What is the biggest mistake people make who are trying to lose weight?

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when trying to lose weight is focusing more on exercise than on how much food they are consuming. It takes a lot more effort to burn off 800 calories from eating a box of cookies rather than not eating the cookies in the first place. So, focusing on things that help reduce your cravings is more important than starting extreme exercise routines to try to counteract what you have consumed. Exercise is important for weight loss, but combing a moderate exercise routine with a better diet, is much more efficient.

One tip for reducing your cravings is to make sure you are drinking lots of water--the body's signal for thirst can be interpreted as hunger. So if you are chronically dehydrated, you may be binge eating just because you are thirsty. Another tip is that you have a natural lull in energy around 2pm, which makes you susceptible to unhealthy snacks. Keep something healthy and sweet, like dates, with you at work and eat 1-2 dates around 2pm to prevent the mid-afternoon munchies.

The biggest mistake people make is goal setting. For most people they think get results is almost like going through a drive thru. People want results quick and fast and that is not how things work in the body.  Remember you didn't put this weight on overnight and you won't lose it that way either. Sure you can have long term goals like losing 40, 60 or even 100 pounds down the road but having short term goals are much better. Setting yourself up for weekly, biweekly or monthly goals to achieve is easier for you to attain than always looking at the big picture. As I always tell my clients, baby steps.

Kat Barefield, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The biggest mistake people make when trying to lose weight is believing or buying into the notion that the best way to lose weight is by drastically changing your eating habits and they typically do this by going on a diet because they are attracted to a quick simple solution and they can't stay on this the rest of their life. They cut out foods they love, they cut carbohydrates, they cut out fat, and sometimes they cut out food entirely. Eventually when they return to their old eating habits they regain the weight back and sometimes more. Most people gain weight and become overweight or obese slowly over time with a few pounds every year and they do this by repeatedly making poor choices day in, day out, year after year. What people fail to see is that by making better, realistic choices consistently over time they can reverse the weight gain and the process becomes much more comfortable and the key is sustainable. The challenge is this takes time and most people want results yesterday. I call this the true unsexy weight loss method that no one wants to hear, probably not going to make headlines any time soon.

Jim White
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The biggest mistake people make when trying to lose weight is going on "fad" diets. Many fad diets do work for quick weight loss, but can eliminate certain foods or food groups that are important for healthy nutrition. People often feel very "deprived" and tend to quickly re-gain the weight lost, and many times gaining more due to the yo-yo effect. Learning moderation, balance, portion control, and exercising are key to healthy lifestyle weight management and maintenance.

Trying to lose it too fast. Most people have very little patience once they have decided to lose weight. They have put time and thought into the decision and the forecast that significant weight loss may be months off is frustrating and disappointing. However, one of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to follow an overly restrictive diet. Before the day is up they are starving, shaky, and irritable. It is no wonder most diets end before the end of the first day! Approaching weight loss with a more moderate plan, involving long term behavior change, may not seem very appealing if you are ready to lose weight now, but study after study validates that slow and steady weight loss has a much better chance of staying off.

Alberta Scruggs
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The biggest mistake when attempting weight loss is restricting caloric intake to less than 1,000 kcalories a day.

As time goes by, the body moves into a "starvation mode", and holds on to what it has. During this time, the body continues normal functions (heart continues to beat, kidneys continue to filter blood and the brain continues to send messages to all organs of the body). The body continues to need fuel/energy.

The preferred fuel/energy of the brain is glucose. It is found only in the muscles and liver. When there isn't a sufficient intake of glucose, the body begins to breakdown muscle to get the glucose. When this occurs, it slows the metabolism even more (It takes seven to 10 kcalories per pound each day to maintain muscle cells but only two to three kcalories per pound each day to maintain fat cells). Weight loss becomes more difficult and often times people give up on their weight loss program.

Cassie Vanderwall
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The biggest mistake people make when they are trying to lose weight is that they do not set SMART goals. Individuals can set themselves up for success by choosing goals that are: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. For example, lose weight is not a SMART goal, but lose 1 lb per week by choosing smaller portions at lunch and dinner is SMART. Give it a try!

Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. Small, gradual changes will make the biggest impact on helping people with weight loss, and ultimately, weight maintenance. 

I share with my clients to make a few small changes and these will lead to big results. A few suggestions include choosing 100% whole grain products, fruits and vegetables at most meals, healthy fats like olive oil, and limiting added sugars. 

Of course I would suggest daily activity as well. Activity and portion control go hand in hand. 

Dr. Susan Mitchell, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Typically the biggest mistake made when trying to lose weight is to go on a very low calorie, restrictive diet. Starvation and deprivation may allow for weight loss but the weight rarely stays off. Why? Unless you take a look at your lifestyle, the issues behind your weight gain (stress or emotional eating, lack of activity, time-crunched schedule, etc.) and decide to make small simple changes, you will typically go right back to your old ways of eating and gain the weight back.

Weight loss that stays off requires work and there is no magic bullet for that. But small, simple changes that don't add additional stress to your day will lead to successful weight loss. These small changes become habit and part of your lifestyle over time.

When it comes to weight loss, a common blunder is expecting too much weight loss too soon. A healthy rate of weight loss is up to 2 pounds a week. But many people aim for more than that, then feel like failures and give up when they don't reach that goal.

Another common mistake is to expect change to come easily. Without making conscious changes to your environment as well as your behaviors, derailment is all to easy. Symptomatic mistakes can include not keeping track of what you eat, not ridding your kitchen of unhealthy foods that can tempt you, and not planning for potentially problematic occasions such as meals out, or parties.

Weight Watchers offers a comprehensive approach to weight loss that can help you reach your goals.

Robert DeVito
Fitness Specialist

"All or none" mindset
Many people in life (not just weight loss endeavors) adopt and hold true to the mindset of PERFECTIONISM or "All or None." This mindset shows itself in numerous ways, but most often, it rears its ugly head during conflict.

Many clients I have had are OK as long as everything is going well. Their choices are sound, their thinking is pure and their mood is good. However, as soon as one area of life causes stress this creates a spiral of negative thinking and their mindset goes from "I am in control" to "This isn't working, I quit!” The stress could be a work conflict or poor food choice or a missed exercise session.

This "All or None" mindset makes it increasingly difficult to attain and maintain success because the thought process relies on Perfection. 

A better plan is to understand that negative situations happen to everyone and will happen to you on occasion. Learn to handle stress with proper perspective and gain the ability to understand that every choice counts towards achieving your goal or delaying it.

Failing to plan
A second pitfall I often see is that many people do not plan their meals and workouts. Many people wait for motivation to strike before they act. This is the exact opposite of what needs to be done to gain success.

You must schedule your workouts as a "non-negotiable priority" and attend these important appointments with yourself.

You must plan and schedule your meals in advance. If you wait until you get hungry to think about what you are going to eat you increase your risk of making poor food choices and eating items that are not in your plan. This may lead to a loss of control (see "All or None").

Lacking consistency
Often, individuals begin a plan when they become distressed about their health, appearance and/or fitness levels. They make multiple drastic changes at once in an all-out effort to achieve as much as possible as quickly as possible. Generally, repeating mistakes from their recent past.

When you attempt to accomplish too much at once in addition to the busy schedule you may already have you can become overwhelmed and may cease a few of the more important acts of attaining your goal.

Consistency is accomplished by placing priority on the actions that are most vital for your desired outcome and continuing these actions. You cannot get to your goals with a "tomorrow" attitude.

Mike Allard, NASM Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

Rarely is it just one mistake that people make when trying to lose weight. I believe that it is usually a combination of mistakes that include; unrealistic expectations, underestimating the work required to lose weight, and relying on 'quick fixes'.

When setting a weight loss goal, it needs to be both realistic and challenging. If you are tracking your nutrition and doing strength training and cardio, you can realistically expect to lose 1-2 lbs per week. Most people immediately think, "that's not enough!" Losing 1-2 lbs per week is a weight loss goal that you can achieve week after week until you meet your target weight. It is also one that your body will be able to adjust to. When you lose weight at a steady, moderate pace, you are more likely to keep the weight off.

Losing weight takes dedication. It takes sacrifice. It takes doing things you don't always want to do. It takes willpower. Losing weight does not just happen out of the blue. Your weight will either increase or decrease as a result of your calorie balance. The law of thermodynamics states that you must burn more calories than you consume in order to be in a calorie deficit. This deficit is what causes you to lose weight. Nothing in the body gets a free ride. Every bite of food has to be dealt with by the body, so small things add up.

Unfortunately, too many people have the 'I want it now' mind-set. They waste time, energy and money on quick fixes they hope will work. This attitude toward weight loss is detrimental. Losing weight usually requires lifestyle changes, which take time to make. Typically, it takes a month to change or create a new habit. You need to make sure you are dedicating yourself to changing your life and health for the better. These habit changes need to stick if you plan on losing weight and keeping it off. So the bottom line is to create a realistic plan for losing weight, understand and embrace the work it’s going to take and focus make lifestyle changes.

The biggest mistake most people make who are trying to lose weight is thinking that nutrition is a deal-making exercise. For example, you may think if you skip breakfast, you can eat pizza. Or if you eat veggies today, you can have pastries tomorrow. The reality is that there are no deals to be made: eat the wrong foods, and your body pays the consequences. It's important to add that this isn’t even about calories: you can’t just “exercise off” a bad meal. While doing so may help control weight gain and can even help you lose weight, the calorie burn doesn’t counteract the damage that unhealthy foods can do on the inside—and that’s most important when it comes to overall health outcomes, longevity, staying disease free, feeling energetic and enjoying a high quality of life no matter what your age.

Here’s the reason: your genes make proteins that help your body function. For instance, hemoglobin (a protein) helps deliver oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from each cell. Most changes that are made to your proteins last the lifetime of that protein in your body—as long as 180 days. So when you eat ingredients and nutrients that are bad for you, their joy may last for an hour, but their ill effects on your body can last for six months—even if you burn off the calories. Think about that: those few moments of pleasure from drinking soda come at the cost of damage on the inside that lasts for 180 days. Once those foods flip the switch, your eating a few handfuls of cauliflower can’t flip them back. 

This Is Your Do-Over: The 7 Secrets to Losing Weight, Living Longer, and Getting a Second Chance at the Life You Want

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

There are many pitfalls and mistakes people make when trying to lose weight. For me I had to learn that skipping meals and not eating enough calories was actually counterproductive to my weight loss. Eating every 3-4 hours (5-6 times a day) actually sped up my metabolism and took my body out of its sluggish starvation metabolic mode. Learning which foods actually sped up my metabolism instead of slowing them down and how and when to eat and not to eat took me out of starvation mode and in to burn away the calories mode. Finally a eating plan that kept me full and eating all the time and never deprived.

Instead of talking about mistakes people make, let’s talk about what those success stories are doing right:

  • Set a goal date: but you need to make this a realistic, healthy date. Two pounds per week is realistic and that equals 24 pounds in just 12 weeks!
  • Visualize your success: make a visualization board using a picture of where you are now and a picture of yourself that you like. Leave a space in the middle to see your progress.
  • Make a plan: for an easy plan, start walking 10,000 or more steps per day and cutting your calories to 1200-1500 for women and 2000-2200 for men. Get in 2, 10 minute workouts 4 times per week.
  • Find a community – sometimes we all need a little help from our friends. Join a walking club, fitness group or online community so you have a place to share, cry and jump for joy.
  • Get clean: clean out your house that is. Throw away or donate any food items in your house that are bad calorie choices. Yes, the ice cream too, because having PMS doesn’t give you a license to over eat! 
  • Celebrate your success – save a pair of those fat pants you used to wear so you can pull them out every now and again, put them on and bask in the glory of how big they are now!

Doing these few things will have you on the path toward success and no longer worrying about your mistakes of the past.

Samantha Heller, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Motivation is key to weight loss, but many dieters don't think about that before they start a diet. In this video, registered dietitian Samantha Heller suggests ways to get pumped up about shrinking your waistline.

Troy Taylor, NASM Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

I love this question for so many reasons but primarily because the answer is right under our noses (our mouths).  In my experience as a Los Angeles based personal trainer for the last 18 years I have found that people consistently deceive themselves when it comes to the amount of food they are eating, the caloric value of the food they are eating and how much they actually do eat on a daily basis.

My clients are sincere people, they truly desire to lose weight and in almost all cases they do and in significant amounts but the process normally hits some rocky times and these rocky times correlate with what it takes to truly learn what they are eating, how much they are eating and the value of the food calorically.  The biggest mistake people make when they are trying to lose weight is to underestimate what they are eating.

Mrs. Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

There are a lot of reasons why someone can’t or isn’t losing weight, and many have nothing to do with food. Overall food choices and calories are most important. And if you’re not losing weight you probably need a diet overhaul. This includes when you eat, food combinations, and amount. You may be surprised there is a whole other side to weight loss that doesn’t include food at all. Here is a list of the most common food and non-food dieting mistakes that may be slowing down your weight loss progress.

  • You sleep less than 7 hours per night. Studies show that less than 7 hours sleep for the average adult will inhibit weight loss.
  • You exercise too much. Exercising is not an automatic pass to eat more, and exercising generally burns a lot fewer calories than what dieter think.
  • You skip meals. It may seem to make sense, you’re eating less therefore you will lose more. But skipping meals will only hurt your weight loss effort.
  • You're eating “diet” or fake foods. While prepackaged weight-loss products like shakes and bars are convenient, they may not be helping you to lose weight in the long run. These foods leave you unsatisfied and hungry, which is for sure a set up for overeating later. There are lots of healthier, more filling options with the same or fewer calories, like a cheese stick or a serving of plain nonfat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit.
  • You don’t like to drink water. Drinking water helps you manage your appetite. This is because thirst and hunger are easily confused. In one study, people who drank two glasses of water before eating a meal consumed up to 90 fewer calories.
Kelly Shaughnessy
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

I believe one of the biggest mistakes people make while trying to lose weight is being too strict with their diets. By depriving yourself of everything unhealthy that you love eating, it may be too difficult to stick to the diet. Plan to eat healthy throughout the day and add one small portion of your favorite high calorie treat at the end of the day or every other day. Moderation is key. By incorporating your favorite foods into your weight loss plan, you are more likely to continue the diet long-term and successfully lose weight.

Jill Weisenberger
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

One of the most common mistakes I see is relying on willpower instead of strategy. No one has willpower 100 percent of the time—not even the most disciplined person, so it’s silly to think that it will work for such a difficult task as losing weight. Instead of willpower, plan ahead, and set up your environment to be a weight loss winner.

  • Keep all tempting food out of sight. Even if you have to have it in your house, keep it where you don’t see it every time you walk into your kitchen. Can you keep candies and cookies in the hard-to-reach cabinet above the refrigerator?
  • Serve yourself treats in small dishes. Eat ice cream from your smallest cup. Use a shot glass for jellybeans or M & Ms, and put chips into one-cup bowls.
  • Eat a big bowl of salad before digging into the pizza. Eat a second bowl of salad before eating a second slice of pizza.

You can come up with the strategies that will work best with your life and your routines.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.