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People commonly make weight loss plans in order to improve their health and physical appearance. While they start with enthusiasm, they often lose motivation because they don’t see quick results.
It’s important to remember that any healthy weight loss plan requires time and consistency to work. It’s often helpful to consult a registered dietitian nutritionist for a weight loss plan that includes both exercise and healthy eating.
Common Mistakes You Could Be Making
The clients I see in my private practice make these common mistakes that lead to difficulty in losing weight:
1. Skipping meals
Meal skipping causes excessive hunger, and leads to overeating at the next meal or snacking more in the late evening. It also leads to high-fat and high-sugar food cravings, thus increasing calorie intake.
Moreover, frequently skipping meals causes slower metabolism over time, (1) which makes it harder to lose weight and can even lead to weight gain.
2. Cutting out carbohydrates
Carbohydrate consumption is important for the body since it provides glucose as the energy source for the brain and body to function. A lack of carbohydrates can result in fatigue, increased stress, and decreased cognition. (3)
3. Eating too little calories
I’ve seen many people cut the amount of calories they eat dramatically and find they’re not losing weight. Doing this leads to a slowed metabolism due to the body trying to conserve energy.
It’s hard to sustain and can lead to eventual bingeing. It also feels bad to have low energy and difficulty concentrating; and some people can develop gallstones. (4) Going below 1200 calories can also lead to nutrient deficiencies.
4. Not getting enough sleep
When we don’t regularly get 7–9 hours of sleep, ghrelin, the hormone that causes hunger is increased, and leptin, the hormone that signals to the brain that we’re full is decreased. (5)(6) Increased hunger drives us to overeat.
5. Eating too quickly
Signals from the stomach that tell the brain we’re full take about 20 minutes. When we eat too quickly we consume more calories than we need, which over time will lead to weight gain. (7)
Meals are also not as satisfying when we don’t take time to enjoy the ﬂavors, which may lead to food cravings later. Eating too fast can also cause discomfort from an overfull stomach and lead to gastrointestinal reﬂux.
6. Being on a fad diet
Most fad diets aren’t sustainable for a lifetime so when people have had enough and go back to eating the way they did before, weight is regained. Many of these diets include eliminating a major food group, such as carbohydrates. This can lead to deficiencies and health issues as a result.
7. Eating large portions of healthy items
Most of us recognize that eating large portions will eventually lead to weight gain. (8) However, some adopt the philosophy of it’s good for me then it’s good to eat more.
While it is a good idea to eat more fruits and veggies, some very nutritious foods such as peanut butter, nuts, and avocados are also high in calories because they have high amounts of healthy fats. Eating too much of these foods can lead to difficulty losing weight and/or weight gain.
8. Snacking while cooking or baking
Many people are not aware of the excess calories they take in when mindlessly munching while cooking or baking.
25 calories here, 40 calories there done a few times can add up to eating as much as a small snack. Doing this a few times a day can add up to enough calories to prevent weight loss.
9. Not planning ahead
Planning meals ahead of time increase the chance for success by increasing the likelihood of making a healthier food choice. Meal planning is found to be associated with lower odds of obesity in men and women. (9)
What You Can Do for Weight Loss
The biggest bang for your buck comes from the combination of healthy changes to diet and exercise.
a. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise along with diet modiﬁcations can help in weight loss. Moreover, once a weight goal is reached, exercise becomes all the more important. A study (10) showed that individuals that successfully maintained their weight once they reached their weight loss goal relied on exercise to do so.
b. Modify your diet
It’s best to have a well-balanced diet that includes all nutrients when aiming for weight loss. Try to incorporate the following daily:
1. Eat healthy fats
It’s not necessary to consume only low-fat foods while trying to lose weight. Be sure to choose polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats most often. Omega-3 fats are polyunsaturated and found in:
- Fatty fish such as salmon
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Omega-3 eggs
These fats aren’t made by the body, so it’s important to eat them. They keep the brain and nervous system healthy, protect against dry eyes, lower cholesterol levels, and reduce inflammation.
2. Avoid monounsaturated fats
Monounsaturated fats help to raise HDL or healthy cholesterol and protect against heart disease. (11) These are found in nuts, nut butter, olive and canola oils, and avocados.
While these fats are healthy for the body, they are high in calories, which can make it hard to lose weight or can cause weight gain if eaten in excess. Aim to keep fat calories around 30% of the total calories.
3. Consume lean protein
Lean protein is great for weight loss because it takes more work by the body to digest and metabolize it. Moreover, it keeps you feeling full longer because it remains in the stomach longer.
Protein also keeps your muscles healthy and strong. Protein needs range from 0.5 to 1.0 gram per pound/day depending on your activity level. (12) Examples of lean protein include white poultry, greek yogurt, beans and lentils, and lower-fat cuts of beef such as sirloin.
4. Eat fresh produce
The fiber in fruits and veggies is great for keeping you feeling full, and helping with digestion. It also helps to reduce the bad (LDL) cholesterol for heart health. Fruits and veggies also provide cancer-fighting antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to keep you healthy.
5. Consume whole grains
Whole grains keep you feeling full and satisfied and help keep energy levels up. Be sure to limit portion sizes. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, quinoa, and popcorn.
Don’t Worry, You Can Have Cheat Days
I’m frequently asked if it’s ok to have cheat days on the weekend. I personally don’t like the idea of an entire weekend of high-fat, high-sugar indulgences.
The key to weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight is to make it a lifestyle. That said, overly restrictive diets or thinking you can only eat “clean” isn’t always healthy either.
Instead, try incorporating treat foods a few times a week or even small portions of food you love into daily eating. For example, if you love pizza, have it and enjoy it, but limit to one or two pieces and have a big salad and some fruit with it.
If you have a sweet tooth, try having a couple of pieces of chocolate or small cookies after a healthy meal with some hot tea. Enjoy the foods while eating them. Never punish yourself for overeating or eating foods considered to be unhealthy. Just get back to healthy eating at your next meal.
Healthy Weight Loss Tips
Here are some useful tips for weight loss:
- Be mindful when eating – Chew food thoroughly and eat slowly. Eating too quickly can lead to overeating as it takes the stomach 20 minutes to send signals to the brain that it’s full.
- Don’t fear carbohydrates – Eating whole-grain carbs is satisfying and helps you to feel fuller longer. Carbs are a good source of energy. Stick to a ½-cup serving.
- Make sure to eat adequate calories – Don’t go below 1,200 calories a day. Doing so can put your body into starvation mode, which will slow down metabolism and make it harder to lose weight.
- Avoid fad diets – These diets tend not to be sustainable. When you’ve had enough and go back to eating the way you were before, the weight comes back and often more than when you originally started.
- Avoid mindless munching – Sometimes, you don’t realize that you are taking in a lot of extra calories by simply munching as you cook or watch TV. Be aware and mindful anytime you eat to enjoy the food and not pack on extra pounds. (13)(14)
- Plan ahead – Be sure your home is stocked with healthy items and snacks. Plan lunches and snacks to take with you to work, school, or errands. When you become really hungry with no plan, it’s often the less healthy foods you crave and eat too much of.
- Be careful not to eat too much of some healthy foods – Foods such as avocados, peanut butter, and nuts are super nutritious, but they’re also high in calories. Eating large portions of these foods can lead to weight gain.
- Make sure to get enough sleep – When you don’t get 7–9 hours of sleep regularly, the hormone that causes hunger (ghrelin) is increased and the hormone that signals the brain that you are full (leptin) is decreased.
- Drink 8–16 ounces of water immediately before meals – This helps to fill the stomach up.
- Avoid or limit alcohol – Alcohol alone is high in calories, and often when inhibitions are lowered, more high-calorie foods may be eaten.
- Strength train – Increasing muscle mass is a great way to boost metabolism as it requires more calories to maintain.
Manage Stress to Avoid Weight Gain
High levels of stress can lead to weight gain for some people. Stress causes an increase in the level of the fight or flight hormone (cortisol) in the body. Cortisol causes you to crave sugary, high-fat, high-sodium foods.
The weight that is gained while higher levels of cortisol are present tends to be in the abdominal area, which leads to other health issues. Some people when stressed, mindlessly eat to comfort themselves. Mindless eating can boost calorie intake, leading to weight gain. (15)
When trying to lose weight, it’s a good idea to talk with a registered dietitian to see what’s going well and what can be improved upon to be successful at weight loss. Sometimes, it can be a matter of just not knowing the right foods to eat.
Consistency is key, and getting into healthy eating as a lifestyle that can be maintained for a lifetime helps to prevent regaining weight. Aim to eat a meal or snack every 4–5 hours.