Diet and exercise options are endless, and many of them work if you truly commit to them. However, most people still fail at dieting, seemingly no matter how hard they try. Why? Because certain strategies set us up for failure-yet despite this, we keep doing them.
Here are some mistakes you can’t afford to make if you want to lose weight.
Don’t count calories but then lie about the numbers.
It’s easy to say, “Losing weight is easy; just burn more calories on a given day than you end up eating,” but actually accomplishing this is anything but easy for the vast majority of people. Counting calories can absolutely work, but there’s also a huge margin of error involved.
What if you dine out all the time? Well, you probably want to avoid greasy, high-calorie fast food, but there’s a problem with that. Local restaurants often don’t list how many calories are in each of their dishes. Yes, it’s more likely you’ll be eating healthier food at a restaurant that uses only grass-fed meat, whole grains and other nonprocessed ingredients, but then you have to figure out what the final tally is for your meal. Take a Caesar salad, for instance. If you go to Texas Roadhouse, the salad contains 1,030 calories. Want to find a healthier option? Choose Panera’s Caesar salad, which has only 450 calories. Staying at home? You can try this kale chicken Caesar salad recipe-and consume the healthiest ingredients and only 380 calories.
Don’t change everything in your diet, but don’t change nothing, either.
I talk a lot about moderation and balance, which aren’t exactly fun words because they don’t give you any easy answers. The truth is that if you want to lose weight, you have to eat less food than you used to, and you have to eat better food than you have been eating. However, if you go from pizza and cheeseburgers every day to a vegan diet, you’re likely to have a very bad time!
Basically, the more extreme the changes you make, the less likely you are to succeed in the long term. Take fasting/starvation/calorie-restricted diets. If you decide to try a starvation diet and severely restrict your calorie consumption, your metabolism will grind to a halt. You’ll feel terrible, and you’ll hate yourself when you quit the diet, end up binge eating and actually gain more weight because your metabolism isn’t working properly anymore. Instead of doing this, try intermittent fasting. You can still eat and eat what you want, but instead of eating all day, you limit yourself to shorter windows where food is allowed. As a result, you can actually boost your metabolism and keep your body in better balance.
Don’t pick a diet that cuts out all your favorite foods.
Think of your top three favorite foods. For me, it’s probably pizza, lasagna and steak. Got yours? Well, what if I told you that you’re not allowed to eat any of those for the next year, at all. That’s 365 days without an ounce of ice cream or chocolate or key lime pie.
Your first thought is probably, “Well, I could really go for dessert right now,” isn’t it? Human nature makes us all want what we don’t have. There’s a reason one of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not covet.” We all covet something, and while I’m not saying it’s OK, I’m saying when it comes to food, indulge once in a while. Have your cheesecake or favorite pizza, but eat it once a week or once every other week. With intermittent fasting, I often don’t eat much until dinner, and although I try to eat healthy meals, I do like to indulge sometimes. Thankfully, because I’ve been better all day, the damage done by ice cream is significantly less impactful than it could be.
Don’t give up too easily; learn from your mistakes.
Trying to find the right diet and exercise regimen to lose weight and then maintain a healthy weight reminds me of the struggle I had dealing with depression. For the first two years, I tried a lot of medications and took them all as prescribed by my doctor, but the first three medicines had severe side effects for me. One made me hungry all day long, no matter what I ate or how much I exercised. Another made me sleep for 16 hours each day, and even then, I was still exhausted when I got up and went to class. One drastically increased my anxiety; another practically made me numb to any feelings at all. At times, it was absolutely awful and really hard not to quit. In the end, it took nearly four years before I finally found the right combination of drugs, therapy and lifestyle changes to feel like a person again.
Let me explain how this relates to weight loss. I survived the difficult times because of my family and my wonderful doctor. However, even though I was willing to go through all this, when it comes to dieting, I used to get fed up and quit in less than a month every time. For most of you, I’d imagine the same is probably true. Results don’t always come quickly or easily, but we owe it to ourselves to keep trying.
I’ll leave you with some of the advice that I really believe can help you, if you take the time to really consider them: Don’t ignore the mental aspect of weight loss. Consider these lifestyle changes to help your body stay balanced. Quit these habits that make you lethargic and cause you to eat more, and keep personalizing your diet until you find healthy foods that decrease your hunger and increase your energy levels. You can succeed. Just don’t give up!
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.