5 worst dieting mistakes—and how to fix them

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published March 6, 2020

Key Takeaways

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a lifelong goal. Each year, about 45 million Americans go on various diets to accomplish this goal. However, about two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. If all diets were successful, the number of Americans with weight issues would be lower, right? The sad reality is that most diets are unsuccessful for various reasons.

Here are five common dieting mistakes that can be rectified in an effort to lose weight and keep it off.

Not hopping on the scale enough

Many researchers have touted the benefits of daily weigh-ins with respect to weight loss. For instance, according to research cited by the American Heart Association, people who weighed themselves six or seven times a week lost on average 1.7% of body weight during the course of a year compared with those who weighed themselves once a week or less.

But, for some, daily weigh-ins can lead to anxiety, obsession, decreased self-esteem, and decreased momentum. If this is the case, then weighing in once or twice a week may be beneficial. Keep in mind that it’s best to weigh in at the same time every day for consistency. Furthermore, don’t be alarmed or discouraged if the numbers on your scale slightly increase or decrease on your next weigh-in. Weight can fluctuate based on hormones, water retention, and exercise levels, as well as changes in muscle composition.

Fortunately, other methods of self-monitoring exist, such as waist circumference measurement, how your clothes fit (are they looser or tighter?), sleep quality, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure readings.

Not tossing junk food

If you’re on a diet and you keep a lot of junk food lying around, some of that junk food is going to find its way into your belly—no matter how resolute you think you are. It’s best to clear any unhealthy foods from your kitchen, and replace them with healthier alternatives such as fruit and veggies, as well as foods composed of healthy unsaturated fats. 

Being too restrictive

Hypothetically, if you never ate a sweet again, you wouldn’t introduce excess calories into your system. But who on earth can never eat a sweet again? Remember that healthy dieting is a lifelong commitment based on your health conditions and weight. Indulging in an occasional sweet will likely keep you from going batty and binge eating later on. According to the experts, most women should not exceed 24 g of added sugar per day, and most men should not exceed more than 36 g of added sugar per day. Fortunately, this recommendation allows for the occasional cheat to satisfy your sweet-tooth craving.

Failing to keep a food journal

Researchers have shown that tracking your food intake can result in better weight-loss outcomes. Apps like MyFitnessPal can make documenting your calorie consumption easier than ever before. Furthermore, you can look for trends in your intake that may be undermining your efforts, such as eating at night. 

Not exercising—or exercising too much

Simply changing your diet without heed to exercise is a mistake that can slow your metabolism and result in loss of muscle mass. On the flip side, exercising too much is unsustainable over the long run and can interfere with your production of adrenal hormones.

Evidence supporting the benefits of exercise in terms of weight loss are mixed, which could be due to underreporting of caloric intake, overreporting of actual exercise, as well as inconsistencies in research design. Furthermore, people are different; some are exercise responders while others are nonresponders.

Judicious exercise is likely the right answer when it comes to dieting and weight management.

“Consistently performing exercise of a duration greater than the basic recommendations for health (150 min/week of moderate-intensity exercise) does appear to be more likely to contribute to weight loss and weight maintenance efforts over the long term,” according to the authors of a review article published in Diabetes Spectrum.

Of note, exercise can take the form of aerobic, resistance, flexibility exercises, and decreased sedentary time.

Change your mindset to achieve success

Sometimes the key to a successful diet may depend on your mindset. For your dieting efforts to be successful and last for the long term, try not to think of them as a “diet,” per se. Rather, consider them a lifestyle change, one that will lead to a healthier you. 

“When it comes to weight loss, there’s no lack of fad diets promising fast results. But such diets limit your nutritional intake, can be unhealthy, and tend to fail in the long run. The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t about short-term dietary changes. It’s about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular physical activity, and balancing the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses,” according to the CDC.

Sounds like good advice to us!

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