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Weight-loss mistakes that can get you off-track

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

It’s a new year, and you’re all geared up to lose those five or 10 pounds you picked up over the holiday season. So you’ve started going to the gym again, and you’re also being more mindful about what you eat. But you still aren’t seeing results. You could be making one of these common weight-loss errors:

Doing too much too soon: If you’re someone who eats out most days of the week, it’s admirable to want to switch to a healthier routine of bringing your lunch to work. The same goes for the couch potato who vows to get 30 minutes of exercise a day. But changing your eating or exercise habits too drastically is usually a recipe for failure, says personal trainer Nicki Anderson, of Reality Fitness in Naperville.

“Most people try to go from doing nothing to working out five days a week,” she says. “The likelihood of them sticking with it, due to injury or burnout, is very, very small.”

You’re better off making small changes that can be sustained over time. Then, you can work your way up to bigger challenges.

Pigging out after the workout: People tend to overestimate how many calories they burned during a workout, which often leads them to overindulge afterward, Anderson says. Keep in mind that, for a 130-pound woman, 30 minutes of high-impact aerobics burns about 200 calories. So rewarding yourself with a 400-calorie cupcake after each trip to the gym isn’t going to help you fit into those skinny jeans anytime soon.

Not getting enough sleep: No matter how good you are about exercising or eating right, you could be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts if you aren’t getting enough sleep. A study reported last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that overweight people on a reduced-calorie diet lost more weight from fat if they slept eight hours a night than those who slept less than six hours a night. It’s not exactly clear why sleep loss is linked to weight gain, though research also indicates that sleep deprivation affects production of a pair of hormones that regulate when we feel hungry and full.

Assuming “diet” foods are a healthier alternative: Whether it’s reduced-fat peanut butter or sugar-free cookies, “diet” versions of your favorite foods might seem like the best of both worlds: same great taste with less of the bad stuff. But in most cases, taking out one ingredient, like sugar, often means adding more of another, like fat, to maintain the flavor, says Brooke Schantz, a registered dietician at Loyola University Health System. It’s important to read food labels closely and stick to small portion sizes, no matter what you’re eating. “Just because it’s a sugar-free cookie, it doesn’t become an apple,” Schantz says. “Moderation is the key. Everybody always tries to figure out ways around that, and there isn’t one.”

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