Right now more than 100 million people are trying to shed a few inches around their waistline. With all the good information that's out there about health, diet and fitness, there is a fair share of misinformation, too. If your goal is to lose a few pounds, do it the healthy way and try to avoid these 5 common weight loss mistakes.
1) The Low Fat/High Sugar Roller Coaster
Diets very high in unhealthy fats are not good for us, but diets very low in fat are equally damaging. Not only do very low fat diets prevent weight loss, they're also commonly high in sugar. It's important to read the nutrition facts on anything you're eating until you become familiar with it. Sugar is a big problem in diet, low fat and healthy-sounding foods. If the amount of added sugar exceeds 13 grams (just over 3 teaspoons of sugar), put it back and find something else to eat.
When we eat too much sugar, or too little fat and protein, our body's blood sugar level can get thrown off. This may sound really benign, but it has a cascading effect on other hormones in the body - many of which control mood, stress levels, body temperature and weight - particularly through the midsection.
2) Over-Caffeinated Express
A big cup of coffee or black tea might be a morning ritual, but you're getting less benefit from the caffeine than you think. In fact, the pick-me-up you get from caffeine usually only comes from inconsistent use - that is, having a cup of coffee every couple of days.
Something a lot of people don't realize is that caffeine can really throw off your body's cortisol level. In fact, just one cup of joe can increase cortisol by 30%. When you throw off cortisol (stress hormone) there is a very good chance that you'll also throw off a couple other hormones, including insulin and adrenaline. This can quickly result in excess hunger, agitation and ultimately weight gain.
There are certainly worse things in the world (and in our diet) than coffee, but if you're constantly reaching for a cup to get you going, then consider easing off and substituting an herbal tea or an organic decaffeinated coffee instead. After you've cut down quite a bit, try to limit caffeine to one cup a day. If you've got a problem managing hunger, or your blood sugar levels, try to eliminate it completely. It could make a huge difference in the rest of your day.
3) Too Little Sleep
If you're sleeping five or fewer hours a night, you probably don't have the muscle tone you deserve. A recent study conducted at the University of Chicago looked at two groups of people, both on a low-calorie diet. One group slept 5.5 hours a night, and another group slept 8.5 hours a night. Interestingly enough, both groups lost the same amount of weight (7 pounds), but the sleep-deprived group lost mostly muscle in comparison to the rested group that lost mostly fat. <----This study was only conducted over a two week period! Bottom line: if you want to have a leaner, less fat body, get a full night of sleep.
Sleep is so important. It allows our body to reset and repair itself in so many ways. If you're not seeing the pattern yet, just about everything we do affects our body's hormones. Sleep is no exception. Waking up sleep deprived throws off all of those stress hormones that make us want to reach for something sweet and probably caffeinated to get going in the morning.
If you're having a hard time falling asleep, or staying asleep, try to avoid caffeine after 10am. Additionally, try to go to bed on an empty stomach. Give your body's digestive system a break about 3 hours before you hit the sack. Lastly, keep any sort of light out of sight. Even a dimly-lit alarm clock can throw off your body's sleep/wake cycle.
4) Slow and Steady Cardio Meltdown
Just because you're burning calories doesn't mean you're going to lose weight. In fact, research has shown that slow and steady cardio for prolonged periods of time (greater than 20 to 30 minutes) can actually increase the body's ability to store fat. If you're going to workout (and I hope you are), make it a good, challenging workout that's based around high intensity interval training.
5) Calorie Counting Gone Crazy
Knowing roughly how many calories you eat is good to know to establish a baseline or reference point. But diets that are framed around calories and calories alone are often lacking in nutrients and can actually lead to weight gain, especially if you're counting calories and trying to eat very low fat. I've worked with many clients who have had a difficult time losing weight counting calories (usually eating a processed, low calorie diet), only to finally shed pounds when they start eating clean, forget about calories and actually end up eating a little more than they did in the past. I don't agree with people who say that all you need to do to lose weight is eat fewer calories. Overeating will definitely cause weight gain, but nothing slows a metabolism down faster than not eating enough.
Instead of counting calories, try not eating foods that come from a package and stop eating when you feel full.
Traci D Mitchell is a nationally-recognized Chicago-based nutrition coach and personal trainer featured on the TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. As the trainer for Steve Harvey's Bridal Bootcamp, Traci keeps herself busy by challenging others to be the healthiest they can be. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and private coaching. Interested in working with Traci? Get info here. To keep up-to-date, subscribe to her newsletter.