We all wish there were a quick fix to losing weight. Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet to make the number on your scale match your target weight. And according to the experts, in the pursuit of finding a fast fix, a lot of us are using weight-loss strategies that either don’t work or might even be backfiring.
Are you doing it wrong? Here are nine of the worst strategies you can employ for losing weight — and tips on what you should be doing instead.
1. Working out more but eating less.
This is one of the worst mistakes that certified strength and conditioning specialist Noam Tamir sees with his clients. “These two things don’t go together,” he says. When you amp up your workout regimen, your body will naturally crave more food to fuel it through the intensified training. So when you try to cut calories at the same time, you could end up depriving your body and risk triggering a bout of binge eating.
2. Obsessively cutting calories.
Even if you’re not upping your workout routine, restricting your diet too much can backfire, says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD. “While it sounds counterintuitive, eating too few calories can hinder your weight-loss efforts as your body ends up holding on to more calories because it isn’t getting enough fuel,” she says. “Calorie restriction can lead to metabolic damage and will make it harder for you to lose weight.”
3. Obsessively working out.
Overdoing it at the gym can also have a reverse effect, even when you’re getting enough fuel from your diet. “When you work out too much, you end up burning muscle in addition to fat,” says Tamir, founder of New York’s T.S. Fitness. “You increase stress hormones in the body, which makes it harder to lose fat. You also put a lot of stress on your joints, which can lead to injuries that cause you to move less and therefore gain weight.” Committing to time in the gym is a key part of losing weight, but only when you give your body the time it needs to recover between sweat sessions.
4. Skipping big meals for a snacking strategy.
Rethinking our eating strategy is a crucial component of weight loss. But avoiding a full plate like the plague is not the answer. “We know that people should be eating a mix of meals and snacks, but people take it to an extreme where they’re snacking all day, and that can backfire,” says Kate Geagan, RD. “It can also blunt your sense of hunger and satiety. When you eat a lot of small meals, you lose your sense of whether or not you’re actually hungry.” If you are opting to forgo three big meals a day for mini meals, make sure you’re paying attention to the overall calories and nutrients you’re consuming in a day — all those snacks add up fast.
5. Skipping breakfast.
Your mom wasn’t joking when she said breakfast was the most important meal of the day: Forgoing it means your body kicks into starvation mode, where it stores food rather than using it for fuel. “I see clients trying not to eat in the morning because they think they can cut calories that way,” says Tamir. “Then they end up eating a lot at dinner when they are most sedentary and tend to overeat.” And that’s a double whammy for your waistline.
6. Doing a cleanse or detox diet.
Despite all the hype, cleanses can be dangerous. “Souping and juicing can be great, but you might still be consuming a lot of calories,” says Geagan, the author of Go Green Get Lean. Juices packed with “superfoods” are often high in calories, and sometimes people mistake juices intended to be meal replacements as alternatives to diet soda or other beverages. Similarly, doing a juice cleanse for a few days is not really teaching you new eating habits. “Consistency in finding an eating plan and sticking to it is a much more effective weight-loss strategy than this ‘detox-retox’ strategy,” says Geagan. “You need to be able to stick with it for the long haul.”
7. Doing too much cardio.
According to Tamir, when people only do cardio to lose weight, they often end up “skinny fat.” Avoiding strength training when you go to the gym in order to increase your calorie burn will help you drop those pounds, but the catch is it won’t change your body composition. Doing too much cardio can even even end up burning muscle and upping your body fat percentage. “Our bodies get used to workouts pretty quickly,” adds Rumsey, who’s also a certified strength and conditioning specialist. “It’s better to have a shorter, more intense workout that keeps your body guessing. High-intensity interval training has been shown to burn more calories in less time, and the after-burn post-workout can last up to 24 hours.”
8. Banning fat or cutting out carbs.
Nixing a singular nutrient group, like all fats, carbs or sugars, can backfire majorly. “While you may lose weight in the short term, these restrictive diets are not easy for people to maintain long term,” says Rumsey, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Cutting an entire category of nutrients means you’re cutting out the good stuff, too. “Cutting carbs and sugar can cut off your workout fuel,” says Geagan. “Carbs are those miracle molecules that really fuel our bodies.” In other words, you need them. Rather than putting a moratorium on a macronutrient, pay attention to portion size. “The portion size is what makes the poison,” says Geagan. “You want a balanced diet that has all macronutrients.”
9. Falling for the “health halo.”
One of the biggest mistakes you can make, says Geagan, is getting sucked into the “health halo” around certain foods. Kale, quinoa, agave and coconut all get hyped up for their nutritional benefits, which are certainly real, but that’s not an excuse to start pouring coconut oil — which is still a saturated fat — on everything. Ultimately, losing weight is about looking at your overall lifestyle, not trying to target just one aspect or adding one magical superfood to your plate. Adds Rumsey: “If you try to just address your diet without working on your eating behaviors — like emotional eating or stress eating — or the rest of your lifestyle, it’s unlikely that the weight will stay off.”
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