If you are reading this article, you think you need to lose weight. Before you continue, look at yourself in the mirror–a full body mirror, and don’t wear clothes. Jump. Aha! If you see anything jiggling that is not supposed to be jiggling (your arms, your belly, your chin) then you need to lose weight.
I included the previous precaution because far too many people think they need to lose this or that many pounds for this or that reason. Losing weight is not something that can be achieved. Rather, it is an active process because, after the weight is lost, you will need to keep it off.
Here are a few traps you don’t want to spring on your getting-healthy journey.
Must read: My 90 day journey of a new weight loss so far (Part 4)
Must read: My 90 day journey of a new weight loss so far (Part 1)
Mistake One: Trying to Lose Weight
Surprised? The biggest mistake I see many people (including myself, earlier in my life) making is focusing on losing weight. Your weight, as you probably measure on a scale or balance of some kind, is simply a measure of the gravitational push of your body against either a balanced set of calibrated weights or a spring mechanism. Weight doesn’t mean as much as most people think it means.
Depending on how much salt you consumed earlier this week, you may have a few pounds of extra water weight. Maybe if you’re wearing a pair of jeans to the scale, you’ll gain a half-pound of denim weight. And that #2 you made earlier in the morning–believe it or not, you just lost weight!
Instead of seeking some kind of sacred sign from that scale in your bathroom, try a healthier approach: try to get healthy! The only way to lose weight and keep it off is to form healthy habits, such as daily exercise, healthy food choices, and beneficial psychological stimulation.
Mistake Two: Dieting
My friend from school decided she needed to lose ten pounds before prom. She decided to “go on a diet” to lose the extra weight so her prom dress would look really pretty. Since she was relying on a scale (rather than overall health) and just going on a diet (instead of trying to get healthy overall), she didn’t really change that much. Yes, she lost ten pounds, but it didn’t do much at all towards improving her prom look.
To lose weight, you do need to alter your diet, but if you ‘go’ on a diet, it most likely will not work in the long run. Diets are simply prescribed food arrangements that tend to be more healthy than your current set of meals. Usually, diets are designed with a specific purpose, like using less sugar for people with diabetes or limiting yourself to eat only cottage cheese.
In order to lose weight, you need to make permanent changes to your diet. Instead of ‘subscribing’ to one particular type or genre of foods (such as the Mediterranean diet, Atkins diet, or grapefruit diet), have fun with your food. Life to eat! Just eat healthy foods to live! Next time you go to the grocery store, look for bright, colorful fruits and vegetables, especially ones you haven’t tried yet (read “Fruits to Try Before You Die” and “Vegetables to Try Before You Diet” for some suggestions). Make sure you don’t have too much (or too little) of any food group.
Build a personal food pyramid and try to eat the recommended servings suggested (pay special attention to specifics, like green-leafy vegetables or ‘other’ vegetables). Go slowly, so that you form habits rather than going (temporarily, in due time) on a diet.
Mistake Three: Couch (Fat-Free, Low-Cal) Potatoes
So you’ve already changed your diet? You’ve already formed good, steady, habitual eating practices? That’s not good enough!
If you limit your caloric intake, you reduce the amount of calories available to your body to burn. It’s like reducing your weekly spending budget. With the caloric ‘bank,’ however, you still need to make withdrawals! Your body burns a certain amount of calories in order to let you breathe, see, think, and eat. This is called your Basal Metabolic Rate. You probably eat more calories than your BMR every day, to allow you to walk, type, and talk. The problem, if you’re overweight, is that you ate more calories than you could burn in any given day. Your body reacted by storing these calories for a rainy day.
In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Now, in any given day, you do burn calories, but that’s not enough. Get active. Break a sweat. Get your heart pumping daily, either by walking, running, cycling, playing sports, or doing intensive yard or house work.
To help lose weight even faster, you will need to build some extra muscle. You already have plenty of muscles in your body, which, when used, burn calories like an incinerator. By doing regular muscle workouts (and allowing yourself to recover afterward), you can boost your weight-loss potential! Your body will need more calories, due to the excess muscle, and, by denying your body those calories, you will lose more weight!
Mistake Four: Overdoing it
Everybody, even the world’s greatest athletes, needs a physical break from now and then. Too often, I see people working themselves to a breaking point and then feeling like they need to continue the next day.
First of all, remember that, whenever you move, you burn calories. If you do heavy housework (like cleaning the garage or painting the kitchen) you’ve probably burned enough calories for one day.
Listen to your body. If something hurts, give it a break. Wait until it feels better, and then be extra careful. If you overwork yourself, you could literally break something, and losing weight is pointless if you cause yourself extra health problems.
Mistake Five: ‘Diet,’ ‘Low-Fat,’ and ‘Low-Cal’ Foods
If there’s something you like that isn’t good for you, you probably like the things in it that aren’t good for you. Take this from an underweight-human standpoint: if your goal in life is to get bigger (which is usually the case in nature), you need to do whatever it takes to gain a lot of weight. The ‘bad’ stuff in food is actually ‘good’ stuff too, except you have already had too much of it.
Diet foods (in their various incarnations and naming schemes) are usually the same ‘junk’ food processed in such a way to make them less ‘junky.’ However, since your body craves the seemingly ‘bad’ stuff, something has to be there to fill that craving. With diet foods, that craving is often fulfilled by adding some other bad stuff (like adding salts to diet drinks, or adding cholesterol to low-fat foods). If the bad stuff isn’t replaced, however, your body will notice. You will continue to have the same cravings, and that will ruin your healthy eating plan.
Again, you will need to actually replace the bad foods (at your own pace, so you learn to love it) with healthy foods. Instead of snacking on fried cheesy crackers, snack on whole wheat crackers. Instead of chowing down on brownies, dip some fruit in organic peanut butter and enjoy it!
Mistake Six: Starvation
Losing weight is more than just an exchange of calories. Your body reacts to different stressors in different ways. For example, if you eat less than your BMR’s worth of calories, your metabolism will slow down because your body thinks it’s starving. Alternatively, if you eat less calories than you’re used to, but more than your BMR, and combine this with calorie-burning-muscle-building exercise, your body will react by making itself more healthy.
Don’t starve yourself to try to lose weight. You’ll end up gorging yourself after a while, and that definitely doesn’t get you into that smaller pair of pants.
Mistake Seven: Life
Life is hard, in general. But sometimes it gets really hard. Some times you may be extremely sad, angry, lost, confused, or disappointed. Your body actually reacts to these things, and needs to recoup from the stress. A weight loss/getting healthy plan will not work while you are emotionally injured, just as it will not work if you run on that bad knee of yours. You are trying to get healthy to live a better life. Don’t over-stress yourself when your life gets less-better.
Mistake Eight: Far-Off Goals
Goal-setting is a great thing. You can accomplish challenging tasks in a well-organized manner by setting goals. However, losing weight is not something to be achieved. Rather, it is something to be lived. You can’t just lose the weight–you’ll have to keep it off, too.
When setting a weight-loss goal, first start by making habits. For example, set a goal to eat your recommended amount of vegetables every day for each week of a month. At the end of the month, reward yourself if you’re successful.
Another good goal is to try to do cardio exercise once a day for a whole week. And then, after accomplishing this, you can make a goal to do muscle workouts three times a week. Slowly build up your goals, rather than trying to lose 100 pounds by next December. That way, if you lose track, it’s easy to get back on!
Mistake Nine: Teamwork
In elementary school, my gym teacher showed me a anti-abuse video that featured a yellow dinosaur and a song “My body’s mine-mine-mine.”
Outside of the stranger danger aspect, your body definitely is yours (yours yours!). Losing weight needs to be a personal thing. Some people, genetically or habitually, will have an easier or more difficult time losing weight. Don’t make bets, pacts, or deals. Instead, try to encourage each others’ successes and congratulate the other’s work. Two people can’t lose weight for 1 person, and 1 person can not lose weight for the team.
Mistake Ten: Quitting
If you’ve read the rest of this article, you have learned that there should be nothing to quit. You can’t quit your life to lose weight. Slowly form good eating habits. Slowly find excuses to get out and about every day. Slowly get used to the way your body reacts to being, gradually, healthier and healthier.
If you adjust yourself-your very lifestyle-ever so slightly, you will notice permanent results in the long run.
Best of luck!