You’ve made a fitness goal. You’re following your plan. You’re doing the work … You’re not a slacker. So why after weeks of dedication are you not losing the weight?
Here are some common mistakes you might be making that will hinder even your best fat loss efforts.
1. You’re not eating enough
You may think that by severely restricting your calories, you’ll lose weight. Though mathematically this calorie deficit scenario makes sense, your body doesn’t follow the rules of basic arithmetic, but survival. When you deprive yourself of fuel, your body enters “survival mode.” It slows your metabolism to conserve energy, which halts your weight loss.
According to most nutritionists, women need a minimum of 1,200 calories per day and men require about 1,800 calories per day. If you’re fueling your body with fewer than the minimum, you may see some temporary weight loss, but your progress is likely to stall soon.
Keep a food diary for a few days to ensure you’re supplying your body with an adequate amount of fuel. Apps like MyFitnessPal and Lose It! will help make calorie tracking easier. Keep in mind that every body is different. You may need to adjust your minimum calorie intake to match your body’s needs.
2. You’re eating too much (and don’t know it)
Here’s another good reason to break out the food diary: We often do a poor job estimating the calories we consume. One study revealed that Americans underestimate the number of calories in a specific meal more than 80 percent of the time -- and not just by a bit. Some meals were twice as caloric as participants originally guessed.
Pay attention to your add-ons and “tastes.” These calories can add up quickly. Just 2 tablespoons of ranch dressing contains almost 150 calories. Next time you have a big salad, portion out how much you’re really adding to your greens. You might be surprised.
Oh, and that mini candy from your coworkers desk and that bite of your kid’s peanut butter and jelly - those aren’t free calories. By one estimation, each one of these mindless bites of food add 25 calories to your daily total. Having a treat in moderation or a cheat meal once a week is actually a healthy habit, but be mindful about it. Enjoy your diet splurges rather than mindlessly eating them throughout the week.
3. You’re focusing on quantity of food and not quality
While keeping a food diary and recording your daily calorie intake will help you reach your goals, it’s possible to eat terribly and still maintain a “healthy” calorie budget. Start thinking of your food as fuel -- quality is key. Ask yourself:
- Am I getting enough protein? Diets that are high in protein give your muscles the fuel they need to grow (More muscle mass means more calories are burned at rest), help you feel fuller faster (so you eat less), and keep you feeling satiated longer (so you feel like cheating less often). If you’re building muscle, you need a minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
- Am I getting enough carbs (and the right kind)? Extremely low carb diets leave your body and brain void of fuel. Your workouts will be less efficient, you’ll have less energy, and crave more. Carbs are your body’s preferred form of energy. If there are none in your system to provide energy, your body then starts turning to your muscles for an energy source.
- Am I getting enough fat? If you are not eating enough fat, your body will begin to rely on protein stores to fuel your workouts. Get the skinny on the importance of fat in your diet from our blog, “Cutting Fat to Cut Up?”
4. You’re far too focused on traditional cardio
Running or walking does burn calories, but it’s not the most effective way to lose fat. As you progress, your body becomes more efficient at completing the exercise, which means you burn even fewer calories per mile. If you really want to torch fat, you’re better off incorporating total body, high-intensity interval training. HIIT training burns more calories, stimulates fat loss, and continues to burn fat even hours after your workout.
You might also want to consider strength training, if it’s not already part of your fitness routine. During periods of calorie deficit (when you’re dieting), your body turns to muscle stores for fuel. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Additionally, after you lift weights, your body continues to burn calories for up to 38 hours after your training session.
5. You’re not drinking enough water
When you’re dehydrated, your body slows its metabolic processes to conserve water. If you’re working out more to increase fat loss, you’re sweating more, which means you need even more water than you did before. You need lots of H2O for your body to perform optimally - only then will you max out your metabolism. One study found that drinking just half a liter of water increased metabolism by 30 percent!
6. You’re stressed out or overtired
A lack of sleep or an overabundance of stress increases your cortisol levels. Among other negative consequences, chronically elevated levels of cortisol stimulate fat storage. So, even if your diet is perfect and your schedule at the gym is rigid, you could be stalling your progress if you’re stressed out or skimping on your Zs.
7. You’re not measuring your progress accurately:
If you’re using your scale as your sole metric of success, you’re doing it wrong. Just because the numbers haven’t budged doesn’t mean you’re not transforming your body.
An effective fat-loss plan should include strength training. If you’re building muscle and maintain your weight, that’s a good thing! It means that you’re simply replacing the extra pounds of body fat with extra pounds of muscle. Remember that A pound of fat takes up four times the space as a pound of muscle, so if this is the case, you should be noticing your clothes are fitting more loosely.
For a more accurate representation of your progress, try pairing your body weight with body measurements. Here’s a basic tutorial on how to take your own measurements. There are some ways to estimate your body fat percentage at home, but if you need exact measurements, you’ll have to visit a professional or seek out one of these highly accurate body fat testing methods.