The 7 Biggest Weight-Loss Mistakes, According to Dietitians

by Danielle Omar
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The 7 Biggest Weight-Loss Mistakes, According to Dietitians

Dietitians have seen it all when it comes to weight loss. From crazy fad diets to bulletproof coffee — while appealing, what sounds too good to be true usually is.

We are all susceptible to the lure of the quick fix or thinking there’s one magic bullet to achieve ultimate weight-loss success. But this mindset often leads to mistakes that eventually get in the way of the long-term goals we’re trying to achieve.

Is it possible to avoid some of these pitfalls that inevitably occur on your weight-loss journey? Absolutely — but we must be able to recognize those pitfalls first. Below are the seven of the biggest and most common weight-loss mistakes dietitians see, with tips from real-life RD’s to help you stay on course.

1. TOO MANY RULES

Losing weight is hard enough without having to follow a bunch of strict rules. Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, says not eating after 7 p.m. is a popular “rule” that may work against you if you work the night shift or wake up very early. If you want to curb nighttime noshing, she recommends you stop eating two hours before bedtime.

Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RD, finds her clients often avoid anything containing a trace of sugar, no matter the source. She recommends using natural sugar sources to satisfy a sweet tooth, like a delicious potassium-packed frozen banana topped with a tablespoon of nut butter and a few shavings of dark chocolate.

2. CHEAT DAYS

Employing cheat days as a way to stay motivated is a common tactic while on a strict diet. But Rifkin warns that entire cheat days can be a trigger to get (and stay) off track and derail healthy habits. She recommends a treat meal instead of a cheat day. It’s much easier to re-establish healthy eating habits after one meal versus an entire day of indulgent eating.

Another issue for many dieters is alcohol. Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, says her clients forget to count alcohol calories. “One glass of wine each night can supply an extra 100 calories per day (and 700 calories per week),” she says. “These calories add up over time and can slow weight loss.”

Instead, Rizzo recommends reducing your intake by half. If you drink wine every night, cut back to three nights per week. If it’s only one night per week, cut back to one night every other week.


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3. NOT EATING ENOUGH

When dieting, many people think the less food you can eat, the better. (If you’re in the same camp, here’s more on why that approach doesn’t work). Rifkin says her clients skip meals because they’re too busy. Her answer? Find the time. “Wake up earlier, go to bed later, plan and prep your meals, bring workout clothes to work,” she says. “Do whatever it takes to keep your commitment to yourself and your health.”

Abbey Sharp, RD, couldn’t agree more. Instead of eating in an overly restricted manner, Sharp suggests focusing on choosing high-quality, nutrient-dense foods rather than just looking at the calories. By substituting high-protein, high-fiber options for high-sugar, high-fat snacks, you’ll naturally eat fewer calories without overdoing it or sacrificing nutrition, she says.

4. THINKING SHORT-TERM

Angie Asche, MS, RD, says short-term cleanse diets are a huge mistake. “Weight regain is rapid after ending a seven- or 21-day cleanse, and fasting for too long can slow down metabolism, making it difficult to keep the weight off,” she says. Her advice: Don’t fall for the trendy diet fix or cleanse. Instead, stick to a diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy unsaturated fats. Drink plenty of water, cut back on alcohol and soda, and let your liver and kidneys do the cleansing!

5. NOT TRACKING INTAKE

Dietitians know that not keeping track of your intake is a common weight-loss downfall. As most of you MyFitnessPal users already know, keeping a food log will not only keep you honest, it also provides a realistic picture of your overall intake. “Journaling keeps you accountable,” says Sharon Palmer, RD. “It’s easy to dismiss all of the food you consume in a day.”


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6. OVEREATING HEALTHY FOODS

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, says her clients think that as long as they eat “clean” or organic, the calories don’t count. “You can easily overdo healthy foods… nuts, seeds and dried fruit are all fantastic sources of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, but too many may equal too many pounds.” Harris-Pincus recommends measuring out portions every time until you can eyeball the appropriate amount.

7. FOCUSING ONLY ON WEIGHT

“One of the biggest mistakes my clients make is to measure success only by the numbers on the scale,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD. “Not everyone drops pounds quickly, and success comes in many forms. Cutting portions, not snacking throughout the day, learning to say ‘no, thank you’ without feeling deprived, learning to say, ‘yes, thank you’ without guilt, and balancing out meals are all measures of success that take a lot of work and deserve applause.” She says positive self-talk and consistency when making sensible food decisions can fuel weight loss and self-esteem.

Related

  • Prema Prakash

    The author has really nailed it exactly. This article was very useful for me because I could recognize my mistakes. I loved the last point best of all. Congratulations and thanks for this crisp and precise article.

  • Here is another one to add: Being too simplistic in your food choices. Dieticians say to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as if all fruits and vegetables have the same nutritional benefit. They don’t. Watermelon is not avocado is not banana is not spinach. Consideration must also be given to a person’s metabolic rate, fitness level, heredity and any diseases they have that are affected by food choices. And one huge mistake dieticians make is assuming everyone eats a standard, Western diet. Not everyone does. Alternatives must be given to those of different ethnic backgrounds. Each person needs to find out through experimentation and expert guidance what works for them, whether it be vegan, low carb, gluten free, or whatever.

  • Jagan Kumaravelu

    Add another one – “Listening to a dietitian” 😀 Most dietitians and doctors today preach what they heard, not what should be heard.

    • Sadly, I have to agree with Jagan. Year after year, RD’s perpetuate what they are taught regarding a “healthy diet” and diets recommended for medical nutrition therapy. The same incorrect information I was taught 40 years ago is still being taught….with no one addressing the fact that it does not work or can actually work against the patient/client. Take a look outside the box….Diane Kress, RD CDE

      • Mari Grant

        What were you taught 40 years ago and is still being taught?

        I’ve heard that low fat fat dairy is not good for you. So many people have low fat that physiotherapists are now seeing women in their 30s & 40s with osteoporosis – 30 years ago, pre low fat, they were in their 60 and 70s. Apparently you should go for full fat every time, just cut out added sugar.

        What other new research has not yet percolated down to the medical progession.

        • Stu Chisholm

          Not precisely true. Have you heard of Halo Top ice cream? An entire pint ranges from 240 to 320 calories. (No, that’s not “per serving,” but the entire pint.) And it has sugar in it, plus a respectable percentage of protein. Again, it’s all about the calories. Yes, carbs and other factors can be important if you’re diabetic or have other conditions, but it physically impossible to retain weight if you burn more calories than you eat. (And sometimes there is water weight – I know that’s irksome to ladies trying to slim down, but keep in mind that water weight is temporary. Be patient and drink your RDA of water anyway.)

          • David Claude Warlick

            I bet the main ingredient in that Halo Bottom “ice cream” is overrun. There is no way to make a pint of something that meets the commercial definition of ice cream and have the contents come in at 320 calories.

    • davedave12

      are you voting Trump – Republicans hate science too

      • Dmember

        The Democrats are the ones that cut God out of their Party Platform, not the Republicans. So the Republicans are the ones that don’t pervert science to make it align with a wicked platform.

        • davedave12

          God does not belong in politics — Try reading the Bible someday — Jesus constantly says “no politics” “my kingdim is not of this world” Jesus refuses to say anything against the Roman invaders

          • Dmember

            You’re wrong…God belongs in every aspect of a (real) Christian’s life. Just look at the political divide in America…the good (Republican) against the evil (Democrat). Democrats are the ones who are pro-abortion, pro-homosexuality, pro-‘transgenderism’ and undoubtedly all the foul-mouthed amoung us, etc.

            It’s impossible for a (real) Christian to support a political party without taking God into the equation.

          • davedave12

            Sorry, Jesus said one thing; you say the opposite. I think I have to go with Jesus. Republicans love money. Jesus loved the poor and the sick and the sinners. When there are 99 obedient sheep and one lost sheep – the good shepherd cares about the one lost sheep.

          • Dmember

            You’ve got a different Jesus than the Jesus in the Bible. So you’re rich and not a sinner? HA Better get ready for the Judgment!

          • davedave12

            “So you’re rich and not a sinner? ” when did I say that, learn to read before you answer

          • Stu Chisholm

            What’s THIS CRAP got to do with fitness? KNOCK IT OFF!

          • Michele Clutter

            Good for you. I agree.

      • meemoo752

        O. M. G… why oh why does politics have to become part of Every conversation??? Shut up already!!!

        • davedave12

          why would you answer a comment from one year ago Miss polite

          • *Independent-Free-Thinker*

            Was there an unseen rule against it? You seem to like creating your own rules.

          • davedave12

            you were the one creating rules dumbo — that is a comment on your size

  • kari jackson

    In regards to cheat days vs cheat meals, it really depends on the person. I personally prefer cheat days because they represent a reward for eating cleaning the previous 6 days.

    • Dmember

      Are you on dope or something?

    • davedave12

      I have not done heroin in 5 years – except for cheat days, they are my reward for staying clean

  • Teeshirt

    I will disagree that cleansing is a very useful tool to losing weight. Not only that, but its also good for your liver and kidneys to take a break every once and a while. I’ve lost 28 pounds in three months from doing the Raw Generation cleanses and Isagenix

    • Dmember

      I think you contradicted yourself in your first sentence.

  • So, instead of a cheat day, could I implement 3 cheat meals per week? More likely, it would be two. Then, I’d have two rewards per week.

    • Dmember

      Yes, I’d vote for that. 🙂

  • obesy.blogspot.com

    I think you are right, many diatician suggest to eat should be based on each individual metabilic rate. Based on the metabolic rate one should suggest the suitable diet.

  • Dmember

    So one person drinks 1 glass of wine per day so you have them cut back to 3 glasses of wine per week. That’s fine. Then you tell a person who drinks only 1 glass of wine per week to cut back to 1 glass every 2 weeks! That is insane! Saying it’s okay for some to drink 6 glasses of wine every two weeks while others should only drink 1 glass for the same two weeks doesn’t make any sense at all.

    So the person who is doing very well to begin with, drinking only 100 calories of wine per week, is told to cut back to having only 1 glass of wine every 14 days, to consume only 100 calories. While the other person you tell to cut back to 3 glasses a week is consuming 600 calories for those 14 days. Weird advice. Really weird.

    • Freeman

      The rest was good advice but I totally agree with your point here.

    • Scott Brooks

      I think the point was that if you’re having trouble losing weight, whatever you’re doing cut it in half to allow yourself to begin progressing toward your goal. And life isn’t fair. Not everyone gets to have equal amounts of anything because our metabolisms are all different, just as our sizes are different. For myself, I think cutting out 100 calories in a 2-week period is not going to be very significant, but perhaps for some others it would. And it is absolutely true that less is less, so in theory anything helps.

      • Dmember

        So what your saying is….it’s all guesswork, right? I think so too.

        • Scott Brooks

          Not at all. Experimentation is vastly different than guesswork. Unfortunately, human beings don’t come with owner’s manuals detailing precise specifications as to fluid levels, recommended fuels, capacities, etc., like one would expect for a machine like a car. No one knows precisely what you require, and everyone’s requirements are different. So there has to be some level of trial and error in order to find what works. And again, intelligent experimentation is not the same as guesswork. It is a logical fact that if what you are doing is not working, you need to try something different. It is a scientific fact that in order to lose weight, you have to metabolize more calories than you take in. And it is a mathematical fact that less is less. I really can’t understand why you would take exception to something so absolutely reasonable as the suggestion to cut your present alcohol intake in half if you find you’re not losing weight on your current plan. It just makes sense. It’s easy. It’s significant but doesn’t deprive you completely. And it’s proportional to present consumption. There’s nothing unfair about it, which seems to be the tack you’re taking here.

          • Dmember

            I think it would have been better to cut the person’s calorie intake in food instead of taking away her one glass of wine per week. What would taking away her wine do…help her lost 0.000001 lbs possibly over 6 months? It just struck me as very petty, and unthinking.

          • Scott Brooks

            Well it would’ve been petty and unthinking if it were the total approach to the issue, but it was one minor portion of one out of 7 approaches to an overall solution. Try to see the bigger picture instead of getting hung up on the small details.

          • Dmember

            Getting your one glass of wine per week taken away is a small detail? LOL

          • Scott Brooks

            Well I guess that depends on how badly you want to make progress and whether you’re an alcoholic or not. But then, I would think an alcoholic would be consuming more than one glass of wine per week, so . . .

          • Dmember

            But it’s those small details that can ruin an otherwise good and reasonable article! Good day to you! 🙂

    • Jaw

      They are just trying to decrease the quantities being consumed by each individual which makes the individual see the chg as an easier way of decreasing their own portion sizes which is DOABLE

    • jennamarierome

      I thought the same thing when I read that part.

  • Bonita Beach Babe

    My first time on this site. I am trying to get on tract to lose some weight and eat right. I am amazed at the negativity of some of the comments towards each other. Its ok to disagree with someone but to react with such hostlity makes me cringe. Lets leave this negativity and name calling to the political columns. (Even though I hate to see it there too!) Lets encourage each other and support one another. This will show who the really strong people are-they build each other up rather than tear each other down.

  • Myjenkindoflife

    I agree with eating too many nuts and dried fruits, but from my experience you really don’t have to count the calories if you eat whole foods. Eggs, veggies, fruits. By cutting foods like dairy, processed sugar, and even cooking sprays, I have seen a rapid weight loss. And while I’m tracking to make sure I eat enough, (I’m notorious for eating very few calories simply because I’m just not that hungry) I don’t mind if I feel like eating a whole avocado. Simply put, yes a calorie is a calorie, but how the body digests it is completely different, hence the reason why some foods are called ’empty calories’.

    • Stu Chisholm

      Calories are units of energy, and a calorie is a calorie. While it’s true that some foods consume calories in order to break the food down into something usable (starch, for example), meaning you can eat more, but retain less, any old calorie needs to be accounted for. The only way to offset them is to do what I did when I ate too much and still wanted my candy bar: briskly walking for an hour would get me back about 200 calories. “Empty calories” are simply those foods that burn as fuel, but provide none of the building blocks your body needs to make new cells (vitamins, minerals, etc.). A good vitamin supplement is wise whenever restricting calories.

  • Katie Linn

    I agree with all points, and would like to add that I just try to be healthier/more active/stronger this week than I was last week. When I focus in weekly terms, comparing me to me (and no one else!), I find that I am the most successful, and it is the most sustainable. Also, I don’t rely on motivation to work out or I would NEVER be successful. I have to schedule my workouts and know that working out when I don’t want to IS the reason I am becoming stronger.

  • Mari Grant

    420 extra calories!! Blimey – I’d have a field day with that! At 1200 calories daily I find it difficult enough for three meals a day 🙁

    • Stu Chisholm

      Yep! Ladies, especially you smaller ones, have it rough. I totally sympathize. The trick, I guess, is to find lower calorie choices that you like as much as what you’re eliminating. I substituted a glass of Crystal Light for snacks quite often. (Still do – the stuff tastes crazy good!) I also found small, microwave options for lunch for under 300 calories.

      The good news, though, is that once you’ve achieved your goal weight, you get back a bit when switching over to maintenance mode. You can also get some back with exercise.

      Best of luck – you CAN do this!!!

  • Priscilla Laybolt

    I find it very hard to lose weight anymore, I am 90 years young, 5 ft. 1 1/2 inches tall. I live with my daughter so do not get to purchase my own food. She tries to buy what is best but I am not always happy with my meals. I have a slow metabolism and a bad back with three discs that tend to herniate so find some exercises too difficult. We have purchased a treadmill but believe it or not I cannot find it on the fitness site. I have started out with five minutes and want to increase it as I go but that too is not easy to change on the site. I am now 163 lbs. but should lo at least 10 to 15 more. Thank you for listening. If anyone has advice It would be much appreciated.

    • Jeanne Voxnaes

      Good for you, Priscilla Laybolt, for wanting to eat right and move more! I am 71 and also have slow metabolism and I know it slows more as we age. What helps me is to add resistance training to my other exercise routine (water aerobics, line dancing and Pilates classes).. Start with light dumb bells and learn how to lift correctly so you don’t hurt yourself. While your treadmill may not be on the site, walking is. If you can possibly swim or do water aerobics you can get much more exercise without putting strain on your back. Best of luck to you.

    • Alex Perez

      If you are 90 years young, you are doing something right. Enjoy your life and eat what you thing is healthy by watching what you place in your dear mouth. I hope to live that long. : )

  • Sean Evans

    My rules are:
    1. Always log every calorie (using Myfitnesspal of course!)
    2. Drink plenty of water
    3. Avoid too much sugar
    4. Shopping – Eat before going to the supermarket and just get what’s on your list.
    5. If you buy a treat, make sure it’s healthy, log the calories and only buy what you intend to eat immediately. DON’T store treats as you may be tempted to eat all of them!
    6. Find a few meals you are happy with and stick to them most of the time. Introduce a couple of new ones a week but no more. Wandering the aisles looking for new healthy meals just makes you want to buy and eat everything!

    I drink 1 litre (60g/240kcal) Huel shakes during the day and have a lean but filling healthy meal in the evening. I eat 0% Fat Real Greek Yoghurt with honey or lean cooked meat as between meal snacks.

    I burn about 3000 kcal per week via cycling. I am 190cms tall. At the beginning of August I was 195lb. This morning I was 179lb.

    My target is 165lbs. I was once that weight at my fittest ever 25 years ago!

    • Kristen

      Congrats on your weight loss! Almost there, you can do it!

    • Katrine Borge

      How much kcal do you usually eat during a day?

  • Patti Broom

    I am a disabled lady of 68 years, Dieted for 20 years non-stop, and
    have a working gastric band. I have bad breathing problems on moving
    around the house and arthritis bad in back and knees.

    I weight train but seated every day, quite hard to get breathless
    sitting, except for really bad days when I still do something with arm
    gadget I have.

    I was a constant 23 stone + but since cutting calories further to 800-
    1000. my weight has gone up to 25.9lbs. The gastric band people say I
    should not have more than 800 cal’s a day but on shakes and 1 tiny meal.
    I have ballooned. When I ate a constant 1400 calories I stayed the
    same for years and when on occasion I over-ate I lost weight. I have
    hopspital saying I’m not trying, I cant walk or go out. Desparate for
    good advice. please ????

    • Stu Chisholm

      Not sure I’m understanding you correctly, as “23 stone” translates into 322 lbs. Then you say your weight increased to 25.9 lbs? Or did you mean you gained nearly 26 lbs?

      Confusion aside, obviously something else is going on. Usually it is physically impossible to gain weight if you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming, but when sedentary or disabled, you can often retain fluids. This is a double-edged sword; you don’t want to get fixated on a number (goal weight) and risk dehydration! You absolutely need to get your 8 glasses of water daily. There might also be other conditions at work. Have you been tested for diabetes? Has anything else changed since you were on your 1400 calorie regimen?

      Exercise is great for toning muscles, and in the case of the disabled, retaining muscle mass and preventing atrophy. But it is not a good means to lose weight. Diet remains the best way, and it then becomes more about calories in/calories out UNLESS there is something else at work preventing glucose uptake, or the breakdown of carbs, etc. My totally unprofessional gut feeling is fluid retention, because at 800 calories, simply watching TV and working the remote should eat up all of that and then some. Metabolism is energy expensive! You’re radiating over 98 degrees of heat at all times (you glow in the infrared) and will create the better part of a trillion new cells today. Then there’s your heartbeat, metabolizing food (which takes energy), every twitch of your muscles and on and on. This leads me to suspect a new culprit. Diabetes (or it’s opposite, hypoglycemia) might have developed, or perhaps you’ve changed your diet in some significant way? Did you quit smoking? Do you supplement? All of these can be factors. Might be time to talk to your doctor and, if he blows you off, find a new one.

    • Becca

      for starters, 800 cal/day is near starvation. If you’re building muscle mass, remember that it weighs more than fat. And it is impossible to gain weight if you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming. You’re doing something wrong, or you’ve got some kind of adrenal issue.

  • David Claude Warlick

    Like I said, it is impossible to meet the definition of “ice cream” and have diet-levels of calories. There is no Stevia in ice cream. I do think there is alcohol in commercial ice cream that is not on the label, as commercial ice cream can be spooned while homemade ice cream is a rock.

  • Catherine Vidinha

    I have one gigantic point of disagreement with “3. NOT EATING ENOUGH”:
    “Wake up earlier, go to bed later…. Do whatever it takes to keep your commitment to yourself and your health.”

    No, no, and no! Lack of sleep is a widespread and chronic problem and can contribute to diseases like diabetes, alzheimer’s, obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and stroke, and it may hinder immune response, memory, mood, cognitive ability, dexterity, response times, and metabolism….
    Studies have shown links to these effects/risk factors to varying degrees in connection with cutting back by even just 1-3 hours of sleep.
    I think about it like this: health is formed by a triad of metanutrients–diet, activity, and rest.

  • Jacob Khalil

    Brilliant article and makes perfect sense. I have changed my food portions which still allows me to include all the things I enjoy eating like rice, pasta and meat. I never deprive myself of any food type but simply mindful of how much calories everything includes to minimise my daily intake. The other day I was at a restaurant and ordered 1/2 rack of beef ribs which I sharred with the table of 4. Enjoy the ride and change your life, share heavy meals with and keep up the fitness.