The 10 Biggest Weight Loss Mistakes

I have worked for people for years on weight loss in the clinic and in my research, some of who have been successful and others who have not. In my observations, here are 10 things unsuccessful people do that appeared to be the key factors in their failure.  I urge you to avoid these traps as I have rarely if ever seen these habits in people who have successfully reached their weight loss goals.

1.  DON’T EXERCISE – You can begin to lose weight through dieting (reducing your calories) alone, but you will not keep the weight off this way.  Many “exercise haters” try to do this. They also plateau early on because you can only reduce your calories so much, which means your weight loss will bottom out at that point.  If you push too far on reducing your calories, a rebound effect often follows where you end up not being able to restrain anymore and then overeat. You have to be willing to take the “I hate exercise” badge off and find a way to enjoy moving.

2.  UNDERESTIMATE THE EFFORT – Unsuccessful losers often underestimate what it takes to lose weight.  Such an individual might say, “I walked twice this week, but lost no weight.”  Successful weight loss requires a real awareness of how much effort is necessary to impact energy balance.  In this case, burning 300 calories from walking is not sufficient to lose a pound, which is 3,500 calories.  It is extremely important to really think about what it takes to eliminate 3,500 calories for each pound and ask yourself how you can make a plan to do this.

3. WEIGHT LOSS TAKES THE BACKSEAT – I would love to play piano and speak Italian, however I will admit that I have not put in what I know is the hard work necessary to do these things because there are other things that I prioritize above these wants.  The end result is that I cannot do them.  It takes more than wanting something to making it happen. It must be a priority.  Losing weight, especially a lot of weight, is a tremendous effort that requires high priority.  People who are unsuccessful with weight loss, put healthy choices low on their list. Healthy behaviors take a backseat to almost anything else that comes up.  “I was going to exercise, but I decided to help the neighbor with her garage sale instead.”  People who are successful find ways to make the steps a priority everyday.

4. TAKE IT PERSONALLY – Sally steps on the scale this week to see that she has gained 2 pounds.  She is devastated. “I am hopeless!  I have no self-control!  I was so lazy too.”  Character-attacking yourself is a huge motivation killer. Gaining 2 pounds is not a matter of your personal character, it is a simple matter of a mathematical equation gone off balance.  The task is to identify how that happened and how to fix it.  People who do poorly seem to revert to explanations about their personal insufficiencies.  Please do not do this!

5.  DIAGNOSE SELF WITH RARE METABOLIC DISORDER.  If a Volkswagon and a Ferrari leave Boston for NYC at 10am, which car will never get there?  Huh?  Of course both will get there, it’s just a matter of when.  And who cares how fast, how did this become a race?  Some people assume that because weight loss is slow that they must have a metabolic deficiency which ultimately means they are incapable of weight loss.  Even if you are older, post-menopausal, and have a slow metabolism, you can still lose weight, it just goes slower.  Never believe that you CAN’T lose weight though.

6.  EAT FOR REVENGE – Jenny’s mother says, “You shouldn’t be eating cookies! You’ll get even fatter!” as Jenny reaches for a cookie.  Jenny gets so angry that she decides to eat 10 cookies to spite her mother.  Jenny, if you insist on spiting your mother, don’t send her a birthday card, but please please, do not eat 10 cookies.  People who let their weight become a bargaining chip or way to get back at or manipulate others have a very difficult time sticking to a healthy lifestyle.

7.  STRESS – People who are encased in an extremely stressful life that doesn’t allow much or any time for self-care are routinely unsuccessful at weight loss.  For many people, losing weight is more about restructuring their life to allow them the chance to be healthy than it is about learning what to eat. If you are so overcommitted that you truly cannot find the time to exercise on most days of the week, you may be under too much stress. This stress will impact your health directly as well as indirectly by not allowing you to take care of yourself. We only get one life. Make it last. Take care of yourself.

8.  VASTLY UNDERESTIMATE INTAKE – A lot of things on this list have to do with awareness.  Awareness sounds simple, but it’s tough.  Sometimes it means looking at something that isn’t good about ourselves. We all underestimate our dietary intake, but the more accurate you can get, on both good days and bad, the more successful you will be.  If you purposely do not record on a “bad” day you might be struggling with the ability to be fully aware and accepting of your habits.  I challenge you to record your intake on a day you know will be bad (e.g., Thanksgiving) to practice tolerating the bad feelings that arise when you see that you’ve overeaten.

9.  SKIPPING MEALS – Not eating for long periods of waking time is associated with eating more calories overall.  However, people who skip meals or go long periods of time without eating perceive themselves as eating less because so much time goes by without eating.  The truth is when we do this, we stockpile later.  I suggest not going more than about 3 hours without eating something.  This will regulate both your appetite and blood sugar, both of which are essential to weight control.  It will also maximize your metabolic rate.

10.  QUICK WEIGHT LOSS/CRASH DIET – Rapid change is not good for your body, it is a signal of stress or disease.  Your body treats rapid change in weight, temperature, respiration, or any other state as an emergency and will make corrective actions to remediate it.  If you lose 5-10 pounds in a week, your body will respond by slowing your metabolic rate, which will undermine your effort in the future. By losing weight slowly (2 lbs a week) you fly under your body’s emergency radar.




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  1. lance1971 says:

    These are all very good points. #2 is something I notice often at the gym. People not putting in 100% effort. Talking a lot to friends, texting or just doing more of nothing then working. 45 minutes in the gym and maybe doing 10 minutes of actual work.
    #8 is also a great point. Drink only water, soda and juice are loaded with calories. I am willing to bet most people don’t really count those calories. Serving size also comes into play. Look at the calories in salad dressing, pretty high in total. Now actually measure out two table spoons, how many people drowned their lettuce in it.
    #10 I once read this on a forummessage”The secret to weight loss is simple. Eat right, exercise often, repeat forever!” The problem with that statement is you can’t really sell that. You can sell a pill or shake that will “melt” fat off you.

  2. #2…”Unsuccessful losers” does that make them a winner? ahahahahaha…..
    good..nah…GREAT post!
    good to be reminded of these things.

  3. Jordan says:

    I just don’t understand. If diet and exercise are the solution for weight loss then why does the ACSM make statements like this;

    “It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively
    high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain
    weight over time, compared with those who have low
    energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis
    are not particularly compelling”

    “Physical Activity and Public Health: Updated Recommendation for Adults From the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association.” Circulation 116.9 (2007). Print.

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks for your comment. I believe what they are referring to is that the literature suggests that exercise alone (i.e., energy expenditure) does not predict weight loss well. This is likely because both energy intake and energy expenditure need to be accounted for. You can exercise a lot but if you compensate for the expenditure by eating more, your exercise will not be a good predictor of your weight. Weight loss interventions that only involve exercise typically are not hugely effective in the literature either, primarily because people increase their energy intake (for a variety of reasons, none of which is a natural increase in physiological hunger). Both dietary change and exercise are necessary to maximize weight loss.

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