The Worst Things You Can Do When Trying to Lose Weight

In the United States of America, 72 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Being obese or overweight increases the risk for a variety of diseases, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

It's no wonder that so many people are trying to lose weight, whether it's for health reasons, to prevent long-term diseases or for aesthetic purposes. But losing weight is no easy feat, and there are behaviors you may be unknowingly doing in your quest for weight loss that actually sabotage your efforts and can even create potentially dangerous environments.

With so much information available online and fad diets coming and going, it can be difficult to understand what your body needs to stay healthy while you work to improve and change it. Far too many people fall under the spell of quick-fix solutions or erroneous information and find themselves feeling weak, hungry, nauseous or frustrated within a few weeks of a new healthy eating or activity plan.

Before you dive into another diet, know that there is a better way. Start by avoiding these eight common weight-loss errors and talk with a registered dietitian or trainer if you need more personalized advice for your journey to health.

1. Eating Too Few Calories

Your body needs calories to keep you fueled and functioning. If you eat too few calories, not only can you become lethargic, but your body could erroneously believe you're in a state of starvation. Upon entering that state—which can occur from eating less than 1,000 calories a day—your body panics, slowing down your metabolism to help you save energy until your next meal. Plus, when you eat too few calories your body will hold on to whatever fat it can as a means of survival. When you're trying to lose weight, finding the sweet spot of calories is important, but eating too few can actually minimize how much weight you will lose.

2. Eliminating Food Groups

The USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans has always recommended a variety of food groups including lean protein, fruit, vegetables, dairy, and grains. Why? Each food group provides a variety of nutrients to keep you healthy. When you eliminate a food group—whether it's grains, fruit or dairy—you also risk the possibility of taking in too little of one or more nutrients, which, ultimately, can be harmful for your body. Doing so over a long period of time can even lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can seriously affect your health. Furthermore, cutting out all carbs or all fruits or whatever group you've deemed unhealthy is typically not sustainable long-term. Instead, focus on finding a healthy eating plan that fuels your body with all the essential nutrients you need and allows you to function at 100 percent. 

3. Cutting Out All Sweets

If you have a sweet tooth, taking control over your sugar intake is important. It doesn't mean that you need to cut out the foods you love completely, though. If, for example, you're a chocolate lover and swear off all chocolate forever, cold turkey, do you think forever is realistic? After all, it's a flavor you've come to enjoy and there's a good chance you'll cross paths with chocolate again, right?

Oftentimes, when you swear off a favorite food, you end up building that food up in your head, craving it more aggressively and, eventually, binging on that exact food. Then, when you finally cave and indulge in your craving, it's common to take in more calories than you would have if you had simply incorporated a small amount into your meal plan in the first place. There is a place for treats in your healthy diet; it's all about portion control and learning to appreciate the flavor instead of overeating.  

4. Obsessing Over the Scale

If you're using the scale and only the scale to gauge your weight loss, you might be setting yourself up for a frustrating journey. Being mindful of the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a safe rate of weight loss of one to two pounds per week, the scale isn't always your best tool and, in fact, may work against you in the long-run.

Weight fluctuates often, both over time and throughout the day, and there are many factors—hormones, water, muscle gains—that could lead to a number you weren't expecting to see reflected back at you. If you're increasing the intensity of your workout or taking up strength training, for example, the number on the scale may be going up. This doesn't mean that what you're doing isn't effective, just that your body is changing in other ways that the scale can't see. Your waist circumference may be changing and you may also notice that your pants are loose on you—both are signs that your hard work is worth it!

Sometimes, overly focusing on that number, can be detrimental to your psychological well-being, leaving you full of self-doubt and frustration. If you choose to use a scale, commit to weighing yourself once a week at the same time of the day and wearing the same kinds of clothes for consistency.

5. Relying on Diet Alone

Diet alone is not the most efficient way to lose weight. No, weight loss is a multifaceted endeavor and includes a healthy diet, regular physical activity and living an overall healthy lifestyle. If you don't exercise right now, it's time to get moving. After checking with your doctor for advice, begin your exercise regimen slowly and build it up over time. Experiment and find activities you love, whether that's Zumba, HIIT or even just a nightly brisk walk with friends or family. The workout you don't dread is the workout that you will attend!

The 2015-2020 dietary guidelines recommend adults 18 to 64 years who wish to gain the health benefits of physical activity "do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity." Remember that those numbers exist not to intimidate you, but rather, to help you achieve maximum benefits. Start out with just 10 minutes once or twice a day, then add time as your stamina improves. 

6. Forgetting Fiber

When you set out to lose weight, you'll be cutting back on calories and, likely, food. Many dieters believe that cutting back on carbohydrates is the answer, but if you cut back too much (or eliminate them completely), you'll also be missing out on fiber. Fiber has numerous benefits including making you feel satisfied after a meal, decreasing the risk of colon cancer and keeping your gut healthy. And, yet, many Americans lack fiber in their diets, so much so that the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified it as an under-consumed nutrient (along with potassium, calcium and vitamin D). When losing weight, carefully select your foods to ensure that you're getting all the nutrients you need, especially fiber.

7. Succumbing to Snack Attacks

We have become a snacking nation, and many people are guilty of mindlessly munching on hundreds, or even thousands of empty calories. While snacks play an important role in your weight-loss plan, they must be planned and should properly fit within your overall eating plan.

If you find yourself snacking throughout the day, especially on snacks higher than 200 calories, you can quickly sabotage your efforts by taking in more calories than you realize. Instead of grabbing a snack when you're bored or stressed, think of snacks as mini-meals that deliver essential nutrients that might be missing from your regular meals. Strategically adding snacks to your day is a great way to keep energy up and keep unhealthy cravings at bay.  

8. Being Hard on Yourself

This is a big one. When you're trying to lose weight, there are going to be ups and downs. There's no getting around it, but getting down on yourself too much or too often can take a toll on your psychological well-being. The last thing you want to do is sabotage your psychological health for weight loss.

Keep in mind that if you don't lose the weight as quickly as you want, that is okay. If you end up splurging on a treat one night, that is okay. Nobody is perfect and your weight-loss journey doesn't need to be perfect, either. Use slip-ups and failures as teaching moments, and take time to reflect on how you can improve or adjust your strategy. If you find that you're becoming depressed, obsessive or sad during your journey, seek the assistance of a certified therapist who can make sure your psychological well-being stays intact.

Losing weight is a hard-fought and admirable journey, so remember to take the good with the bad and continue to enjoy life even as you work to improve your health.