“I tried dieting by myself but did not lose any weight.” I consistently hear this sentence from my clients who visit me for a nutrition consultation. It doesn’t take me long to figure out what they’re doing wrong after I ask them a few questions about their food intakes and the diet they’re following. If you’re trying to lose weight and haven’t seen results, then there might be something wrong in your approach that is affecting your weight loss progress. From my experience in my nutrition practice, here are the top 4 mistakes I’ve seen people make when trying to change their eating habits to lose weight:
Mistake #1: You Replace White Sugar with Brown Sugar or Honey
When you want to lose weight, you need to strike any form of sugar whether it is from brown sugar, honey or maple syrup. Why? Sugar increases insulin release, a hormone that regulates your blood sugar and fat storage. It takes sugar to your muscle cells to be used for immediate energy or to be stored as glycogen, the energy source of the muscle. But if your glycogen stores are full, insulin will store excess sugar as fat.
Many people use brown sugar instead of refined white sugar considering it as a better option. The truth is they only have marginally different nutritional values. The molasses in brown sugar contain a number of minerals but since only very small amounts of these minerals are present, they do not bring any health benefits to your body. At the end, brown sugar is still sugar.
Other people use sugar alternatives like honey or maple syrup. These are superior refined white sugar due to their antioxidants and minerals content. For example, maple syrup is rich in manganese, important for a healthy bone structure and bone metabolism. However, these are high in simple sugars. Honey has 80% sugar by weight and maple syrup has 70%.
If you’re healthy, active and don’t need to lose weight, then replacing sugar with honey or maple syrup in your treat recipes is ok as they are less harmful than sugar. However, if you are trying to lose weight, it is better to avoid all simple sugar sources as much as possible.
Instead, try using stevia. Stevia is a plant based low calorie sweetener and has been shown to have some health benefits. A study published in Appetite showed that stevia increased satiety (fullness) and lowered postprandial glucose (blood sugar levels after eating) and insulin levels when compared to aspartame and table sugar. In fact, participants who consumed stevia and aspartame did not compensate by eating more at their next meal compared to those who had table sugar.
Mistake #2: You Eat a Lot of Fruits
Fruits are healthy; they are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. However, they are main sources of sugar. Fruits are high in the simple sugar fructose, which is the main reason why many people trying to lose weight remove it from their diet. Unlike glucose, the most common simple sugar that is used for energy by all body cells like your muscles, brain, and other organs, fructose is only metabolized in your liver. But your liver can only process a certain amount of fructose. So excess fructose is converted into fat and stored in your fat cells. Consuming a lot of fruits means a lot of fructose and therefore a lot of fat.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid fruits when you want to lose weight. Instead, go for low sugar fruits such as kiwi, grapefruit, green apples and berries including strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. But aim to restrict your fruits intakes to 1 to 2 servings a day. This means 1 cup of strawberries (around 8 medium sized), 1 green apple, 1 medium kiwi or 1 cup of berries.
Mistake #3: You Avoid Fat
When you think of losing weight, the macronutrient fat is always thought of as enemy number one. Many tend to choose low fat products to decrease their fat intakes and calories in their diet. But just because the food product states it is “low in fat”, “reduced fat” or “fat free” does not necessarily mean that they are better for you to lose weight. Most of these products have 20% more sugar than the full fat equivalents. Think about it, fat and sugar is what gives food good flavor and texture. If the product is low in fat, something else must be added, which is usually sugar, to maintain taste and textural properties. A good example is low fat fruit yogurt, which may contain 4 to 5 teaspoons of sugar in 1 cup.
People are scared of fat, but your body needs fat for healthy hair and skin, for the production of some hormones and for the absorption of some vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K. When it comes to weight loss, fat helps in burning fat when you are on low carb diet. Studies found that a diet rich in fat led to the greatest reduction in belly fat compared to diets high in carbohydrates.
The key is to get the right type of fat and amounts. There are two types of fat classified as bad fats and good fats. Bad fats are processed food products containing trans fat, which raise your bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol that protects us against heart disease. Examples are chips, fried food, margarine, shortening, ice cream, cake mixes and frostings. Avoid those. Good fats are those found naturally in the food, known as mono and polyunsaturated fat. Examples are nuts, avocados, olives and olive oil.
So start having almonds or walnuts as snacks, include avocados in your main meals or in dips or sauces and use olive oil in your salad dressings. Be sure to consume fats with moderate amounts. While fats are good for you, they are high in calories and can impede your weight loss efforts.
Mistake #4: You Do Not Eat Enough
Many people tend to avoid eating when trying to lose weight. You either eat one or two small meals per day or follow some crash diets you find online like juice or soup diets, promoted to make you lose weight fast. Basically both ways you are not eating enough and most probably consuming less than 1000 calories per day. The truth is when you follow such diets you lose weight fast. The sad truth is the fast kilos you see dropping on your scale are mainly water, not fat. Also, having a very low calorie diet over a long period of time makes you lose muscle mass, which affects your metabolism. Muscle mass is highly correlated to your metabolic rate. The higher your muscle mass, the higher your metabolism, the faster your body burns. Loosing muscle mass causes your metabolism to slow down leading to weight gain. So when you reach your target goal and go back to your usual diet, you will more likely put on more weight than what you started with.
On top of that, very low calorie diets cause fatigue and laziness. When you do not eat enough, you do not provide your body with the right amounts of nutrients, vitamins and minerals for it function properly. This results in lower energy levels. Not to mention other side effects like hair loss and scaly skin due to the lack of protein sources and certain vitamins. Finally, very low calorie diets make you feel hungry which increases your chances for cheating or binge eating.
You should eat to lose weight. But you should eat the right foods and amounts. The best way is to have a deficit of 500 calories per day while reducing your carbs and increasing your protein and fat intakes. This strategy might take you a longer time than crash dieting but at least you make sure you only lose fat mass without any side effects. We all want shortcuts and fast results but remember: easy come, easy go!
Anton, Stephen D., et al. “Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels.” Appetite 55.1 (2010): 37-43.
Paniagua, Juan Antonio, et al. “Monounsaturated fat–rich diet prevents central body fat distribution and decreases postprandial adiponectin expression induced by a carbohydrate-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects.” Diabetes care 30.7 (2007): 1717-1723.