While it looks easy enough on paper, weight loss isn't always a walk in the park. From office cakes to birthday dinners, there are a million roadblocks stopping us from shedding the pounds. Beyond the occasional afternoon cookie and missed workout, here are the less noticeable things that can get in your way — plus solutions for getting past them.
1. Your diet isn't for you
Just because your best friend lost 15 pounds on the latest fad diet doesn't mean you will, too. In a November 2015 study, researchers found that even though the 800 participants followed the exact same diet, they processed the nutrients in different ways and had widely varying blood-sugar levels.
Solution? Talk to your doctor or a dietitian to come up with a personalised plan that will work best for you.
2. You don't have a consistent bedtime
People who don't stick to a regular sleep schedule have larger waistlines and higher BMIs than those who go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day, says this November 2015 study. Your body and health function best when your sleep pattern aligns with your natural circadian rhythm — so much so that the link holds true even if you're just staying up and sleeping in later on the weekends.
Solution? Stick to a bedtime and wake-up schedule; the consistency over time will help you fall asleep faster and sleep more restfully.
3. You're giving yourself too much credit
Unless you're tracking every nutritional detail of your diet, you probably think it's much healthier than it actually is. In a September 2015 survey, despite the fact that 72 per cent of more than 3,000 participants claimed to eat well on a daily basis, more than half of them weren't actually getting enough essential micronutrients, many of which play a role in weight loss.
Solution? Try using a food tracker that not only logs how many calories you're eating, but also takes nutrients into account.
4. Your plate is too big
Image by Getty Images
Even if they were an expensive wedding gift from your in-laws, your tableware might need to go. In an October 2015 study, researchers found that people tend to eat about 92 per cent of the food on their plates regardless of how full they are. So if your dishes can accommodate more than a single serving of food, you could be overeating without even realising it.
Solution? Use smaller plates to ensure you are eating reasonable portions.
5. Your friends have terrible eating habits
We adopt our friends' eating habits. A December 2014 study found we're more likely to overeat if we're around heavier people who pile their plates sky high. Plus, women in particular tend to match the eating pace of the person they're dining with, says a February 2012 study, which can result in consuming more calories than you intended.
Solution? Don't worry, you don't have to snack solo for ever. A March 2017 study found that, while we're 60 per cent more likely to go off our diet when eating with friends, we're still 50 per cent more likely to cheat when eating alone. The real solution: eat more frequently with that friend who takes an hour to finish one course, or become the slow-pace-setter yourself.
6. You aren't eating enough (good) carbs
Image by Getty Images
If you've been running the opposite direction every time you see a carb, you may want to change your route. Some starch — more specifically, resistant starch, which is a type of dietary fibre — can actually help you in your weight-loss journey because it's resistant to digestion, which helps you feel fuller for longer.
Solution? You can get up to double the recommended daily serving of resistant starch (four grams) from two slices of pumpernickel bread, one medium-size banana, or a half cup of lentils.
7. You aren't eating enough (good) fat
Fearing fat is so 2010. Dietary fat is essential to fighting body fat — just make sure you're eating the right kind. No doubt you've heard about "healthy fats", aka monounsaturated (shout out to our beloved MUFAs!) and polyunsaturated. They both help the body do all kinds of important (and slimming) things, including helping you feel full, turn stored fat into energy and reduce inflammation.
Solution? Introduce more healthy fats to your diet. Foods rich in the monounsaturated type include olive oil, avocados and most nuts. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (which are polyunsaturated fats) include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds and walnuts.
9. You're chronically stressed
Image by Horst Diekgerdes
Studies have shown that cortisol, aka the "stress hormone", is closely linked to visceral fat (the deeper layer of belly fat that hugs your organs and poses a major threat to your health). Cortisol reduces your body's sensitivity to insulin and can lead to a flat belly's biggest enemy: stress eating.
Solution? Take stress seriously: Find stress-reducing practices that work for you — whether that's meditating, taking a walk, writing in a journal, speaking to a therapist or close friend, or something else — and use them often.
9. You've got the wrong stuff on your kitchen counters
It sounds silly, but your kitchen counter may say more about your health than you'd think. In an October 2015 study, researchers looked at the counter tops of 200 homes and found people who had soda on display weighed an average of 25 pounds more than the other participants, while those with breakfast cereal on their counters weighed about 20 pounds more. People who kept fruit out? They were about 13 pounds lighter than their neighbours.
Solution? Make healthy, nutritious snack options more easily available than their waist-warping counterparts.
10. You keep your wins to yourself
A January 2013 study found that people who actively use Twitter lose more weight than people who don't turn to social media for weight loss. That includes sharing both personal successes as well as helpful nutrition and exercise tips. In fact, the study found every 20 tweets correlated to a pound of weight lost.
Solution? Keep it positive — a February 2017 study found dieters who express upbeat ideas and a greater sense of achievement on social media are more successful in their weight-loss efforts than those who only share negative dieting experiences.
11. You're getting duped by your food's packaging
No matter how big and bright the words are on that box or bottle, don't take it at face value. In a July 2013 study, participants thought that snacks labelled "organic" were lower in calories and more nutritious than the exact same snacks that just didn't have the label. And in a November 2006 study, participants ate 50 per cent more of snack foods that were labelled "low-fat".
Solution? Turn that box around and look at the nutrition facts. Be wary of health-halo buzzwords such as "organic", "low-fat" and "low-cal".
12. Your gut isn't diverse enough
Bacteria don't sound very appealing — unless they're in your gut. Your microbiome plays an important role in so many aspects of your health, including weight, waist size and cholesterol levels. And diversity is key, because different bacteria are responsible for these different roles.
Solution? Take a probiotic and eat fermented foods, both of which encourage the growth of good bacteria in your microbiome.
13. You aren't living in the 1980s
Image by Getty Images
Fact: life is unfair. Proof? In a September 2015 study, researchers found that we have to eat less and exercise more than our 1980s counterparts to maintain the exact same weight. Why? The study authors hypothesise that being exposed to things such as pesticides and chemicals, taking more prescription medications, and having less diverse gut bacteria might have something to do with it.
Solution? Accept that you can't control absolutely everything. Oh, and eat less and exercise more.
14. You diet too often
People who diet are more likely to be overweight than those who don't, according to a March 2012 study. Even switching back and forth between a healthy week and splurges on the weekend can negatively affect your gut health just as badly as a consistent diet of junk food, says a study published in January 2016.
Solution? Make small, permanent changes over time rather than diving deep into a new, unreliable diet.
15. You eat too quickly
When you scarf food like a speed demon, your body doesn't have the time to signal your brain, "Stop, I'm satisfied and full!" A March 2014 study found people who instead ate at a slower pace consumed fewer calories and were actually full for longer.
Solution? Try eating with your non-dominant hand, set your fork down after each bite, or chew each bite at least 50 times. Even better? Try all three.
16. You blame your genetics
Your parents are overweight, your siblings are overweight — but that doesn't mean your fate is to be overweight. Science has yet to prove there's a "fat gene". Plus, a September 2015 study found thinking your DNA dictates your waistline actually makes you more likely to make unhealthy choices.
Solution? Don't look to your parents for an image of future you. Accept that your weight and healthy choices are both in your own hands.
17. You don't check the serving size
Just because you grab the pint of ice-cream instead of a gallon tub doesn't mean the mini is actually a single serving. In fact, when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updates nutrition label standards in 2018, products larger than a single serving size will have to include the nutritional info both per serving as well as per package. Until then, you're eating an extra 840 calories by making assumptions about the not-so-mini indulgence.
Solution? Read the nutrition label carefully every time.
18. You overdo it at restaurants
Image by Pamela Hanson
Dieters are 60 per cent more likely to overeat in a restaurant than at home, according to a March 2017 study. This isn't surprising, considering you're not only distracted by the social setting but also the fact that 92 per cent of restaurants serve meals larger than the recommended single serving size, according to a January 2016 study.
Solution? Ask for a box when your food is brought out and put at least half the portion away immediately. That same January 2016 study found American, Chinese, and Italian restaurants had a mean count of almost 1,500 calories per meal, which means you should be boxing up about two-thirds of those dishes.
19. You eat too much sugar
A January 2013 study found that people who ate high amounts of sugar gained more weight over two months, whereas those who cut their consumption shed pounds. Why? Sugar not only adds empty calories to your daily count, but studies show the sweet stuff activates the brain's reward centre in the same way drugs do, meaning we become addicted to it and crave fix after fix.
Solution? Skip sweet substitutes, as they perpetuate the craving cycle. Load up on protein early in the day, because that helps reduce cravings for something sweet later — by 300 per cent. And read all nutrition labels since a tonne of seemingly healthy foods are loaded with sneaky sugar.
20. You're not a man
Unfair fact: men lose weight a lot faster than women. And whereas we lose a little bit all over, guys tend to burn fat from their middle first, making their progress look even more apparent, sooner.
Solution? Speed the progress by upping your strength training, as more muscle helps burn more calories. And be patient — your gains are on the way.
Via Harpers Bazaar UK