The 5 Biggest Weight Loss Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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Biggest weight loss mistakes - how to avoid them

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 the 5 biggest weight loss mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1: The Calorie Myth (Counting Calories)

Weight loss mistake 1: Calories in vs out

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

If you read some advice like this on a website, click the ‘x’. This is probably one of the most damaging myths in the nutrition world, and it has caused health problems for so many.

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”, but 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.

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).
  • Low-carbohydrate diets provide a metabolic advantage over low-fat high-carb diets – providing 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).

So there you have it – eating more calories but less carbohydrate resulted in weight loss.

What Should I Do Instead?

  • Cut out hyper-caloric refined foods that come in shiny packets.
  • Eat to satiety.
  • Emphasize foods rich in healthy fat

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

Weight Loss Mistake 2 - Avoiding Fat, Man with salad.

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 tend to 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 refined sugars. 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 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 “significantly greater weight loss” than low-fat interventions did (5).

So.. does fat make you fat? No.

What about saturated fat? Does saturated fat make you fat? Again – No.

Fat does not make you fat, and it’s time for the low-fat myth to die.

What Should I Do Instead?

  • Don’t fear fat: eat lots of naturally occurring fatty foods (salmon, avocado, cheese.)
  • For weight loss, prioritize whole food dietary fats (choose cheese rather than butter, avocado rather than coconut oil).

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

Weight Loss Mistake 3 - Calories in vs out

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 diet’s sustainability.

Companies manufacturing ultra-processed foods love to preach the ‘energy balance’ message, though. Coca-cola even made a ‘non-profit charity’ to educate the public on the importance of energy balance.

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; eating a healthy diet does.

 Need Convincing?

  • Although exercise is important for our body and overall heath, there is little evidence suggesting that exercise is a good solution for surging rates of obesity (6).
  • Basic understanding of biochemistry tells us that our body does not treat nutrients the same way; sugar calories promote fat storage and hunger, whereas fat calories promote satiety (7).
  • Adaption 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 Carbs

Weight Loss Mistake 4 - Not Ditching Unhealthy Carbs

Sugar is a damaging ingredient linked 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 all refined carbohydrates.

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

Also, when we eat sugar or starch, our blood glucose levels will rise. As blood glucose levels rise, our body signals to produce insulin to remove this excess glucose in our blood.

Insulin takes the sugar out of the blood by storing it as fat. 

To make it clear; insulin is a driver of weight gain.

Want to lose fat? Then minimizing insulin release is the key.

What Foods Convert to Glucose?

It’s great that you have given up sugar, but the bread, banana and orange juice in your lunch box all contain sugar too.

Is there really sugar in bread? Well, not strictly speaking. There may be a small amount of added sugar, but that doesn’t matter because the starch in the bread will break down into glucose almost instantly anyway.

Do you know how much sugar is in orange juice? Approximately 10g per 100 ml. 

Drink a 500ml bottle of orange juice and that’s 50g of sugar content running through your bloodstream.

To get an idea of just how much sugar is in these drinks, check out the 15 worst health drinks.

In conclusion: Eat your calories – don’t drink them.

Mistake 5: Cheat Days and Cheat Meals

Weight Loss Mistake 5 - Cheat Meals

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 around eating nutritious foods that are full of beneficial nutrients. 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 real food a whole lot more.

At the end of the day, there’s no magic formula for weight loss – just cut out the foods made in a factory and eat real food designed for your body.

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