This article originally appeared on the Lift Like a Girl blog and is great advice for anyone who is looking to find the secret diet or fat loss program. In as many words there isn't one, so master the basics and develop healthy habits.
Rest assured, this isn’t the typical listicle article filled with overdone, regurgitated tips you see splashed on magazines. That’s why the title is appropriately 9 Fat Loss Mistakes You Don’t Realize You’re Making.
Can you attest to this: trying to lose fat is a miserable process.
Embarking on a fat loss journey falls on a scale somewhere between this sucks and screw this my life is miserable because, let’s face it, no one claims to be having the time of their life when on a fat loss mission.
You go on a diet, avoid foods or entire food groups, end up dreaming about cheeseburgers (veggie burgers, for you vegetarians) and subsequently wake up gnawing on your pillow in the middle of the night. You focus on the things you can’t eat, and when you do give in to temptation (you know it happens!) you experience guilt and shame afterward.
This is usually followed by a commitment to “get more serious” and diet harder going forward. Heck, many times it means doing an extra or more grueling workout because you ate that gooey, chocolaty brownie or a sleeve of Girl Scout Cookies (I’ve devoured my share of Thin Mints).
And so the cycle — diet, avoid certain foods, resist temptation, give in to temptation, feel guilty, do an extra workout — continues for as long as you can manage before the entire process becomes too overwhelming, and you quit.
You revert back to easier, natural habits. Some time passes and you decide, once again, to get serious about losing weight. And you get right back on the cycle, albeit with a different diet this time (because a different diet has to be the answer, right?).
This cycle likely looks eerily familiar because most women have gone round and round more times than they can count (at one point I was a frequent passenger).
Would you like to get off that rollercoaster of misery for good, lose fat, and actually keep it off? No guilt, shame, or deprivation required and you can actually feel good about yourself in the process. (Yes, I’m aware that sounds like a cheesy infomercial, but you’ve stuck with me this far; keep reading and you’ll be a believer too.)
It is possible. You just need to avoid nine fat loss mistakes you don’t realize you’re even making.
9 Fat Loss Mistakes You Don’t Realize You’re Making
Failing to lose fat and keep it off happens because you didn’t stick to your diet or work out enough, right? Most think that’s the case, but it’s the wrong assumption. Here are the real fat loss mistakes you’ve likely made, and you’re probably unaware of them.
1) You expect perfection instead of preparing for inevitable failure.
You’ve never seen this one before, have you? Don’t let it scare you!
Sure, you can plan to go from point A (your current weight) to point B (a lower weight), but there will be “failures” along that journey. What are those failures? You’ll miss workouts, most likely. You will overindulge or eat too much, at some point (e.g., birthday, holiday, etc). Instead of moving your body you may end up binge watching TV over the weekend. Instead of eating a meal that’s comprised of real, unprocessed foods you may give in to temptation and order a greasy pizza. You may get sick and have to stay in bed for several days.
Expecting perfection — eating “perfectly” every day, never missing a single workout, getting sufficient sleep every night, turning down a delicious dessert at your favorite restaurant — isn’t likely to happen for most people over a long period of time. So why in the world do people start a fat loss regimen with the expectation of perfection?
Proclaiming to follow your plan “perfectly” is a mistake that must be avoided.
The Solution to Mistake #1: Do not demand, or expect, perfection. This is life, and in life the unexpected happens; you must account for that reality. You may get sick, have an emergency, or have to spend a chunk of time cleaning dog vomit off the rug that you would have used for a workout. Understand it’s about doing the right things most of the time, over a long period of time, and not chastising yourself when you slip up.
And when you do slip up, get back on track immediately. Learn what you can from the experience and move forward. (See the related article You Don’t Have Enough Self-Compassion.)
2) You don’t establish new, sustainable habits.
Anyone can lose weight rapidly, but keeping it off long-term is what most people want. Sadly, they don’t accomplish that. A main culprit to failing to establish sustainable habits: you changed too much too quickly, so nothing stuck. This is a classic example, and you need only to think about the last diet you tried. How long did you stick to it before you gave up and went back to your old ways? Was it so time-consuming that you knew you couldn’t do it forever (e.g., weigh every piece of food, avoid a huge list of foods, pack meals with you everywhere you go, take expensive supplements, etc)?
Sure, doing a dramatic diet for a few weeks will result in fat loss, but at what cost? You’ll regain the weight once the diet ends (or you, understandably, quit). The goal should be sustainable fat loss; otherwise, what’s the point?
The Solution to Mistake #2: Change one thing at a time. This is especially powerful when it comes to nutrition, the area people struggle most. Making one change at a time is something everyone can do, because it’s ONE thing. Want to make it even better? Choose the simplest change first, practice it daily for at least one month. Repeat.
Want some simple examples that pay huge dividends over time? Drink water instead of calorie-laden beverages. Increase your fruit and veggie intake (e.g., take a salad to work every day). Include a good source of protein with your breakfast to stave off hunger. Identify one simple change you can make, and do it daily.
This leads into the next important fat loss mistake.
3) You dismiss the basics because you think there’s better, more advanced, “super secret” information that will provide faster results.
Want to see this in action? When you read the examples in the previous fat loss mistake (e.g., drink water instead of calorie-heavy beverages), did you say, “Duh, I already know that. Give me something else I can use”?
Thank you for proving my point.
We’re conditioned to believe there are secrets. That, if we look hard enough, we’ll discover what “they’re not telling us.” The bland, boring basics aren’t good enough; we know we can find something more “advanced” and rewarding.
That’s a huge mistake.
You can’t become a great cook until you can master the basics of frying an egg, dicing vegetables, and seasoning properly.
You can’t be a mathematician until you can do geometry and algebra (and before that: add, subtract, divide, multiply).
You can’t compete in the Olympics until you dominate your competition at lower levels.
The Solution to Mistake #3: Fat loss is no different! You don’t need anything more “advanced” until you master the basics for months. And even then, you may not need anything more; you’ll likely need to tweak a few variables. Master the basics.
Health and fitness can seem complicated because of the surplus of websites, books, and magazines, and many proclaim to have “finally discovered the one weird trick for rapid fat loss!” or the “revolutionary way to work out that burns tons of calories!” But it needn’t be this complex. Stick to the basics because they’ve been proven to work with real world experience and legitimate research.
4) You have a negative mindset; you’re often driven by guilt and shame.
Many people vow to lose weight because they hate how they look; perhaps they’ve “let themselves go” gradually over the years. This is typically combined with a punishment-mentality with food and exercise. “Great, I ate several cookies; now I have to go burn them off,” or responding with guilt and shame when the regimen proves to be too much (“I failed again. I’ll never lose weight because I can’t avoid my favorite foods forever”).
Many mistakenly believe using guilt and shame as motivators is beneficial (“I screwed up, so I’ll work harder now”), but it’s not — it’s harmful. You can’t berate yourself in to changing your nutrition or workout habits.
The Solution to Mistake #4: Quite simply, exercise should never be a form of punishment. I know it’s contrary to common knowledge, but fat loss does not have to be a miserable process. The way you eat and move your body should make you feel great about yourself. (Read that last sentence one more time, or twice.)
Don’t work out because you hate how you look. Work out to see what your body can do, and then discover what else it is capable of. Don’t avoid foods as punishment; eat primarily real foods you enjoy that make you feel great. Don’t force yourself to do exercises you hate; be active in a fun way.
Health and fitness, even when the goal is to lose fat, should be a process you enjoy. It should build you up (physically, emotionally, mentally), and not tear you down. Approach it this way and fat loss becomes a wonderful side effect.
5) You obsess over the destination and don’t make the journey enjoyable.
When you begin your fat loss journey, you envision how great you’ll look once you lose weight. As a result, your happiness hinges up reaching that goal, and you (mistakenly) believe reaching it will make you happy (“I’ll finally be happy once I lose this excess weight”). This may be strong motivation at first, but it’s not enough to keep you going.
The Solution to Mistake #5: You must find a way to enjoy the process. Those who have success (not only lose weight, but keep it off) dig deeper for their motivation. They find ways to enjoy taking action today. For example, “I’m going to eat well today because it gives me energy and makes me feel amazing,” and “I’m going to beat last week’s workout performance,” and “I’m going to talk a walk today to enjoy the fresh air and move my body in an enjoyable way.”
Find a way to enjoy the things you do today, so you’ll keep doing them tomorrow. After all, if you despise what you’re doing this week, what makes you think it will be any better next month?
6) You don’t acknowledge what you’ve already achieved.
It never fails when I work with a new client that the first thing they tell me is how far they have to go. How they need to do X better and commit to doing Y. How they still have the “last few stubborn pounds to lose.”
I make them stop and answer the question, “OK, that’s fine, but what are you already doing well?” The question is answered with silence.
“Hello? You still there?”
“Uhh, yeah . . .”
More often than not, people are already doing productive activities. They work out once, twice, or three times per week; they’ve changed a few eating habits; they go for a walk a few times per week; they read books and websites (hello, you!) and listen to podcasts that arm them with the information they need to achieve success.
And, sadly, they fail to realize this. They think only about what they haven’t yet achieved, or how far they have to go.
What about you? Can you attest to this?
The Solution to Mistake #6: Stop. Seriously, just stop and take a moment to reflect on what you’re already doing; what you’ve already achieved. Whether you started your journey yesterday, last month, or years ago; stop and reflect on what you’re doing well for yourself. Be proud. You’re already a step ahead farther than you realize. Embrace it, dammit!
7) You try to see too far into the future and don’t focus on what matters: taking action today.
It never fails; people want to know not only what to do today, but they want to know what they should do two months from now. That’s a huge mistake. “OK, Nia. I know what to do this month. What should I start doing next month and the one after?”
This desire to know what to do for steps C and D when you’re still on A is a mistake.
The Solution to Mistake #7: Forget about next month or the one after. Hyper-focus on what produces the results: that’s what you do today. This week. This month. Focus on the now, because this is what you can control. Worry about next month when it arrives. You can’t skip steps, nor can you predict the future. Play the short-term game first (See the related article Why Having Year Long Goals Doesn’t Work).
8) You’re not using low hanging fruit to your advantage.
Low hanging fruit is defined as “a thing that can be won, obtained . . . with little effort.” When it comes to your fat loss goals, there’s low hanging fruit easily within your grasp. Research has shown that there are some powerful, yet small changes you can make that have profound effect. Most people dismiss this “low hanging fruit” and declare it too simple to actually work. Huge mistake. (And I’ll remind you to recall what was discussed in number three above: don’t dismiss the basics.)
There are simple actions you can take that boost your success rate, and you’re probably neglecting them.
The Solution to Mistake #8: Embrace the power of simple things like a checklist to keep you on track. Provide yourself with cues that nudge you into taking action; put your gym bag in the car the night before, lay out everything for your breakfast smoothie so you can quickly assemble it in the morning, pack your lunch, etc. Have a written plan of action for what you’ll do when faced with an obstacle (e.g., have to miss a workout, find yourself at a fast food restaurant, etc).
(Books where this information was gleaned for your reading pleasure: The Power of Habit and Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Those are affiliate links; both books are highly recommended. Your brain will thank you.)
9) You’re waiting for the right time.
“When the kids are back in school,” or “next month,” or “when things finally calm down at work” are common excuses for not taking action now. Waiting for that magically time to appear is a humongous mistake.
The Solution to Mistake #9: Know this: there will never be a perfect time. The stars will not align. Things will never be less chaotic. And more than likely when A is no longer an issue, then B and C will pop up. There will always be something you must deal with. (Again I encourage you to read mistake one for a refresher on perfection; it ain’t gonna happen.)
You must act right now. You don’t have to do everything from the beginning, but do something. You could walk around your block every day, change one meal per day, or begin a strength training regimen. If you’re already eating well and working out, then focus on one additional change you can make to kick things up a notch.
Do something, and do it today.