It’s springtime, and with summer just around the corner, you’ve decided it’s finally time to shed a few pounds and get into bikini body shape. You’ve started hitting the gym regularly, cutting back on your calories, and doing your best to limit your drinking and late-night eating. Despite all of this, for some reason, you’re just not losing the weight you were hoping for. So what gives? Read on to find out the top ten mistakes you might be making when it comes to losing weight, and how you can stop making them.
You’re relying too much on numbers.
Sure, the scale seems like the perfect place to start looking when you’re hoping to peel off the pounds. On the contrary, however, the scale isn’t always an accurate representation of how much weight you’ve lost. It’s important to keep in mind that muscle does weigh more than fat, so if you shed some of the fat but have built muscle in the process, that success won’t reflect on the scale. “The scale can devastate the most committed people into thinking they cannot lose weight,” says Valerie Berkowitz, a registered dietician and author of The Stubborn Fat Fix. “I’ve had clients lose three dress sizes but are ready to quit eating healthy because the scale has not budged.” Water weight can also affect the results on the scale, so make sure you go to the bathroom before weighing yourself.
You’re not watching your food intake.
While cutting down calories when dieting is important, it’s also important to watch what you’re putting into your body. Counting calories that you can consume a day will definitely aid in your weight loss, but it’s typically more important to cut out refined sugar and refined carbohydrates in order to get your body moving in a healthy direction. Your body will process these refined foods quickly, so even if you’ve had a full meal, before you know it, you’ll be hungry again and tempted to snack. “When I was in high school and tried to lose a couple pounds, I didn’t know that much about dieting, so I thought that just eating less would make me lose weight,” says Tabitha, a senior at Southern New Hampshire University. “I was eating white bread and sugary snacks, and I would feel hungry again about a half hour after eating." Instead of the bad carbohydrates, opt for whole grains, Berkowitz says, to keep yourself satisfied for longer and more likely to resist snacking.
You’re not eating enough.
Sure, drastically reducing your food intake seems like a quick fix to rid yourself of that extra flab you’ve acquired recently. But while strategies like this will work in the short term, in the long term, they are ineffective for losing weight (not to mention seriously dangerous), says Alyse Levine, registered dietician and the nutrition consultant for Livestrong.com. When you don’t feed your body enough, your metabolism slows because your body is trying to adapt to the low food intake. You could end up losing muscle, Levine says, and when you finally do start eating a normal amount again, you’ll gain weight back quicker. While it’s different for everyone, Levine recommends about a 1200 calorie per day minimum for most women.
You’re focusing too much on low fat and non-fat.
Low fat doesn’t always mean the food is good for you, and foods that claim to be low fat typically contain other ingredients to counteract the fat. One of the most common hidden ingredient in low-fat foods is high fructose corn syrup, and while that doesn’t add to the fat content, it makes the sugar content go through the roof, which equals lots more calories. “These foods are often times not healthy and are not always low in calories or satiating so you end up eating a lot of them,” Levine says. “Even more, they are usually just a source of empty calories with no nutritional value.” Make sure you read the ingredients and nutrition label before eating any low or non-fat foods.
You’re cutting out fat completely.
While too much fat is certainly a bad thing, cutting out fat completely won’t help you lose weight. A certain amount of fat is important to have in your diet, and when you cut it out completely, it can leave you still feeling hungry. “Cutting out bad fats can help, but eating healthy fats, like fish, olive oil and coconut can help keep you full and avoid a snack attack.” Avoid proceed foods and fats and stick to the healthy fats instead. “I usually stick to a few whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables during the day,” says Reagan, a junior at Trinity College. “Then, to fill me up for the night, I’ll have salmon or a salad with healthy fats like avocado.”
You’re mistaking foods that you think are healthy for foods that are actually healthy.
There are certain foods that have the reputation of being healthy, but often times are not helping to push you toward your weight loss goal. While fruit juice sounds healthy, many times it’s not entirely 100 percent juice and contains sugar, too. Salads are healthy in theory, but with added ingredients like cheese, high-fat dressings, and croutons, they can turn into a high-calorie and high-fat meal. Make sure you check out the ingredients before you indulge in a “healthy” food.
Your diet is stressing you out.
Getting on a health kick can feel great and give you a huge boost of energy. But if your regimen is too strict and you’re worrying about having time to get to the gym, preparing healthy meals, and not snacking, losing weight is going to be difficult. When you’re stressed out, your body produces cortisol, which is the fight-or-flight hormone that increases fat storage. So even though you’re working out and eating healthy, if you’re too stressed out about your diet or schoolwork, losing weight will be difficult. “I can definitely feel it when I’m stressed out and my body doesn’t feel exactly right,” says Reagan. “When I’m that stressed, I don’t feel well and I know I have to budget my time better or take a little break.” Take a step back and evaluate your stress level and adjust your lifestyle accordingly.
You’re not sleeping enough.
A lifestyle change is hard to adjust to, so if suddenly you need to fit in an extra hour of working out and an extra hour of preparing healthy meals, it’s going to be difficult to still get to bed at a reasonable hour. Getting a good night of sleep is just as important when trying to lose weight as eating healthy and exercising are, so make sure that you’re getting your recommended amount of shut eye. Just like being too stressed out, being sleep-deprived promotes the release of cortisol, so you could be retaining fat and not even realizing it.
You’re skipping meals.
While you may temporarily feel good about yourself when you didn’t eat your typically huge breakfast, in the long run, skipping meals leads to eating more at other meals or snacking on unhealthy items throughout the day. “Many people who are dieting eat very lightly all day long and then end up binging late on at night,” Levine says. “You are much more likely to eat ice cream, chips and cookies at 10pm than you are at 10am, so make sure to frontload your calories so that you don’t set yourself up to binge later on at night.” Instead of eating like a bird in the morning in hopes of jumpstarting your diet, strive for a filling and healthy breakfast with fruit, protein and fiber, like an egg with whole-wheat toast and an orange.
You’re not counting your liquids as calories.
Guzzling a can of coke or a sweetened iced tea seems like it’s nothing in the calorie world because it’s not solid, but it’s important to include all of your beverages in your calorie count throughout the day. People tend to forget about drinks because they only satisfy thirst and not hunger. If you must drink soda, sweetened beverages, or alcohol during your diet, make sure to compensate for these calories by cutting out the same amount of calories in a meal. Or, to make things easier, swap out all drinks for water. This way, you’ll stay hydrated and cut calories at the same time.
Valerie Berkowitz, registered dietician and author of The Stubborn Fat Fix
Alyse Levine, registered dietician and nutrition consultant for Livestrong.com
College women from around the country