If you’ve been trying to shift some weight and have been doing all the right things – changing up your diet, getting more exercise in – it can be frustrating if you feel as if you’ve plateaued, or even put a bit back on.
Here are some common mistakes dieters make, according to experts.
1. You’re eating ‘diet’ foods instead of whole foods
“‘Detox’ products won’t work for weight loss,” says dietitian Sophie Medlin. “Remember, if there was a drink or a supplement you could take that worked safely and effectively for weight loss, we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic.”
She says to beware of brands and celebrities selling any ‘miracle’ weight-loss products.
On the subject of diet influencers, Medlin says the ‘eat like me to look like me’ ideology is deeply flawed. “We all have different genetics and lifestyles – we can’t all look the same.
“Dietitians haven’t been saying anything new for a very long time, because nutrition is about balance. It’s not about cutting things out, it’s not about making people feel guilty for eating normal food.
“I tend to tell people to base their diet around fruit and vegetables, lean protein, have some nuts and seeds and things like pulses.”
2. You aren’t eating mindfully
While you might have upped your exercise and switched to a healthier diet, how we eat is sometimes just as important as what we eat – especially if you’re looking to shed a few pounds.
In our busy society, it’s become the norm to eat meals in front of the TV, while simultaneously scrolling through our phones or replying to emails.
Georgie Murphy, a nutritionist at personalised vitamin service, Vitl (vitl.com) explains: “If while eating, our mind is distracted by deadlines and headlines, a cascade of physiological stress responses will put us in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Research suggests over time, this can negatively influence our appetite and eating behaviours towards obesogenic habits, such as comfort eating and bingeing.”
Meanwhile, mindfulness – she says – has been shown to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), critical for the state of ‘rest and digest’, “increasing communication between the brain and our gut, to support the physiological processes necessary for optimal digestion”.
3. You’re overestimating the impact of working out
Although exercise can help you lose weight – and it’s vital for overall health – personal trainer from The Training Room, Mark Fox, says many people believe it’s the only way to lose weight.
“They think if they exercise constantly and burn more calories, they’ll eventually achieve their ideal weight. Unfortunately, what people don’t realise is that the more they exercise, the more their appetite will increase, to compensate for the increased energy required. As the saying goes, ‘You can’t out-exercise a poor diet’.”
Exercise, he says, will certainly help you lose weight, “but you still have to work on your calorie intake, improving the quality of foods and reducing alcohol”.
4. You’re forgetting about moving – outside of the gym
Sure, you might be spending half an hour or even an hour exercising every day, but if you’re sitting for the other 15, you won’t be giving yourself the best chance of weight loss.
“A better approach is to slightly increase your energy expenditure through a mixture of exercise and NEAT (none-exercise activity thermogenesis),” says Fox, “which is the energy expended from daily, non-sports-like activities, such as walking instead of driving to work, or cleaning the house.
“This way, your body is less likely to significantly increase your appetite and hunger, helping you stick to your nutrition plan.”
5. You’re only doing cardio
Cardio – like running, cycling and hiking – is amazing; it burns calories, it improves your heart health, it’s important for aerobic fitness and it makes you feel great. But if you’re only doing cardio to lose weight, you could be missing a trick, says Fox.
“Resistance (strength) training tends to burn fewer calories as you perform it, so many people ignore its ability to assist in weight loss. What they don’t realise, is that if you build more muscle, your body requires more calories to maintain that muscle. This results in a higher calorie burn each day, even at complete rest.” In other words, with a bit more muscle, you’ll be burning more calories even when lazing on the sofa.
“A combination of the two [cardio and resistance] provides better results,” he says.
6. You’re binge-eating healthy food
Switching to a more nutritious diet, packed with fresh fruit, veg, nuts, beans, pulses and lean protein, is a hugely positive step towards better health, but just make sure all your hard work isn’t being undone by unwittingly consuming more calories than you mean to.
“If the goal is weight loss, moderation is important,” says Murphy. “For example, being mindful of portion size of healthy foods such as nuts and avocados, can go a long way in supporting your weight-loss regime.”
7. You aren’t sleeping enough
Experts believe there is some link between overeating when you’ve under slept. “Sleep regulates two hormones called ghrelin and leptin that are essential in appetite control. Sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease leptin and increase ghrelin, leading to an increase in overall hunger. Therefore, a better night’s sleep may support you to eat wisely and avoid mindless grazing,” Murphy says.
Plus, if you’re increasing your exercise, your muscles need to properly rest and repair overnight. Getting a solid eight hours might be the simplest weight loss advice out there.
Always speak to your GP before undergoing any new weight-loss programme.