Losing weight can be challenging for some people.
Sometimes you might feel like you’re making healthy lifestyle choices, yet you’re still not getting the results you want.
You may be following misguided or outdated advice. This may prevent you from seeing the changes you’re looking for.
Here are 15 common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight.
1. Focusing only on the scale
It can be common to feel like you’re not losing weight fast enough, despite following a healthy lifestyle.
It’s important to remember that the number on the scale is only one measure of weight change. Weight is influenced by several things, including fluid fluctuations and the amount of food that remains in your system.
Weight may fluctuate around 2 to 4 pounds over a few days, depending on factors like how much food and liquid you’ve consumed.
Also, hormonal changes in women can lead to greater water retention, which is reflected in the weight you see on the scale.
If the number on the scale isn’t moving, you may be losing fat mass but holding on to water. Additionally, if you’ve been working out, you may be gaining muscle and losing fat.
When this happens, your clothes may start to feel looser — especially around the waist — even if the number on the scale remains the same.
Measuring your waist with a tape measure and taking monthly pictures of yourself can indicate if you’re losing fat, even if the scale number doesn’t change much.
Summary: Many factors can affect scale weight, including fluid fluctuations, muscle mass gain, and the weight of undigested food. You may be losing body fat even if the scale reading doesn’t change much.
2. Eating too many or too few calories
A calorie deficit is required for weight loss. This means you need to burn more calories than you consume.
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For many years, it was believed that a decrease of 3,500 calories per week would result in 1 lb (0.45 kg) of fat loss. However, recent research shows the calorie deficit needed varies from person to person.
You may sometimes feel as though you’re not eating very many calories, and this may be the case. However, studies indicate that people often tend to incorrectly estimate the number of calories in a meal.
One study asked adults to exercise on a treadmill, estimate the number of calories they burned, and then suggest a meal with the same number of calories. It found that participants significantly underestimated and overestimated calories in exercise and food.
You may be consuming foods that are healthy but also high in calories, such as nuts and fish. Eating moderate portion sizes is key.
On the other hand, decreasing your calorie intake too much can be counterproductive. Studies on very low-calorie diets indicate they may lead to muscle loss and significantly slow down metabolism.
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Summary: Consuming too many calories can keep you from losing weight. On the other hand, too few calories can make you hungry and reduce your metabolism and muscle mass.
3. Not exercising or exercising too much
During weight loss, you inevitably lose some muscle mass as well as fat, although the amount depends on several factors.
If you don’t exercise at all while restricting calories, you’re likely to lose more muscle mass and experience a decrease in metabolic rate.
By contrast, exercising may help:
- minimize the amount of lean mass you lose
- increase fat loss
- prevent your metabolism from slowing down
The more lean mass you have, the easier it is to lose weight and maintain the weight loss.
However, overexercising can also cause problems.
Studies show excessive exercise is unsustainable in the long term for most people and may lead to stress. In addition, it may negatively impact endocrine hormones, which help regulate functions throughout your body.
Trying to force your body to burn more calories by exercising too much is neither effective nor healthy.
However, lifting weights and doing cardio several times per week can be a sustainable strategy for maintaining metabolic rate during weight loss.
Summary: A lack of exercise can lead to loss of muscle mass and lower metabolism. On the other hand, too much exercise is neither healthy nor effective, and it may lead to severe stress.
4. Not lifting weights
Performing resistance training can greatly promote weight loss.
Studies show lifting weights is one of the most effective exercise strategies for gaining muscle and increasing metabolic rate. It also improves strength and physical function and may help increase belly fat loss.
A review of 32 studies including more than 4,700 people with obesity found the best strategy for reducing fat appears to be combined aerobic exercise and weightlifting.
Summary: Weightlifting or resistance training can help boost metabolic rate, increase muscle mass, and promote fat loss.
5. Choosing low fat or “diet” foods
Processed low fat or “diet” foods are often considered healthy choices that can help you lose weight. However, they may have the opposite effect.
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Many of these products are loaded with sugar to improve their taste. For instance, a 6-ounce container (170 grams) of low-fat flavored yogurt can contain 23.5 grams of sugar (over 4 teaspoons).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that a 2,000-calorie diet include less than 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
Low-fat products can also make you feel hungrier, so you may end up eating more food than your body needs.
Instead of low fat or “diet” foods, try to choose a combination of nutritious, minimally processed foods. When possible, choose fruits and vegetables — this includes canned and frozen varieties — because they are naturally low in fat but also packed with nutrients.
Summary: Fat-free or “diet” foods are typically high in sugar and may lead to hunger and eating more calories than your body needs.
6. Overestimating how many calories you burn during exercise
Many people believe that exercise “supercharges” their metabolism. Though exercise increases metabolic rate somewhat, it may be less than you think.
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Studies show that people with moderate weight and overweight both tend to overestimate the number of calories they burn during exercise, often by a significant amount.
People may also overestimate their exercise levels. In one study, 29.1% of participants reported higher physical activity levels than they had.
Exercise is still crucial for overall health and can help you lose weight. It’s good to understand how much exercise you’re getting and the number of calories it burns.
Summary: Studies show that people tend to overestimate the number of calories they burn during exercise.
7. Not eating enough protein
Getting enough protein is important if you’re trying to lose weight. Protein has been shown to help with weight loss in several ways.
- reduce appetite
- increase feelings of fullness
- lower the amount of weight regained
- maintain or increase metabolic rate
- protect muscle mass during weight loss
A review also found that higher protein diets, containing 0.6–0.8 grams of protein per lb (1.2–1.6 g/kg), may benefit appetite control and change body composition.
To help with weight loss, try to make sure each of your meals contains high-protein food. Keep in mind your choice of protein isn’t limited to meat or dairy. Beans, legumes, quinoa, and flaxseeds are also great and affordable options.
Summary: High protein intake may promote weight loss by reducing appetite, increasing feelings of fullness, and boosting metabolic rate.
8. Not eating enough fiber
A low fiber diet may be hurting your weight loss efforts, along with your overall health.
Studies show a type of soluble fiber known as viscous fiber helps reduce appetite by forming a gel that holds water. This gel moves slowly through your digestive tract, making you feel full.
Research suggests that all types of fiber may promote weight loss. However, a review of several studies found that viscous fiber reduced weight and waist circumference even without a calorie-restricted diet.
While studies are ongoing, research indicates that fiber may also interact with gut microbes, producing hormones that help you feel full.
Additionally, fiber may reduce your risk of some chronic conditions and improve digestion.
Summary: Eating enough fiber can help you feel full. It may help with weight loss even without a restrictive diet.
9. Eating too much fat on a low carb diet
Ketogenic and low carb diets can be very effective for weight loss for some individuals.
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Studies show they tend to reduce appetite, which often leads to a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake.
Many low carb and ketogenic diets allow unlimited amounts of fat, assuming that the resulting appetite suppression will keep calories low enough for weight loss.
However, some people may not experience a strong enough signal to stop eating. As a result, they may be consuming too many calories for a calorie deficit.
If you’re eating large amounts of fat in your food or beverages and are not losing weight, it may help to try reducing your fat intake.
Summary: Although low carb and ketogenic diets help reduce hunger and calorie intake, adding too much fat or overall calories may slow down or prevent weight loss.
10. Eating too often, even if you’re not hungry
For many years, the conventional advice has been to eat every few hours to prevent hunger and a drop in metabolism.
However, this may lead to consuming more calories than your body needs over the day. You may also never completely feel full.
One research review found that eating just two to three meals per day may have outcomes including reduced inflammation and a lower risk of weight gain.
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The recommendation to eat breakfast every morning, regardless of appetite, also appears to be misguided.
One study asked women who didn’t usually eat breakfast to add in the meal before 8:30 a.m. for 4 weeks. It found that those who ate breakfast consumed more calories each day and gained weight by the end of the study.
Eating only when you’re hungry seems to be key to losing weight.
Summary: Eating too often may slow your weight loss efforts. It’s important to eat only when you’re hungry.
11. Having unrealistic expectations
Setting weight loss and other health-related goals can help keep you motivated.
However, having unrealistic expectations is common and may work against you.
One study found that the vast majority of participants hoped to lose more than 10% of their weight, which the authors labeled as unrealistic. Research suggests that missing weight loss goals are associated with dissatisfaction and future challenges in losing weight.
If you have a weight loss goal, it may be helpful to choose something practical, such as a 5% or 10% drop in weight at a rate of 1 or 2 pounds each week. This may improve your ability to meet your goal while losing weight at a healthy speed.
Summary: Unrealistic expectations may lead to frustration. Set practical goals to help increase your chances of meeting them while healthily losing weight.
12. Not tracking what you eat in any way
Eating nutritious foods is good for your health and for losing weight. However, you may still be eating more calories than your body needs.
What’s more, you may not be getting the amount of protein, fiber, carbs, and fat you need to support your weight loss efforts and your health.
Studies show that tracking what you eat can help you get an accurate picture of your calorie and nutrient consumption, as well as provide accountability.
One study found that people who logged their food once per day lost 0.63% more of their body weight each month than people who logged meals once per month. Those who logged meals and workouts more frequently also lost more weight.
In addition to food, most online tracking sites and apps allow you to enter your daily exercise and may give you a better understanding of your overall health.
Summary: If you’re not tracking what you eat, you may be consuming more calories than you realize. You may also be getting less protein and fiber than you think.
13. Drinking sugary beverages
Many people cut soft drinks and other sweetened beverages out of their diet to lose weight. Reducing the number of sugary drinks you consume is also a healthy choice overall.
However, drinking fruit juice instead isn’t necessarily better.
Even 100% fruit juice is loaded with sugar and may lead to health problems and obesity, similar to the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages.
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For instance, 12 ounces (372 grams) of unsweetened apple juice contains 35.76 grams of sugar. That’s even more than the 23.1 grams of sugar in 12 ounces (258 grams) of cola.
What’s more, liquid calories don’t seem to affect the appetite centers in your brain the same way calories from solid foods do.
Research suggests that you may end up consuming more calories overall, instead of compensating for the liquid calories by eating less later in the day.
Summary: Reducing your sugar-sweetened beverage intake is a healthy choice. Even if you drink fruit juice instead, you are still getting a lot of sugar and are likely to take in more calories overall.
14. Not reading labels
Overlooking or misreading label information may lead you to consume unwanted calories and unhealthy ingredients.
This is easier than it may seem because many foods are labeled with healthy-sounding food claims on the front of the package. These may give you false beliefs about the content of a certain item.
To get the most complete information about your food, it’s important to look at the ingredients list and nutrition facts label on the back of the container.
Summary: Food labels provide information on ingredients, calories, and nutrients. It’s important to understand how to accurately read labels when selecting foods.
15. Not eating whole, single-ingredient foods
One barrier to weight loss can be eating a lot of highly processed foods.
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Animal and human studies suggest that processed foods may be a major factor in the current high rates of obesity and other health problems.
Some researchers believe this could be due to their negative effects on gut health and inflammation.
In addition, whole foods tend to be self-limiting, meaning they are harder to overconsume. By contrast, it can be easy to keep eating processed foods even when you’re no longer hungry.
When possible, try to choose whole, single-ingredient foods that are minimally processed.
Last updated on January 25, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on September 30, 2021.
Summary: Eating many highly processed foods can act as a barrier to weight loss because it’s easy to eat more than the recommended amount. Whole foods, on the other hand, are harder to overeat.