The 5 Biggest Weight Loss Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

A Slim Woman Stretching in the Sun On a Beach.
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Many people want to lose weight, and some go to great lengths to slim down.

Some people even experiment with extreme (and possibly dangerous) diet plans to lose a few extra pounds.

But what if there was an easier way?

There are many nutrition pitfalls to be wary of, but this article will look at five of the biggest weight loss mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1: The Calorie Myth (Counting Calories)

Weightwatchers "Smart Ones" Packet.

“To lose weight you need to count your calories and eat low-fat foods.”

The over-reliance on restricting calories to lose weight is probably one of the most damaging myths in the nutrition world.

Why is it a Mistake?

A calorie is just a simple way to classify the energy content of different foods.

One calorie always provides the same units of energy, so technically it is incorrect to say “a calorie is not a calorie”.

That said, the body does metabolize different calories in a very different way.

Various forms of diet – and different nutrients – have very different biochemical pathways.

If you think about it, how many people do you know who have been on a calorie counting diet to lose weight?

And in regard to these people; how many of them are still slim now?

The truth is that if counting calories worked, we wouldn’t have the obesity crisis we have right now.

Anyone with basic mathematics skill (or a calculator) would be at their ideal weight.

People don’t want to be fat, and overweight people are not lazy or gluttonous.

Counting calories just doesn’t work, because there are more important things for weight loss.

Satisfaction from the food we eat is a big one, and so is satiety – eating low-fat meals with minimal calories is only sustainable for so long.

Need Convincing?

  • If you rely on calorie counting, you shouldn’t trust nutrition labels – the nutrition info can legally be 20% under-reported (1).
  • The body uses more calories for thermogenesis as carbohydrate is reduced. Lower carb? More fat burning (2).
  • Some studies show that low-carbohydrate diets provide a greater weight loss per calorie consumed (3).
  • Despite consuming more calories (1855 vs. 1562 kcal/day), participants on a ketogenic diet lost more weight than participants on the low-fat diet (4).

The above studies show that weight loss may not always be as simple as calories in and out.

What Should I Do Instead?

  • Cut out hyper-caloric refined foods that come in shiny packets.
  • Focus on eating a nutrient-dense range of whole foods.
  • Eat to satiety.
  • Don’t fear foods rich in healthy fat.

Mistake 2: Avoiding Fat (Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat)

An Overweight Man Eating a Bowl of Lettuce.

The idea that dietary fat is inherently fattening belongs in the stone age.

Unfortunately, this advice is still pushed by the media despite large-scale studies proving it to be completely false.

Why Is It a Mistake?

For one, it is far too simplistic. Eating a lot of fat won’t automatically make you fat, just the same way as eating a lot of protein won’t make you look like a bodybuilder.

Fat contains nine calories per gram; more than double the amount of calories in carbohydrate and protein (4 calories). But as we saw in the first mistake; calorie count is not the main issue.

Foods that are naturally high in fat can also be incredibly nutrient dense. Just take a look at red meat or an avocado; they are both crammed full of beneficial vitamins and minerals that your body uses.

Furthermore, when you buy low-fat products from the store they are likely full of sugar. Remove the fat from food and it tastes terrible, so what do the manufacturers do? Add sugar.

Exception: Vegetable oils, margarine, and vegetable shortening are fats that you should avoid. Manufactured fats are unnaturally high in omega-6 fatty acids, easily oxidized and can promote inflammation.

Need Convincing?

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the ‘gold-standard’ in science; this doesn’t mean that we should automatically follow their findings. However, it does mean they are more likely to be useful.

In a meta-analysis that reviewed 53 randomized controlled trials, the data across the studies clearly showed that low-carbohydrate interventions led to “greater weight loss” than low-fat interventions did (5).

So.. does fat make you fat? No.

Dietary fat has no uniquely fattening properties, and it’s time for the low-fat myth to die.

What Should I Do Instead?

  • Cut out sugar and refined carbohydrates as a priority.
  • Don’t fear fat: naturally occurring fatty foods (e.g. salmon, avocado, cheese) are very healthy.
  • For weight loss, prioritize whole food dietary fats (choose cheese rather than butter, and avocado rather than coconut oil).

Mistake 3: “Burning Calories” to Lose Weight (You Can’t Outrun a Poor Diet)

Calories in vs out: A Woman Eating a Cake On a Treadmill.

Unfortunately, this is some more typical advice worth ignoring.

Sure, exercise is great and has a variety of benefits on health – especially intermittent interval training.

But it is no replacement for a healthy diet.

Why Is It a Mistake?

Simply there’s no proof that it works.

It relies on the elementary equation that calories in > out = weight gain, but pays no attention to satiety and the sustainability of the diet.


Can You Eat Whatever You Want and Still Lose Weight If You Exercise Enough?

That is what the ‘energy balance’ supporters want you to believe, but it’s just not true.

Teaching us that we can eat whatever we want as long as we exercise is good marketing and great for profits, but not so good for public health.

The truth is that while both exercise and diet are essential to our overall health, our body shape is fundamentally determined by the food we eat.

Eating a poor diet and exercising to stay in shape doesn’t work; at least not long-term. On the other hand, eating a healthy diet does.

 Need Convincing?

  • Although exercise is important for our body and overall health, there is little evidence suggesting that exercise is a good solution for surging rates of obesity (6).
  • Our body does not treat nutrients the same way; protein is the most satiating of macronutrients (7).
  • Adaptation to a low-carbohydrate diet induces a much greater rate of fat oxidation during exercise than does a typical high-carbohydrate diet (8).

What Should I Do Instead?

  • Optimize your diet and exercise – it shouldn’t be one or the other.
  • Exercise at least twice a week for your overall health – not to make up for bad food choices.

Mistake 4: Quitting Sugar But Not Ditching the Processed Foods

A Picture of Processed Foods With a Restricted Sign On Top.

Sugar is a damaging ingredient and it has links to a whole host of health problems.

Cutting ‘added sugar’ out of your diet is a great first step, but it’s just not enough.

Why is it a Mistake?

When you’re looking to lose weight, it’s best to cut out processed food as much as possible and to replace it with nutrient-dense whole foods.

After we eat starch from refined foods such as bread, rice or pasta, it quickly breaks down into glucose inside the body, just the same way as sugar does.

While our body has adequate tools to deal with blood glucose, constant blood sugar spikes throughout the day are harmful over the longer-term.

These processed foods also have additional problems;

  • They have very little effect on satiety compared to a real protein-based meal (9).
  • Generally speaking, they are very low in nutrients (10).
  • Studies show that people consuming refined carbohydrates are more likely to consume an excessive amount of food (11).

A Better Solution

Go for nutritious whole food options.

Lower carb meals are great and meat/fish with some veggies is one of the best meals you can eat.

Prefer more carbs? Then choose something like sweet potatoes rather than pastries and cakes.

It’s also important to note that the more protein you eat, the more full you’ll generally feel.

Feeling satisfied is so important for weight loss, and it’s often ignored at the expense of extremely calorie-restrictive diets.

Mistake 5: Cheat Days and Cheat Meals

A Girl Eating Unhealthy Food: Big Plate of Spaghetti, Donuts and Chocolate.

Sometimes people ask; “Can you have a cheat day?”.

Sure – you can.

But is a cheat day good for weight loss?

Not at all. And it’s not good for your health either.

Many people want to ‘have their cake and eat it’.

Just a few days of sticking to their diet, and then it’s time for a cheat meal with lots of carbs, maybe some vegetable oil, and a load of sugar.

So, you can have a cheat meal – but the only ‘thing’ you will be cheating is yourself.

If you are serious about making positive change and losing weight, then don’t think in terms of restrictive dieting that you need relief from.

Think more in terms of developing a healthy lifestyle, based on eating nutritious foods that you actually enjoy eating. Real food can be incredibly tasty, and there are many great recipes out there.

Once you stop eating all the processed junk, you will come to appreciate the taste of whole foods a lot more.

At the end of the day, there’s no magic formula for weight loss.

However, restricting the foods made in a factory and eating fresh foods is a great start.

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