Losing weight can be tricky business: Even if you’re armed with an arsenal of weight-loss tips, when you’re insanely busy it can be tough to focus on your goals in a healthy, sustainable way. It’s easy to mess up, but hey, knowledge is power—when you know the traps you’re most likely to fall into, it’s easier to steer clear.
Registered dietitians know these roadblocks all too well, but that means they also know exactly how to help their clients get past them. SELF spoke with experts about the 15 most common mistakes you’re likely to encounter if you’re trying to lose weight or eat healthier in general.
Before we get to them, though, it’s important to understand that healthy eating looks different for everyone. And when it comes to weight loss as a goal, what works for some people may not work for others. It’s really crucial to think about your reasons for wanting to lose weight—and whether pursuing weight loss is a healthy decision for you at all. For instance, if you have a history of disordered eating, you should check in with your doctor before beginning any new nutrition plan at all, weight-loss oriented or otherwise. And even if you have no such history with disordered eating, it’s still critical to be realistic with your expectations and focus on a health-based approach. Weight loss is about so much more that counting calories. Your results will depend on getting enough high-quality sleep, limiting your stress levels, and can also be impacted by factors outside your control, like health conditions or hormones. The most important tip we can give you is to pay attention to your body, treat yourself well, and be kind to yourself above all.
1. The Mistake: Focusing on what you can’t eat.
“So many people embarking on a weight loss journey focus on what they can’t have—[such as] no sugar, no alcohol, no dessert, no bread, no cheese. I like to tell my readers to focus on what they can have and tally up all the filling and nutritious superfoods out there.”
– Kath Younger, R.D., blogger at Kath Eats Real Food
2. The Mistake: Adopting an all-or-nothing attitude.
“[Don’t] eliminate foods you love. Too many people who are trying to lose weight develop the all-or-nothing attitude. This way of thinking can be detrimental in the long run. Instead of depriving oneself of foods they love, they should learn how to incorporate them into their diet in a healthier way. For example, love pasta? Instead of adding a creamy high fat sauce, add lots of veggies, grilled shrimp, and toss in olive oil and garlic. Can’t live without bread? Well, you shouldn’t have to. Make a healthy sandwich for lunch on 100 percent whole grain bread with grilled chicken, avocado, lettuce, and tomato.”
— Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., author of The Small Change Diet
3. The Mistake: Not having a solid plan.
“Not having a solid, realistic plan [is a mistake]. People should set themselves up for success by coming up with small, challenging yet attainable action steps to work towards. Start off with a few actionable and specific goals for the first week. Once you master those, keep adding on. Before you know it, those action steps will become lifelong healthy habits.”
— Lindsey Pine, M.S., R.D., owner of Tasty Balance Nutrition
4. The Mistake: Cutting out an entire food group.
“When people are trying to lose weight, they often cut out an entire food group, like carbs or meat, but this usually just results in an unbalanced diet and even deficiencies in certain nutrients. Plus, for most people, this is not sustainable for a lifetime—I always say if you couldn’t do it for the rest of your life, it’s a diet that’s probably not going to work in the long run.”
— Sarah-Jane Bedwell, R.D., L.D.N.
5. The Mistake: Replacing meals with liquids.
“Green juices and smoothies are very popular right now, and a lot of people will use these as meal replacements. Unfortunately, oftentimes these beverages aren’t made up of the right mix of nutrients. Green juices lack fiber and protein, which are key nutrients in keeping you full and helping you meet your nutrient recommendations, and smoothies are typically loaded in sugar from juice, sweeteners, or too much fruit, and can be really high in calories from oversized portions of healthy fat sources like nuts and seeds.”
— Maxine Yeung, M.S., R.D., owner of The Wellness Whisk
6. The Mistake: Eating too few calories.
“The biggest pitfall I constantly see my clients falling into is the calorie counting trap. Many women come to me struggling to follow a 1,200 calorie per day diet and ask me what would help them to feel more full during the day. My answer is always to eat more! We live in a culture that is so obsessed with calorie counting that oftentimes we are depriving our body of the very nutrients that will actually help us not only to live healthier, but lose more weight. In my practice I try and help my clients transition from counting calories to counting nutrients because at the end of the day, what you eat is just as important as how much you eat.”
— Emily Cope-Kyle, M.S., R.D. owner and consulting dietitian at EmilyKyleNutrition.com
7. The Mistake: Steering clear of healthy fats.
“I find that many people are stuck eating low-fat or fat-free versions of food, a holdover from the fat-phobic days of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. A moderate amount of fat is important as it helps with satiety. Plus, people end up replacing fat with refined carbs, which we now know can have a detrimental effect on health and weight. Include healthy fat at every meal, in the form of nuts, seeds, liquid oils, avocados, oily fish, soy, and dairy products.”
— Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
8. The Mistake: Ditching fruits and veggies with high sugar content.
“[I see people] cutting out certain fruits and vegetables because they think they contain too much sugar. Sure, some do contain a bit higher amount of naturally occurring sugars, but they also contain fiber, which helps counterbalance the effect on blood sugars. Compared to highly processed snacks and drinks, there is nothing to be worried about.”
— Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., creator of the Clean Eating Cooking School.
9. The Mistake: Or not eating enough vegetables in general.
“I always have a large bag of organic, pre-washed baby spinach in the refrigerator that I add to everything can: stews, slow-cooker dishes, chili, spaghetti sauce, scrambled eggs, and smoothies. It’s an easy way to boost your leafy green vegetable intake, get closer to the daily vegetable recommendations, and feel energized with very little extra effort!”
—Anne London, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Petite Nutrition
10. The Mistake: Relying on weight loss pills.
“The bottom line here is if there was a pill or a potion that really worked in the long term, then not one of us would be talking about weight management at all! The weight loss industry is…so successful because we are so desperate to find a quick fix. The only long-term effective weight management skill is to change the way think about fueling our bodies. We need to think of food as fuel for daily living and to fuel it the best way we can. The rest takes care of itself.”
— Jennifer O’Donnell-Giles, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D.
11. The Mistake: Taking the weekends off from healthy eating.
“You should take the weekends off from your job, not your diet. Sure, you can still have fun and go out to eat on the weekends, but make an effort not to stuff yourself to the brim with food or drinks. Simply eating mindfully when you are enjoying good food can be enough to not wreck your hard work during the week. If the weekends are a problem for you, consider weighing yourself Friday mornings and Monday mornings. If you see that number routinely creeping up on Monday, try changing your weekend routine to include more exercise and healthier food choices.”
— Heather Mason, M.S., R.D.
12. The Mistake: Not drinking enough water.
“A lot of my clients don’t drink enough water. Changing this habit is one of the easiest ways to help your health. Studies show that drinking water or eating a water-rich salad or broth-based soup before a meal can help decrease how much you eat during the meal—plus, staying hydrated helps prevent headaches, which can lead to stress eating. Figure out how you prefer to get your water: Do you like a bottle with a straw or a wide-mouthed top? Whatever your preference, keep a water container at your side as often as you can. You’ll reach for it a lot more if you don’t have to get up to fill a glass.”
— Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition
13. The Mistake: Eating too fast.
“We aren’t snakes, so stop eating like them! When you take the time to chew, taste, and savor your food, you naturally eat less and enjoy your meals even more. It takes around 20 minutes for your brain to catch up to your stomach, so eating more slowly can help you realize when you’re satisfied.”
—Lori Rosenthal, R.D. at Montefiore Medical Center and coach on the weight-loss app Rise
14. The Mistake: Focusing on calories instead of portion sizes.
“Counting calories can be utterly exhausting and burnout is easy when you’re trying to keep track of every calorie during the day. Although total calories per day for your body is important to understand and recognize, I always emphasize the focus of mindful portions more than counting calories. This creates an awareness of calories, but it does not just focus on the caloric content of the foods. When focusing more on healthy portions, it teaches behavior change in the way we eat, what we eat, and how we eat. Learning what normal portions are in all foods is key to managing calories naturally without needing to count them specifically.”
— Jenny Beth Kroplin, R.D., L.D.N., C.L.C.
15. The Mistake: You aren’t treating yourself.
“My favorite tip for sustainable weight loss is having clients close their eyes and picture the jail cell bars they imagine around all their ‘cheat’ foods disappearing. It’s a way of granting them ‘permission’ to eat their most desired foods whenever they want, based on the principles of mindful eating! I find that when I take away the novelty and forbidden aura surrounding foods, folks won’t overindulge.”
—Monica Auslander, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., founder of Essence Nutrition
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