A lot of people asked questions like, “What are the best foods for weight loss?” or “What is the best diet?” At the heart of those questions is really the issue of how to lose weight and more importantly how to lose fat.
In most real world situations, achieving long-term fat loss is not about eating a specific food or following a specific diet. A lot of people who actively try to improve their body have decent eating habits, but typically also do some things that have a negative impact and prevent them from achieving their desired results.
There are a lot of healthy foods available and there are always things you can do to improve your nutrition and help lose fat, but there also many things that can sabotage your nutritional success. Success is rarely about eating the “best” foods, but rather having a good overall program, which includes avoiding behaviors that cause your body to actively work against you.
In some cases, the thing that sabotages people’s success is something they do on purpose because they think it is beneficial. In other cases, people do not realize that some of the things they do have a negative impact on their ability to lose fat. People are not unsuccessful because they avoid a specific food, although there are problems if people avoid specific nutrients (water, fiber, protein, etc.).
Whenever I analyze someone’s eating and lifestyle behaviors, there are one or two things that stand out as having a significant negative impact on their nutritional efforts and some of the most common issues are the focus of this Q&A.
Here are 3 common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight and decrease their body fat:
Mistake 1 – Only planning for the short-term
This is one of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to achieving long-term fat loss success. Many people are able to achieve some success over a short period of time, but keeping maintaining the positive results indefinitely can be more difficult, depending on how the progress was made.
Many weight loss strategies (highly restrictive diets, etc.) are just quick fixes that only result in short-term weight loss and sometimes very little actual fat loss. Then once you stop doing the thing that caused you to lose the weight, you will most likely regain the lost weight and there is a good chance you will even gain back a higher percentage of fat than you lost.
People often have the mindset that once they lose their desired amount of weight, everything will be great and they won’t have to diet anymore. While you may not have to be as strict with your nutrition, you cannot assume you will automatically maintain your new weight.
If your diet is designed around developing good eating habits (portion control, etc.) and eating healthy foods, the weight loss can be maintained without much additional effort. However, most people follow diets that are nothing like their regular eating habits and when the diet is over, they don’t know what to do, so they return to old unhealthy habits that got them into trouble in the first place.
Healthy eating cannot be thought of as something you only do while dieting. It has to be something you plan to continue for the rest of your life, if you hope to maintain your positive results.
If your weight loss strategy is not something you will be able to maintain after you stop dieting (with just minor changes), then it is probably not a good plan to follow. In my experience, people have the best long-term success when their weight loss plan is a little stricter version of their maintenance plan and is based on developing good basic nutritional habits.
Action Step: Make healthy eating habits a permanent part of your life. Have a plan for after you stop dieting and ideally your “diet” will have a similar structure to how you will eat after you lose your desired amount of weight.
Mistake 2 – Strictly following a specific diet or eating plan instead of having a plan that works with your lifestyle
This probably causes more problems for dieters than almost anything else, especially for people who never seem to make much progress or cannot stick with a diet. I am not suggesting you have to make your own eating plan from scratch, but trying to strictly follow a new diet plan rarely leads to the success people expect.
I have spoken with so many people who asked me to design them the ideal nutrition program or say things like “just tell me what to eat and I will do it.” Early in my career I made up detailed nutrition programs for people, taking into consideration their major likes and dislikes, but I soon realized this was not really an effective strategy, especially in the long-run.
People would be very motivated initially and tried to follow the plan exactly, but it was almost always too difficult, because it was too different from their regular eating habits. Some people can go “cold turkey” and immediately stop eating all their unhealthy foods and adopt good eating habits, but it is rare for a person to instantly switch from bad to good nutrition and maintain it.
It may not be too difficult at first due to the person’s high level of motivation, but a new program becomes harder to stick with week after week and each day ends up feeling like more of a struggle. In addition, cravings for old foods increase as does the overall feeling that the diet is too difficult to maintain and long-term success will not be possible.
When people start getting discouraged or their cravings become too much, they often start reverting to their old unhealthy eating habits. Many people end up feeling as though they failed because of a lack of motivation or dedication, but this is not really true. This approach to dieting fails, because the change in nutrition is too large and too fast, so your body does not have a chance to acclimate to the drastic changes.
Now, instead of making programs for people from scratch I start by having the person keep a nutritional journal for at least a few days and ideally a week. That way I can see how the person currently eats and figure out what their biggest problems are. Then I start by addressing the biggest issues, without trying to change everything at once, which becomes overwhelming.
A real world example could be someone who eats fried foods every day. Obviously fried foods are bad, but just telling someone to stop eating all fried foods is not the best approach. A better idea is to decrease the number of days the person eats fried foods by one or 2 days per week. When the person successfully eliminates or drastically reduces their fried food intake, move on to the next problem.
Most people can tolerate a more gradual decrease in unhealthy eating behaviors, especially when it is on their own terms and they have a realistic goal to meet each week. The change may happen faster or slower than originally predicted, but as long as the nutrition consistently improves, they will be successful in the long-run and the changes are maintainable indefinitely.
Action Step: Instead of changing your entire way of eating overnight, focus on improving the one or two biggest problems. Your improvement may be a little slower, but you will be able to maintain the improvements and throughout your life.
Mistake 3 – Not eating enough
This is not something a lot of people have problems with, but if you don’t consume enough calories, your fat loss will come to a standstill before you know it.
It is true that if you consume too many calories you will gain weight and if you eat too much, cutting calories and/or burning more calories are necessary for weight loss. However, this does not mean that the fewer calories you eat, the more weight you will lose. Cutting calories is only helpful up to a point.
Your body requires a certain number of calories (varies from person to person) to function on a daily basis and if you do not eat enough, your body starts shutting down. For instance, I know someone who ate less than 500 calories per day for an extended period of time and could not lose fat. If she did lose weight it was more muscle or water than fat.
Not only that, her hair and nails stopped growing and she had a lot of muscle problems that needed to be corrected. It took a while for her body to get used to eating more calories, but once she did, her whole body started working better and she felt better as well.
Action Step: Never starve yourself or skip meals. In addition, the fewer calories you eat, the healthier those calories need to be (containing more nutrients). Your body needs minimum amounts of many nutrients to optimize fat loss and the less you eat the harder it becomes to get the required nutrients.
I hope you found this information helpful and stay tuned for part 2 of this Q&A for more common mistakes that sabotage weight and fat loss success.
By Ross Harrison
VFT Fitness Expert
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