Oh weight loss. That illustrious goal for so many people. There are literally hundreds of thousands of articles and books and podcasts and videos (and so on) out there tell you how to do it. Some of it is good advice, some of it is not. Some of it will work, some of it won’t. Some people will lose weight, some people won’t. Weight loss can be a positive step towards a healthier life for some people and a lot can go right. But what about what goes wrong during the process? There is a dark side to weight loss that we often try to ignore. But to truly be successful in health, we have to understand the good and the bad. So let’s talk about 5 common weight loss mistakes. Because I’ve made all of them and I don’t want you to do the same!
Mistake #1 – Only Focusing on Exercise
I love exercising. I forgot that for a while and made excuses not to, but when I set out to lose weight, exercising was the easiest first step. And I will never tell anyone that working out is a bad first step in a health journey. Exercising has both physical and mental benefits. And a first step, whatever it is, is still a step in the right direction. That said, exercise can only do so much for you in the grand scheme of things.
My journey started at the beginning of summer and I thought that just by working out, I would get my “bikini-bod” (whatever that is) back by Labor Day. Uh, no. Exercise is a wonderful part of living a healthy life. The benefits for your heart, muscles, bones and even brain are nearly endless. But you can only burn so many calories by exercising. If you aren’t eating in a calorie deficit, it’s going to be really tough to work out enough to burn the extra calories. Think of it this way – if one cupcake is 350 calories, you’d likely need to do a one hour fitness class to burn that off. It sounds fine until you realize you also had a slice of pizza, a glass of wine and a few of those bite size appetizers. And that’s just one meal. Chances are you haven’t done enough activity throughout the day to make up for all that.
Exercise has a whole host of benefits, but one of them is not serving as a magic pill to fix an over-eating problem. Speaking of calorie deficits…
Mistake #2 – Cutting Too Many Calories
Once I realized I wasn’t going to lose the weight I wanted just by working out, I got “serious” about my nutrition (I’ll explain the quotation marks later). I started tracking all of my food and calories and making sure I was always eating at a deficit. I entered into my tracking app that I wanted to lose 2 pounds per week which put me at a 1,000 calorie deficit every day… and I really did it!
So what’s the problem? I cut way too much, way too fast. Going from a calorie surplus diet to this was a shock to my body and moods. I was eating under 1,000 total calories each day. Did I achieve weight loss? Yes. But it was entirely unsustainable. Any day I indulged even a little, my body reacted in the harshest way possible. I felt terrible all the time. Not to mention, as my workouts got harder, I struggled more. And it was all because I wasn’t fueling my body enough! Eventually, I plateaued.
I hit my plateau before I hit my goal weight because my body decided it had enough of me starving it. I didn’t see any more weight loss until I started eating more again. Sounds strange but it’s true! And the process of building up to a healthy calorie range again took time so as not to shock my body (again). If there is only one thing you take away from this entire post, let it be this. Don’t cut your calories too much when you want to lose weight! Do I need to say it again louder for the people in the back? Remember, it took time to gain the weight, so it will take time for it to come off. Cut too much and you do as much harm as you think you are doing good. Do it the right way and you’ll see sustainable results you can feel good about both inside and out.
Mistake #3 – Only Counting Calories
Remember how I thought I was starting to take my nutrition “seriously” by counting calories. Much like the entire process of my counting calories, I was very, very wrong. I was once again ignoring the bigger picture and only counting calories, instead of taking into account the kinds of foods I was eating. I still ate a diet of largely processed foods. Not only did this make it tougher on my calorie count each day, but I wasn’t giving my body the balance of nutrients it really wanted.
Remember again how I said I didn’t start losing weight again until I started eating more? Well that’s where a diet of whole, unprocessed foods comes into play. When it finally dawned on me how hard it was to cut calories and eat packaged products, I started to eat more plant based foods and cut back on anything that came in plastic. Turned out I could eat a lot more for a snack if it was baby carrots than if it was a brand-name granola bar.
It was a major epiphany. I really started caring what was in my fridge. I committed to shopping the outside of the grocery store instead of the aisles. I planned and prepped my food in advance each week so a fridge full of raw ingredients didn’t seem so daunting at every meal time.
This change in mindset made, and continues to make, all the difference. I’m still learning so much about nutrition, and I love that I have more to learn! Now I am learning to optimize my macro nutrients and watch my blood glucose levels instead of calories. I think about how my body actually feels instead of how it looks when I chose my meals. And now I feel much better, workout harder and continue to make sustainable gains in my body. Had I known nutrition would be key, I could have avoided mistakes #1 and #2 completely! You live and you learn…
Mistake #4 – Watching the Scale Daily
This one is the hardest for me to type. Because it is a mistake I continue to make. Yep, here I am admitting it. I started this journey stepping on the scale every single morning. And some weeks, I still do it. I’m working on weaning myself off my scale addiction but it’s not an easy habit to break.
Why? Well, when I started, I expected to see the scale drop a little every day. And when it didn’t, I absolutely beat myself up about it. It was bad for my mental well-being. But I wanted a fast fix and so my whole theory was flawed. I thought I had to know my progress in order to make it happen. I thought not stepping on the scale would will myself into a plateau and settling for “good enough.” But that is exactly what I should have been doing! I should have been taking stock of how my clothes continued to fit looser, how I started to have more energy and how I felt lighter from the inside out. All of that would have said the same thing, and without the scale guilt.
Even though I still step on the scale most mornings, my reason now is different. Now I do it as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I don’t really expect the number to change much day to day, and that’s why I know I don’t need to look at it. But I’m still a work in progress… what can I say? Aren’t we all?
Mistake #5 – Believing my Weight was the Real Problem
I have another thing to admit. When I first started on my journey, it wasn’t a “health” journey at all. It was just a mission to lose weight – that was it, and they are not the same thing. I had this idea that if I just lost the weight I had slowly gained over the last few years, all of my problems would be solved. I had an image in my mind of what my body would look like after losing weight – a sleek, toned, Instagram figure. I had visions of looking in the mirror and being so happy with how I looked that joy would permeate everything else in my life. You might even have some of the same thoughts.
Boy, was I wrong! I lost the weight, and I don’t look anything like that picture in my head. Never have, and never will! (Womp, womp.) I lost the weight, and it is only now that I realize that it was the easy part of this entire health journey.
To be well is not necessarily to be skinny. To be well is to be holistic in the care of my body, mind and soul. It is caring about time with family and friends even more than it is time in the gym. It is working on mental clarity and focus as much as it is nutritional clarity and focus. And that is an ongoing battle everyday, no matter what the scale says or how my clothes fit.
Whether it is self-motivated or doctor-recommended, losing weight can be both an admirable and achievable goal. But it shouldn’t be the end-goal. Wellness should be, and that is so much more than weight.