It’s an established fact that in order to lose weight, you need to maintain a steady caloric deficit over a long period of time. You must burn more calories than consumed. However, despite knowing this, many people still struggle to see any progress with their weight loss goals.
Here are five common mistakes people make (whether they know it or not) that are impeding their efforts to slim down:
1. Mindless snacking
A handful of chips at a party. Stealing a few french fries from your friend’s plate. Finishing your kids’ leftovers. Mindlessly picking at trail-mix, assuming what you’re taking is “about a serving”.
Gradual snacking throughout the day may seem harmless, but those calories can quickly add up. 100cal of chips, 200cal of trail mix, and 150cal of an uneaten sandwich, and suddenly you’re no longer in a deficit anymore. It doesn’t matter if you don’t log the food - it’s still going into your body, and erasing all the hard work you’ve been doing.
If you can’t stop snacking throughout the day, then keep some low-calorie finger food nearby (snap peas, watermelon, baby carrots, and fresh berries are all great options). If you’re really craving junk food, then measure out one serving into a bowl beforehand. If that seems like too much effort, then you probably didn’t need the snack that bad in the first place.
2. Forgetting to log drinks
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that (unless it's water or black coffee) beverages have calories. Juice, pop, milk, creamy/sugary coffee (this is a huge culprit at cafés, especially if you’re getting fancy drinks that are half sugar and cream!) - these all have calories, and can quickly put you over the limit if you’re not careful.
Another huge one is alcohol. If you don’t drink, then good for you! However, if you’re like the vast majority of the population, then it’s not out of the ordinary to at least indulge on the weekends. I always tell my clients (and this usually surprises them), if you want to drink, that’s totally fine! The only rule is you have to log what you drink. You’ll quickly be second-guessing that 500+ calorie piña colada, and realize that even those 180cal pints of beer or 70cal shots of vodka add up (and make it harder to resist unhealthy snacks later in the night).
Simple - whenever you can, drink water. Not only will this add absolutely zero calories to your day, but it will also fill up your stomach and curb hunger cravings. If you want to drink coffee or tea, make it at home (or order it black, and add your own milk and sugar). For alcohol, try your best to drink in moderation - and when you do want to indulge, try to stick to 70cal vodka sodas over 300cal long island iced teas.
3. Improperly measuring calorie-dense food
For the most part, being a few grams off, or a bit over/under the line on a cup when you’re measuring your food isn’t going to matter much. However, there’s one case where it absolutely does matter - calorie dense, fatty food.
Nut butters, cooking oils, salad dressing, mayonnaise, butter, cheese, nuts, avocados (the list goes on) - all these foods are very high in fat, and every gram matters. Be very, very careful when you’re measuring them out. One measly tablespoon, a few more nuts, or a slightly longer drizzle can add a hundred extra calories. In my experience, this is the number one reason people who are trying to be diligent about calorie tracking struggle to see progress.
Measure fats carefully! I highly recommend getting a food scale for this reason. It’s only a small investment at first, and it’s incredibly easy to just scoop/pour the food onto a plate sitting on the scale, instead of trying to eyeball a tablespoon (and don’t even get me started on trying to estimate cheese). Another important point is to keep track of all the oils you use in cooking (to grease the pan, etc.) - this is something people often forget to count, but it adds up as well! If you find this to be too much trouble, then try opting for baking/boiling/poaching instead of frying!
4. Eating out too often
Another common culprit for consuming unknown amounts of calories is eating out at restaurants. Fast food, coffee shops, fancier sit-down restaurants, doesn’t matter. Unless the calories are explicitly listed on the menu, you’re guessing - and your guess could very well be off by hundreds.
Another unfortunate thing about eating at restaurants is that portion sizes are enormous - and sometimes “healthier” foods (eg. salads, poke bowls) are the biggest culprit of all. Meals usually have 800+ calories - over half of what many people’s goal is for the day. And that’s not even counting the drink (or two) that you get with it.
There are several solutions to this problem.
The first is obvious. Don’t eat out so often. Try to limit it to once or twice a week (if that). This of course will create the need for more cooking and meal prepping at home. It might seem time-consuming at first, but if done correctly, it’s really not. As a bonus, it will also save you enormous amounts of money, especially if you’re used to dining at restaurants often!
When you really must eat out, there are a few tricks to this as well. My personal favourite is portion control. As soon as you get your meal, put half away in a box for later, and eat the other half. Chances are you’ll have still satiated your appetite, and you won’t have eaten more than 400-500 calories. Also, try to avoid sugary/alcoholic drinks, and stick to water.
Something else you can do is avoid fried foods, and ask for any sauces to be served on the side. That way, you at least have control over where the bulk of the calories are coming from.
5. Weekend binging
And finally, the thing that is responsible for stalling almost everyone’s progress at least once (sometimes, sadly, causing them to give up on their diets altogether) - treating the weekend like calories don’t count. Even if it’s just for one day, this can have catastrophic effects on your weight loss efforts.
Don’t believe me? Let’s choose a standard goal - one pound of fat loss a week. That’s 3500 calories (the amount it takes to lose one pound of fat), divided by 7 days, to get the goal of a 500 calorie deficit a day.
Now, let’s pretend that, Monday to Thursday, you do this perfectly (so far, you’re at a 2000 calorie deficit for the week - over halfway there!) However, on Friday you decide to treat yourself by going out for dinner and drinks, and consume 1000 calories over your budget (this is extremely easy to do). On Saturday, since you’re not tracking your food as diligently, you eat an extra 1000 calories throughout the day (a couple pieces of pizza instead of a sandwich, a hamburger instead of chicken and veggies...) On Sunday, you’re mostly back on track, but instead of hitting 500 calories below your target, you hit around maintenance level instead (thinking to yourself “oh well, I'll start trying again on Monday”).
Suddenly, you're at a net zero calorie deficit throughout the week. You’ve undone all your hard work you accomplished between Monday to Thursday, and will likely continue doing this, until you get frustrated by your lack of progress and give up on losing weight altogether.
What’s the solution?
Again, there’s several.
The first is to continue to be diligent about tracking your food - even if you go way over your calorie limit, or are eating junk food all day. This way, you’ll at least know how far you overshot your target, so you can compensate for it the next few days. It will also force you to be mindful of just how much you’re actually consuming.
Another tip is to try to limit your “cheat day” to just one day, instead of using the entire weekend as a reward for the good job you did throughout the week. A single day of overeating is a lot easier to recover from than three.
The last (and perhaps most important) tip is to not be so strict with your diet throughout the week! Practice flexible dieting, and treat yourself here and there (as long as you’re generally staying within the range of your calorie goal). If you do this, you won’t be so tempted to indulge throughout the weekend. And finally, if you do accidentally let go and eat way more than you intended, don’t beat yourself up over it! Black-and-white thinking is the bane of many diets. Instead, just enjoy the meal and move on. One mistake won’t undo all the progress you’ve made - what matters more than anything else is that you keep on trying the next day and don’t give up!
Kat has spent years gathering knowledge on how to achieve the healthiest lifestyle possible (for the body and the mind), from both extensive research and practical experience. She loves to pass it all on to as many people as possible!