The amount of nutrition and weight loss information out there is overwhelming…and oftentimes completely wrong. When it comes to weight loss, it seems like anyone can claim to be an expert. To sort fact from fiction, I turned to my Registered Dietitian colleagues. Here are the biggest weight loss mistakes they see in their practices.
Skimping on Carbs
“The biggest mistake I find is that most people still think that carbohydrates are the enemy and try to eliminate them. Deprivation of foods we love almost always backfires, making it impossible to stay on track,” says Keri Gans, RDN, Nutritionist and Certified Yoga Teacher in NYC and author of The Small Change Diet.
Many people misunderstand the science of foods,” says Nancy Z. Farrell, MS, RDN, FAND, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “This leads to a fear of eating and enjoying certain foods.”
Our bodies requires carbohydrates for energy. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which we then use for energy – energy for skeletal muscles as well as organs like your brain. When you cut out carbs you can experience tired, lethargic, moody, and mentally foggy. Skimping on carbohydrates may result in quick, short-term weight loss (much of it due to water loss, since carbohydrates are attached to water molecules) but this weight loss is rarely sustainable.
Instead of swearing off carbs, think about what types carbs you are eating. Focus on including high-fiber carbohydrates including whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables and minimizing the amount of highly processed and refined grain carbohydrates.
All or Nothing Mindset
“Often times people will have the ‘all or nothing’ mindset,” says Beryl Krinsky, Founder of B.Komplete. “If they miss their hour-long gym workout, they won’t exercise at all that day, or if they have a doughnut for breakfast they’ll throw their healthy eating out the window for the rest of the day.” Rachel Paul, MS, RD, agrees. “I often see someone who has gone off their meal plan slightly, then decides to totally give up for that day (or that week).”
Jim White RDN, ACSM Ex-P, Owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutriton Studios, adds “One of the biggest mistakes is never indulging. Many clients that refuse to indulge and eventually fall off the wagon and binge eat. This can lead to weight gain, emotional distress, guilt and if done often enough, it can negatively impact their health.”
This ‘all or nothing’ mindset can set you up for failure, always feeling like you need to start over and never making any progress towards your goals. Instead, Krinsky suggests to try the view that “something is always better than nothing.” Instead of throwing the entire day away, leave space for flexibility. “If you don’t have time to go to the gym for an hour, go for a 10-minute brisk walk instead,” says Krinsky. “Or if you start your day with a doughnut, eat balanced, nutritious meals the remainder of the day.”
“My clients often skip eating throughout the morning because they think it will help them restrict, eat fewer calories, and lose more weight,” says Isabel Smith MS RD CDN, Registered Dietitian and Founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. The problem with this: the restriction backfires and often you end up hungrier later in the day.
Skipping meals later in the day can be problematic too. “Many of my clients start the day with a plan to eat small meals and do so for breakfast and lunch,” says Caroline Passerrello, MS, RDN, LDN. Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Then there is a long stretch without food – either because they get busy or they don’t think they ‘should’ eat until dinner – and then after dinner the hunger just doesn’t seem to get satisfied.” Enter: late-night snacking.
To overcome this, Smith suggests to start your day with a balance of protein and carbohydrates, such as Greek yogurt and fruit, eggs with toast and veggies, or oatmeal made with milk, nuts, seeds and fruit. “I ask my clients to eat at least half of their daily calorie needs by lunch and keep track of their hunger & fullness levels,” says Passerrello. “When they do this, I typically see a decrease in nighttime snacking.”
Eating Too Few Calories
This is a biggie: not eating enough calories. “People create too much of a calorie deficit that is not only unsustainable, but also unhealthy,” says Angela Lemond, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, weight management expert and owner of Lemond Nutrition in Plano, Texas. Lemond often sees women who limit their calories to 1200 per day, and then do intense cardio or fitness classes like CrossFit. “This not only results in severe muscle loss – which is bad for long term weight maintenance – but it also puts them at risk for injury.”
The calorie-tracking apps are often part of the problem. “When clients are using an app to log their food, they see a calorie goal – that may or may not be what they actually need – and they try to eat less than that number,” says Passerrello. “While you do need a calorie deficit to lose weight, eating too few calories can disrupt your metabolism and is not sustainable, making it more likely to regain the weight.”
Tracy Lockwood, a registered dietitian in New York City and founder of Tracy Lockwood Nutrition, recommends that the focus be on quality of calories instead of quantity. Think healthy fats, high-fiber carbs, and plenty of protein. “Once my clients improve the quality of their calorie intake they increase the likelihood of losing weight,” says Lockwood.
Forgetting About Beverages
What we drink during the day is often overlooked. “The biggest weight loss mistake I see in my clients is forgetting about the impact of beverage calories,” says Malina Linkas Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, Founder and CEO of Wholitarian™ Lifestyle. “It’s easy to overdo it on the sweetened beverages, alcoholic drinks and even many juices, especially since beverages don’t generally lead to a feeling of fullness.”
Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD agrees, “Many people forget that things like a nightly glass of wine or an occasional sports drink have added calories that don’t help satiate you.”
Rizzo suggests opting for hydrating, low-sugar beverages most of the time. “Try fruit and herb infused water, or cut your wine with seltzer to make a spritzer.”
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Food and exercise may be top of mind when it comes to thinking about your weight, but sleep – both the amount and the quality – is just as important. “Most of us lead hectic lives and don’t make sleep a priority, “ says Martha McKittrick, RD, Owner of Martha McKittrick Nutrition in NYC. “This is a big mistake, because studies have shown that getting less than seven hours of sleep a night increases waist size and likelihood of becoming overweight or obese.”
Aim for at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night. To improve the quality of your sleep, avoid caffeine after 12pm and turn off any screens (i.e. TV, phones, computer) at least 30 minutes before bedtime. You can also try these foods to help you sleep.
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