Do you spend hours at the gym but can’t lose weight? Have you ever been extremely good about your diet for a few weeks, only to fall off track and wind up right where you began in the first place? Unfortunately, even when we have the best intentions, we can still veer off course. Here are some common mistakes we all make on our journey to optimal health and weight loss:
Going on a strict diet
Taking care of yourself is the ultimate form of self-love, but being too hard on yourself does not serve that purpose. Restrictive diets often result in relapses, followed by increased levels of stress and feelings of self-loathing. Healthy living is a lifestyle—plain and simple. If there was a diet that worked, we would all be on it, right? But diets give us short term results, if any at all. Instead, start crowding out the junk foods with healthier choices, slowly and steadily, which will lead to a lasting lifestyle change. Focus on progress—not perfection. In time, you will naturally maintain a healthy diet without suffering.
Again, stop setting the bar too high—go for consistency over intensity. If you don’t feel like working out one day, try going to the gym without any preconceived notion of what will happen once you get there. By not telling yourself that you need to stay for an hour or sign up for that really challenging class, you may find yourself going more often. You could even go with the intention of staying for only 20 minutes and find yourself staying longer.
Over-exercising is counterproductive in general. If you’re working out for 45 minutes to an hour, in a calorie-restricted state, four or more times per week, this becomes a catabolic activity. That means your body is breaking down lean mass to create glucose for the workout. Also, your stress hormones will be elevated, which impedes digestion. Not to mention: the more you exercise, the hungrier you get, and the more food you will wind up eating. It is common that the people who over-exercise are on a vicious cycle of trying to make up for their over-consumption of the wrong kinds of food.
Keep in mind that exercise alone has never been shown to cause weight loss. Although it is great for staying healthy and boosting endorphins, more isn’t better when it comes to cardio. What you eat matters more.
You will also be more prone to injury when you over-exercise. Putting yourself out of commission is not ideal.
Not getting enough sun
We all know that overexposure to the sun can be unhealthy—but so can underexposure. There are many beneficial biological processes that occur as a direct result of sun exposure: elevated mood, better sleep, lower blood pressure, a reduced risk of some cancers, stronger bones and potential weight loss. Although you may reap some of these benefits by taking a vitamin D supplement, it’s not a replacement for the real thing.
Gluten free, natural foods
Don’t be duped by nutritional buzzwords like “gluten-free” and “natural.” If something says gluten free on the label, it is likely a processed food. The same goes for “natural.” Apples aren’t labeled as such for a reason. Real foods never have to say “natural” on them. Your “natural” food has likely been made in a factory. And just because a cookie is gluten free doesn’t mean you can have many as you want. Although it could be easier to digest, it is likely just as high in the calories and sugar.
Eating while stressed
Everyone has comfort food now and then. While indulging (in moderation!) isn’t terrible, it can quickly develop into a habit—which can either lead to weight gain or prevent you from losing weight.
When you are stressed, your body is flooded with cortisol, a hormone that makes you crave carbs, sugar and fatty foods. Food is soothing due to the chemical changes it creates in your body. Chocolate is an excellent example of this, as it actually boosts the “feel good” neurotransmitters and chemicals in your body that make you more alert and excited. However, stress triggers the “fight or flight” mode in your body, thereby impeding digestion. So next time you feel the urge to indulge, try to do yoga, meditate or take a bubble bath instead.
Slathering yourself with soap and shampoo
As you’ve probably heard, microbes are crucial for digestion, skin health, and immunity. Why? Because having regular contact with dirt teaches your microbiome to recognize friendly germs versus foes. Of course, there is most definitely a role for the occasional bar of soap when we are dirty, but a mild soap made from organic ingredients—rather than anti-bacterial soaps full of harsh chemicals—is definitely the way to go. Scrubbing ourselves in the shower every day actually strips our skin of bacteria that can keep us acne and eczema-free. So, unless you’ve just run a marathon, the only places that need daily soaping are your armpits and groin. The rest of your body does fine with a rinse. Dirt doesn’t cause disease, but repeatedly killing off the good bacteria on our skin decreases immunity. Similarly, using a naturally-based shampoo twice a week is enough, as shampoos strip the beneficial oils from our hair.
Never allowing yourself to get hungry
Overconsumption of food is stressful on the body and the brain. Research has shown that fasting—abstaining from food for anything from 12-40 hours—can benefit overall health and even slow down the aging process.
Fasting makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Our ancestors were definitely not eating three meals a day plus snacks. Food consumption had to alternate between times of plenty and times of scarcity.
In the days of hunting and gathering, we seldom overfed ourselves. We would go several days without eating, didn’t have 24/7 access to hyper-processed carb-heavy foods, and we were significantly more physically active.
Too much food doesn’t just cause us to gain weight, it also causes DNA damage.
Evidence shows that fasting may improve our cholesterol levels, how we metabolize glucose, how resistant our cells are to insulin, and even improve our cognitive function. Fasting results in something called ketogenesis (like with the keto diet) which is when the cells burn fat for energy instead of glucose.
Fasting is not the same as either calorie restriction (a 20-40 percent reduction in calorie intake) or starvation (a prolonged state of nutrient deprivation). I recommend doing a mini daily fast, which means waiting at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast the next day. This will improve weight loss and metabolism. You can also experiment with periodic fasting by simply not eating until you are hungry. However, do not do longer fasts without a nutritionist’s supervision.
Taking vitamins make us feel like we are being healthy when we really aren’t actually doing anything. Often times, they can pass directly through our system, without being fully digested. Additionally, there are plenty of bad vitamins on the market that are synthetic and have fillers as well as artificial coloring. It is of utmost importance to follow the directions on the label—which many people don’t, thereby rendering their vitamin intake useless. Be sure the vitamins you are taking have not expired and are stored properly—definitely not over an oven or anything heated.
Having too much of a good thing
Too much of a good thing is usually a bad thing. For example, too much vitamin C is hard on your stomach. Too much vitamin A is toxic to your liver. Many superfoods, when consumed in excess, are similarly dangerous to your health. Too much ginger can lead to serious nausea. In addition, if you are consuming too much of certain foods, you are likely omitting a larger variety of food which can lead to a vitamin deficiency. Also, keep in mind that some very healthy foods—such as nuts, olive oil and avocados—are extremely high in calories and can lead to weight gain. Eating a balanced diet will ensure that you are covering your bases. Novelty can often lead to overeating. So, before you get excited about your recent discovery and affinity toward zucchini noodles, Brazil nuts, or that chocolate smoothie at Juice Press, consider having them once a week instead.
Ordering or eating out on occasion is fine. However, doing it every day is another story. Often times we think that we are ordering something healthy, such as the fish, but it is actually slathered in butter and low-grade oil. The unfortunate truth is that you never truly know what you are eating, even when you’re at a “healthy” establishment. As a rule of thumb, food you eat at restaurants tends to be richer than the food you eat at home. The reason for this is that they’re trying to attract customers by making the meal flavorful with lots of fat, salt and sugar. In addition, portion sizes tend to get out of control. So, yes: cooking at home and/or picking something up at a salad bar is always a better choice.
Kristy Rao is a certified health and nutrition coach and native New Yorker. She works with clients nationwide to create holistic, personalized plans to achieve weight loss and natural beauty. Follow her on Twitter @KristyRao and on Instagram @healthyisholistic