Losing weight seems like an easy enough concept. If we eat less and exercise more, the pounds should melt off like a popsicle on the Fourth of July, right? Well, maybe for some people. But if you’re anything like me, then you know this losing weight business isn’t easy. In fact, sometimes it can feel darn near impossible.
If you’ve been committed to a healthy lifestyle — counting calories, hitting up the gym — but still aren’t seeing that number on the scale budge, don’t give up just yet.
I recently chatted with a few experts and it turns out, there are a ton of different factors that come into play when it comes to weight loss. The good news is that sometimes making a few small adjustments may be all you need to break through your plateau.
Here are 10 common weight loss mistakes and what you can do to fix them.
Skipping out on sleep
Whether you’re staying up late studying, working on your side hustle or binge watching Stranger Things on Netflix, missing out on much-needed Zzz’s could be stalling your weight loss. “Sleep is crucial for our health,” Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center, told me. “Adults who sleep 5-7 hours per night (or less) are 30-80 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, or to die prematurely, as those who sleep 8 hours or more.”
She also explained that chronic lack of sleep increases cortisol (stress hormone) and ghrelin (hunger hormone) while simultaneously slowing down your metabolism and decreasing leptin (satiety hormone). “Cortisol prompts the body to replenish energy in the form of hunger pangs. This is why chronic lack of sleep is contributing to the obesity epidemic.”
Dr. Donnica L. Moore, president of Sapphire Women’s Health Group, agrees, saying, “When you don’t get enough sleep, even for as few as four days, your body’s ability to process insulin is decreased by as much as 30 percent. This change in insulin sensitivity decreases your ability to convert sugars and starches into energy, thus converting them into fat stores.”
Bottom line: sleeping more won’t help you lose weight, but sleeping too little will contribute to weight gain.
Between juggling our careers, our finances, our relationships and all the other little things in life, it’s easy to end up with a mental to-do list that seemingly becomes longer by the second. But as much as we want to commit to every networking event, yoga class, and social gathering (while still remembering to text our mom once in a while), the stress that comes with trying to do it all can wreck major havoc on our weight loss goals.
“The stress hormone cortisol prompts your body to recover after stress through eating more,” said Dr. Apovian. “The result: Hunger pangs and cravings, especially for sweet and fatty foods.” She also explains that in addition to cravings, eating can feel soothing when you’re stressed, which can often lead to a habit of emotional eating. “Manage your stressors, and weight loss becomes much easier,”she suggests.
Going too light on the protein
Loading up on salad every day may seem like a good idea when you’re trying to lose weight, but relying solely on Iceberg lettuce as a food source can backfire when it comes to dropping lbs. “Our basal metabolic rate is primarily determined by the amount of lean muscle mass we have,” explains Dr. Apovian. Without the proper amount of protein, our muscle mass diminishes. “As our muscles shrink, our metabolisms slow down,” says Dr. Apovian. And with a slower metabolism, any excess weight is going to be harder to get rid of.
To make sure you’re getting enough healthy protein in your diet, make sure to incorporate foods such as salmon, eggs, Greek yogurt and chicken into your everyday diet. Vegetarian or vegan? No problem. There are plenty of plant-based proteins to choose from including quinoa, legumes, tempeh and non-dairy milk, just to name a few.
Doing too much cardio
Running can be great exercise, but if you find yourself sweating it out on the treadmill multiple times a week while seeing minimal changes on the scale, you might need a little weight training in your life. “Many who are new to fitness only do cardiovascular exercises,” Dr. Apovian told me. “Cardio burns calories and is excellent for heart health, increasing lung capacity, decreasing stress, and raising energy levels. However, relying on cardiovascular exercise alone not only burns fat, it also burns muscle.”
She also notes, “Losing muscle mass contributes to a slower, compromised metabolism, and a softer, rounder shape. Muscle mass must be maintained and built up (especially as we age) in order to lose weight and keep it off.” So next time you go to the gym, ditch the elliptical and try out something new like this beginner arm workout from PopSugar.