5 Common Weight Loss Mistakes
Updated: Nov 9
Important But Obvious: Eating too much food will make you fat.
Why people get fat and others don’t is not completely understood. Yes, it is true, a chronic surplus of energy in the body will lead to weight gain, but the fat-loss equation is more complex than calories in versus calories out. We now understand that not all calories are similarly proceeded by the body. Emerging evidence shows when and what you eat affects your weight/fat regulating hormones. Moreover, differing foods have the ability to generate a cascade of hormonal and biological effects on the body, driving hunger, satiety, and mood-altering hormones (leptin, ghrelin, insulin and peptide YY etc). Furthermore, the food we consume also affects the microbiome (science is just beginning to understand some of these processes). Diets high in simple carbohydrates have a huge effect (for many people- but not all) on the weight-regulating hormonal mechanisms charged with maintaining homeostasis. If losing weight was as simple as eating less and working out more we wouldn’t have obesity rates pushing upwards of 35% in the U.S. Our bodies are complex open systems with a multitude of factors potentiating changes in body weight and fat storage. Some people have it easy, most of us do not.
Common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight:
1. Eating too little on a diet will slow your metabolism and may increase your hunger. Most diets are some version of low-calorie eating and some are plainly starvation programs wrapped in fancy names. We have all heard that when you eat too little you preferentially store body fat because the brain thinks (through years of evolution) that you are going through a period of famine. Who wants to feel semi-starved all the time? It’ll lower your libido, make you irritable, lethargic, and depressed. Our ancestors lived through these lean times by being able to efficiently hold onto body fat. You have these genes. Thanks, great grandpa! Now, obviously, if you are able to ignore the cascade of strong physiological, psychosocial and psychological signals of hunger for a long period of time you will lose weight. Most people simply cannot do this (unless they are forced to in a prison camp). Once you start eating normally again your body will likely recalibrate your set point for body weight at a higher number. This is why 95% of people who diet gain all the weight back plus some – this is called post-starvation obesity. Do the ‘Don’t Diet’.
2. Exercising too much -specifically doing too much cardio- will stress out your body. An interesting phenomenon happens when you overtrain – your brain tells you to be lazier (and conserve energy). Interestingly this down-regulation in movement is more pronounced in the obese gym goers than slim people. Overtraining leads to fewer calories burned when you are not in the gym and for many an increased appetite. Whereas short bursts of high-intensity work do a good job in curbing the hunger pangs. In the end, you get fit in the gym and thin in the kitchen. You can’t outrun your fork. Do you know how hard it is to burn 500 calories on a bike? It takes at least 1 hour of grueling painful work. On the other hand, it is very easy to eat 500 calories in 2 minutes: One almond croissant or a slice of pepperoni pizza. Doing too much cardio will lower your testosterone and human growth hormone levels (which are partly in charge of building calorie-burning muscle), increase your catabolic state, and increase your stress levels. When stress is constant and excessive the serum levels of cortisol, tend to malfunction. Chronically elevated cortisol levels increase blood sugar, which then elevates insulin levels. This, among other things, will stop you from burning fat. In turn, you will decrease the amount of adipose tissue your body utilizes for energy. For most people 1 hour per day 6 days per week is more than enough – unless you are training for a competition or an Olympic Gold.
3. Not eating enough fat. Dietary fat is necessary for good health and helps properly regulate hormones -specifically the ones that control hunger and fat storage (Leptin, Ghrelin, HGH, Testosterone, PeptideYY, Insulin and Cortisol). The two greatest common denominators in fat loss are energy deficit and hormone control. Without the proper amount of dietary fat one’s hormones will become imbalanced – and set the stage for fat gain, obesity, and numerous metabolic diseases. Healthy dietary fat is found in foods like nuts, seafood, olives, avocados, and coconuts. Furthermore, new research is showing the benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids found in grass fed cows (butter, milk, and beef) and pasture raised eggs. Typically products labeled ‘low fat’ or ‘non-fat’ are chock full of sugar and do little to satisfy hunger – and may actually promote weight gain. Contradictorily full-fat foods tend to sate people longer while promoting hormone regulation and weight loss. The pendulum is swinging in the other direction for dietary fat – A meta-analysis in 2010 showed an increase in dietary fat won’t cause heart disease.
4. Taking in liquid calories or diet drinks will ruin any fat loss endeavor. Stay away from juices, protein shakes, coconut water and smoothies – these do little to curb hunger and pack a bunch of calories. The mechanisms controlling hunger and thirst are completely different, and liquids don’t seem to satisfy hunger even if they quench your thirst. As a healthy adult, the only thing you should drink is water, seltzer, unsweetened tea, coffee and the occasional glass of wine. An argument can be made for milk and/or unsweetened milk alternatives like almond, coconut, and hemp milk but in moderation. Everything else is chock full of empty calories, sugar or it’s straight up unhealthy. Liquid calories are processed differently in the body – absorbed faster, more efficiently and rarely sating. Scientists have known for a long time that calories eaten from solid foods give you a greater feeling of fullness than calories consumed in liquid form. Normally your body will increase its metabolic rate and activity level in accordance with excess energy consumed, not so with liquid calories. Drinking calories will leave you feeling less full thus less likely to affect your physical activity levels.
5. Falling into the exercise food trap. It goes something like this: “I ran 5 miles today so I can eat whatever I want” or “I deserve an extra piece of pie because I completed a 2-hour workout yesterday”….not if you want to lose fat and keep lean muscle. This kind of thinking undoes many fat loss efforts. Focusing on the long-term goal of fat loss is key. Instant gratification eating is the downfall of so many good exercise programs. This is when forethought and willpower play a huge role. Plan your diet. Buy food when you are not hungry and limit the number of unknown calories you eat. It is very difficult to guess how many calories are in restaurant meals like a Moo-shu pork dish with brown sauce and rice. If you are trying to lose weight you need to be completely conscious of your food choices and why you are making them. Wake up and choose wisely.
There are many other common mistakes people make when trying to drop weight, including: not getting enough sleep, completely depriving oneself of certain foods (and then binge-eating later), eliminating certain macronutrients, snacking too much, eating too quickly, having tempting food readily available in the home/office, eating to change one’s emotional state, not willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes etc. Losing weight does not have to be a horrible endeavor. It is possible to find enjoyment and excitement in the lifestyle and habit changes required to permanently lose weight. This is unique to you and who you are. Ask yourself: how can I lose weight and enjoy the process? Let your brain come up with some ideas.