So you’ve just decided to embark on a weight loss journey. Confused as to where to start, you start looking online for advice, only to find yourself even more lost than you were before.
No doubt about it: there is an over saturation of information on the web and on social media regarding fitness and nutrition. As a result, every voice out there tries to spin the information in some unique, eye-catching way. If you’re a beginner, you may even be following misguided or outdated advice, preventing you from seeing the changes you’re looking for.
Here are 5 common but overlooked mistakes people make when trying to lose weight.
1. Focusing too much on small details
When there is so much information on the web on how to lose weight, it’s easy to focus your attention on doing the things that don’t really matter when it comes to losing fat or gaining muscle.
For example, many people focus on buying organic foods or gluten-free foods to help them lose more weight or improve health. While consuming more fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables is consistently linked to weight loss, the difference between buying organic or conventional is negligible. Gluten-free foods have also been touted for weight loss and better health, but again, there is no data indicating a link between the two.
While there could be some benefits to these small details, it’s far from the first thing people should turn to when starting to diet and may even distract from what really matters- which is staying in a calorie deficit and eating enough protein.
2. Not eating enough macros
When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s natural for you to decrease your energy intake. However, this comes at the expense of decreasing your intake of key nutrients- most importantly protein and fiber. Getting enough protein is critical when trying to lose weight as it reduces appetite, protects muscle mass during weight loss, and maintains metabolic rate.
While you’re naturally going to be eating less when trying to lose weight, aim to keep protein and fiber levels high. Studies find that 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight can benefit appetite control and change body composition.
3. Overestimating how many calories you burned during exercise
It’s common for people to think they’ve worked out a lot harder at the gym than they actually have. Exercise accounts for only a small portion of your daily energy expenditure- while food intake accounts for 100% of the energy that goes into your body, exercise burns off between 10-30% of it.
That being said, exercise is still crucial for your overall health, and can help keep weight off. However, don’t try to burn off excess calories at the gym- you’re wasting time and energy.
4. Not getting enough sleep
While sleep may not seem like it influences your diet, recent studies show that adequate sleep is essential for those looking to lose weight.
When sleep deprived, you’re more likely to break routine and make bad decisions- such as skipping a workout or ordering takeout. Studies consistently show that when people are starved of sleep, they tend to crave energy-dense, high-carb foods while lacking the impulse control to say no. Even if you stick to your caloric restriction, sleep deprivation is shown to result in less loss of fat and greater loss of lean mass. This is likely due to the cortisol spike your body experiences to conserve energy in the form of fat.
While getting enough sleep can be difficult in today’s world, there are tricks you can use for a better night’s sleep. Create a bedtime ritual to wind down at night and stick to a schedule, waking up and retiring at the same time every day.
5. Doing too much too soon
Another very common mistake people make is adopting too many new habits all at once. This is really common during the new year when motivation is high and people want immediate results, turning to extreme caloric deficits or hours at the gym.
While extreme approaches will undoubtedly give you fast results, they are unsustainable in the long run- more often than not, those who approach weight loss in this fashion gain it all back. A more moderate approach and slower rate of weight loss is not only more effective, but will also help to preserve muscle mass.
Everybody’s weight loss speed is different, but generally, a loss of ~1% of bodyweight per week is safe. For example, a 200-pound person could safely lose up to 2 pounds a week.
It’s important to keep in mind that weight loss is a slow journey: not seeing results at all is different from seeing slow changes. Keep your expectations realistic, and keep working towards them. You can do it!
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