“It’s easier to gain weight than it is to lose weight.” We have all heard it, and likely experienced this first-hand. We tried the fad diet, the starvation diet, bought the home gym and still the needle on the scale doesn’t budge. 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. Losing weight requires lifestyle changes, a positive mindset, motivation, and adherence to a plan. Here are some things you might be doing that are hindering you from reaching your goals.
1. Setting unrealistic goals—or not setting goals at all
Goal-setting is important for achieving all of your goals, including losing weight. Setting realistic goals—and writing them down, referring to them often, and making amendments without guilt—is one of the most underrated tools you can use to stay mindful and motivated.
Set realistic and actionable goals, and break them down into smaller goals. For each smaller goal, write down what you will do to achieve it, and by when. Be as specific as you can in your goal-setting—instead of “lose two pounds per week,” make it “lose two pounds per week by exercising for 45 minutes after work Monday through Friday.”
Refer back to your goals often—maybe even write your goals out as a checklist, or populate a calendar with your specific weight-loss plan. The more you re-read your goals, the better they will stick, and the more invested you will be in reaching them.
2. Getting stuck in a workout rut and giving up
Many people find exercising the hardest part of losing weight. It’s easy to get stuck in a workout routine that eventually becomes so boring you can barely force yourself to keep doing it. Don’t give up—give your workout a facelift instead!
First, understand exactly how exercise helps you lose weight, and know that there are numerous fat-melting workouts that don’t involve jogging, walking, or lifting weights. Here are some ways to get out of your workout rut:
Make your workouts more enjoyable. Make a playlist of your favorite songs, or listen to a fascinating podcast or an engaging audiobook. Learn a new language while you exercise, or find a workout buddy to make the time fly by.
Mix it up. Walk on Mondays, swim on Tuesdays, bike on Wednesdays, do yoga on Thursdays, go dancing every Friday night, and mow the lawn with a manual mower on Saturdays.
Split up your daily workout. The Centers for Disease Control notes that you can split up a 40-minute daily exercise regimen into four 10-minute sessions or two 20-minutes sessions. For example, take a 20-minute walk in the morning and another one at lunch, or hop on the treadmill for 10 in the morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, and evening.
Move all day. Any and all activities that involve moving your body help you lose weight. Fit in physical activity throughout the day—take the stairs, park far away, use a standing desk or an under-desk treadmill, walk up a flight of stairs every hour, do planks, sit-ups, or jumping jacks during commercials.
3. Judging progress by the scale only
The number on the scale isn’t the end-all-and-be-all for monitoring your progress. Sometimes, the scale seems to be stuck at the same weight for a few days, but don’t let that discourage you. In fact, weight gain fluctuates 2 to 4 pounds over a few days, depending on factors like how much food and liquid you’ve consumed. Remember: weight loss is a long game, so consider these other signs of progress along with what the scale says.
- You have more energy.
- You feel better in your skin.
- Your clothes fit better.
- Your skin looks healthier.
- Your mood has improved.
- Your stomach issues have improved.
- You sleep better.
- You’re starting to enjoy eating healthier food.
- You’re starting to look forward to exercising.
- You’re making healthier choices in other areas of your life.
Muscle weighs more than fat, so if you’ve been working out, you may be gaining muscle and losing fat.
4. Trying to lose weight without exercising
One of the most frequently asked questions about losing weight is, “Can I lose weight without exercising?” The answer is, “Yes, but it will likely be much harder to lose—and harder to maintain your weight loss. “
People who have chronic pain or mobility issues can still exercise. You can find numerous classes, videos, and workouts that take place in a sitting position, and water workouts are an effective and extremely low-impact way to exercise for weight loss.
5. Skipping the weight training
Cardio is known to benefit long-term weight loss, but many people skip weight training because they don’t understand how strength training improves and even speeds up weight loss. If you don’t engage in strength training, you may see the scale go down—but perhaps not in the composition of your body. That’s because many cardio exercises can reduce muscle size, and since muscles weigh more than fat, the shrinking numbers on the scale may indicate you’re losing muscle.
Here are the two major ways in which lifting weights helps you lose weight:
The after-burn effect. In the hours after you engage in strength training, your muscles continue to take in extra oxygen in order to repair them after the workout. To do this, they break down stored fat and carbs and use them to recover. So when you’re sitting on the couch after working with weights, your body is still actively burning fat and carbs.
Increased RMR. The size of your muscles plays a role in your resting metabolic rate (RMR), or how many calories your body needs to function while at rest. Increased muscle size increases your RMR so that even when you’re at rest, your body is using more energy than it otherwise would with cardio exercise only.
6. Going on a diet
“I’m on a diet.” These are words most of us have uttered—or heard—at some point in our lives. “Going on a diet” implies that you’re going to change your eating habits dramatically for a certain period of time to lose weight.
But “diets”—especially fad diets—only work for the short term, and even then, they’re not very effective, because they’re typically very difficult to stick with. Instead of “going on a diet,” make incremental and sustainable changes to your existing diet. Find lower-calorie foods you enjoy and that you can permanently swap out for higher-calorie alternatives. Learn how to choose healthy foods that promote weight loss, and create an eating plan that satisfies your hunger, your taste buds, and your sweet tooth and works with your lifestyle. The influence of hunger on weight regain is three-times stronger than a slowing of metabolism. Be wary of “low fat” labeled foods, as they tend to have higher sugar content, leading to increased hunger and more calories consumed. YOu may also read our Weight Loss Diets: How Do They Measure Up?
8. Thinking it’s all about “willpower”
Willpower doesn’t work for the long-term, because willing yourself through sheer force to stay away from unhealthy food takes a lot of mental effort. Willpower isn’t sustainable—and when you “give in,” you likely experience feelings of guilt and shame and feel like you’ve “failed” or that you don’t have “willpower.”
Instead of using willpower to change the way you eat, work on increasing your intrinsic motivation for losing weight. Instead of willing yourself to not eat that ice cream, make allowances in your eating plan for a bowl of ice cream now and then. Instead of willing yourself to eat smaller servings, use a smaller plate, and portion them out on the plate.
Willpower doesn’t really change anything—it only addresses cravings in the moment—and when you give in, it makes you feel “weak.” So instead of relying on willpower, change the way you think about food and how you talk to yourself about it. For example:
- Ditch the terms “good” food and “bad” food. Food is food. There are some foods you should eat fewer of and some you should eat more of.
- Tell yourself that you prefer to eat healthy food, because it makes you feel better, promotes weight loss, and helps prevent health problems.
- Allow yourself to indulge now and then without negative feelings. Remember that weight loss and maintenance require a lifestyle that is healthy and sustainable (i.e., enjoyable) for the long-term.
- Think about your beliefs around food. Do you believe dessert is an integral part of your main meal? Do you believe that it’s not breakfast if it doesn’t involve bacon, eggs, and toast? Do you believe that the only “right” dinner is the kind that involves meat, vegetables, and a starch? Examine these beliefs, and allow yourself to create new beliefs that align with your values and goals.
9. Not self-monitoring
An important predictor for successful weight loss is mindfulness around the food you eat and the amount of physical activity you get. Every day, write down what you eat and how long you exercised. The act of writing it down and seeing it in print helps you become more aware of your eating habits, and it helps you make better choices in the moment—and overall.
12. Eating too much processed food
You can find certain processed foods that have fewer calories than some other processed foods, but the bottom line is that the more processed the food is, the lower the likelihood that it’s healthy. The quality of your calories matters, and foods that have been highly processed are often missing key nutrients and usually contain unhealthy ingredients like preservatives, added sugars, and unhealthy fats. Strive to eat mostly whole foods or those that have been minimally processed.
13. Taking a one-pronged approach to weight loss
While the science of weight loss is simple, it’s not just about food and exercise. A lot of things can affect weight loss, and addressing a range of issues can help you lose weight faster and more effectively. Here are some other considerations to keep in mind as you start a weight-loss plan:
Reduce your stress. Stress releases hormones like cortisol, which promotes body fat—especially belly fat. Stress can also cause you to overeat or binge, and feeling stressed out makes it easy to stray from your plan.
Get adequate sleep. A lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep dulls activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, which is associated with decision-making and impulse control. When you’re tired, you’re less likely to exercise, and you’re more likely to have cravings for unhealthy foods. Additionally, a lack of sleep increases cortisol levels in the body, which triggers your body to conserve energy rather than burn it.
Ask your doctor about your medications or medical conditions. Some medications and medical conditions can inhibit weight loss or promote weight gain. Talk to your doctor about the medications you’re taking and whether they may affect your weight loss. If so, see if there’s an alternative medication, or find out how the medication affects weight loss and adjust your plan to account for that information.
If you have a medical condition, like diabetes or a thyroid disorder, keeping it under control will help you lose weight more easily.
How Forward can help you lose weight—for good
As your primary care provider, we help you focus on prevention, and one of the best things you can do to prevent many diseases is lose weight — losing just five percent of your body weight reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions. Our 12-week, doctor-led Weight Management Program helps you set reasonable goals—and achieve them through a personalized weight loss plan.