If you’re frustrated with a stuck scale, chances are, there’s an easy explanation. According to researchers at the Loyola University Health System in Melrose Park, Ill., when people fail to lose weight, the same four factors are often to blame. Before starting any diet or weight loss plan, it’s important to remember that one pound of fat is the equivalent of 3,500 calories, so to lose one pound, you have to cut 500 calories through diet and exercise every day. It sounds simple enough, but these easy mistakes might still be stalling your efforts.
1. Underestimating calories consumed. The top roadblock in the way of your weight loss might be that you’re simply eating too much. Last year, a survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, a not-for-profit health education organization, found that a paltry 9 percent of Americans can accurately estimate how many calories they consume every day, even though two-thirds of Americans are on some type of diet. Jessica Bartfield, MD, an internist who specializes in nutrition and weight management at Loyola University Health System’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, suggests writing down everything you eat, including drinks and small bites of food, to increase awareness around how much you’re really consuming. She also recommends measuring portion sizes at home, and planning ahead to order healthy options at restaurants.
2. Overestimating activity and calories burned. On the flip side, many dieters overestimate how many calories they burn through exercise. Remember that you can’t always trust the cardio machines at your gym — several studies have found that treadmill and elliptical machine calorie counts overestimate your burn by as much as 10 percent. Plus, it’s important to remember that if you want to lose weight, you can’t eat more just because you worked out. Instead, fill up with nutrient-rich foods that are low in calories, but high in protein and fiber.
3. Not eating often enough. You know you should eat breakfast, but if you wait hours between meals or snacks, you could be slowing your metabolism, Bartfield says. It’s best to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up, and to eat a small meal or snack every three to four hours throughout the day.
4. Poor sleeping habits. Good news for people who love to hit snooze! Numerous studies have linked proper sleeping habits to weight management. “Studies have shown that people who get fewer than six hours of sleep have higher levels of ghrelin, which is a hormone that stimulates appetite, particularly for high- carbohydrate and high-calorie foods,” Bartfield says. “In addition, less sleep raises levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, which can lead to weight gain.” If you have problems sleeping, try exercising in the morning to minimize exercise’s effect on your sleep cycle.