You step on the scale and … whoa. That number can’t be right, can it? It seems an extra 10+ pounds somehow materialized on your body.
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Now, your goal is to shed that extra weight as quickly as possible. But as many people learn, it’s a lot tougher to drop pounds than it is to pack them on. But don’t let these 10 common mistakes sabotage your success.
1. Setting unrealistic goals
Vowing to lose 10 pounds within a week may sound like a good idea, but it’s not the sort of goal that sets you up for success, says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD. It’s simply too much to lose so quickly. It’s not realistic.
Research indicates that losing 1 to 2 pounds a week is a reasonable goal, depending on your body type. This gradual approach is more likely to result in sustainable behaviors that help keep lost weight from returning.
Setting more achievable short-term goals also lets you build on accomplishments. Every pound lost becomes a reason to celebrate your effort and commitment.
“Don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement,” says Dr. Albers. “When you do actions that make you feel good, you want to keep doing them.”
Another option? Instead of focusing on the numbers on your scale, aim to establish healthier eating patterns and lifestyle changes. That typically leads to weight loss and your body feeling better.
2. Relying on fad diets
If a sketchy diet program promising to melt away pounds sounds too good to be true … well, it’s probably not true or worth your time and effort.
Fad diets offer many breathless promises (MELT AWAY BELLY FAT!) but deliver few, if any, long-term results, says registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, LD. Basically, these plans offer hope and hype but little else.
So, how do you spot a fad diet? Many focus on eating one specific food or type of food. The “grapefruit diet” is a good example. Ditto for eating programs that focus largely on just proteins or fats.
But by cutting groups of foods, many fad diets exclude major nutrients your body needs, which can lead to health issues.
Plus, fad diets often set up a dysfunctional relationship with food that can be hard to undo.
“A healthy and sustainable diet is typically one that is well-rounded,” states Czerwony. “That means eating fruit, vegetables, whole grains, protein and dairy in serving sizes that make sense.”
If you’re looking for a healthy, long-term diet plan, many healthcare providers recommend the Mediterranean diet.
3. Using guilt as a motivator
Mentally beating yourself up about your weight won’t help lower numbers on your scale. In fact, it may have the opposite effect.
Research shows that feelings of guilt about your weight can lead to weight gain and trigger an unhealthy relationship with food. “It’s not a path to success,” cautions Dr. Albers. “When you feel like you’re doing things ‘wrong’ or ‘bad,’ you’re more likely to just give up completely.”
In other words, dropping “negative” thoughts may help you drop pounds.
4. Skipping meals
If cutting calories equals weight loss, then skipping meals should work wonders, right? Not exactly, says Czerwony. Food is fuel for your body, after all. You can’t just let your tank go empty.
“Skipping meal after meal can keep your body from getting the nutrients it needs,” she explains.
It also may slow down your metabolism, which means your body burns less calories — a physiological adjustment that can lead to weight gain. (And that’s not exactly your goal with avoiding meals.)
Now, there are intermittent fasting programs that limit your “eating hours” and can be effective for weight loss and management. But these plans maintain nutrition intake and aren’t based on skipping meals.
On a related note, be cautious of low-calorie diets that fall below 1,000 calories a day. Eating such a minimal amount of food often requires extra nutritional support through vitamins and supplements. Talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you avoid any deficiencies.
5. Obsessing over the scale
Weight is easily measurable — and that’s not always a good thing. “Too often, people use the scale as a weapon — not as a tool,” emphasizes Dr. Albers. “They become obsessed with one number.”
So, don’t focus solely on that number that pops up between your feet as you try to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Oftentimes, how you feel and fit into your clothes may be better measures of your efforts.
But if you simply can’t resist the urge to weigh yourself, use a range rather than focusing on a single number. “Be flexible,” advises Dr. Albers. “Expect to see some ups and downs. It’s natural.”
6. Overdoing high-intensity exercise
Working out is good for you and can certainly help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. But overdoing it on the treadmill or weight-lifting in an attempt to shed pounds quickly is NOT recommended.
Excessive high-intensity exercise can suppress your immune system and make you more susceptible to injury, says exercise physiologist Katie Lawton, MEd, ATC.
Combining tough workouts with a low-calorie diet may bring unwanted results, too.
“If your body doesn’t get enough fuel for the workout, it can actually store fat and burn muscle,” she explains. “Your metabolism slows down as you deplete muscle, which can lead to weight gain.”
Bottom line? Limit high-intensity training to two to three days per week.
7. Sweating off weight
More than half of your body weight is water. That fact explains the temptation to simply “sweat out” a few pounds by exercising in a heavy sweatshirt or camping out in a sauna for extended periods.
But what amounts to intentional dehydration is never a good idea. “It’s not just water that you’re losing with sweat,” notes Lawton. “You’re depleting electrolytes and losing key vitamins and minerals.”
Plus, any weight loss will be short-lived as those pounds will return once you rehydrate.
8. Overlooking hydration
Want to crave food less? Try drinking more water.
A glass of H2O before meals or when you feel like snacking works to fill your stomach before you eat, says Czerwony. That’ll help satisfy your hunger, which may prevent you from going back for seconds at dinner or grabbing a midday snack.
But numerous studies connect other benefits to drinking more water, too, including:
- Increased calorie burn.
- Better digestion to remove waste from your body more quickly.
- Improved blood flow, which can supply an energy boost for activity.
- Less reliance on sugary, high-calorie drinks such as soda or juice to quench your thirst.
So, how much water should you drink a day? Hydration needs vary from person to person, but a good target is 64 ounces a day, Czerwony says.
One warning, though: Don’t overdo it. Consuming vast amounts of water can cause a rare yet dangerous condition known as hyponatremia, which dilutes the sodium levels in your body.
Emptying out by vomiting or taking laxatives isn’t a healthy choice to lose weight, stresses Czerwony. They qualify as eating disorder behaviors and can be extremely damaging to your body.
Complications could include:
“Purging is never the right choice for weight loss,” she emphasizes.
10. Focusing solely on food and exercise
Limiting calories and increasing activity are typically the go-to moves for anyone looking to pounds. But other lifestyle habits shouldn’t be ignored as you work toward your goal weight.
“How’s your stress level? How’s your sleep?” asks Dr. Albers. “The answers to both are important. High stress and little sleep can affect hormones that control appetite and lead to overeating.”
Losing weight isn’t easy. There aren’t any shortcuts. (Sorry!) But there are ways to safely lose pounds and improve your overall health. Give yourself time and flexibility to work toward the body you want.