5 of the Most Common Weight-Loss Mistakes(1)

IF you want to shed the pounds and keep them off, you need to shift your mindset from dieting in the short-term to making long-term lifestyle changes, says Leslie Langevin, author of The Anti-Inflammatory Kitchen Cookbook and owner of Whole Health Nutrition.

"Adopting healthy habits may not be easy, but most things in life that are worthwhile take work," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietician, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.

With all the opinions out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed and confused. Not to mention, misinformed. So how do you separate fact from fiction and avoid dieting pitfalls Here are the most common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight, plus what to do instead to reach your weight-loss goals in a healthy way.

1. Not Planning Meals Ahead of Time

Even the most well-intentioned, disciplined person's weight-loss goals can get derailed by poor planning. When hunger hits and you're not prepared, it's a recipe for bad decisions. Who hasn't eaten cereal for dinner on a busy work day?

To avoid throwing together unhealthy meals or ordering takeout — which can increase your calorie load per day — plan ahead, says Langevin. Each week try planning out three meals, and then hit the grocery store to stock up on the ingredients, so you'll have them on hand when you need them. You'll save yourself the time and headache of figuring out what to eat when you're tired, rushed and hungry.

Another plus of planning? It's a money saver, since you're not spending tons of cash on fast food, says Langevin.

2. Eating Too Few Calories

You might think drastically slashing calories or skipping meals will help you reach your goal weight faster, but under-eating can actually sabotage your efforts to shed the pounds. "People will stop burning fat, and their thyroid hormones will drop when they eat too few calories or miss meals," says Natasha Turner, founder of Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and author of The Supercharged Hormone Diet.

In fact, if you don't give your body the fuel it needs, you might gain weight instead! When your hormones aren't balanced, your body shifts into stress mode and releases cortisol, the stress hormone linked to increased belly fat.

So how many calories do you need to lose weight and avoid suppressing your metabolism? The number depends on a bunch of factors including your age, body type and activity level. "Use an online calorie calculator to calculate your daily caloric need, and then subtract 500 calories per day," says Langevin. "This will give you a rough estimate of what you will need to lose one pound per week without starving your body or going below your basal metabolic rate (the energy your body needs at rest)."

People who work out will need to factor in daily exercise too, says Turner. "With respect to caloric intake, a person's diet and activity levels are inseparable — when you move more, you must eat more and when you move less, you must eat less."

3. Never, Ever Indulging

Just because you're trying to slim down doesn't mean you should swear off ice cream and nachos forever. "If I told you that you could never eat another cookie ever again, wouldn't that make you sad? Wouldn't you want it more?" says Langevin.

To avoid feeling deprived — which might result in binging down the line — you should indulge in your favorite treats some of the time. But moderation is the key. Langevin recommends an 80/20 balance: Eat healthy whole foods 80 percent of the time and leave the remaining 20 percent for whatever you crave. "Everyone should be able to eat out at a restaurant every once in a while and not worry about calories."

Turner also encourages her clients to have one cheat meal a week because — surprisingly — it can boost your metabolism. "When you reduce overall calories, the body adapts and lowers your metabolism as a survival mechanism," she says. A weekly "cheat meal" prevents hunger and cravings from getting out of control and refuels your muscles' energy stores, which helps you keep pace with your workouts.

4. Compensating for Eating With Exercise

Hate to break it to you, but you're probably not incinerating as many calories at the gym as you think. A 2010 study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that participants overestimated — by quadruple! — the amount of calories the burned in a sweat session. To make matters worse, this misjudgment led them to consume almost triple the calories they burned during exercise.

So just because you hit spin class hard doesn't mean you can eat whatever you want. A single slice of pizza can undermine an hour's worth of sweat. Plus, working out just so you can binge on a bag of chips encourages an unhealthy relationship with food, says Langevin. "It's good to have a balanced exercise program, but if you find you are bargaining too much with yourself be careful."

Instead of eating the chips and penalizing yourself with a backbreaking workout, just budget the chips into your day, says Langevin. For example, if the chips are 300 calories, make a healthy adjustment to your dinner — add more veggies and be sure to include a low-calorie lean protein like fish or chicken.

5. Going It Alone

Dropping pounds can be especially rigorous (not to mention lonely) if you're doing it solo. When it comes to beating the scale, there's strength in numbers. One 2003 study published in JAMA found that Weight Watchers participants shed triple the pounds of subjects who dieted on their own.

Another 2016 review of weight loss studies in Patient Preference and Adherenceshowed that supervised weight-loss programs were more effective than self-help strategies. Plus, people were more likely to maintain weight loss if they participated with friends or family.

That's because teaming up with others offers a sense of camaraderie and community. Plus, you're less likely to give up when you know someone else is counting on you to show up. This is especially true if you work out with a gym buddy. According to a 2014 study published in BMC Women's Health, accountability to others was among the top motivators for regular exercise in women.

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