“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein
How many times have you tried to lose weight? Now how many times have you been able to achieve your goal—and maintain it?
Fortunately, we’ve got the tips to help you get off the diet merry-go-round. Whether you’re prepping for a fitness competition, or just trying to fit into your favorite pair of jeans, losing weight can be a frustrating process. As new diet fads pop up and fade away all the time, it’s difficult to decipher what really works and what doesn’t, especially when you feel like you’ve already tried everything.
Below are some of the top mistakes I see people make in their efforts to lose weight—and strategies for getting them in line:
If you go to the gym each day and mindlessly hop on the same cardio machine, turn it up to the same level, flip to your favorite TV show, and then just go through the motions for the next 30 to 45 minutes, you may headed towards a plateau. While I will always applaud you for achieving a lower-level workout over skipping the gym all together, at some point you have to give yourself a reality check. Is a workout your body has gotten used to making you better? You’ve heard before that “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” and that’s true.
If you never step out of your workout comfort zone, your body will never change its shape. Whatever form of exercise you prefer, I encourage you to rate yourself during each workout by your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). An RPE scale typically rages from 1-10, with 1 being sitting down doing nothing, and 10 being absolute exhaustion. Of course, your strength varies each day depending on numerous factors—some days I go to the gym, crank out deadlifts at 135 pounds, and it feels like I’m lifting air, while other days I can barely lift the weight off the ground. So if it feels like you don’t have to expend as much energy to complete your workout, that also means you’re not burning as many calories in the same amount of time.
Some days 135 pounds is a 3 on my RPE scale, and other days it’s an 8. By using an RPE scale you can adapt your workout to meet your needs in that moment, while continuously making yourself better, and working towards your goals.
This is often the biggest weight-gain struggle people face, and has been the most influential part of my own fitness experience. American portions are often downright gluttonous, so naturally, we deem these mega-sized portions “normal.” It wasn’t until I started using a food scale that I realized what true portion sizes were. For example, if you pick up a box of your favorite cereal and read the nutrition facts, you think “Ok, 130 calories and 2 grams of fat per serving sounds pretty good.” Then you reach for your bowl, fill it up, and without knowing any better, you have just poured yourself a bowl that is 4 times the “serving size” on the label. The typical 2/3 cup or ¾ cup serving size in weight is miniscule to the eye. I even found that when I used an actual measuring cup to pour my cereal, it was still larger than the size, by weight, on the package.
Weighing out every meal on a food scale may sound miserable and time consuming, but it has a very important lesson to teach. While I by no means suggest you do this for every meal, I do challenge you to weigh out your foods daily for an entire week straight. Weighing food for a week will give you a better understanding of what a true serving size is on a label, so you can accurately assess exactly what you are putting in to your body. Once you have an intuitive understanding of what a serving size really looks and feels like, you’ll naturally make smarter choices going forward. Bonus: no foods will ever need to be “off limits” again—you’ll just be aware of the proper portions for consuming them.
One healthy option: Ellen’s Complete Protein Quinoa Salad Recipe.
Extremes don’t work. Well, they do, but not in the long run. If you continuously restrict your caloric intake, or just keep yourself from eating certain foods, eventually this will lead to a binge. What most people don’t realize about food binges is that they can set you back far worse than if you had just enjoyed the foods you love in moderation.
Often, people will stick to their diet plan all week long, but as soon as Friday night hits it’s suddenly a free-for-all to consume anything and everything. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t indulge some on the weekends (trust me, as a self-proclaimed foodie, one of my favorite weekend activities is trying out new restaurants). What I’m saying is to be mindful. Yes, enjoy yourself for a treat meal or dessert that you wouldn’t normally have, but don’t let it turn into an entire weekend binge.
Ultimately, every calorie in has to be burned off at some point, so why would you continue to dig yourself deeper into a hole? It takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose one pound of true weight. If you’re dieting the correct way, meaning slowly, you are probably reducing calories from your baseline intake about 300-500 calories a day. If done perfectly, that leaves you with a deficit of 2,100-3,500 calories by the end of the week. But if you allow your weekend to be an all-out binge, you can very easily bring yourself back to your caloric maintenance level, or even throw yourself back into a surplus.
If you continue to stay in this restrict-binge cycle, you will likely find yourself wanting to give up altogether because you never see results. Creating new habits is never easy, but the more you practice discipline, the easier it becomes.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t get a chance to repair itself from the hard work you’re putting in at the gym. It also doesn’t give your hormones proper time to regulate, leading to increased feelings of hunger the next day, and less energy to resist the cravings.
Rest and recovery are just as crucial to your training program as the time you spend in the gym and the food you fuel yourself with. Not only physically, but also for a mental break so you don’t get burnt out on your regime.
Think of it this way: “muscles are torn in the gym, fed in the kitchen, and built in bed.” If you practice your health and fitness efforts with this phrase in mind, you will be successful. Tear your muscles in the gym by pushing them to new levels (your workout should feel hard)! Feed your muscles after your workout with balanced nutritional choices and proper portion sizes. Finally, allow your efforts in the gym and kitchen to come full circle by resting your body when needed, so it has proper time to build and repair itself, making you stronger than the day before, and ready to take on the next.
Ellen’s passion in life stems from healthy cooking and fitness, and her goal is to share this experience with others to help them achieve the same level of confidence this lifestyle as given her. Although she currently maintains a full-time job in the corporate world, Ellen is also a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and hopes to someday make helping others achieve their fitness goals her full-time profession. You can follow her on Instagram @ellenwhitney.
Inspired yet? Read on…