Before you swear off exercise and declare yourself as someone who "will never lose weight," stop, take a deep breath and remember this: Weight loss may seem simple (eat fewer calories than you burn), but often, there's a lot more going on than a simple calorie equation. Our bodies aren't calculators, after all!
What's more likely is that you've made some innocent mistakes in your quest to lose weight. Don't feel bad about it—it's extremely common. These bad habits may be preventing you from getting the results you want. Instead of giving up, start by giving up some of the bad habits outlined below.
Bad Habit #1: Going "on a diet" in the first place
Since when did the word "diet" refer to something good? The word itself implies restriction, limitation and a short-lived effort to get some quick results and then return to a "normal" way of eating. People who consider themselves to be "dieting" often lose less weight and encounter more problems (such as plateaus and a lack of motivation) than people who are trying to lose weight by creating a lasting healthy lifestyle. Plus, diets usually mean giving things up: favorite foods, dining out, desserts—even your social life. You don't have to be a psychology expert to know that when you tell yourself you can't have something, you usually want it more. This way of thinking could directly be sabotaging your efforts.
Smart Fix: Ditch the diets for good and focus on creating a healthy lifestyle based on nutritious foods and small, realistic changes that you can live with for the long term.
Bad Habit #2: Overhauling your eating habits overnight
How many times have you gone crazy eating all the "bad" foods you know you shouldn't, only to promise to swear them off starting next week or next month or next year? How often have you decided to suddenly clean out your kitchen, throw away all the "junk" and then shop for only healthy food?
How's that working for you? No one can expect to change a lifetime of eating habits overnight. To lose weight successfully and keep it off, it's best to adopt a way of eating that you can stick with for the rest of your life.
Smart Fix: Eating healthy isn't about taking food away; it's about eating more of the things that are good for you. To be successful, implement small and realistic changes to your diet. Next week, swap that 2% milk for 1%, and switch out your usual bread for a healthy, whole-grain variety. Once you get used to that, you can set a small goal like eating one serving of fresh fruits or vegetables each day. The point is to start small with changes that fit into your lifestyle.
Bad Habit #3: Giving up certain foods altogether
We've already touched on the idea that labeling certain foods as diet no-nos can make you crave them even more. Whether you feel out of control when you're around certain foods or you've read about a certain diet plan that promises results if you were to just cut out wheat, gluten, carbs, sugar or dairy, a lot of people think that to lose weight, they have to give up specific things—including foods that they love.
A truly healthy diet that you can stick with forever will include all the foods you love. Unless you plan to give up ice cream or bread forever, then don't cut anything out temporarily. Generally, people can give up foods like that for a while and see some weight loss success (usually because they're eating fewer calories, not because anything about that specific food causes weight problems). But as soon as that food is let back into your life, the weight tends to come back with it.
Smart Fix: All things in moderation. Instead of focusing on the foods you can't have, set goals to eat more of the foods that you know are good for you. This is a much more positive way to think about your goals and get results. Plus, allowing yourself portion-controlled servings of the food you're thinking about banning will keep you happy and content, but also prevent the crazed binges that can occur when you're feeling weak.
Bad Habit #4: Only caring about calories
Calories are key to weight loss. In fact, balancing your calorie equation (what you eat and what you burn) is what results in successful weight management. However, there is more to weight loss and a healthy lifestyle than calories alone. Some foods that may be higher in calories per serving are actually healthier for you than foods that may be lower in calories (think a heart-healthy avocado vs. a processed 100-calorie pack of pretzels). So while calories count, nutrition matters, too.
Smart Fix: While tracking your calories, don't forget to look at other key nutrients like protein and healthy fats (both of which can keep you full) and key vitamins and minerals that are important for your overall health. Ideally, you want to use a little trial and error to balance not only your calorie equation, but also make the kinds of choices that meet your protein, fat, carbohydrate and micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) goals.
Bad Habit #5: Focusing on the scale
You want to lose weight, so you weigh yourself, right? Yes…and no. Weight is an easy way to measure your progress, but it doesn't tell you the whole story. Even if the scale isn't budging, that does not mean you're not making major progress toward losing weight and getting healthier. You can lose inches, get fitter, gain lean muscle mass, drop body fat, become better hydrated, look better and feel more energized without the pounds budging at all.
Smart Fix: Remember, the scale tells you only one thing: the total mass of all your body parts at any given moment. Don't put too much stock into it. Weigh yourself less frequently (about once every one to two weeks), and track all the other signs that amazing changes are happening in your body even if the scale doesn't move. This is the best way to stay motivated for the long haul.
Bad Habit #6: Only dieting and not exercising
This may be one of the most common reasons your weight loss is stalling. Yes, you can lose weight through diet alone, but it will be a lot harder. You can only cut so many calories without feeling overly hungry, lethargic or miserable. Yet by exercising along with making dietary changes, you can eat more (and feel more satisfied) and still lose weight. Plus, you'll get all the amazing physical and mental benefits that come from exercising, including improved appearance, better muscle tone and a healthier body overall.
Smart Fix: Add exercise to your weight-loss plan. It doesn't have to be boring, strenuous or time-consuming. Even 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference in your results.
Bad Habit #7: Trying to eat as little as possible
If cutting calories is good for weight loss, then eating as little as possible is better, right? Wrong (especially if you're also trying to fuel your body for regular workouts). You need to eat a certain calorie level to function optimally and get all the essential nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. Eating much less than that can cause serious problems in the long run and damage your metabolism, making weight loss even harder.
Smart Fix: Don't just guess how many calories you need, and don't eat what someone else eats, either. Use a tracker to determine how many calories are recommended to meet your goals. Eating within that range (even at the very top of it) will help you reach your weight loss goal. There is no reason to go below it. Remember: You have to eat to lose!
Bad Habit #8: Giving up too easily
No person who ever lost weight successfully reached that goal because they were perfect all the time. Setbacks happen to everyone, even the most successful people. We've all had days where we made a poor food decision during a meal—or even for an entire day. We've all missed workouts, forgot the lunch we packed or been too busy to cook a diet-friendly meal at home. But those who continue dropping the pounds pick themselves up, forgive themselves from their mistakes, learn from their slipups and just keep right on going.
Smart Fix: Remember that perfection has no place in a weight loss plan. When you do make a mistake or feel like you're not making enough progress, don't give up. Change requires time and old habits die hard. When you feel yourself ready to give up, reach out for some support, and don't wait until next week or next month to get back on the wagon.
Bad Habit #9: Confusing "healthy" with "low-calorie"
Research shows that when shoppers see "healthy" buzzwords or claims on food packages (think: gluten-free, organic, all-natural, sugar-free, low-fat, etc.), they automatically assume the food is low in calories. This couldn't be further from the truth. Food manufacturers will plaster all sorts of enticing lingo onto their packages, knowing you'll think exactly that. But none of these words really tell you much about the healthfulness of a product, and none of them actually have any effect on a food's calories.
Smart Fix: Read front-of-package labels with a discerning eye, and always turn over the package and look at the nutrition facts (and ingredients) to get a full picture of what a food is really like. This goes for restaurant menus, too. Don't let healthy-sounding words make you think a food is actually low in calories. Know your menu watch words or look up nutrition facts before placing your order.
Bad Habit #10: Unrealistic expectations
These days, with news stories, weight-loss advertisements and reality shows alike touting fast and extreme weight loss as the norm, it can be easy to think you are capable of those kinds of results, too. But in truth, these are extreme and abnormal results that most people cannot expect to replicate. If you're expecting to drop a lot of weight fast—and to do so consistently—these unrealistic expectations could be setting you up for failure.
Smart Fix: Change your expectations and your mindset. If you expect to lose 10 pounds in one week, then losing one pound is a major letdown. But if you expect to lose one pound and you did, you feel successful and inspired to keep working toward your goals. Losing one or two pounds per week—or even half a pound—is major progress that should be commended. This is a healthy and realistic rate of weight loss that you can expect if you're sticking to your nutrition and fitness goals.