6 'Healthy' habits that are actually terrible for losing weight
Conventional wisdom says adopting healthy lifestyle changes - like cleaning up your diet, spending more time in the gym, and going to sleep a few hours earlier - will help you lose weight because doing something is better than doing nothing at all, right?
This is true, but some people have a tendency to take this and run with it, exercising far too much, or dieting so extremely it's considered dangerous. There is no singular answer to weight loss, but some habits can set you back more than others, even when you have the best of intentions. Here, the “healthy” strategies that might prevent you from losing as much weight as you could, and what you should do to shed pounds instead.
1. Downsizing your portions dramatically
Sticking to proper portion sizes will help you lose weight, but if you cut them down too drastically too quickly, your hunger hormone ghrelin will spike, signalling to your brain that you’re not full. At the same time, your body won’t produce as much of the satiety hormone leptin. As a result you'll end up in "starvation mode" which usually results in overeating by the subsequent feelings of guilt, shame, or failure from not following your diet,” explains metabolic training expert Nathan Trenteseaux, owner of Underground Fitness Revolution in Florida, USA.
Instead, balance a ratio of protein, vegetables, and healthy fats to feel satisfied for the three to five hours in between your daily meals. Aim for at least 25 grams of lean protein per meal, ideally at least 30 if muscle gain is your goal. If you need to eyeball it, protein should make up roughly a quarter of your plate, says Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D.N. The other quarter of your plate should contain fiber-rich whole grains, while the rest - about half your plate - should be loaded with vegetables.
2. Opting for low-fat foods
“Any time a food is listed as low-fat, the food manufacturers have replaced the fat with sugars or other potentially harmful chemicals and additives,” Trenteseaux says, meaning they’ll typically pack more empty calories than their full-fat counterparts. “In addition, your body needs healthy fats for a number of processes, including hormone production, brain function, and, yes, even fat loss.”
Fat is a super satiating agent, meaning it will make you feel fuller for longer. Eating too much, as we know, can do terrible things to your body but with care and attention in what fats you eat, you will see pounds drop. What does that mean in the real world? Normal fats are okay - it's trans fats you need to stay away from.
3. Fuelling up with energy bars
Energy bars and sports drinks may seem like a great go-to snack, but they’re really only necessary for exercise lasting 90 minutes or longer. “Most men typically spend 60 minutes or less training and burn, on average, 250 to 500 calories during that time depending on the mode of exercise chosen,” Trenteseaux says. “Loading up on sports drinks and energy bars can negate all the calories burned during exercise,” he says, which can halt your fat loss.
“A better option is to consume water before, during, and after exercise and throughout the day,” Trenteseaux explains. A good rule of thumb? Pay attention to your thirst, and drink up when it hits. He also suggests eating a pre-workout snack containing protein and carbs, such as an apple and a handful of almonds. Go for a whey protein shake post-workout instead.
4. Doing cardio all day, every day
“Cardio alone does not build or maintain muscle,” Trenteseaux says. In fact, a study published in BMC Public Health found that overweight people who included both cardio and weight training during a 12-week exercise program lost more body fat than those who did just one or the other.
Strength training is crucial, because you tend to lose muscle as you drop pounds, he explains. Muscle is metabolically active tissue, meaning you will burn more calories at rest, helping you lose more weight - and keep it off - for the long haul. The expert suggests giving HIIT more of a gander. “Perform high-intensity strength training three times each week and perform cardio on alternate days 1 to 3 times each week to get the most bang for your buck,” says Trenteseaux.
5. Replacing dessert with sugar substitutes
Switching to sugar-free foods with artificial sweeteners may save you some calories, but artificial sweeteners have been linked to long-term health effects, like a higher obesity risk, type 2 diabetes, and heart problems. Some research also suggests that artificial sweeteners can ramp up your cravings for sweet foods in general, Trenteseaux explains. When you want to try something sweet, make it yourself with as little sugar as possible. This way you control what goes into your food and you can satisfy that sweet craving.
6. Choosing gluten-free packaged foods
Unless you have coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or other GI issues that are exacerbated by gluten - a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley - you don’t really have to avoid it. “Gluten makes foods light and airy, so when food manufacturers remove it, they have to add other high-calorie ingredients - like fat, sugar and starch - to help foods taste good,” Ansel explains. “As a result, many gluten-free packaged foods have more calories than their original gluten-free counterparts.”
If you have to go gluten-free, stick with minimally-processed foods, like brown rice, quinoa, and baked or sweet potatoes, Ansel says. “They’re naturally filling without all the added fat, sugar, and starch you’d find in packaged gluten-free foods,” she explains. And if you don’t need to avoid gluten, just swap out the types of carbs you’re eating.
Read up on as much as you can, experiment to find what works best for you. There's no magic formula, so this whole health and fitness, life and body change thing will take time. Just make sure you're having fun doing it.