You probably realize that losing weight successfully means clearing countless mental and physical hurdles. And that means there are endless ways to trip up before reaching your goals—likely without even realizing it. With all the contradictory weight loss advice out there, it’s no wonder.
Well, there’s a new type of specialist—the weight loss coach—who can help you cut through the diet and exercise noise and guide you to the best plan for achieving and sustaining your goal. Here, some of the country’s leading weight loss coaches share the most common mental and physical mistakes that hold clients back, and the best solutions.
You tell yourself you’re “on a diet”—permanently changing your lifestyle.
Kate Martino, a physician assistant and weight loss coach says her clients who are looking for short-term fixes have a much tougher time getting and maintaining results than clients who make changes for the long haul. “When you’re in the ‘diet’ mentality, it’s more likely that you’ll go off your diet before you reach your goals,” she says. “It’s even more likely that, if you do lose weight, you’ll wonder what to do next,” she says. “Making lifestyle changes, on the other hand, helps you learn the tools to reach your goals and maintain your weight loss for life.”
Your new weight loss mantra: Banish the word “diet” from your vocabulary, and when you’re making nutrition and exercise changes, be sure you experiment until you find what realistically works for you, says Martino. “The key is finding lifestyle changes that will not only help you get to where you want to be, but will also be enjoyable. That’s when you’ll stick to ’em.”
You’re not eating enough
Kyra Williams, a weight loss coach certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine says this is a faux pas almost all of her female clients are guilty of. “If you are working out and burning 2,500 calories a day—but only consuming 1,200—you’ll force your body to store fat,” she says. Not only that, the calorie shortage will slow down your metabolism, making it tougher to build muscle.
Your new weight loss mantra: Don’t be afraid to eat! Fill your plate with plenty of healthy carbohydrates (think fruit, starchy veggies, and whole grains), lean proteins (fish, turkey, chicken, and tofu), healthy fats (avocado, oils, nuts, and seeds), and an unlimited amount of greens and other non-starchy veggies. Bonus: Eating 1,800 to 2,000 calories of these healthy eats will keep you so full and satisfied you’ll be less likely to binge on junky foods, says Williams.
You’re doing all cardio and not enough weights
Once again, this is common blunder for women, says Williams. “It’s a shame considering muscle mass is what helps you burn fat,” she says. “Cardio burns calories, but it doesn’t do much to build muscle.” Lifting weights helps keep your metabolism revved: You’ll burn more fat long after you’ve worked out.
Your new weight loss mantra: Add some weights to your cardio routine. Two to three days a week, work in 20 minutes or so of weight training on machines, with free weights, or even simply doing body-weight exercises like push-ups, crunches, and pull-ups, says Williams. Start with lighter weights or easier positions (knees down for the push-ups, for example) and fewer reps, but remember to increase the challenge as you get stronger.
You haven’t established a good support system
Go it alone and you’ll be much less likely to succeed than if you’ve got a group of friends and family who are supporting you, says Martino. “It can be difficult to stick to your lifestyle changes if your partner or the rest of your family aren’t willing to participate—or at least support you in the changes you’re making,” she says.
Your new weight loss mantra: Find a relative or friend to join forces with you. If there isn’t someone, at least let your loved ones know about your big goals and ask for their support. That way, they’ll keep your goals in mind rather than tempting you to stray off course, says Martino. “You can also check out platforms online where thousands of people come together virtually to offer each other support, advice, and encouragement,” she says.
You’re not setting specific goals
The key to success is to break an overwhelming target—say, losing 30 pounds—into little steps that can be more easily managed, says Elle Kealy, a certified nutrition, fitness, and weight loss coach. “Instead of setting unattainable, vague goals, it’s better to approach your weight loss project as a series of smaller, more realistic habit changes that you can focus on one at a time,” she says.
Your new weight loss mantra: Set SMART goals, says Patrick Williams, an American Council on Exercise-certified health coach and behavior change specialist. “Ideally, your goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound,” he says. For example, you might start by committing to drinking 8 glasses of water a day for the first month of your plan; the next month, you could aim to stick to that and swap out half the cheap carbs on your plate (potatoes or pasta) for leafy greens, says Kealy. “Each of your smaller, attainable goals will add up to substantial lifestyle changes over the long term.”
You overestimate the calorie burn of a single workout
Chris Nagel, an exercise physiologist, personal trainer, and nutrition and weight loss coach, says many of his clients will use a great workout to justify poor decisions throughout the rest of the day. “While it can be tempting to think you can treat yourself to dessert because you had a great session earlier that day, you’re overestimating how much benefit you really got.” As a result, people overeat, he says.
Your new weight loss mantra: Remember that increased activity levels will increase your caloric demands and appetite, says Nagel. It’s crucial to keep monitoring your portion sizes and following your healthy eating plan.
You aren’t consistent with your efforts
According to Nagel, this is one of the biggest blunders for clients. “Noticeable weight loss is only achievable when your body is consistently exposed to physical activity and proper diet,” he says.
Your new weight loss mantra: Keep your momentum going, says Nagel. “It can be tempting to do well for 2 weeks and then take the third week ‘off’—but that will likely put you right back at the beginning at the start of your fourth week,” he says. Sure, little cheats here and there are OK and even expected. But if you notice yourself slipping for extended periods of time, it’s important to get back on your program ASAP.