People are always surprised when we tell them that, despite being registered dietitians nutritionists, January is not our busiest month, despite all of the New Year’s weight-loss and get-healthy resolutions. You may be surprised to learn that one of our busiest times is the beginning of February, when people realize they’re struggling to meet their goals on their own and they don’t know what they are doing wrong.
Here are five common weight-loss mistakes we see. Are you making any of them?
1. You skip meals.
Sure, you feel like you’ve got an edge on weight loss by cutting an entire meal’s worth of calories from your day. However, this backfires. Research shows that people who skip meals, particularly breakfast, are more likely to be overweight. In fact, they typically end up so overly hungry at their next meal that they can’t make a rationale decision to choose a healthy option—and what’s more, they give themselves the license to eat more than they should, justifying the extra because they ate less earlier in the day.
If a traditional meal won’t work for you, it’s O.K. to piece together a high-fiber food with a protein-rich food and count that lighter fare as your meal.Try a hardboiled egg and a piece of fruit or a banana with peanut butter.
2. You drink your calories.
You love your “bevvies”—a smoothie for a snack, Gatorade® while you work out, an afternoon latte, a few cocktails. Your brain doesn’t compensate for liquid calories by making you feel any less hungry, so you wind up overconsuming calories.
-Add calorie-free pizzazz to your water or seltzer by tossing in slices of limes, lemons, oranges, cucumbers and/or strawberries; the great flavor of these foods will seep into the water and add a refreshing twist.
-Stick to water during exercise if you aren’t working out intensely for more than 90 minutes.
-Tally up your liquid calories and swap them for food instead and drink water. Goodbye large glass of orange juice (and the 240 calories in it); hello glass of water and an orange (60 calories).
3. You eat too much sodium and think it doesn’t matter.
You don’t have high blood pressure and you sweat out salt when you exercise. But most of us consume two to three times more salt than we should. Salt increases hunger, thirst and cravings—and it makes your fat cells denser. Plus it makes you retain water and bloat—which means that, despite working hard to lose weight, you may weigh more after a salty meal due to water retention. This can make you feel discouraged and throw in the towel on your weight loss efforts. Instead, try this:
-Prepare foods yourself so that you can control the salt.
-Eat more fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, which are naturally low in sodium. Cut back on packaged foods, such as canned soup, lunch meat, frozen meals, flavored rice, dressings, sauces and snacks. The majority of the sodium we consume comes from processed and prepared foods
-Check labels for sodium content. Often simply switching between brands can save you hundreds of milligrams sodium.
-When dining out, ask that your food be prepared without salt and order sauces on the side. Chefs are experts with herbs and spices so your food will still taste great.
For more tips and easy tricks to reduce salt in your diet, check out our book The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat.
4. You skimp on veggies.
Roughly 80 percent of Americans do this. If you don’t get your servings of veggies (about 2.5 to 3.5 cups for most people), you’re likely falling short on fiber. Fiber slows the digestion of food and helps to keep you feeling full. Fiber prevents blood sugar spikes and crashes and the subsequent overeating by providing a gradual release of energy from food.
-Mix veggies into whatever you’re already eating. Toss them in pasta and soups, add them to pizza and omelets.
-Stack sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, peppers, mushrooms and sprouts.
-Wrap sandwich fillings with lettuce rather than bread. Or slice cucumbers and zucchinis length-wise and use in place of crackers and breads.
-Dip veggies in hummus for a snack.
For more suggestions and more than 100 recipes that include vegetables, please check out The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure.
5. You don’t sweat the small stuff.
In most instances in life, not sweating the small stuff is ideal. However, it turns out those few extra candies from your co-workers desk, the extra pats of butter on your bread, the several bites of your kid’s food, or tastes of dessert really do accumulate. Research shows these “extras” often fall around several hundred calories and can prevent a healthy weight loss of 1 pound per week.
-Record what you eat and use an online program like my fitnesspal.com to see how quickly those little bites are accumulating.
-Try taking several fewer bites than usual at each meal. This will save roughly 200 to 300 calories a day, helping you to lose half a pound a week—that same half pound that can easily creep on with those same bites!