A look at some of the ways dieters may unknowingly undermine their weight loss efforts.
Don’t eat fat. Reward weight loss with a “cheat day.” Skip meals. Any of these weight-loss tips sound familiar?
Unfortunately, these tips are actually among the common dieting mistakes that may prevent you from losing weight—or even cause you to gain.
1. You avoid fat completely.
If you cut all fat out of your diet, you probably won’t lose weight, says Marjorie Nolan, RD, spokesperson for the ADA. Fat keeps you full longer because it’s digested slowly. Cut out too much fat and you’ll get hungry faster, which means you may overeat later on because you aren’t full.
Try this: Choose unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive and canola oils, Nolan says.
2. You eat too much diet food.
Be careful when you eat foods packaged as low-fat, low-calorie or diet foods, Nolan says. It can be tempting to justify eating more of these foods because they’re “healthy,” but the bigger portions can actually mean that you’re eating more calories overall.
Try this: Avoid diet foods, and serve reasonable portions of regular, nutritious foods.
3. You schedule a weekly “cheat day.”
“Often, people are ‘good’ all week while planning to have a cheat day,” Nolan says.
Cheat days aren’t healthy mentally or physically. “The longing you create all week sets you up to binge when the cheat day arrives,” Nolan says. And most people can’t make up for that kind of indulgence with exercise and healthy eating the rest of the week.
Try this: Find other ways to reward yourself for sticking to your new, healthier lifestyle.
4. You skip or delay meals—especially breakfast.
“Waiting too long in between meals or skipping meals isn’t a good way to save calories,” Nolan says. “In fact, it actually decreases your metabolism, and you burn fewer calories throughout the day.
“People say, ‘When I eat breakfast, I’m hungrier earlier in the day,’” Nolan says. “But being hungry isn’t bad—it’s proof that your metabolism is working properly. And when you eat enough throughout the day, you won’t overeat at night.”
Try this: Have regularly spaced meals and snacks. It may kick your metabolism into gear and help you lose weight.
5. You eat when you’re thirsty.
Sometimes when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually thirsty, says Nolan. That’s because the signs of hunger and thirst are similar—such as fatigue, muscle soreness and difficulty concentrating.
Try this: Drink a glass of water before that afternoon snack, and see if your “hunger” goes away. However, don’t quench your thirst with caffeinated or alcoholic beverages. They will worsen dehydration.
6. You try to kick-start your diet by overdoing it at the gym.
In order to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. That’s why exercise is so important to a healthy weight. However, “studies show that people who engage in really intense activity often wind up eating more,” Nolan says. “If you’re exercising very intensely every day to jumpstart your diet, you’re actually jumpstarting your hunger as well.”
Try this: The NIH recommends you get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderately intense activity a week—such as walking. Don’t work out aggressively if you’re not used to it.
7. You weigh yourself all the time—or never.
Some people avoid the scale because they’re afraid of it, Nolan says. “They want to wait until after they’ve started dieting so they can start with a lower number,” she says. But they put it off for weeks and months—and continue to gain weight.
On the other hand, some people weigh themselves too much. “There are always day-to-day, hour-to-hour fluctuations in weight based on fluid level, time of the month, activities and so on,” Nolan explains. In those cases, weighing yourself too often can be discouraging.
Try this: Weigh yourself once or twice a week so that you know where you are and whether you need a change.
A plan for successful weight loss
Dieting doesn’t have to be dramatic to work, Nolan says. Simpler changes are usually healthier and easier to maintain. Successful weight loss happens when you come up with a plan that works in your life—not when you try to follow drastic rules developed by and for someone else. Talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian for help.
For additional weight-loss tips, visit the Weight Management health topic center.