Common Mistakes When Trying To Lose Weight

  • Rana IbrahimMasters of Critical care - Faculty of Medicine, Alexandria University, Egypt
  • Jasmine AbdyBSc, Medical Microbiology with a Year in Industry, University of Bristol

Introduction

No one can deny the increased weight-related problems that nowadays lead to a surge in the prevalence of obesity cases worldwide. The abundance of processed or fast food, food that is high in fat and sugar, besides psychiatric problems such as binge eating, anxiety and depression that many people are experiencing nowadays, are the most common causes of increased weight-related problems.1

The recent Health Survey for England 2021 states that men are more likely to develop obesity than women, and people aged from 45 to 74 years are more likely to be affected. Findings from high-calibre research in 2017 showed that each year, 23% of individuals from general populations and 44% of adults from ethnic minority communities reported attempting to maintain their current weight. In other words, this study concludes that 4 out of 10 adults tried to lose weight at some point in their lives.2 So, if you are trying to lose weight right now, then you are not alone.

Typical errors made when pursuing weight loss

It is frustrating to anyone who decides to control their diet and eat consciously to find themselves not losing weight or not reaching their goal, no matter how hard they try. However, there are common mistakes that are noticed when dieting that you might do that affect the results that you aspire to. Ten of these common mistakes are:

Lack of planning and goal-setting

Like any goal that you put to yourself, there should always be a plan for achieving it. Choosing the proper diet for you with the help of professionals is important in your weight loss journey. Shifting between different diets is not recommended as this would result in maintaining your current weight. Always remember to ''Go ahead and don't turn around, the one who turns doesn't reach“. Remember to:

  • Revise your plan with your dietician regularly to check whether you are applying it correctly or whether it needs changes that would help you. 
  • Set realistic goals
  • Use meal-prepping ideas to save time and help you stick to your diet plan.

Over Reliance on fad diets

A fad diet is a diet that promises quick weight loss without having solid scientific backing for its claims. The problem is that these diets provide you with rapid weight loss from your muscles and body fluid, which is not healthy and leads to numerous diseases afterwards. So try to avoid any diet that:

  • Promises you to lose weight in a short time. The recommended average weight loss rate is about 1 to 2 pounds per week (0.5kg to 1kg per week)
  • Restricted to a certain category of food (mono diet) e.g. egg diet
  • Have recommendations based on a single success story.
  • Uses supplements or products as the main effective element such as diet pills or sweat suits
  • Is the same diet for everyone without any personalisation

Skipping meals or severely restricting calories

One of the fundamental basics of losing weight is restricting your caloric intake. It is as simple as monitoring how much food enters your body and keeping the intake lower than your metabolic rate to achieve weight loss. However, some people may think that if they are harsh to themselves and massively restrict their caloric intake or skip meals they will lose weight faster. On the contrary, your body is so intelligent that if it senses that you are not eating enough, it will enter what is called “starvation mode” or ketosis. In this phase, your body will try not to lose any fat just as if you are in a famine, which results in maintaining weight. Therefore, it is important to check with your dietician that you eat the required amount of calories which allows you to lose weight and is nutritious to your body at the same time.4

Not incorporating strength training or exercising too much

When you're attempting to lose weight, increasing your physical activity level helps your body burn more calories. By consuming fewer calories overall and burning calories through physical activity, you can create a calorie deficit and reduce weight. While some may think that they should do aggressive workouts to burn calories, it is as simple as brisk walking for 30 minutes or even home exercises which can lead to the same goal. You only need 30 minutes of your day 5 times per week should be enough to see results.5

Vigorous exercises mean any exercises that make you breathless and hard for you to talk or have a chat with anyone when you're doing it. These kinds of exercises increase your heart rate and should not be the first kind of exercise you attempt if you are not used to them. 

Examples of these exercises are:

  • Running or jogging
  • Doing laps in the pool
  • Brisk inline skating and rollerblading
  • Skiing
  • Most  sports that are competitive (football, basketball, or soccer)
  • Rope jumping

Emotional eating and mindless snacking

Sometimes your greatest food cravings hit you when you are at your weakest point emotionally. Emotional eating (Binge eating) is one of the most common causes of obesity recently because of the increased stresses of life and depression.  It could appear as early as childhood or later when exposed to a stressful event, boredom or as a result of childhood habit. Whether consciously or unconsciously, you may reach for food to comfort yourself when you're anxious, bored, or faced with a challenging issue. You can lose the effect of all your weight-loss attempts with emotional eating. It frequently results in overeating, particularly regarding high-calorie, sugary, and fatty meals.

But you are not alone. When you have thoughts about emotional eating, there are some suggestions to help stop it, try these:6

  • Control your stress by doing some stress-relieving techniques such as meditation, yoga or even deep breathing exercises
  • Check whether your hunger is physical or emotional. If you recently had your meal and you crave something specifically sugar, then it's probably emotional hunger, so give it time and it will pass.
  • Try to think of healthy snacks when you have the urge to eat, such as popcorn or nuts.
  • Avoid keeping comfort foods that are difficult to refuse at home. Additionally, put off your grocery shop excursion until you have control over your emotions if you're feeling down.
  • Take a walk, read, call or meet a friend instead of eating.

Lack of consistency and patience

Long-term behavioural adjustments and weight control demand constant focus. Without ongoing support and intervention, even the best short-term efforts are unlikely to give you long-term good results. When compared to short-term therapies, several studies demonstrate that if you follow with your healthcare practitioner or joining a group setting leads to considerably better weight maintenance and long-term outcomes7

Therefore, if you want to succeed in your journey of losing weight, you have to be patient and give your body the time to adapt to your diet plan and try not to rush the results as this might put you under stress and thus hinder your metabolism which in the end will slow down your rate of weight loss.

Underestimating the importance of sleep

You might not know that sleep deprivation affects our physical, mental, and emotional health. Among these physical functions that are affected by lack of sleep is the metabolism of our body. Studies showed that eating habits worsen when someone is sleep-deprived. ‘The necessary sleeping hours differ from one individual to the other, but range from 7 to 9 hours of night’s sleep.8

The theory behind this is that reduced sleep quality has been linked to increased resting energy usage, a change in the breakdown of fat and an increase in protein consumption following sleep restriction. When consuming fewer calories, sleep seems to be crucial for preserving your weight, and the quantity of sleep also contributes to maintaining body fat mass during these times. Therefore, standard diets for weight loss that target a slight decrease in metabolic risk may be impaired by inadequate sleep.9

Ignoring hydration

Drinking more water is linked to weight loss through two different processes: enhanced fat breakdown by enhancing your metabolism and decreased eating.10 Moreover, water helps us regulate body temperature, especially in hot weather, and helps in digestion. You probably already know that adults need to drink about 1.5 to 2 litres of fluid a day, but the thing is, how shall you do this? Some people cannot drink plain water as they do not find it tasty, so if you are one of those people you can put some slices of cucumber or lemon if you would like to have a bit of taste in your water. Also, adjusting the temperature of your water can help you drink more of it according to your preferences. Always keep a bottle of water near you or with you whenever you go to remind you of drinking or you can download a mobile app that reminds you of drinking.

Impractical expectation 

Life is not a plateau, it has ups and downs, and so is the weight loss journey. It's hard for anybody not to have “slips” when being on a diet plan, so prepare yourself and embrace the idea that you might have any change in your plan. Moreover, having a support friend, coach or even a group on social media can help you feel better about yourself.

Monitoring your progress using the scale only

You could lose weight but not see it on your scale, and you could be losing only water and some muscles from your body and seeing your scale move down. So don't be intimidated by the number you see on your scale because there are other methods of measuring and monitoring your weight loss. Examples of these are:

  • Waist/arm /hip circumference: take your waist or mid-arm circumference measurement and follow up every week to see whether or not you lose weight. Sometimes the scale does not show that you're losing weight while your measurements are and this is because you probably have internal organ fat that is lost first and does not show up on your scale. However, you might increase in weight but you lose fat and replace it with muscle mass, which is very beneficial for your health and general body performance.
  • Body composition or a smart scale: this type of scale shows you how much percentage of fat, muscle and water your body consists of, and it's more accurate and can guide you through your weight loss journey. You ask your dietician about it and some of them are sold online.
  • Skinfold measurements: Using specialised callipers, skinfold measurements are taken of various body areas to determine the amount of subcutaneous fat present. Because skinfold measures are rapid and easy to use, fitness trainers use them to determine body fat percentage. However, it needs a specialised trainer to perform it for you to get accurate results, and it does not show your body composition as you may have increased measurement but be putting on muscle weight.

Summary

The escalating prevalence of obesity globally is undeniable, primarily attributed to factors like the proliferation of processed and high-fat, high-sugar foods, coupled with rising psychiatric issues such as binge eating, anxiety, and depression. Recent data from the 2021 Health Survey for England highlights a higher incidence of obesity among men compared to women, with individuals aged 45 to 74 being particularly susceptible.

Embarking on a weight loss journey can be disheartening when efforts yield minimal results. Several prevalent mistakes hinder progress, including:

  • Inadequate planning and goal setting, emphasising the importance of a well-structured diet plan and realistic objectives.
  • Dependency on unsustainable fad diets, which often yield short-term results at the expense of long-term health.
  • Skipping meals or severely restricting calories, leads to metabolic adaptations that impede weight loss.
  • Overlooking the significance of strength training and excessively intense workouts can deter consistency and sustainability.
  • Emotional eating, driven by stress or boredom, undermines weight loss efforts by encouraging unhealthy food consumption.
  • Lack of consistency and patience, causing sustained focus and support for long-term success.
  • Underestimating the role of sleep in weight management, with sleep deprivation, adversely affecting metabolism and eating habits.
  • Ignoring hydration, such as adequate water intake, facilitates weight loss by enhancing metabolism and regulating appetite.
  • Unrealistic expectations, acknowledging the inevitability of setbacks and the importance of social support.
  • Over-reliance on scale measurements, overlooking alternative methods like circumference measurements and body composition analysis for a comprehensive evaluation of progress.

References

  1. nhs.uk [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2024 Feb 19]. Obesity - causes. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obesity/causes/
  2. Santos I, Sniehotta FF, Marques MM, Carraça EV, Teixeira PJ. Prevalence of personal weight control attempts in adults: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obes Rev [Internet]. 2017 Jan [cited 2024 Feb 19];18(1):32–50. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5215364/
  3. Healthy weight loss - british nutrition foundation [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 20]. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/health-conditions/overweight-obesity-and-weight-loss/healthy-weight-loss/
  4. Benton D, Young HA. Reducing calorie intake may not help you lose body weight. Perspect Psychol Sci [Internet]. 2017 Sep [cited 2024 Feb 21];12(5):703–14. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5639963/
  5. Benton D, Young HA. Reducing calorie intake may not help you lose body weight. Perspect Psychol Sci [Internet]. 2017 Sep [cited 2024 Feb 21];12(5):703–14. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5639963/
  6. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Tips to stop emotional eating. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047342
  7. Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of lost weight and long-term management of obesity. Med Clin North Am [Internet]. 2018 Jan [cited 2024 Feb 19];102(1):183–97. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5764193/
  8. Papatriantafyllou E, Efthymiou D, Zoumbaneas E, Popescu CA, Vassilopoulou E. Sleep deprivation: effects on weight loss and weight loss maintenance. Nutrients [Internet]. 2022 Apr 8 [cited 2024 Feb 20];14(8):1549. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9031614/
  9. Hart CN, Carskadon MA, Demos KE, Van Reen E, Sharkey KM, Raynor HA, et al. Acute changes in sleep duration on eating behaviors and appetite-regulating hormones in overweight/obese adults. Behavioral Sleep Medicine [Internet]. 2015 Sep 3 [cited 2024 Feb 20];13(5):424–36. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15402002.2014.940105
  10. Fetissov SO, Thornton SN. Hypovolemia-induced obesity and diabetes. Metabolism [Internet]. 2009 Nov [cited 2024 Feb 22];58(11):1678. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0026049509002674
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Rana Ibrahim

Masters of Critical care - Faculty of Medicine, Alexandria University, Egypt

Rana is a qualified medical professional specialising in critical care medicine. She has several years of expertise in the profession and a consistent commitment to clinical excellence and patient care. She has lately been involved in medical writing, driven by her recently discovered passion, using her knowledge and perceptions to teach and educate members of the medical community as well as the society as a whole.

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