Weight loss can be a challenging journey. Even with hard work and dedication, sometimes the pounds refuse to budge. These plateaus are often attributable to small habits that make a big difference. In this article, David Reagan, an Atlanta-based personal trainer, shares the top five the most common mistakes that could be derailing your fitness goals.
You Don’t Track Nutrition
It’s easy to be disappointed when weeks of sensible meals don’t result in a change on the scale. If you’ve been eating balanced meals in an appropriate caloric range for your body’s needs, the answer might be tracking what you eat with and between your meals. Calories from beverages tend not to trigger the hormones that signal your body has had enough nutrition, which means you can take down a 400 calorie coffee beverage from your favorite cafe and still be hungry for more.
Tracking calories also means you factor in the snacks you may graze on throughout the day. It’s easy to forget a cookie here and a piece of candy there, but these items add up! Calorie tracking is not intended as a punitive measure; instead, it is a tool to help recognize patterns and make room for those in your life. If you love that sweet coffee beverage, make it a once a week treat instead of drinking it every day or cut back on the afternoon candy to free up some calories.
You Aren’t Eating Enough
While it’s true that the overarching rule of weight loss is that the number of calories coming in must be less than the number of calories expended, the truth is that weight loss – and more specifically fat loss – is the result of complex biological systems working together. A body with a mild to moderate calorie deficit will usually respond by shedding fat; a body with a steep calorie deficit may attempt to protect itself from starvation by slowing down its metabolism.
Sometimes called “starvation mode,” this is characterized by lethargy, mood swings associated with low blood sugar, and intense feelings of hunger or no feelings of hunger at all. Because the body is fighting to achieve homeostasis, adding in more exercise or restricting food can have a negligible effect on weight loss. It is also important to note that shocking the system by slashing calories can have unintended consequences, including added stress to internal organs like the kidneys, liver, heart, and blood electrolyte imbalances.
Maintaining a level of calories that is far too low for your body can result in permanent organ damage even before an overweight person becomes clinically underweight. If you think your body is in starvation mode, try adding a few hundred calories of fat and carbohydrates to your daily intake for a week and see how your body responds.
You Rely Too Much on Workouts
Working up a sweat can be great for cardiovascular and whole-body health, but it isn’t a free pass to eat whatever you want. Exact calorie burn will depend on individual factors like gender, body size, composition, and age, but most strenuous workouts burn between 300 and 600 calories per hour. For comparison, most fast food milkshakes clock in around 500 calories. It’s fair to have a treat once in a while, but trying to earn it with exercise creates a toxic relationship with food and is ultimately ineffective.
Focusing primarily on calorie burn also ignores the many benefits of other forms of exercise; strength training builds strong bones and muscles, yoga and Tai Chi build better focus and flexibility, and Pilates sculpts muscles with relatively little energy expenditure. Varying your workouts and building steady, gentle movement into each day is a more sustainable lifestyle choice for when you shift from losing weight to maintaining within your goal range.
You Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep
Waking up before the sun to fit in a morning run can seem like a great way to achieve your fitness goals. It can be, but only if you’re getting a consistent and adequate amount of sleep before you lace up those sneakers. Getting 6 hours of sleep or fewer per night leads to chronic sleep deprivation, a condition that can hinder your weight loss goals in multiple ways.
The fatigue you may experience from burning the candle at both ends can cause you to reach for sugary foods to boost your energy level and make you less able to resist cravings. Sleep is also essential for your body to repair muscle tissue that is stressed during a hard workout; lack of sleep can mean that your body doesn’t have the time or resources needed to build the muscles that will raise your base metabolic rate and keep your body strong.
If you’re struggling with getting enough hours of sleep, examine your sleep hygiene habits. Good sleep hygiene includes limiting exposure to blue light from electronic devices a few hours before bed, developing a relaxing routine for the end of your day, not using your bed as a workspace or for purposes other than sleeping during the day, and using a white noise machine to limit disruptive noise from traffic or other sources overnight.
You Don’t Have Consistent Habits
One common weight loss trap comes from good intentions: you dive in, pre-planning all your meals, strictly controlling your food intake, forcing yourself through grueling daily workouts, and sacrificing all social obligations that involve food outside of your meal plan in pursuit of the perfect body. After a few miserable weeks, you give up entirely and return to your old habits.
If this sounds familiar, you may need to focus on building consistent, sustainable habits that can fit into your life for the long haul. If you are a night owl instead of a morning person, make time for a workout in your evenings. Suppose you have issues with a disability or chronic pain. In that case, this could look like doing light, therapeutic exercise with a flexible schedule, and focusing on eating lower-calorie food with anti-inflammatory properties.
A football fan might focus on eating light, healthy foods the day before a big game to allow themselves to indulge and have a beer and some snacks with their friends as they root for their team. The most important thing on your weight loss journey is your ability to stick to a plan without losing the things you love in life.
Shedding pounds and keeping them off can be a lifelong battle. The good news is that making sure your habits are healthy and sustainable can make it easier to win the bulge’s battle while maintaining your quality of life.
About David Reagan
David Reagan is a NASM Certified personal trainer from Atlanta, GA, who specializes in weight loss, personalized workout plans, bodybuilding, and nutrition. He caters to high-end clients and executives, helping them achieve their fitness goals by accommodating their busy schedules. The client’s needs come first, and David’s fitness plan will set you up on the path to success.