to injury, and hinder your athletic performance.
7. Trying to sweat it off
Exercising in a track suit and routine visits to the sauna after workouts are also counterproductive.
The few extra pounds you shed come from water weight, says Dr. Cooper.
“It’s not good for your body to sweat excessively over a short period of time,” she notes. “You lose electrolytes, and key vitamins and minerals.”
8. Drinking too much water
Drinking lots of water is great if you’re thirsty and your body needs it.
“But too much water can cause a condition in which your sodium levels are lower than normal. This can lead to a seizure disorder, coma or even death,” says Dr. Cooper.
Typically, 64 ounces of water per day are sufficient — unless your body tells you it needs more, she says. Pay attention to when you’re thirsty. It’s a good indicator of how much water to drink.
“If you’re in a warm climate or working up a sweat while exercising, you’ll likely need more water to satisfy your body’s need for hydration,” she says.
9. Using laxatives or purging
Some people may resort to using laxatives or making themselves vomit to get rid of extra calories they’ve consumed.
“This can be quite harmful to your heart, digestive system, teeth and gums,” says Dr. Cooper. “It is not a healthy way to lose weight.”
10. Focusing on food alone
If you’re like many people, you focus on limiting calories to lose weight. But that alone won’t help you achieve your goal weight.
“What kind of physical activities are you doing?” asks Ms. Kirkpatrick. “How’s your stress level? How’s your sleep?” High stress and little sleep can affect the hormones that control appetite and lead to overeating, she says.
Pay attention to your lifestyle habits — they’ll contribute to a healthy weight.
Shift your focus away from dieting
“My main advice? Ditch dieting immediately. Not only does it mess with your metabolism. It also reduces your quality of life,” says Dr. Albers. “Diets create a dysfunctional relationship with foods that is hard to undo.”
Instead, focus on foods that make your body feel good. Take steps to reduce stress. Practice good sleep habits. Find opportunities to move that promote your health and bring you joy.
You’ll feel a whole lot better.