Changing your diet and losing weight isn’t rocket science, but it’s not always as simple as people think. Here are the top mistakes that I see with my clients, and some simple fixes to get things back on track.
1. They pledge to eat "healthy."
While this sounds great, it’s not enough. "Healthy" is vague, and it's different for everyone. Eating organic, for instance, seems healthy, but organic brownies and burritos can be easy ways to overeat and derail your progress.
Instead, have a plan! Some rules can seem arbitrary and strict, but without guidelines, it’s hard to succeed or make progress. Choose a plan that makes sense to you, and follow it.
2. They vow to eat less.
"Eating less" is as arbitrary as "eating healthy," but even that’s not the problem. Our bodies are clever, and they’ll do what it takes to maintain weight. After all, body fat is survival fuel, and our bodies think we need it. When we go hungry, our bodies will subconsciously encourage us to eat more and move less, and we won’t even realize it.
Instead of guessing, use a food log! Writing down what you eat makes you aware of your choices, and much more likely to make good ones. It also gives you a record of what you’ve been eating, so you can make change course if you stop making progress.
3. They trust food labels.
Terms like healthy, low-fat, whole grain, all-natural, Paleo, vegan, and organic are just some of the words that marketers put on their manufactured food products. They want to convince you that these foods will lead to weight loss, but it’s not true. Eat too much healthy food, and you’ll still gain weight.
Instead, eat 90% label free. Meat, eggs, poultry, fish, vegetables, and fruits are harder to over eat than most packaged foods, and don’t need ingredient labels and slogans. Label free foods should be the focus of every healthy diet.
4. They rely on cardio.
We don’t know who first said “you can’t outrun a bad diet,” but it’s true! When you run, you get good at running, and your body adapts to it. Pretty soon, you're efficient enough to burn fewer calories. Eventually, your body will want you to eat more to support your exercise. Eventually, you’ll be hungry enough to eat just a little more without knowing it, and BAM, you’ve stopped losing weight!
Instead of chronic cardio, choose resistance training, which encourages your body to burn fat and support building muscle and bone. Weights, kettlebells, and bodyweight exercises are great for building the muscle and bone that we all know to be important.
Resistance training also burns calories now and later because of EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) – the fancy term for the calories burned recovering from a workout. EPOC can burn extra calories hours or days after you’ve showered, dressed, and left the gym. Cardio can’t do that!
5. They take cheat days.
On paper, a cheat day sounds reasonable. You’ve eaten under your calorie target all week, so you deserve the break, right? Unfortunately, studies show that most people misjudge their calorie intake by quite a bit.
Knowing that you have to burn an extra 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat, most dieters shoot for a calorie deficit of up to 700 calories per day, which should lead to a pound or so of weight loss per week. Did you know that the typical dieter underestimates his daily intake by an average of 429 calories?
A cheat day can easily add 1,000 calories to your day, and completely wipe out your week’s progress. After months of not losing weight, most people will give up instead of playing this hunger game.
Instead of a cheat day, have a free meal. A reasonably sized "normal" meal or dessert. Enjoy it, then get right back on plan.