You think you eat right and stay active, but the pounds just don’t come off — or at least not as fast as you’d like them to.
A Canadian study released on Tuesday found not enough physical activity is the single worst habit women can have — it can take three years off a woman’s life. Poor nutrition isn’t far behind.
Here’s what food and fitness experts we spoke to consider to be the biggest weight loss faux pas.
Mistake #1: When you eat
It may be time to reconsider the long-standing advice to “eat every few hours.” Toronto-based nutritionist and trainer Kyle Byron says it’s “absolutely terrible fat loss advice” because it often causes people to consume more calories than they need.
Registered dietitian Andrea D’Ambrosio advises her clients to eat three meals a day, leaving no more than six hours between them, with snacks when needed.
“Snacking every two hours is not necessary for many people,” she says.
Everyone is different and will have different needs, though, so it’s important to listen to your body.
Mistake #2: What you eat
You can exercise all you want but if your nutrition isn’t right, Byron says your fat levels will not change.
Foods which may appear “healthy” (and are even marketed as such), D’Ambrosio warns, may be loaded with calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.
For example, she says restaurant entrée salads can be higher in saturated fat and calories than a burger.
Fresh juices and cold pressed juice tend to high in sugar and low in the good soluble fibre (you’re better off to eat a piece of fruit).
Vegetable puffs, i.e. those “healthy” and colourful chip alternatives, are made from processed potato flour and corn starch and have “little-to-none of the benefits of a vegetable,” according to D’Ambrosio. She says it’s wiser to make your own oven-baked potato chips or some popcorn, which at the very least is a whole grain. Just go easy on the butter.
“Despite what Dr. Oz might tell us, there is no magical food for weight loss, but there are healthy alternatives we can choose to help us lose weight.”
D’Ambrosio’s tip is to add extra fibre-rich foods to your diet. They fill you up on fewer calories and make it easier to decrease your portion sizes.
Examples of high-fibre foods include: bran cereal, whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, chia seeds, barley, lentils, beans, and chickpeas.
WATCH: How to read a nutrition label and what your portion sizes should look like
The two trainers also mentioned the need for protein, which can come in the form of meat, fish, dairy, beans, and legumes.
Think fruits and vegetables (produce) plus protein at every meal, says Munro. Then you can add in the whole and natural carbs when you need them.
Mistake #3: What you do at the gym
Obesity expert Yoni Freedhoff believes 80 per cent of a person’s weight can be controlled through diet; the remaining 20 per cent can be managed at the gym.
The important thing to note is that cardio alone won’t help you lose weight.
A combination of cardio and resistance training (using body weight, small equipment or weights) is needed to gain muscle and tone.
For the greatest weight loss results, short but intense bursts of cardio are recommended.
And don’t waste your time on so-called “spot training.”
“Exercising a certain part of your body will not result in that part of your body burning fat… Usually fat is lost like layers coming off an onion,” Byron says.
“So it is important to do a full-body, well-balanced workout,” Munro adds, “and then let the body burn the fat where it needs and wants.”
You can skip the crunches too. Not only are they bad for your neck, Byron says “they don’t really help you get abdominal definition.
Mistake #4: What you don’t do enough of
Igor Klibanov, a kinesiologist, trainer and author of the book Stop Exercising! The Way You Are Doing It Now, argues muscle mass is most important when it comes to not only burning fat, but healthy aging.
Muscle tissue burns more calories than body fat, even when you’re at rest. And the more muscle you build, the more calories your body will naturally burn.
Byron thinks we should lift weight about every other day (three to five times a week) for about 10 minutes to an hour each time, for a total of about three to five hours a week.
“You’ll know the weight you selected is heavy enough if you can only do 10 repetitions. If you can lift it more than 10 times in a row, it is too light.”
Mistake #5 High stress and little sleep
Stress reduction can be a huge part of weight loss, Munro explains. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to drive cravings for junk food and accumulate belly fat.
“These days we are all over-programmed, over-stimulated, and over-worked. When our stress levels are high, we often don’t sleep well [and] we choose poor foods,” she says.
Sleep can also take a toll on the waistline. Research shows people who sleep fewer than six hours a night are 30 per cent more likely to become obese than those who sleep seven to nine hours.
WATCH: Sleep now included in guidelines for how much activity your kids need
Mistake #6: Not addressing the “why”
Overcoming any emotional addiction you may have to food is crucial.
“To change eating is to change behaviour. To change behaviour, you need a profound understanding of why you do that behaviour even though you don’t like the outcome,” says Byron.
Aside from some introspection about what’s at the root of your unhealthy eating habits, it’s a good idea to chat with friends and family about your goals to help keep you accountable.
You could also join a team or athletic group.
“If you belong to a club or community, you’re much more likely to keep going,” Byron says. “Playing a sport is great.”
And if you’re single, he adds, try to choose a partner with a similar fitness philosophy.
So what’s the best bang for your buck?
Here are a few of the exercises Munro believes to be most efficient:
- Mountain climbers
- Squat jumps
- Walking lunges
- Push-ups in all different variations
- Planks (front and sides)
READ MORE: Easy exercises you can do at home
Remember to focus on form.
“Less reps with better form means more efficiency, less time working out and less chance of injury.”
You can check out nine more diet and weight loss mistakes you may be guilty of here.