Attempting to lose weight can be difficult! Our genes make it easy for us to gain weight, and hard for us to take it off. Add to that the pressures of modern life and the influence of the food industry and it can seem like an insurmountable challenge to get in shape. Now, that said, it can be a straightforward process if you do the right things. The problem is that people make it difficult for themselves by making some basic mistakes. In this post, we share some of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to lose weight.
They do it for someone else
If you are trying to lose weight because someone told you to, or because the media creates a vision of how you ‘should’ be, then you are unlikely to be fired up about it. In fact, you are more likely to begrudge the whole idea, and to hate every visit to the gym and every abstinence. Your progress will be inconsistent at best, and short-lived.
Do it because you want to. Do it because you have a deep-rooted desire that drives your behaviours and habits. You know that you will be healthier, more energetic and more mobile if you are a healthy weight, but that often isn’t enough of a reason. You need to find that personal reason why you want to lose weight. It’s your reason, nobody else’s.
They don’t learn about food
In my view nutrition should be something you learn a great deal about at school. Too few people understand enough about the food they eat: the food that fuels them nourishes them, builds them and repairs them.
When it comes to your efforts to lose weight, you need to know about the calorie content in your food, the sugar content, the fat content. Without knowing this you could be overeating, you could be fuelling a cycle of sugar highs and lows, of cravings and overconsumption. Learn which foods digest slowly, are calorie sparse and nutrient-dense, and you’ll go a long way to improving your chances of success.
You also need to understand portion sizes. It’s been shown that most people underestimate the calorie content of their food and will eat too much. People’s ideas of standard portion sizes have become inflated. Find out how much of a food you should be eating and weigh it. You might be surprised at what a sensible portion looks like.
They don’t exercise
Can you lose weight without exercising? Not really. If you do, you definitely won’t get the results you would like.
First of all, you will find it difficult. If you are sedentary, your biochemistry deteriorates. Your ability to release fat from its stores and burn it for fuel diminishes. You become resistant to insulin which further reduces your ability to burn fat. You become resistant to leptin, which switches off your ability to feel satisfied after eating. You experience a reduction in fat fighting hormones such as testosterone (yes it’s important for women too) and growth hormone. All in all, it’s a collection of physiological changes that will make it very difficult to lose weight. Exercise isn’t just about burning calories, it also reverses all those detrimental physiological changes so that it becomes a lot easier to get rid of the fat.
Second, even if you do lose weight without exercising, you are likely to lose a lot of muscle tone if you do not provide the physical stimulus to maintain it. You really don’t want your skin hanging off you, it’s not a good look. Exercise provides the stimulus to maintain or even build muscle, particularly if you include some resistance training.
They don’t prioritise weight loss in their routines
Losing weight takes time and commitment. After all, when you gain weight, you put time aside to go out for meals, to go and have a few drinks, to watch TV with a takeaway. Losing weight requires a time commitment too. You need to make it part of your routine. You can’t just say you will exercise when you have a bit of spare time. You have to entrench an exercise habit. You have to make it part of your standard day.
The same goes for food preparation. Preparing unprocessed ingredients to create a meal does take more time than simply ordering something or heating something up. But it’s worth it. It’s so important for health and for weight loss that it should have the same priority as exercise. Make the time, change your day, make it stick.
They don’t measure calories
Unless you measure, your efforts can be a bit hit and miss. You’re just guessing otherwise. Get yourself an activity tracker and see how many calories you burn per day. Set your calorie target 500 below that. Then get yourself a food logging app such as MyFitnessPal or the Fitbit food logger, weigh your food and log it. You might be surprised at the calorie content of some of your usual foods and portions.
Admittedly this is a lot of effort to start with but it’s just the hump to get over initially. Once you have done this for a few weeks you’ll get to know what foods to eat and what portion sizes are sensible. You won’t need to weigh so much, you’ll be able to eyeball your food and just ‘know’. And besides, if your habits change so you’re eating calorie sparse, fibrous, slowly digesting foods, you’ll struggle to overeat even if you fill your face.
Measure, learn and understand your calorie balance. It’ll become second nature after a while.
They don’t set goals
Ah that old chestnut. Well, it is effective. Set a long term goal and set short term goals. A pound a week for 14 weeks – that’s a stone in just over 3 months and a pound each and every week. Meet the first goal and it’ll spur you to meet the next. Do this week on week, see yourself inexorably edging towards the end goal and this will seal your motivation to the end.
They don’t educate their palates
Can I still have my bit of indulgence? Can I still have the ‘foods I enjoy’? Well in theory, you can if it fits your calorie target. But honestly, I’m not a big subscriber to that philosophy. Here’s why.
Our genes predispose us to crave sugary, salty, fatty foods. We’re exposed to these foods from an early age and our taste buds become accustomed to them. We get a reward response, a pleasure response from these foods. Anything less intense, less sweet, less ‘tasty’, less instantly gratifying, just doesn’t hit the spot. It doesn’t produce that same pleasure response. We can go our whole lives craving these foods and including them in our daily diet, all the while putting on weight.
But you can learn to enjoy less intense flavours, less refined foods, and still get the same pleasure response. You just need to educate your palate. To do that you need to remove the intense, sweet, fatty, salty flavours that overstimulate the taste buds and get used to healthier foods. If you keep the intense foods in your diet then you’re never going to get the pleasure response from the less refined foods. You’re never going to remove that craving for intensely flavoured foods.
Remove the bad food, learn to love healthy food. Look forward to the myriad flavours and subtleties in your food that you are now able to discern because your taste buds are no longer overstimulated.
They do the wrong exercise
Let’s be clear about one thing. Some exercise is much better than none. Just doing some exercise will get you most of the benefits. But, much like not exercising at all, if you only do walking or running, without providing weight-bearing resistance exercise, you will lose muscle tone.
If you want to look good as you slim down; if you want to have better posture and feel more confident; if you want to feel functionally strong and resilient in everyday life, then you should perform some resistance exercise. Not only will this facilitate the benefits just listed, but it will improve your hormonal environment and improve your ability to burn fat.
So, there you have it. Weight loss can be difficult because there is so much conflicting information out there. And so many providers of health and fitness services over-promise, falsely setting expectations. But, in principle, weight loss is simple. You just have to do the right things and avoid doing the wrong things. In this instance, all you have to do is avoid these eight mistakes people make when trying to lose weight, and you will virtually guarantee success.