Trying to lose weight means you have to make changes and eliminate bad habits. But it’s hard not to get frustrated if you’ve been working hard to build healthier habits and aren’t seeing a shift on the scale or a better fit in your favorite jeans. Sometimes, even after making big changes to your diet and lifestyle you might still find yourself confused and wondering why your efforts aren’t resulting in more significant weight loss.
However, your daily habits might not be as helpful or healthy as they might seem. In fact, some might actually be causing you to hang onto extra weight instead of helping you lose it. The following sneaky traps can hold you back and hinder your weight loss.
Eating too little
Cutting calories is key in your weight loss efforts. Reducing the amount of calories you consume means you’re less likely to hang onto extra weight – right? Well, if you’re being too strict or too severe about your calorie intake, it can have the opposite effect.
It’s entirely possible that in your attempts to cut back on calories, you’ve actually limited yourself too much. And eating too little, or too few calories, can cause problems in relation to your weight. You’ve got to kick this bad habit to the curb if you want to lose weight successfully.
Eating too little throughout the day is linked to overeating at night. As UVA Health explains, overeating at night can happen if your body is lacking something. You might wind up overcompensating for eating too few calories throughout the day as your body tries to satisfy its hunger (and need for calories). Restricting yourself too much can wind up creating a cycle of limiting calories during the day and overeating in the evening, which may ultimately lead to a plateau – or even weight gain.
Additionally, when you significantly restrict your calories, your body doesn’t have enough fuel to perform its most essential functions. When calories are limited, your body adapts and tries to conserve energy, slowing down your metabolism in the process. That’s a little detail that can wind up preventing you from burning calories like you’d hoped.
While keeping an eye on your calorie intake is important, you should also focus on feeding your body so it can burn fat. To do this, you want to focus on both limiting calories and choosing nutrient-dense calories so your body gets everything it needs to stay up and running properly. That means eating plenty of protein – a nutrient that actually helps suppress hunger hormones – along with fiber and healthy fats.
Trying to “exercise away” your calories
Exercise is absolutely essential, both for your overall health and your weight loss goals. But there is such a thing as too much exercise – especially if you’re trying to counteract the calories you eat with extra exercise. Trying to burn off every calorie you eat is a bad habit that won’t translate to losing weight.
Hitting the gym, running the streets and trails of your neighborhood and working out right at home are all key efforts that can aid weight loss. But your workouts shouldn’t be all about burning calories. Far too often, people look at exercise as a way to burn off the food they’ve eaten. Unfortunately, you aren’t going to work out hard enough or often enough to actually counteract your food intake.
The amount of calories you burn while exercising is just a tiny percentage of your overall daily energy expenditure. Sure, burning 300 calories in a 30-minute workout sounds encouraging. But in order to translate that calorie burn into actual weight loss means you’d have to work out far longer and more often than you think. For example, to lose 5 pounds over the course of one months, you’d need to run for a full hour at least four days a week – and you’d need to be strict about your food intake, not just how much but also what kind.
And trying to exercise away the calories you consume is even more difficult when you consider how we typically behave after a workout. Research shows that we not only tend to eat more food to recover, but that we also slow down our physical activity after a tough workout. A 2009 study found that participants tended to increase their calorie intake after exercising because they were hungry or burned a lot of calories. And a 2012 research review explained that a workout also tends to lead people to eat more calories because they overestimate how many calories were burned.
Plus, a 2014 study demonstrated that people tend to slow down overall activity after a workout. Your burst of exercise is likely to cause you to rest and relax, make less activity-intensive choices (like opting for the elevator instead of the stairs) and give yourself more of a break.
So, while you might be putting in the hard work to build a regular exercise routine, be cautious. Assuming that every workout is burning the calories you consumed throughout the day isn’t just wrong – it’s also likely to lead you to eat more, if you aren’t careful.
Eating “diet” foods
In theory, “diet foods” sound like great choices when you’re on a diet. But unfortunately, the bulk of these convenient, low-calorie snacks, meals and even meal replacement products aren’t ideal choices for both weight loss and anyone who’s trying to eat clean.
Diet foods, which include items that claim to be low-fat, low-calorie and helpful for weight loss, are typically loaded with additives. These processed products often feature sugar or sugar alcohols to enhance their flavor – just take one 6-ounce container of low-fat vanilla yogurt, which contains a whopping 23.5 grams of sugar (hint: always opt for plain, unsweetened).
And there’s another sneaky little detail hiding in low-fat, low-calorie “diet” foods. Often, these products don’t fill you up or keep your hunger satisfied for very long. As a result, you’ll likely feel like you need to eat again sooner, which can lead you to unexpectedly eat more calories (and potentially make not-so-smart snack choices!).
Instead of reaching for diet foods, fill your plate and your pantry with nutrient-dense whole foods. Nutrient-dense foods offer a high dose of vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients while still being relatively low in calories. Brown rice, baked potatoes, salmon, lean cuts of beef, and plain Greek yogurt; all of these nutrient-dense foods are better alternatives to packaged “diet-friendly” products.
Missing out on functional nutrients
Here’s another reason nutrient-dense foods are a smart choice if you’re working to lose weight. If you aren’t getting enough of the right nutrients, you could be inhibiting your own efforts.
A lack of protein is particularly troublesome for weight loss. Protein has been found to help weight loss – research shows that it can reduce your appetite and increase satiety, and even help lower your overall calorie consumption. Plus, getting the right amount of protein can also give your metabolism a boost.
How much protein should you get each day? Well, the recommended daily amount is 0.8 grams for every 1 kilogram of body weight. But research shows there’s an easier way to calculate this, particularly when it comes to weight loss. A 2013 study had participants eat a diet that was either 30 percent protein-based calories or 15 percent protein-based calories. The findings showed that individuals who got 30 percent of their calories from protein ate about 575 fewer calories per day than those who only got 15 percent of their calories from protein.
Another key nutrient you’ll want to look out for is fiber. If you’re getting too little fiber, you could sabotage your weight loss. A low-fiber diet can increase your appetite and satiety, and it can also mess with your calorie intake and absorption. Research has found that getting enough fiber helps reduce appetite and calorie intake – and viscous fiber is particularly great if you’re looking to limit your hunger.
Here’s another way fiber helps you shed extra weight. When your overall fiber intake is high, research shows that your body doesn’t absorb all of the calories you consume. By doubling the amount of fiber you’re currently getting, you could reduce your daily calorie absorption by as much as 130 calories.
Failing to get enough sleep
If you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep every night, it’s hard to get through the day, let alone think about healthy habits and losing weight. But it turns out that sleep can have an even bigger impact on your ability to lose weight than you might anticipate.
Skipping out on the hours of shut-eye that your body needs can hinder weight loss in multiple ways. When you aren’t getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, you’re both increasing your appetite and leading yourself towards unhealthy food choices. A lack of sleep messes with your neurotransmitter levels, and it specifically increases ghrelin levels, the neurotransmitter that’s tied to feelings of hunger. Higher ghrelin levels equal increased hunger and a bigger appetite.
Research also shows that sleep deprivation is linked to a preference for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods, which can throw off even the healthiest habits. Plus, the longer you’re awake, the more opportunity there is to keep snacking and eating.
Do your best to get a restful night of sleep every day of the week. Sticking to a set schedule or routine can help, as going to bed and waking up at the same time each day builds healthy sleep habits. You can also try making your own sleep gummies to make drifting off a little easier.
Losing weight isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to feel impossible – or include bad habits. Keep reading for more weight loss tips, advice and insight: