11 Mistakes People Make When Trying To Lose Weight (and what to do instead)

Nobody can blame you for wanting to lose weight quickly. We’ve all been there – trying the latest diets on the market in a bid to  lose a few pounds before the weekend. If only it were as easy as being able to lose a stone in a week – and keep it off! (Never going to happen).

You want to feel more comfortable in your clothes, enjoy shopping for clothes again and actually FEEL good, but you can’t seem to shift the weight.

Losing weight can seem impossible. Do you feel as though you’re doing everything right, yet the results just never last?

You might be hindering your weight loss progress by following some really bad advice or outdated information.

Here are 11 common mistakes most people make when trying to lose weight.

1. Going ‘ALL IN’ – adopting the all or nothing approach

This is a weight loss recipe for disaster but unfortunately all too common. Every Sunday night you binge your way through a take away, a family sized block of chocolate and a bottle of fizzy wine because the diet starts again tomorrow. Then, instead of focusing on small changes, you give your whole diet an overhaul, start banning certain foods and decide to live off salads forever and ever. You’re either ‘on the wagon’ or ‘off the wagon’ and you don’t seem to be able to find a happy medium.

What to do instead

Instead of changing everything at once, pick one or two new habits to adopt and work on being consistent with those first. Once they’ve become second nature, introduce a couple more and so on.


2. Only focusing on scale weight

Ever heard the old wive’s tale ‘muscle weighs more than fat’ doing the rounds? Well, that’s not true. One pound of muscle weighs exactly the same as one pound of fat – they just look different. They take up different volumes in space. All to often, dieters get so hung up on what their bathroom scales say that they forget about the fat loss aspect. Your body weight may not reduce every single week, but your body fat might! You cannot rely on your scale weight alone to be a true indicator of your progress.

What to do instead

Take measurements and progress photos and update these every month. This will give you more of an idea of what’s really happening to your body. You may be able to see changes in your body shape where you don’t see changes on the bathroom scale.


3. Restricting or eliminating entire food groups / types

This sort of goes hand in hand with #1. Repeat after me.

“I do not need to cut out entire food groups (carbs, fat, chocolate, crisps, alcohol, pizza, pasta, gluten, dairy etc) in order to lose weight and keep it off.”

There. Now you know.

Eliminating foods that you enjoy in an attempt to lose weight is just a recipe for failure. You will eventually crave these foods so much that the deprivation motivation to binge is hard to ignore. Not only are you messing with your emotional connection with food, you may also be depriving your body of certain nutrients that you need for a healthy body.

What to do instead

Instead of cutting out entire food groups / types of food, learn how you can include everything you like to eat in moderation so that you don’t feel deprived.


4. Not getting enough sleep

I know it probably sounds like the last thing you’d consider if your goal is to lose weight, but getting enough sleep is really important! Lack of sleep messes with your satiation and hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, meaning you will be more likely to crave high fat and high sugar foods if you don’t get enough sleep. Hunger hormone ghrelin may be over produced by your body when you don’t get enough sleep, meaning your tendency to overeat the following day is much higher.

Getting enough sleep is important for all aspects of health, not just maintaining a healthy weight.

What to do instead

Adults need between 7-9 hours of restful sleep per night in order to maintain a healthy functioning body. If you have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep and sleep less than 7 hours per night – you are sleep deprived. Consider implementing a good bedtime routine and going to bed / waking up at the same times every day. Your body loves routine – try it!

Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night minimum

5. Not tracking what you eat

Even if you are eating fairly healthily, you could still be consuming more calories than your body actually needs. You may also be consuming too little protein and fibre (both important if losing weight is your goal) without knowing. Tracking what you are eating will show you if how much you are eating is allowing you to lose weight or not, so that you can adjust the amount if need be. It is also a great way of staying accountable to your goals.

What to do instead

Considering keeping a food diary, either by writing it down or using an app like My Fitness Pal to record your meals.


6. Setting unrealistic expectations

Trying to lose a stone in a week, for example, is an unrealistic expectation. I’m sure it can be done, but not in a very healthy or sustainable way. You will likely lose weight quickly when you first start a diet, but this will taper off and be much more gradual once the initial surge of water and carbohydrate loss wears off. Setting expectations of losing half a stone a week is only going to end in disappointment.

Often I see people give up after just a couple of weeks because they’re not meeting the unrealistic expectations that they’ve set themselves.

What to do instead

Aim to lose around 0.5% of your current body weight per week. For example, if you currently weigh 80kg, set the goal of around 0.4kg loss per week. It may not seem like much, but over the course of 6 months you could lose 10kg of fat by taking this approach.

Aim for 80-90% of your food intake to be from single ingredient, whole foods.

7. Not eating whole, single ingredient foods

This is a BIG problem for a lot of dieters out there. Eating highly processed foods like Weight Watchers and Slimming World’s branded meals and food recommendations like low-fat yoghurts, cereal bars and zero calorie jellies won’t flood your body with nutrients OR fill you up. No matter what weight loss regime you’re following, if they encourage processed foods like these then avoid them like the plague. A diet consisting of mostly processed foods is bad for your health.

What to do instead

Aim to eat 80% of your total food intake from whole, single ingredient foods. It is actually quite difficult to over consume whole foods as the protein and fibre content will often fill you up pretty quickly. Eat until you are no longer hungry, not full.

8. Considering a workout as a license to binge

This used to be me! I used to think that just because I’d taught one or two fitness classes that day, it meant I could eat whatever I wanted that night and remain a healthy weight. I was so wrong. The kilos crept on over the course of a couple of years and before I knew it, I was 10kg overweight! Your workout is helping to keep you in a calorie deficit, which you need to be in if your goal is fat loss. You cannot expect to lose weight and reduce your body fat percentage if you keep using your workouts as a license to binge.

What to do instead

Remember why you’re working out – to help create a calorie deficit. Reward yourself in other ways – perhaps buy yourself some new gym clothes once a month, or treat yourself to your favourite takeaway coffee at the end of the week.

9. Drinking calories

Liquid calories still count! One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is drinking their calories in the form of smoothies, fruit juices and calorific coffees. Despite being liquid, these calories still count towards your overall daily intake and they will cause weight gain if you’re taking on board too many calories. Not to mention the amount of sugar contained in these types of drinks.

What to do instead

Stick to whole fruits and vegetables and avoid juices and smoothies that are often packed full of sugary calories. By eating the whole fruit and vegetable, you’ll also benefit from the satiating effects of the fibre they contain. Ask for a black coffee (Americano) and add your own milk if you must drink coffee.

10. Always choosing low fat products

Processed low fat food products and other processed diet foods are often seen to be the ‘go-to’ for dieters. Unfortunately we have been fed lies about fat being bad for us – but make you know know which fats are the ones you should be eating in moderation!

Let’s take processed Muller Light low fat yoghurt (Strawberry -175g) for example – it contains almost 13g of sugar and also has added artificial sweetener Aspartame. Rather than keep you feeling full up and satisfied, these types of products often leave you feeling hungrier, so you end up eating more and more!

“Fat Free” and other diet products tend to be high in sugar, so avoid these if your goal is to lose weight.

What to do instead

Choose single ingredient, whole foods in their natural form. You will find a natural yoghurt like Greek yoghurt is much higher in protein and contains some healthy fats too which will keep you fuller for longer. These do not have added sugar either, yay! Aim to reduce processed, low-fat and diet products in your diet and increase your whole foods.

Add strength training to your routine to see big changes to your body composition.

11. Focusing too much on cardio exercise instead of strength training

Multiple studies have shown that lifting weights is an important part of any fat loss journey. Not only will lifting weight burn calories but it will also help your body to build lean muscle, which in turn will increase your metabolic rate. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn at rest. Unfortunately diet culture would lead you to believe that cardio is Queen. Or worse still – some slimming clubs have been warning people to STOP exercising because it can lead to weight gain! Oh my days!

What to do instead

Make sure if you’re pounding the pavement (or treadmill), that you’re also including 2-3 strength training workouts per week too. A combination of both strength training and cardio has been proven to be the best way to improve body composition. The first strength training type of workout I did was a Body Pump class, which I found was great for me. It was motivating and the instructor told us exactly what to do. No guessing. Why not give it a go?


"All in or all out" Rachael is a vibrant, no-bullshit-talking Scottish nutrition geek and coach helping women to lose weight without giving up their confidence OR their favourite foods.

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