Nearly all of us have been there. You want to lose weight, so you start a diet and begin an exercise program. You feel like you’re putting in the necessary work, but can’t figure out why you’re not making the progress you want.
Whether you’re looking to drop pounds for the first time or you’re a dieting veteran, there are a lot of potential pitfalls that can sabotage your progress.
“No weight loss program works for everyone,” says Jen Caudle, D.O., family physician, and assistant professor at Rowan University of Osteopathic Medicine. That means there’s definitely going to be some trial and error involved when you first start out to transform your health and bod. Hopefully you can save yourself at least some of the headache (and hunger pains) by avoiding these six common mistakes.
Mistake #1: You’re Impatient
No matter how much we hate to hear it, progress doesn’t happen overnight. “Weight loss is a journey,” says Caudle, “and it’s not always going to be linear.” Ups, downs, and frustrating flat plateaus are normal.
Losing weight takes time and many people give up way too early in the journey. Healthy weight loss typically paces out at around one to two pounds per week at most, advises Caudle. So whether your goal is 10 pounds or 100, you’ll have to wait it out.
One good way to keep from losing your mind, she says, is to create smaller bite-sized goals (no pun intended). Creating little victories—like dropping 5 pounds, or not skipping the gym for 3 weeks in a row—to celebrate your progress more regularly will keep you motivated to power through to your end goal.
Mistake #2: You Go All Out Right Away
Because we’re impatient and want to see results ASAP, we often try to do too much too quickly.
Going from zero to one hundred overnight makes your chance of failing much higher, warns renowned nutrition consultant Mike Roussell, Ph.D. Changing any single habit requires discipline, so the more habits you try to change, the more discipline you need. “It’s too hard to keep up with the level of self control required to change everything at once,” he explains.
Instead, take it slowly, he recommends. “Get really good at one or two things first, and then gradually add more.” Start with cutting out soda or scheduling a few gym sessions per week, then go from there.
Of course this approach will take longer, but it will set you up for long-term success, says Roussell. Instead of just fighting against unhealthy old habits, you’re creating new healthy ones.
Mistake #3: You Have An ‘All Or Nothing’ Mentality
Thinking in absolute terms (like “I always work out five times per week” or “I never eat sugar”) can be detrimental to your progress.
It might seem a little counterintuitive—after all, wouldn’t you want to fully commit to the healthy practices that are going to help you lose weight?—but according to Caudle, this black-and-white way of looking at your goals can have quite the negative effect. If you have a moment of weakness and skip the gym or indulge in a bit of junk food, you’re more likely to feel like you’ve failed and give up, she says.
“If you fall off of your routine, forgive yourself and get back to it,” she says. No one is perfect, and it’s not worth throwing away the progress you’ve made so far (even if it’s not visible yet) because you can’t achieve perfection.
Mistake #4: You Don’t Have A Plan
“If you don’t have a plan, you’re in trouble,” says Roussell. Think about it this way: You got to where you are today—wanting to lose weight—without a plan. “In order to lose weight you need a plan that you can track and measure,” he says.
Why? A plan helps provide you with clear directives—what to do and what not to do. It’s like creating a to-do list for your fat loss. “Having directions makes it easier for us to understand what will help us reach our goals,” says Caudle.
The best first steps to developing a plan that’s specific to your needs? Consulting a physician like Caudle or a nutrition consultant like Roussell.
That may seem like a lot of effort—and may potentially cost a few bucks—but you’ll likely see better results with an expert-developed plan than with a one-size-fits-all program you find on Pinterest. “You need to take into account a number of factors, like weight, activity level, illnesses, and medications,” says Caudle.
Mistake #5: You’re Worrying About The Scale Too Much
How many pounds you weigh is an easy-to-access indicator of your progress, but it only represents your body’s relationship with gravity. The scale doesn’t take into account changes within your body—like cardiorespiratory fitness, strength, or body composition (that’s how much muscle vs. fat you have), says Caudle.
Apps like MyFitnessPal or fitness trackers like a FitBit are great ways to keep tabs on your plan and progress, Caudle recommends. Maybe you felt yourself get tired after a ½ mile jog a few weeks ago, but now you can see that you’re able to go ¾ of a mile without tapping out. “Closely tracking your progress can also help you achieve those bite-sized goals that keep you motivated,” she says.
Don’t want to shell out extra cash for a tracker or app? The iPhone Health app comes pre-installed on your phone and can help you keep track of a variety of different things, like activity, nutrition, sleep, body measurements, and health records.
Mistake #6: You’re Not Eating Enough
The less you eat, the more weight you lose, right? Wrong.
While you might drop pounds initially from eating too little, this effect will slow and plateau very quickly, says Roussell. Not to mention you’ll be hangry all the time—and potentially malnourished.
When you’re already employing discipline and self-control in full force to transform some of your unhealthy habits, a growling stomach might throw you over the edge. If you let yourself get super hungry, you’re more likely to overeat at your next opportunity, says Roussell.
Plus, eating too few calories probably also means you’re missing out on protein, says Roussell. When you set out to lose weight, you want your body to burn its own fat stores for fuel, but when you don’t eat enough, your body starts to burn through your muscle mass for fuel, too. (There are a number of reasons this is no bueno, including a wrecked metabolism.) Consuming one-to-two iPhone-sized portions of protein at each meal can help you stave off muscle loss and sacrifice maximal fat, instead, says Roussell.