15 Weight-Loss Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes

Updated: Mar. 16, 2022

Experts reveal the tiny (but mighty!) mistakes that can derail your weight-loss goals

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Cruising on the elliptical machine

Countless studies show that cardio alone won’t make the pounds melt away. “People don’t need to be doing cardio for an hour as their only workout,” says Erica Suter, MS, a certified strength and conditioning coach. That said, cardio isn’t all bad; in a survey of 700 people, a mixture of aerobic exercise and weightlifting was found to be the best exercise routine for weight loss. Suter recommends carving out two or three days a week for resistance training, with steady-state or high-intensity cardio workouts in between. Check out 50 easy ways to lose weight naturally.

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Eating less—but not healthier

Skipping meals or limiting yourself to tiny portions can backfire, stalling weight loss or causing you to put on pounds instead. “It may sound counterintuitive, but you need to eat to lose weight,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, owner of BZ Nutrition. In fact, you actually need to eat more—more healthy items like vegetables, fruit, lean protein, and whole grains, that is. Don’t know how to start? Try these easy ways to eat more vegetables without even trying.

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Expecting instant results

Avoid getting discouraged if you don’t shed pounds right away, says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDN. “Some will try to have you believe if you follow these three (five, eight, ten, whatever) ‘simple’ rules, that the weight will just fall off and you’ll be successful—no sweat, no problem,” she says. “That just isn’t true.” To slim down successfully, patience is key; a 2016 study found that long-term weight loss could take at least one year of dieting. Learn 50 more weight-loss breakthroughs your doctor wishes you knew.

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Sticking to the same workout

If you zone out while jogging on the treadmill, you might not be getting the most bang for your buck (or booty!). “The exercise habits that backfire the most are the ones that do not progress people,” Suter says. When it comes to getting in shape, she says, “Progressing with either intensity or volume will go a long way.” If you follow a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) program, for example, try reducing the rest periods between intervals. Check out these amazing before-and-after HIIT photos.

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Eating too much protein—or not enough

Skimping on protein might tempt you to binge later, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. When participants ate a high-protein diet, they consumed an average of 575 fewer calories per day than when they ate less protein. But don’t go overboard, either. “Protein is important, but if you have too much, the excess gets stored as fat,” Felicia Stoler, RD, told Health.com. “And high-protein shakes and bars tend to be sugary and fatty.” Women should eat 46 grams of protein per day, while men should aim for 56 grams, according to the CDC.

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Torturing yourself to shed pounds

Many dieters take the phrase “No pain, no gain” a bit too literally, according to Zeitlin. The truth is, you won’t stick to a weight-loss plan that feels like punishment. “No torture treatment is going to be maintainable,” Zeitlin says. “The key to weight loss is to find a healthy plan for you that you can maintain so that the weight does not come back.” Focus on adopting small, healthy habits that feel doable for the long run, like riding your bike to work or drinking tea instead of sugary lattes. Don’t sniff at these 11 bizarre weight-loss tips—they really work.

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Exercising too much

When it comes to losing weight, exercise can hurt as much as it helps. “Too much exercise can lead to injury [and] burnout, and it can actually cause your body stress, which can hinder weight loss,” says Jennipher Walters, cofounder of Fit Bottomed Girls and author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet: 10-Minute Fixes to Get the Body You Want and a Life You’ll Love. Scheduling “rest” weeks into your workout regimen gives your muscles time to recover, helping you to slim down in the long run.

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Banning treats

Go ahead and eat that chocolate cupcake at your friend’s birthday party. By allowing yourself to indulge here and there, you are actually doing your waistline a favor. “We naturally want what we can’t have,” Walters says. “Restriction creates stress in the body—and it causes your body to crave the very thing you’re trying to avoid.” Instead of depriving yourself of treats, Zeitlin suggests following the 80-20 plan: Healthy foods make up 80 percent of your diet, and you can still enjoy your favorite indulgences the other 20 percent of the time. Don’t miss 42 more fast, simple weight-loss tips.

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Not getting enough z’s

In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, dieters who cut back on sleep felt hungrier and lost less weight than those who got a full night’s rest. Translation? “If your goal is to lose fat, skipping sleep is like poking sticks in your bicycle wheels,” says study director Plamen Penev, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting seven to nine hours of shut-eye every night.

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Ignoring your body’s hunger cues

Mindless snacking and eating your emotions are just two of the culprits that sabotage weight loss. But by snacking only when hunger strikes and putting the food away when you’re full, you can stop binge eating in its tracks. “When we shift to honoring ourselves and tuning in to how we feel, we are naturally more mindful and therefore consume foods that are better for us, in the right amounts for us,” according to Walters. This may take time to master, she says, but the results will be long-lasting. Try these 30 tiny diet changes that can help you lose weight.

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Copying someone else’s diet

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to losing weight—no matter what the celebrity on your social media feed might claim. “It is definitely hard to shut out all that white noise coming from social media, but understand that no one diet works for everyone,” Zeitlin says. Instead, make a list of goals and follow a lifestyle that helps you achieve them, and don’t be afraid to seek out a registered dietitian for extra guidance if you need it. Learn the 7 things you can do on social media to help you see results on the scale.

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Using exercise as an excuse to eat

Think you earned a cookie after your 30-minute run? Not so fast. Research shows that this seemingly harmless habit could sabotage your weight-loss goals. In one study, people estimated that they had burned nearly four times more calories than they actually had—and then they consumed more calories than usual as a “reward” for exercising. Luckily, there are plenty of diet-friendly ways to motivate yourself to hit the gym, such as buying new workout gear or finding an exercise buddy. Find out more ways to learn to love exercise from these 13 workout lovers.


Focusing on the number on the scale

Progress isn’t always about shedding pounds. Instead of getting wrapped up in the number on the scale, Walters recommends focusing on how dieting and exercising make you feel. “Do you feel more confident? Stronger? Proud of yourself and your body?” she says. “Focusing on those wins can help you to not only improve the relationship with your body, but also develop a deeper motivation for being active.” Check out more easy mind tricks that help you lose weight.

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Drinking your calories

Dieters, beware! Those smoothies aren’t as effective at whittling your middle as you might think. Not only do they contain high amounts of sugar, but they can also leave you feeling less full. As a result, you’ll be reaching for more food in a matter of minutes, Zeitlin says. Pro tip: Lower the smoothie’s sugar content by ditching added sweeteners, and limit your intake to a small snack rather than a full meal. Learn more ways your kitchen can help you drop pounds.


Having an “all or nothing” mindset

Don’t let one small slip-up derail your entire weight-loss plan. A plate full of fruits and veggies is ideal, but you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you eat a bag of chips sometimes. After all, long-term weight loss is all about leading a balanced, sustainable lifestyle. “It’s not all or nothing,” Bazilian says. “It’s a continuum where you make efforts to focus on quality every instance you can.” Get started by trying these 50 ways to lose weight without a lick of exercise.