Yeah, yeah, “eat more, weigh less,” we’ve all heard it. But this isn’t just a women’s magazine cover line. As counterintuitive as it sounds, eating too little and not often enough is one of the most frequent mistakes people make when trying to lose weight.
Dr. Ian Smith, author, medical/diet expert on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club, and founder of The 50 Million Pound Challenge, has seen and heard all the mistakes people make when trying to lose weight. “When I travel, I really listen to people in the trenches as they are trying to get their bodies back,” he says. “When I get home, I usually have about 100 e-mails a day from people who are really struggling. Many of them have tried to lose weight and not succeeded, and I see many of the same mistakes over and over.”
So where do we all go so wrong? Smith, also the author of three weight loss books, including his most recent The 4-Day Diet, talked with The Root about the seven most common mistakes people make and offers strategies to avoid them.
Not eating enough food often enough. If you know anything about weight loss, you’ve probably been told that it’s best to eat small, healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. However, many people don’t believe it. They skip breakfast and sometimes even lunch then load up when they’re really hungry, generally at dinner. Calories are still calories, right?
“One of greatest misperceptions is that by skipping meals you’re saving calories,” says Smith. “It seems OK to eat one big 1,500-calorie meal instead of spreading the 1,500 calories over several meals. But it’s not. Skipping meals throws off the metabolism and kicks the body into starvation mode. You end up holding onto the fat, instead of burning it.”
To keep metabolism steady and lose weight, eat small, healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. Choose low-fat protein, high fiber and lots and lots of vegetables.
Starting a diet at the wrong time. Many people, says Smith, insist they want to lose weight, but they really aren’t ready. “Weight loss takes commitment,” he says. “When you have circumstances—like financial problems or a divorce—that won’t allow weight loss to be No. 1, you can’t give your diet the focus it needs.”
When you’re ready, really ready, says Smith, make eating right and exercise your No. 1 priority.
Setting unrealistic expectations. “You’d be surprised how often people tell me that they want to lose something like 30 pounds in two months,” says Smith. “This is unrealistic. It didn’t take only two months to put on those pounds, so it’s going to take longer to take them off. If you go in with an unrealistic goal, you’re not going to succeed.”
Smith says that the average American on a weight loss program loses 3 pounds a week. “That’s a good, healthy number,” he says. “Even if you just lose a pound a week, it adds up to 52 pounds a year. That’s a great result."
Focusing on a short-term result. “People say, ‘I’m getting married, or attending my class reunion or going on a cruise—and I want to look good,’” says Smith. “Listen, I don’t mind these things being motivational triggers. But they shouldn’t be the finish line. Short termers always gain the weight back. The finish line should be three years down the road.”
Incorporating exercise and healthy eating into your lifestyle will give you a better chance of long-term weight loss success.
Being too busy to stick to the program. Healthy eating and consistent exercise take time, thought and planning. If you want to lose weight, you’ll have to plan ahead, especially if you’re working crazy hours or traveling.
“Eating the right food and sticking to a fitness plan should be as natural as brushing your teeth,” says Smith. “Block out an hour for exercise, and nothing should get in the way of going to the gym short of an emergency. Don’t allow your schedule to bleed into your exercise time or force you to make unhealthy food choices.”
Checking weight too often. When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easy to become scale-obsessed. “Weighing yourself too much can lead to panic if you feel like you aren’t seeing results,” says Smith. “If you’re on the scale all the time, the numbers you’re seeing might be false. Lots of factors affect what the scale says. Weight fluctuates two or three pounds a day. You weigh more at night than in the morning. If you’re being guided by something artificial, you might get off track.”
Smith recommends checking weight once a week, the same time, same way. “Do it every Monday morning without your clothes on,” he suggests. “Try and be consistent."
Going it alone. Weight loss works best in a supportive environment, both at work and at home. “So many of us get sabotaged by other people. It’s not always intentional, but sometimes it is,” says Smith. “People at work feel guilty because they aren’t doing the right thing. So they say, ‘Have a candy or how about a snack.’ At home your family may not want you to change, especially if you’re the one cooking or exercise is taking time away from home.”
You should ask for support from your family, friends and colleagues. “Sit down with people, and let them know what you’re trying to do and how important it is to you,” says Smith. “Most people will respect that level of sincerity. You may also have to limit your interaction with people who aren’t on board, especially around food.”
Finally, Smith advises, “Be patient with yourself. Weight loss is a journey. Eventually eating right and taking care of your body shouldn’t feel like a diet plan. It should become part of your life.”
Linda Villarosa is a regular contributor to The Root.