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15 Common Mistakes Most People Make When Trying to Lose Weight

Health + Wellness

By Franziska Spritzler

Losing weight can seem very tough.

Sometimes you feel like you're doing everything right, yet still not getting results.

You may actually be hindering your progress by following misguided or outdated advice.

Sometimes you feel like you're doing everything right, yet still not getting results.iStock

Here are 15 common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight.

1. Only Focusing on the Scale Weight

It's very common to feel like you're not losing weight fast enough, despite faithfully sticking to your diet.

However, the number on the scale is only one measure of weight change. Weight is influenced by several things, including fluid fluctuations and how much food remains in your system.

In fact, weight can fluctuate by up to 4 lbs (1.8 kg) over the course of a day, depending on how much food and liquid you've consumed.

Also, increased estrogen levels and other hormonal changes in women can lead to greater water retention, which is reflected in scale weight (1).

If the number on the scale isn't moving, you may very well be losing fat mass but holding on to water. Fortunately, you can do several things to lose water weight.

Additionally, if you've been working out, you may be gaining muscle and losing fat.

When this happens, your clothes may start to feel looser—especially around the waist—despite a stable scale weight.

Measuring your waist with a tape measure and taking monthly pictures of yourself can reveal you're actually losing fat, even if the scale number doesn't change much.

Bottom Line: Many factors can affect scale weight, including fluid fluctuations, muscle mass gain and the weight of undigested food. You may be losing body fat even if the scale reading doesn't change much.

2. Eating Too Many or Too Few Calories

A calorie deficit is required for weight loss. This means you need to burn more calories than you consume.

For many years, it was believed that a decrease of 3,500 calories per week would result in 1 lb (.45 kg) of fat loss. However, recent research shows the calorie deficit needed varies from person to person (2).

You may feel as though you're not eating very many calories. But in fact, most of us have a tendency to underestimate and underreport what we eat (3, 4).

In a two-week study, 10 obese people reported consuming 1,000 calories per day. Lab testing showed they were actually taking in about 2,000 calories per day (4).

You may be consuming too many foods that are healthy but also high in calories, such as nuts and cheese. Watching portion sizes is key.

On the other hand, decreasing your calorie intake too much can be counterproductive.

Studies on very low-calorie diets providing less than 1,000 calories per day show they can lead to muscle loss and significantly slow down metabolism (5, 6, 7).

Bottom Line: Consuming too many calories can stop you from losing weight. On the other hand, too few calories can make you ravenously hungry and reduce your metabolism and muscle mass.

3. Not Exercising or Exercising Too Much

During weight loss, you inevitably lose some muscle mass as well as fat, although the amount depends on several factors (8).

If you don't exercise at all while restricting calories, you're likely to lose more muscle mass and experience a decrease in metabolic rate.

By contrast, exercising helps minimize the amount of lean mass you lose, boost fat loss and prevent your metabolism from slowing down. The more lean mass you have, the easier it is to lose weight and maintain the weight loss (9, 10, 11).

However, over-exercising can also cause problems.

Studies show excessive exercise is unsustainable in the long term for most people and may lead to stress. In addition, it may impair the production of adrenal hormones that regulate stress response (12, 13, 14).

Trying to force your body to burn more calories by exercising too much is neither effective nor healthy.

However, lifting weights and doing cardio several times per week is a sustainable strategy for maintaining metabolic rate during weight loss.

Bottom Line: A lack of exercise can lead to loss of muscle mass and lower metabolism. On the other hand, too much exercise is neither healthy nor effective and it may lead to severe stress.

4. Not Lifting Weights

Performing resistance training is incredibly important during weight loss.

Studies show lifting weights is one of the most effective exercise strategies for gaining muscle and increasing metabolic rate. It also improves overall body composition and boosts belly fat loss (15, 16, 17, 18).

In fact, a review of 15 studies with more than 700 people found the best strategy of all for weight loss appears to be combined aerobic exercise and weightlifting (18).

Bottom Line: Weightlifting or resistance training can help boost metabolic rate, increase muscle mass and promote fat loss, including belly fat.

5. Choosing Low-Fat or "Diet" Foods

Processed low-fat or "diet" foods are often considered good choices for losing weight, but they may actually have the opposite effect.

Many of these products are loaded with sugar to improve their taste.

For instance, one cup (245 grams) of low-fat, fruit-flavored yogurt can contain a whopping 47 grams of sugar (nearly 12 teaspoons) (19).

Rather than keeping you full, low-fat products are likely to make you hungrier, so you end up eating even more.

Instead of low-fat or "diet" foods, choose a combination of nutritious, minimally processed foods.

Bottom Line: Fat-free or "diet" foods are typically high in sugar and may lead to hunger and higher calorie intake.

6. Overestimating How Many Calories You Burn During Exercise

Many people believe that exercise "supercharges" their metabolism.

Although exercise increases metabolic rate somewhat, it may actually be less than you think.

Studies show both normal and overweight people tend to overestimate the number of calories they burn during exercise, often by a significant amount (4, 20, 21).

In one study, people burned 200 and 300 calories during exercise sessions. Yet when asked, they estimated they had burned over 800 calories. As a result, they ended up eating more (21).

That being said, exercise is still crucial for overall health and can help you lose weight. It's just not as effective at burning calories as some people think.

Bottom Line: Studies show people tend to overestimate the number of calories they burn during exercise.

7. Not Eating Enough Protein

Getting enough protein is extremely important if you're trying to lose weight.

In fact, protein has been shown to help with weight loss in several ways.

It can reduce appetite, increase feelings of fullness, decrease calorie intake, increase metabolic rate and protect muscle mass during weight loss (22, 23, 24, 25, 26).

In a 12-day study, people ate a diet containing 30 percent of calories from protein. They ended up consuming an average of 575 fewer calories per day than when they ate 15 percent of calories from protein (27).

A review also found that higher-protein diets, containing 0.6–0.8 grams of protein per lb (1.2–1.6 g/kg), may benefit appetite control and body composition (28).

To optimize weight loss, make sure each of your meals contains a high-protein food.

Bottom Line: High protein intake helps with weight loss by reducing appetite, increasing feelings of fullness and boosting metabolic rate.

8. Not Eating Enough Fiber

A low-fiber diet may be compromising your weight loss efforts.

Studies show a type of soluble fiber known as viscous fiber helps reduce appetite by forming a gel that holds water.

This gel moves slowly through your digestive tract, making you feel full.

Research suggests all types of fiber benefit weight loss. However, a review of several studies found viscous fiber reduced appetite and calorie intake much more than other types (29, 30).

When total fiber intake is high, some of the calories from foods in mixed meals aren't absorbed. Researchers estimate that doubling daily fiber intake could result in up to 130 fewer calories being absorbed (31).

Bottom Line: Eating enough fiber can help reduce appetite by filling you up so you eat less. It may also help you absorb fewer calories from other foods.

9. Eating Too Much Fat on a Low-Carb Diet

Ketogenic and low-carb diets can be very effective for weight loss.

Studies show they tend to reduce appetite, which often leads to a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake (32, 33, 34, 35).

Many low-carb and ketogenic diets allow unlimited amounts of fat, assuming that the resulting appetite suppression will keep calories low enough for weight loss.

However, some people may not experience a strong enough signal to stop eating. As a result, they may be consuming too many calories to achieve a calorie deficit.

If you're adding large amounts of fat to your food or beverages and are not losing weight, you may want to cut back on the fat.

Bottom Line: Although low-carb and ketogenic diets help reduce hunger and calorie intake, adding too much fat may slow down or prevent weight loss.

10. Eating Too Often, Even If You're Not Hungry

For many years, the conventional advice has been to eat every few hours in order to prevent hunger and a drop in metabolism.

Unfortunately, this can lead to too many calories being consumed over the course of the day. You may also never truly feel full.

In one study, blood sugar levels and hunger decreased while metabolic rate and feelings of fullness increased in men who consumed 3 meals versus 14 meals within a 36-hour time frame (36).

The recommendation to eat breakfast every morning, regardless of appetite, also appears to be misguided (37, 38).

One study found when people skipped breakfast, they took in more calories at lunch than when they'd eaten a morning meal. However, they consumed an average of 408 fewer calories for the day overall (38).

Eating when you're hungry and only when you're hungry seems to be key to successful weight loss.

However, letting yourself get too hungry is also a bad idea. It is better to eat a snack than become ravenously hungry, which can cause you to make poor food decisions.

Bottom Line: Eating too often can hurt your weight loss efforts. For the best results, it's important to eat only when you're hungry.

11. Having Unrealistic Expectations

Having weight loss and other health-related goals can help keep you motivated.

However, having unrealistic expectations can actually work against you.

Researchers analyzed data from several weight loss center programs. They reported that the overweight and obese women who expected to lose the most weight were the most likely to drop out of a program after 6 to 12 months (39).

Adjust your expectations to a more realistic and modest goal, such as a 10 percent drop in weight in one year. This can help prevent you from getting discouraged and improve your chances for success.

Bottom Line: Unrealistic expectations can lead to frustration and giving up altogether. Make your goals more modest to increase your chances of successful weight loss.

12. Not Tracking What You Eat in Any Way

Eating nutritious foods is a good weight loss strategy. However, you may still be eating more calories than you need to lose weight.

What's more, you may not be getting the right amount of protein, fiber, carbs and fat to support your weight loss efforts.

Studies show that tracking what you eat can help you get an accurate picture of your calorie and nutrient consumption, as well as provide accountability (40, 41).

In addition to food, most online tracking sites and apps allow you to enter your daily exercise as well. Here is a review of several popular calorie tracking tools.

Bottom Line: If you're not tracking what you eat, you may be consuming more calories than you realize. You may also be getting less protein and fiber than you think.

13. Still Drinking Sugar

Many people cut soft drinks and other sweetened beverages out of their diet to lose weight, which is a good thing.

However, drinking fruit juice instead isn't smart.

Even 100 percent fruit juice is loaded with sugar and may lead to health and weight problems similar to those caused by sugar-sweetened beverages (42).

For instance, 12 ounces (320 grams) of unsweetened apple juice contains 36 grams of sugar. That's even more than in 12 ounces of cola (43, 44).

What's more, liquid calories don't seem to affect the appetite centers in your brain the same way calories from solid foods do.

Studies show that you end up consuming more calories overall, instead of compensating for the liquid calories by eating less later in the day (45, 46).

Bottom Line: If you cut out sugar-sweetened beverages but continue drinking fruit juice, you're still getting a lot of sugar and are likely to take in more calories overall.

14. Not Reading Labels

Failing to accurately read label information can cause you to consume unwanted calories and unhealthy ingredients.

Unfortunately, many foods are labeled with healthy-sounding food claims on the front of the package. These may give you a false sense of security about choosing a certain item (47, 48).

To get to the most important information for weight control, you need to look at the ingredients list and nutrition facts label, which are on the back of the container.

You can find out more about how to read food labels in this article.

Bottom Line: Food labels provide information on ingredients, calories and nutrients. Make sure you understand how to accurately read labels.

15. Not Eating Whole, Single-Ingredient Foods

One of the worst things you can do for weight loss is to eat a lot of highly processed foods.

Animal and human studies suggest that processed foods may be a major factor in the current epidemic of obesity and other health problems (49, 50).

Some researchers believe this could be due to their negative effects on gut health and inflammation (51).

In addition, whole foods tend to be self-limiting, meaning they are hard to over-consume. By contrast, it's very easy to overeat processed foods.

When possible, choose whole, single-ingredient foods that are minimally processed.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

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An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

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Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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