Losing weight is hard. Slow and steady effort always wins the weight-loss race, but what happens when you’re committed, feel you’re doing everything right and the pounds still aren’t coming off?
Take a look at these diet traps, which can sabotage even the best intentions. Making small changes in each of these areas can make all the difference between frustration and long-term weight-loss success.
1. Overestimating calories burned during exercise.
While you might feel sweating is a good index of calories burned, it’s the intensity and duration of your activity that makes a difference. A brisk 15-minute walk burns about 100 calories, while a leisurely stroll for 30 minutes burns about the same amount. Studies show most people overestimate the calories burned from activity and underestimate calories consumed. Calories in versus calories out does work for weight loss, but make sure you’re being realistic in figuring both of these out. Try an app of your choice for better accuracy.
2. Confusing healthy eating with reduced-calorie eating.
The best first step for any weight-loss plan is swapping out empty calories for simply prepared, healthy foods, but it’s not the only one. While it’s a great start to swap out butter for olive oil, all fats have about 120 calories per tablespoon. Whole wheat pasta is a fiber-rich choice, but has the same calories as regular white pasta. Awareness of calories per serving, as well as nutrients, is a win-win for weight loss.
3. Eating too often.
For healthy people, eating around three times a day is sufficient for maintaining metabolic stability. Snacking is optional, but not necessary. The idea of “fueling” all day long often causes people to eat more calories. Some studies show cutting out snacking altogether boosts weight loss. Pre-plan your eating for the day and choose whether you want to eat three times a day or save part of the meal to snack on later. Eating just a few times a day also supports a better sense of recognizing true hunger and fullness, an important part of any weight-control plan. When it comes to how often to eat, one size does not fit all — figure out what works best for you.
4. Lack of portion control for healthy foods.
We often give ourselves permission to overeat healthy foods that are rich in nutrients and calories. But if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s all about healthy calorie-dense foods in moderate portions. The struggle with portion control is among the top reasons even the best designed weight-loss plan can stall. While most vegetables are a go-to “free” food for eating, just one handful of almonds is around 150 calories, and half of an avocado has around 160 calories. Learn to barter and limit your higher-calorie, nutrient-rich foods to jump start your weight-loss effort.
5. Feeding the hungry heart.
Eating for reasons other than hunger is a universal problem. When emotions or stress sneak in, it’s easy to get off track and overeat. The word “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts”! It’s essential to address the causes of stress and emotional eating, and figure out ways to manage your diet plan at these challenging times. Emotional support is a big part of success.
Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, is NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.