As well-meaning as you are about your weight-loss goals, there may be certain habits that hold you back — including ones related to sleep and mental health — you might not have considered. Registered dietitians address 12 things that might be standing in your way of shedding those last few pounds and how to refocus on what matters.
SKIMPING ON BREAKFAST
The research about whether or not breakfast is a must goes back and forth. However, registered dietitian Samantha Cassetty often notices clients who are stalled in their efforts are eating too light a breakfast. In particular, people often “don’t eat adequate protein at breakfast, which means they’re missing a key opportunity to replace the protein that was broken down overnight.” If you continue to skip protein at breakfast, “it might lead to a sluggish metabolism over time,” she says.
What’s more, eating one piece of fruit or processed fare like packaged muffins won’t keep you full until lunch, which has a ripple effect on how well you function. “When my clients eat a more satisfying breakfast, they’re more energetic, less distracted by hunger, less irritable and more productive,” says Cassetty. Aim for 20–30 grams of protein by including options like cottage cheese or hard-boiled eggs, she says.
Weight loss isn’t just about diet and exercise, and you’ve likely heard about how sleep is essential for a healthy weight. Skimping on zzz’s skews your hunger hormones, and you may find you reach for a sugary snack as a pick-me-up more often. Of course, committing to doing the things sleep experts preach (like stopping the pre-bed social media scroll) is important, but you probably also haven’t considered how your magnesium levels play a role in shut-eye. “Most people do not consume an adequate amount of the mineral, and this can interfere with proper sleep,” says Cassetty. Consider adding more magnesium-rich foods like almonds, tofu and leafy greens to your diet.
BERATING YOURSELF FOR “BAD” FOODS
If you’re currently swimming in guilt over that brownie you just ate, it’s OK to relax about it. “No one food can lead to weight gain,” says Mary Jane Detroyer, RD. Often, believing you “blew it” with your diet can cause you to rebound eat, scarfing more food than you’re hungry for (or even want) because you’ll restart your diet tomorrow and “be good.” Giving up this all-or-nothing mindset and focusing on an 80/20 strategy, where you incorporate indulgences 20% of the time, may lead to a more well-balanced, sustainable diet.
EXERCISING ONLY TO BURN CALORIES
“Exercise can make you hungrier, so you might overcompensate by eating more when trying to lose weight,” explains Cassetty. She encourages exercising for the sake of health — not simply to burn calories or negate your food intake. “I tell clients to have fun movement experiences,” which means doing something you truly enjoy or that’s new and exciting. It could be going for a walk, taking up swimming or learning to golf.
LETTING YOUR DIET MAKE YOU MISERABLE
We often boil weight loss down to a math problem, but your emotional well-being is another major factor. “If someone is really unhappy in life, it can be hard to lose weight,” says Isabel Smith, RD. If a diet is too rigid — maybe it’s causing you to avoid dining out with friends — it won’t be sustainable for weight loss or encourage mental health.
Rather, a big factor in both happiness and weight loss success is surrounding yourself with positive connections. “Relationships that are supportive and feel good are the key to our success and happiness. When someone has this, it helps improve their quality of life, something that definitely correlates with overall health,” she says.
NOT EATING ENOUGH
The calories-in versus calories-out equation might sound simple, but the body is smart and designed to withstand famine. That means it will compensate for restriction by driving up hunger levels. “If you go on a regimented food plan that does not take into consideration your individual calorie needs or food likes or dislikes, it cannot last forever,” says Detroyer. If you’re tired all the time or struggling to break through a weight-loss plateau, it could be a signal you’re undereating. Speak with a professional who can help figure out the best plan to suit your needs, says Detroyer.
NOT TRACKING YOUR INTAKE
“Making sure you’re eating in a slight caloric deficit is important for weight loss,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD. While you don’t need to button up so much that you’re eating too little, you’re also going to want to reduce the excess fluff. To find what that might be, you should track your food, at least in the beginning. “It can be easy to forget about what we ate previously and make it harder to pinpoint what’s preventing you from reaching your goals,” she says. Use these tips to make tracking your food a healthy habit.
SETTING UNREALISTIC GOALS
While what you’re eating matters, it’s not the only piece of the equation. “Other factors can affect how our body utilizes, burns and stores calories or energy,” says Moskovitz. Those include metabolism, age, genetics, stress and hormones, she says, and “can also play a role in being able to get past a certain point on the scale.” Meaning: Just because you choose a certain number does not mean it’s a goal weight that may be attainable, comfortable or sustaining for you. While that may seem like a downer at the outset, it’s actually incredibly freeing. A realistic goal is achievable, makes you feel good and is one you can maintain for the long-haul.
CUTTING OUT FOOD GROUPS
Right now, it’s popular to talk about what you’re not eating: carbs, fruit, beans, starchy veggies, grains, dairy … the list goes on. That, too, falls under restriction. “The body thrives on balance and requires it to function at its peak,” says Moskovitz. When you take something away, you’re coming from a place of deprivation, which often isn’t a positive mindset. And, your body isn’t happy either: “Deprivation can negatively affect metabolism or contribute to strong cravings, and possibly even binges later on,” she says. That stands in your way of losing weight. Research in the journal Obesity found people who consistently binged lost half as much weight as dieters who didn’t. Instead of cutting out entire food groups, try to practice an 80/20 moderation approach.
IGNORING YOUR STRESS LEVELS
For many of us, responding to stress means reaching for comfort foods while watching Netflix. While doing so is perfectly fine on occasion, it’s important to have healthy, non-food-related outlets for reducing stress. “Stress can negatively affect metabolism and get in the way of reaching weight or fitness goals,” says Moskovitz. Helpful ways to mitigate stress include taking a walk outdoors, reading a good book or calling a friend.
SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS IN FAD DIETS
Trendy diets always tell you there are big things in store and usually involve a long list of restrictions and can’t-eat foods. There’s one big thing they’re all missing: “Fad diets typically fail to work on [building] a positive relationship with food,” says Moskovitz. Red flags that you’re looking at a fad: The diet says it’s good for everyone, bills itself as a quick fix for quick weight loss, or presents a list of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. “When you give yourself time to lose weight, that’s when you find long-term results.”
NOT BUILDING IN NOVELTY
“One reason jumping on board a fad diet is so appealing is that it’s novel, which makes it exciting,” says Moskovitz. But, as you grow accustomed to eating the foods allowed on the program, your interest wanes and you’ll likely give it up, she says. No matter the weight-loss plan you’re on, keeping a degree of novelty helps drive a motivational let’s-do-this-attitude. Moskovitz recommends making a point to do things like try new recipes and foods, so practicing healthy habits every day is actually fun.
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