No matter what method you use, there are bound to be some potholes along the road to weight loss success. But knowing how to avoid them is key to achieving it. We turned to Dr. Ann Kulze, an expert on living well and the best-selling author of Dr. Ann’s 10-Step Diet and Eat Right for Life to determine the most common weight loss pitfalls—and how to avoid them.
Weight loss pitfall: Hunger. Don’t let your growling stomach trick you into eating more than your body needs. “Low blood sugar, or ‘true hunger,’ triggers a primal fear and anxiety response that predisposes to binging and dietary indiscretion,” Kulze says. “Additionally, many people internalize fear and anxiety as hunger, which further intensifies an already vulnerable situation.”
Prevent the pitfall: Eat small, balanced meals and snacks between, including plenty of lean proteins to help keep you fuller longer.
Weight loss pitfall: Liquid calories. We tend to think of calories in terms of what’s on our plates, not what’s in our glasses. That’s why you may be taking in more calories than you realize. According to Kulze, “Emerging science has shown that liquid calories are ‘more fattening’ than their solid food counterparts,” because they bypass the digestive process and go straight to the bloodstream, kicking off a chain reaction that throws the body into fat-storage mode.
Prevent the pitfall: Drink plenty of water. Avoid sugary beverages and cocktails, which can pack a caloric punch that you may not even recognize until it’s too late.
Weight loss pitfall: Skipping meals. Many dieters are misguided by the idea that skipping meals and “saving calories” will help them reach their goals faster. In fact, the opposite is true. Dr. Ann points out that going without sets us up to binge later, decreases energy stores that could be spent exercising, slows metabolism and promotes an exaggerated insulin response at the next meal.
Prevent the pitfall: Simply put: Don’t skip meals. Make sure you’re balancing your food groups and filling up with plenty of lean proteins and fresh produce. Foods with higher water content, such as lettuce, watermelon and broccoli, can help you fill up on fewer calories.
Weight loss pitfall: “Fat-free” processed foods. For the most part, says Kulze, fat-free snacks like bagels, rice cakes and other salty foods (excluding fat-free dairy products) are made up of refined carbohydrates and/or sugar. “These ‘great white hazards’ lead to rapid surges in blood glucose and insulin levels that make us hungry and promote weight gain,” she says.
Prevent the pitfall: Don’t get so hung up on fat-free store-bought goods, and instead use snacktime to get a boost of extra nutrition: whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy are good options.
Weight loss pitfall: Other processed foods. In addition to sodium, preservatives and other undesirables, the overly sweet or salty taste of processed foods can trick your palate into eating more than your body needs, says Kulze.
Prevent the pitfall: “As much as possible, keep things ‘flavor simple’ by choosing whole, fresh foods,” Kulze says. Think fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans/legumes, nuts/seed, low-fat dairy products, fish and shellfish, skinless poultry, and whole soy foods.
Weight loss pitfall: Impatience. You’re going to hit a plateau. And that’s OK. In fact, says Kulze, it’s proof positive that your plan is working. “As one loses weight, basal metabolic rate (BMR), or calorie burning potential, drops because 70 percent of BMR is determined by body mass,” she says. “If body mass drops, so does BMR. It is best to hold the course, as future weight loss almost always ensues.”
Prevent the pitfall: Cut yourself some slack. Focus less on what the scale says from day to day and more on the end goal. Understand what a plateau is and that it is a normal part of weight loss.
Weight loss pitfall: Sleep deprivation. It turns out beauty sleep is not just a myth, after all. A January 2012 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that just one night of poor sleep can throw your appetite into overdrive, setting you up to overeat. In general, research has also shown that the foods we crave when we’re sleep deprived are of the sweet, starchy, salty, fatty variety.
Prevent the pitfall: Add “get plenty of rest” to your list of weight loss musts.
Weight loss pitfall: Fad diets. Ill-advised diets, including fad diets and those that severely restrict calories, are a recipe for fatigue. And fatigue can do a number of things to prevent you from reaching your goals, Kulze says. For example: decreased desire and ability to exercise, and increased negative emotions such as irritability and depressed mood, which take a toll on motivation.
Prevent the pitfall: Stick to time-tested weight loss advice instead of succumbing to the promises of fast results that don’t deliver—at least not in a healthy way.