How to Outsmart the 10 Most Common Weight Loss Mistakes in 2020

Photo credit: Halfpoint Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Halfpoint Images - Getty Images

From Prevention

You eat your vegetables and get some form of exercise on most days of the week. So when you step on that scale and the needle stays put, you wonder what the heck you're doing wrong. But even with healthy eating habits and a regular exercise routine, you may be making some small mistakes that can lead to a weight-loss plateau and derail your results. Here are some things you might be doing that are hindering you from reaching your goals.

1. You overestimate your daily calories.

Only 11 percent of Americans correctly estimate their ideal daily calorie requirements, according to one survey. The rest of us tend to overestimate, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. For example, you assume that you consume 2,000 calories a day, but it's really going to take 1,800 calories a day for you to lose weight. Those extra 200 pounds are enough to keep about 20 pounds on your frame. However, it's important to note that while you should be mindful of how many calories you're consuming, you shouldn't let it rule your life. It's better to focus on the quality of your calories and eat foods that are nutrient-dense, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.

2. You don't vary your workouts and stick to the same routine.

As you begin to work out more and get into a routine, it's important that you vary your workouts and alternate days you're doing cardio and strength training, as well as the muscle groups you're working. Doing the same workout over and over again will condition your body to stay comfortable and not work hard to burn those calories and build muscle.

Looking for a way to change things up? Incorporating intervals into your workouts can help you burn more calories in less amount of time. Short bursts of intense activity burn more calories—and up to 36 percent more fat, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Strolling around the mall or a park for an hour works off about 150 calories. Pick up the pace for one minute out of every five minutes to burn over one-third more calories.

Be sure you also dedicate some time during the week to weightlifting. Lifting weights will help you build more muscles and get rid of fat. Muscles are metabolically active, so they'll help you burn more calories even when you're not working out.

3. You make your workouts a license to eat whatever you want.

Weight loss is as easy as calories in, calories out, right? Not exactly. If you run on the treadmill for an hour each day, it doesn't mean you can have a cheeseburger and fries every night. The only way the CICO diet works is if you consume fewer calories than you're actually burning, but most of the time, people aren't sure how many calories they're consuming. Instead, focus on consuming quality calories from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats. This way you won't have to worry about how many calories you're burning at the gym.

4. You don't practice portion control.

Photo credit: Elena_Danileiko - Getty Images
Photo credit: Elena_Danileiko - Getty Images

What you put on your plate is important, but healthy eating is also about being mindful of how much you consume. Sure, avocado, dark chocolate, and nuts are great for your health and should be a regular part of your diet, but these foods are also calorie-dense and overdoing it can prevent you from reaching your goals. The best way to know if you're eating too much is to write it down. "Even if you note it on a napkin and then throw it away, that's okay. Just the act of writing makes you more aware," says Taub-Dix. Portion control cues help too: A baseball-size serving for chopped veggies and fruits, a golf ball for nuts and shredded cheese, a fist for rice and pasta, and a deck of cards for lean meats.

5. You drink your calories.

Sugary fruit juices, soda, and calorie-laden smoothies and meal replacement drinks could be the culprit for your weight gain. Just because you're not chewing something, it doesn't mean the calories don't count. For example, a can of coke has 150 calories and 39 grams of sugar, and if you enjoy it with a slice of pizza, you could easily consume more than 500 calories in one meal. Water is always your best option, and staying hydrated can also help you control your appetite and understand your hunger cues.

6. You don't do your research before dining out.

Choose the turkey sandwich over pizza, and you think you're set, but again, looks can be deceiving. A turkey sandwich that comes on focaccia bread with cheese and mayo can easily deliver 970 calories. Two slices of pepperoni pan pizza can cost you up to 520 calories. "Put your sandwich in a spinach wrap instead of regular bread? It's the same difference," says Tara Gidus, RD, a former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "My clients think they get more nutrients and save on calories with 'healthy bread,' but often that's not the case." To make healthier choices when dining out, look up the nutrition information before you eat there. See if your favorite eatery has the nutrition information for their dishes online or in the store—you may be surprised at what you see.

7. You go for fat-free desserts over the real deal.

When you want something sweet, fat-free, sugar-free options seem like a smart choice for weight loss. But researchers at Cornell University found that overweight people who choose low-fat versions of snack foods rather than the regular kinds consume, on average, twice as many calories. "The terms 'fat-free' or 'sugar-free' can create a green light effect, triggering people to eat more," says Cynthia Sass, RD. But many fat-free foods have about the same number of calories—or more—as their full-fat counterparts. And because they lack fat, they won't fill you up and will leave you wanting even more.

Go for reasonable amounts of the real thing. If you love ice cream, have a small scoop of the full-fat version. "You won't stick to a diet that doesn't include your favorites," says David Grotto, RD, author of 101 Foods That Could Change Your Life. Bottom line: Life's too short for forbidden foods.

8. You're eating more sugar than you realize.

Photo credit: Sirle Kabanen / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sirle Kabanen / EyeEm - Getty Images

If you eat a lot of packaged, processed foods, chances are you're consuming more sugar, sodium, and fat than you realize. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance. So for women, that's no more than 100 calories a day, which equates to about six teaspoons of sugar. For men, it's 150 calories a day, or about nine teaspoons.

9. You don't practice mindful eating.

You may think you're vigilant about watching what you eat, but research shows that stolen bites and tastes can rack up a few hundred uncounted calories, which can put on pounds fast. Eating while distracted can also cause mindless eating. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when women who normally watched their portions had lunch in different situations, they ate 15 percent more while listening to a detective story, compared to when they ate alone and free of any distractions. Avoid eating when your mind's elsewhere (in front of a computer, for example), and eliminate unnecessary distractions (turn off the TV, set aside the book).

10. You don't get enough sleep at night.

If you're been having a hard time breaking through a weight-loss plateau, it could be the result of your evening habits. Not getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep at night, mindlessly snacking before bed, and eating a heavy dinner can all contribute to weight gain. To help you unwind, do something relaxing and calming at night after you get home from work. Taking a bubble bath, reading a good book, or journaling can help you clear some headspace for rest. This will help you make healthier choices at night, including going to bed earlier.

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