At the beginning of a weight-loss journey, you’re often high on motivation and ready to completely overhaul your diet and exercise routine to shed pounds. On the other hand, if you’ve been trying to lose weight for a long time with mixed results, it’s understandable if you’re looking for something new to try. In both cases, it’s easy to overcomplicate your weight-loss efforts, however, keeping it simple is a smarter strategy.
“People overcomplicate weight loss because they think the more they throw at the problem, the more likely it is they’ll be successful,” says Rachel MacPherson, a certified personal trainer and exercise nutrition coach. In reality, you’re often setting yourself up for exhaustion and making it even harder to reach and maintain your weight-loss goals.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by an overly-complicated approach to weight loss, here are six signs it’s time to simplify:
MAKE IT A SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE
“People tend to gravitate to fad diets that entice followers with the promise of rapid weight loss, but many of these diets are extremely complicated, difficult to carry out, and even harder to maintain over time,” says Claudia Hleap, RD. Worse yet, if you lose weight, you often experience rebound weight gain as soon as you return to your usual eating habits, and you could find yourself trapped in a frustrating cycle of yo-yo dieting.
The fix: Free yourself from restrictive diets entirely and focus on making small, sustainable changes you can stick with long-term, suggests Hleap. For example, up your fiber intake to feel fuller longer by eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fill your plate with more low-calorie, non-starchy veggies like leafy greens, carrots and zucchini, and move more with a daily walk or new workout class.
REPEAT: THERE ARE NO “BAD” FOODS
In the dieting world, it seems like there’s always a new “bad” food to nix from your grocery list. Bread, cheese and even fruit have all been on the “no” list according to some fad diets, and carbs and fat, in general, are often vilified. In reality, all food groups belong in a healthy weight-loss plan, says Jinan Banna, PhD, RD, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. It’s important to nourish your body with wholesome foods to build muscle and satisfy your hunger while creating a modest calorie deficit in order to slowly shed pounds (Think: a maximum of about 1–2 pounds a week).
The fix: Rather than cutting out any food groups, commit to a better strategy: “Choose more wisely within food groups,” says Banna. Fill your grocery cart with fiber-rich carbs like quinoa, oats, and whole-grain breads and pastas; lean protein sources like chicken, turkey, eggs, salmon, pork and beef tenderloin; and healthy fats including vegetable oils, nut butters, seeds and fish.
KEEP GROCERY SHOPPING STRESS-FREE
If creating a grocery list stresses you out and you feel worried and anxious on the way to the store or spend too much time reading every single ingredient label, you’re overcomplicating your eating plan, says Sarah Asay, RD.
The fix: Ease your stress by skipping most of the grocery store aisles and shopping the perimeter, she says. This is where you’ll find fresh produce, proteins, dairy, dry goods like beans, grains and nuts in bulk, plus frozen whole foods — all staples of a healthy diet that can help support weight loss.
STEER CLEAR OF WEIGHT-LOSS PRODUCTS
Popular weight-loss products like detox teas and fat-burning pills may seem to offer a quick fix, but they’re often costly, ineffective and can even contain hidden, unsafe ingredients. “People are led to believe there is some ‘magic’ to weight loss and they need a special product to be able to achieve their goals, but, in fact, the approach is just the simple advice they’ve heard for years,” says Banna.
The fix: While lifestyle changes should always be at the forefront of your weight-loss plan, notes Banna, you may benefit from ruling out medical conditions that might make losing weight harder. Consider speaking with your doctor or a registered dietitian who can help create an individualized plan to help you reach your specific goals.
ALLOW SOME LEEWAY
While eating well to lose weight sometimes means bringing a healthy side to a potluck or packing a nutritious lunch to bring to work, there’s no need to stress out over food and beverage options every single time you eat outside of your home. If you constantly find yourself worried about dining out, it might be a sign you need to rehab your relationship with food.
The fix: “Allow yourself to enjoy all things, keeping moderation in mind,” says Asay. For example, treat yourself to a more indulgent restaurant meal and then balance it out with a healthier meal plan the next day. Ditching the “I’m on a diet” mentality for a focus on an overall “healthy lifestyle” helps keep you from feeling deprived or like you’re missing out and makes it easier to make healthy decisions most of the time, says Asay.
SEPARATE CALORIES IN FROM CALORIES OUT
If you believe you can’t have a brownie unless you do a certain amount of exercise to burn off those calories, you’re overcomplicating weight loss, says MacPherson. You could also be creating an unhealthy relationship with food and slowing down your metabolism. Losing weight shouldn’t include punishment when you eat “bad” foods or a constant calculus of what you need to do in order to sweat off every calorie you eat and drink.
The fix: Focus on eating a majority of healthy, whole foods with room for indulgences and only partake in exercise you enjoy for the feel-good endorphins and health benefits. Remember weight loss and healthy eating aren’t all-or-nothing — consistency beats perfection.
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