In theory, losing weight seems simple enough: Eat less, move more. Right? Ha! Anyone who’s ever tried to slim down knows that diet and exercise is tricky. It’s easy for even then best-laid plans to run off-course. And there’s nothing like hitting a weight loss plateau — or, worse, regaining to make you want to throw out the scale and grab a cookie.
To fend off the calorie burn blues, we asked a bunch of top trainers and nutritionists for the most common mistakes they see clients making when they first embark on a weight loss goal. If you’ve set out to shed pounds but aren’t seeing the results you hoped for, here are some possible reasons why — plus, great advice to get you back on track.
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10 Diet Mistakes That Are Easy to Avoid
Mistake #1: Not counting all the calories.
Snack attacks happen. Just don’t try to deny them. “When I ask my clients for a daily meal log, I often get back a list of breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” says DailyBurn Fitness/Nutrition coach Chris Mosier. “These people are snacking, but they aren’t adding it toward their daily caloric intake total.” Most people don’t realize how much these bites can add up, he says. Not to mention the toll that beverages, like soda or booze, can take on your waistline.
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Fix It: Use a calorie-tracking mobile app so you can log each item as you’re eating it — not later. “It’s easy to go over your caloric goal when you add in the two cookies from the office party, the vending machine run during the afternoon slump, and the bedtime sweets,” Mosier says. Remind yourself before you take those extra between-meal bites: Like it or not, every calorie counts.
Mistake #2: Going crazy on your cheat day.
Splurging once a week can help satisfy cravings and, when done right, can even spike metabolism and help you burn calories more efficiently. “But the problem is that often, the cheat day becomes a massive food-eating contest,” says Joey Thurman, celebrity trainer and creator of The Lifestyle Renovation. Going overboard can set you back thousands of calories and make you feel sick and bloated for days to come.
“Many people start out thinking they need to work out seven days a week, which is not always reasonable.”
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Fix It: “Instead of a cheat day, have a cheat meal for each week,” says Thurman. “You still can have that donut, pizza, or brownie you’ve been craving, and get right back on the road to clean, nutritious eating — instead of derailing all your progress and causing yourself to feel sick.”
Mistake #3: Not switching up your workouts.
Turns out doing the same Cardio Sculpt workout every day might not be the best idea. “Completing the same workout over and over can be detrimental to weight loss, because our bodies adapt and become more efficient at that mode of exercise,” says DailyBurn Fitness/Nutrition coach Tiffany Hill. Similarly, doing all steady-state cardio, without adding strength training or high-intensity intervals, can also sabotage your efforts, says personal trainer Mike Chang, creator of Six Pack Shortcuts. “You can spend a month on a treadmill and see very few results, and end up looking worse if you’re not careful,” he says. “Too much cardio can get rid of the muscle that makes you look good.”
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Fix It: To ensure you’re getting enough variety in your workouts, Hill recommends regularly adjusting the frequency, intensity, time, or type of workout. (You can remember that using the acronym FITT.) “Following a running program such as Couch to 5K is a good example of an exercise progression,” she says. “Each week, the running phase increases gradually.” To be sure you’re building muscle and keeping your metabolism revved, add high-intensity intervals and weight or resistance training to your routine at least twice a week.
Mistake #4: Restricting yourself too much.
Step away from the juice cleanses. “Going on a strict diet forever is simply not realistic, unless you have a lot of extra time on your hands and the willpower to never to eat out again,” jokes Chang. “If you want to lose weight, you have to think about sustainability.” And even if you are able to stick to a super low-calorie meal plan without falling off the wagon, your body could kick into starvation mode, expending fewer calories in an effort to preserve energy.
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Fix It: Instead of worrying so much about the number of calories you’re eating, focus on the quality of those calories, says Allie Whitesides, DailyBurn Fitness/Nutrition coach. “Eat food that you prepare, less packaged goods, and include a balance of protein, healthy fats, whole grains, and lots of fresh veggies and fruits.” Follow these steps and you’ll find yourself naturally eating a healthy number of calories, without feeling hungry or deprived.
Mistake #5: Not taking a rest day.
When starting a workout program, it’s crucial to give your body (and mind) adequate recovery days. “Many people start out thinking they need to work out seven days a week, which is not always reasonable,” says Whitesides. “When they end up missing a day or two they become discouraged and often give up completely.”
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Fix It: To beat burnout, schedule a day or two of rest each week, and be sure to set reasonable goals that fit your lifestyle. “Always listen to your body, and if you are too sore to work out, take an active recovery day,” says Whitesides. Go for a walk with your family, take a leisurely bike ride or do some gentle yoga.
Mistake #6: Giving exercise too much credit.
You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. “When it comes to weight loss, nutrition needs to be on point in order for your physical activity efforts to shine through,” says Hill. “This is especially true for people just beginning an exercise routine, because easy to moderate physical activity doesn’t burn a lot of calories.” For example, walking at three miles per hour for 30 minutes burns less than 150 calories — equal to or less than most candy or snack bars.
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Fix It: Ditch the mindset that just because you worked out, you can eat whatever you want. But don’t let a strict diet keep you from exercising, either. “It’s still important because it will help with increasing your mood, boosting energy and promoting better sleep,” says Hill. “Focus on these immediate gains of physical activity, and weight loss will follow suit.”
Mistake #7: Focusing too much on the scale.
Many of Mosier’s clients obsessively check the scale, and are then disappointed if the number isn’t moving. But many factors can play into a person’s weight, he says, including body composition, hydration levels and food you’ve eaten. “Weight can fluctuate, so jumping on the scale daily doesn’t give an accurate snapshot of how you’re actually doing.”
“People who eat like birds at breakfast often become hungry and overeat at lunch and dinner.”
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Fix It: Weigh yourself once a month and take measurements of your body to track changes, says Mosier. “Measurements can be taken anywhere you want to lose inches, with the most common being the waist, hips, thighs and upper arms.”
Mistake #8: Not getting enough sleep.
Pay attention to zzz’s just as much as LBs. “One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is not giving enough emphasis to the unsung heroes of weight loss, like sleep and stress,” says trainer and sports nutritionist Rob Sulaver, founder of Bandana Training. “If you want to create the ideal fat loss conditions for your body, you have to manage your stress levels and make sure the quantity and quality of your sleep is on point.”
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Fix It: Before you even think about a diet and exercise plan, make sure you’re getting enough shuteye. (The magic number of hours is different for everyone, but most studies suggest it’s around seven — although very active people likely need more.) If you’re stressed, find healthy ways to relieve tension, like regular yoga sessions, meditation, or hitting a punching bag in boxing class.
Mistake #9: Skimping on breakfast.
“People who eat like birds at breakfast often become hungry and overeat at lunch and dinner,” says sports nutritionist Kate Davis, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. While your morning meal may not be as important to weight loss as it was once believed, studies do show that eating early (especially high-protein meals) can increase dopamine levels, which may reduce cravings throughout the day.
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Fix It: “Flip your thinking and make breakfast your largest meal of the day,” says Davis. “Eat relatively less as the day goes on to keep yourself from becoming over-hungry.” Can’t swing a big breakfast on work days? A recent study found that a quick bowl of oatmeal first thing in the a.m. can help you eat 50 percent less at lunch.
Mistake #10: Gunning for six-pack abs.
“You can perform crunches until you’re blue in the face, but this doesn’t mean you’re actually burning fat from your abdominal area,” says Hill. That’s because the idea that you can “spot reduce” simply isn’t true. In order to lose weight, you have to burn calories — and when you do, the body sheds fat all over, not just in one specific spot.
Fix It: For the biggest calorie burn, focus on exercises that increase your heart rate and target large muscle groups — like the chest, back and legs. (Hill recommends squats, deadlifts, push-ups and bent-over rows.) Incorporate high-intensity interval training into your routine, as well. “You’ll burn more calories in less time, and this type of physical activity can work for you due to the afterburn effect.”
For no-equipment workouts you can do at home, head to DailyBurn.com and try it free for 30 days.