21 Dumb Mistakes That Doom Your Health and Weight Loss Goals From Day One
#1 Worrying about how much you’re eating.
A super common “mistake” I see people make when they decide “today’s the day!” is this: they spend all their day just trying to eat less.
“Uhhh, Alex isn’t eating less how you lose weight?”
Yes, but with a huge exception.
Not all foods keep you full equally – so for example, if you just end up eating less, you’re going to be starving – because you’re already eating “low satiety” foods.
Let’s say we’ve got little Jimmy over here who eats lots of white bread, pizza, and chicken.
For lunch he enjoys a white bread sandwich with chicken and a soda.
He decides he needs to lose weight, so what does he do? He eats half the sandwich and keeps the soda.
Naturally – Jimmy wasn’t eating a very healthy diet in the first place, so he was getting a high amount of calories, a low amount of nutrients, and a low to moderate level of “fullness” from his meals.
So what happens when he cuts his food in half? He’s starving.
The Fix: Focus on “what” – more than the “how much.” When you do, the how much often naturally comes into place – without you realizing you are eating less.
Some months ago I did a fascinating experiment where I showed, in pictures, the shocking difference between “what” and “how much” you eat. You can read that article here.
Dozens of the success stories I’ve interviewed echoed this – when they focused on the right foods, they naturally ate less and didn’t realize it.
#2 Ignoring the satiety effect
Not all calories are created equally – and I’m not just talking about good carbs or bad carbs.
I’m talking about how full certain foods make you feel.
If you haven’t seen my “shocking: in pictures” study I referenced above, read it here.
But here’s the thing: you can eat two things with the exact same calories, and one will stuff you, and one will make you still feel hungry.
Not surprisingly – stuff that is processed, as well as junk food, is LOWEST on the satiety index – you’ll eat a lot more of it, and feel less full.
- Croissant – 47%
- Cake – 65%
- Doughnuts – 68%
- Candy Bar – 70%
- Chips – 91%
- Potatoes – 323%
- Oatmeal – 209%
- Oranges – 202%
- Wheat bread – 157%
- Eggs -150%
- Lentils – 133%
The Fix: Focus more on the foods that will keep you fuller, while eating less total calories (you won’t even realize you’re eating less). Coincidentally, these also tend to be the healthiest foods. More on the study here.
#3 Eating the wrong carbs
Carbs are often demonized as the bad guy – but some pretty cool studies have shown that it’s not necessarily carbs that are bad per se, but what kind you are eating.
Researchers in one study (more on that here) found that it wasn’t whether or not people ate carbs that was important – but which carbs they ate.
So in other words, being carb selective is more important than avoiding them altogether.
The Fix: Shift to eating more whole, unrefined, high GI carbs. Forget starving yourself of the carbs, and just focus on which ones you are eating – more of the brown rice, less of the white rice, more of the “whole” stuff, less of the refined stuff that’s white.
#4 Committing the new year’s sin
Every year, scores of people approach the new year and lace up their new shoes ready to finally conquer their health and weight loss once and for all.
… And by April, the majority are no longer going to the gym.
It’s pretty basic:
You can’t go from zero hours in the gym each week to five overnight.
You can’t go from eating junk 24/7, to not eating it 24/7 overnight.
You can’t eat out 3 meals a day, and expect to start cooking dinner every night of the week flawlessly.
That’s just not how most of us are wired, disciplined, or set by our habits.
But what would happen if you decided, hey, this week I’m going to start with just 20 minutes – and only 20 minutes. And then next week I’ll add on a second day of 20 minutes. And so on and so forth.
So rather than trying to work out 5 hours a week from day 1 – work up to that over the course of 4 months.
The Fix: Learn how to create tiny habits, like in this article.
#5 Ignoring the “rule of 5”
There’s an old success quote that goes something like this:
“You are the product of the 5 people you hang around with the most.”
Here’s the thing: this is also true of health and weight loss.
Don’t believe me? Just look at your friends. You are shockingly similar to them in every way, from your health, to your weight, to your financial success, and even your happiness.
And unfortunately – our friends and family are sometimes the worst thing imaginable when we’re trying to make sustainable health changes.
John has cookies on the counter.
Jill has potluck dinners with tons of desserts.
Mark has liters of soda in the fridge.
Janey keeps ice cream constantly in the freezer.
It’s not rocket science – but it’s often a lot less fun to do in real life – start surrounding yourself with people you want to look like. So sometimes that might mean avoiding getting happy hour drinks every day, and instead, twice a week going to a yoga class – and maybe hanging out with those people on the weekend instead.
The Fix: Change who you hang around with. Simple in theory, much harder in practice. If you’re hanging around with people that get beer and wings every day at 5 pm, chances are, you’re going to look like them soon too.
#6 The myopia flaw
You may have great results in the short run, e.g. lose 6 pounds… but then what? It may take the next 12 months to lose the next 15. It’s still worth it, of course, but losing 1 pound a month may seem like nothing.
Let’s take a recent example: Two of my recent students in the Dream Body program lost 7 pounds in the first 9 days. Wahoo!
… But three weeks later, one person in particualy had still only lost 7 pounds. Frustrated, she reached out to me, celebrated her short victory, then talked about some of her frustrations.
“I seem to have plateaued… this is super frustrating, do you know how long it’s going to take for me to get to the next level?” she asked.
Here’s the truth: health and weight loss isn’t linear.
So sometimes you lose weight quickly – then it stalls. So even though she lost 7 pounds in 9 days, it might take her the next 7 months to lose the next 7 pounds.
7 months!? What’s even the point!
Look – we often overestimate what we can accomplish in a year, but underestimate how much we can in 5 or 10 years (Cue Tony Robbins).
So if you walk into a new regime thinking you’re going to get, and sustain, crazy results – you might be disappointed. Do they happen? Sure, but it’s rare. MUCH more likely is the person who takes 2 years to lose 30 pounds – and then maintains that for decades through regular practice.
The Fix: Plan for plateaus, and come into the game knowing that it’s not a straight line. There is no simple mathematical formula that will predict how quickly you can lose 30 pounds and keep it off. And very few studies have actually supported that idea that you just “eat 500 calories less a day to lost 1-2 pounds a week for life.”
#7 Being afraid of fat
A few months back, I showed a study where a Yale researcher was tasked with the mission of figuring out which diet, of all the diets out there, had shown the best results for people long term.
And he found a few interesting trends:
- The emphasis on real food
- Fats – which fats you ate, rather than avoiding fats
- Carbs – which carbs you ate, rather than avoiding carbs
That makes your life a lot easier right?
The right fats are the ones you find in nuts, avocados, coconut oil, naturally in meats, etc. The wrong ones are the seed oils that are processed and refined.
This is one of the old nutritional myths that just won’t die.
The Fix: Just go back to my core principle #1 – focus on what you’re eating, rather than just how much. And then watch this video:
#8 Getting seduced by wedding day syndrome
Wedding Day Syndrome, as I call it, is this:
We assume weight loss is an event, rather than a process.
All over the world, people spend YEARS or DECADES preparing for the wedding day itself, which is overly romanticized in movies and in books – and not the marriage which lasts (ideally) decades. In other words, all the hard work is the marriage – not the wedding.
But we emphasize the wedding.
The same is true of weight loss – many of us have event-based thinking. We think about ‘that day’ where we look great in the mirror, we go to the beach and people admire us, or the week where we finally lose those 30 pounds for good.
… But nothing ever sticks around forever without work.
What happens once you reach that 30 pound goal? If you stop, it all comes back. And that’s because health and weight loss never end – they’re processes that are forever ongoing.
Once you fully understand that health is a process – not a one-time event – you are already ahead of 99% of people.
The Fix: Make sustainable changes – don’t tell yourself you’re never going to eat sugar again, because you will. Make changes that you can live with for life – so chances are, they’re going to be a lot less dramatic than what you’ve been dreaming up.
#9 Neglecting “internal triggers”
The other day I was talking with one of my students via email, and I asked him about his biggest issue maintaining weight loss and good health.
And he mentioned his nightly routine, something I would classify as full of “internal triggers.”
It went something like this:
“I work a lot of hours, so by the time I get home at 9, I’m too exhausted to really do anything. I usually sit down with some takeout and a couple beers, and veg out in front of the TV to combat the stress.”
So for this guy, there is no diet in the world that could help him – because this nightly routine was deeply ingrained with his daily stress of working too much.
The solution for him would not be a diet – it would be figuring out alternative methods of dealing with his stress. In other words, these internal triggers (emotional ones) are what are causing him to fail and his weight to balloon up.
The Fix: Emotional stuff. You’ve gotta address that, and not your diet. If your life is so stressful that you can’t help but drink a six pack and get take out every night, then good luck. Weight watchers, nutrisystem, and Jillian Michaels won’t be able to help you unless you address those things.
#10 Forgetting about liquid calories
Sometimes we begin eating all the right things, but we forget the fact that we might also be drinking a lot of excess, like this:
- Your morning orange juice at work: ~150 calories
- Your morning frappucino from the coffee shop: ~200-500 calories
- Your afternoon or evening soda to de-stress: ~150 calories
Right there is an extra 500+ calories – enough to significantly bump up how much you’re consuming throughout the day leading to weight gain.
The Fix: Simple: scale down how much you’re drinking your calories. And read this article for more ideas on the quickest, easiest habit to change to lose weight.
#11 Crunches for belly fat
Have you ever looked at the celebrity gossip magazines or the health magazines while waiting on line in the grocery store?
They always have a headline mentioning losing belly fat (for women) or how to get a six pack (for men). It’s obvious that our society is obsessed with abdominals.
Many of us accumulate body fat in certain areas of our body, which usually varies based on the individual and genetics.
However, due to the massive obsession with a flat stomach (thanks to the big gossip magazines), many women tell me that they want to try and get rid of fat in one place – their arms, their stomach, their butt.
But here’s the truth: there is no such thing as spot fat removal – you cannot lose more fat over your stomach by doing stomach exercises.
So how do you lose that stubborn fat?
You might not be happy with this answer, but there are no secrets.
When you’re eating the right foods, getting your body in motion, sleeping enough, and keeping stress levels to a minimum, your body fat will reduce overall – and also in those areas that you want like your stomach, legs, arms, etc.
The Fix: The belly fat-loss truth has always been the same – focus on losing weight and fat overall, and you’ll lose it on your belly. Crunches won’t help you lose fat just on your stomach (or anywhere else).
#12 Doing exercise…. that you HATE
It amazes me, each year as the new year rolls around most of us decide it’s time to get healthy, and we make some resolution to get better… and we all do the same thing.
I see hundreds of people start running (despite hating it), and I see hundreds of people start hopping on machines or classes in the gym that they despise.
So is it really that surprising when they quit a few short months later?
Remember – health is a process – not an event. It’s ongoing. It never ends. It’s pretty ridiculous to assume that you’re going to keep doing this for 30 years, right?
Think about that.
30 years from now can you see yourself doing the physical activity you’re currently doing… or does that immediately sound agonizing?
Pick something that doesn’t cause your stomach to twist in knots because you hate it so much.
The Fix: Watch this video on how to psychologically trick yourself into finding motivation to exercise.
#13 Thinking it’s all about what you eat and how often you exercise
Look – it’s a straight up lie that your health or weight are just reflections of what you eat and how often you exercise. Bottom line: this is the biggest lie.
How does Marshall, the stressed out CEO, come home, eat a bunch of takeout, a few beers, and some dessert fix his health? He has to address his ridiculous workload and stress (no diet will fix that).
How does Cathy – the overworked mom who also works fulltime – manage to avoid her sugar cravings throughout the day, that she gets because she only sleeps 5 hours a night?
No diet is going to help her – because she needs to sleep more than 5 hours a night to rebalance her hormones.
How does Sandra, the college student, stop eating crappy food five times a day because she’s so deathly bored with all her free time after class? Will a diet help her?
Nope – she needs to figure out better ways of dealing with her boredom.
The Fix: Underlying poor health or weight gain is often a lot more than just bad food and lack of movement. Those are often symptoms of overwork, too much stress, lack of sleep, being unhappy, or a combination of all of the above. Figure out what’s bothering you at the base level, and address the problem at the root.
#14 Trying to eat healthier take out food
Uhh… don’t eat healthier take out food?
Lots of my friends live in New York City and they say that virtually “no one” cooks their own food – so they all eat out three times a day. The problem is this – much of the time, they have trouble losing weight, even though they walk all day and even though they eat at “healthy places.”
What’s the deal?
Here’s the thing: even if you eat at healthy restaurants, you are still often getting a lot more calories than if you ate the same food at home. Restaurants (even healthy ones) often cook in sauces with extra butter, and extra flavor, which make them delicious – but heavier than what you’d eat at home.
Just to prove this, I did an experiment with Panera bread, where I broke down their sandwich based on the pieces, and the calories, and I re-created my own – and you can see the surprising results.
The Fix: Find just one night a week where you can start cooking – make a short, 30 minute meal. Then apply that habit to other days of the week.
#15 Not balancing your cortisol
Cortisol is your primary stress hormone in the body, related to that whole fight or flight thing you’ve probably heard of.
What you may (or may not) know is that cortisol levels that are too high are directly related to belly fat gain.
So what increases your cortisol (stress) levels too much?
The first – stress.
The second – lack of sleep.
The third – too many stimulants like coffee, red bull, other energy drinks, etc.
The Fix: Don’t neglect how important managing cortisol is – and not just managing your stress. We know it’s directly related to belly fat gain, and we know it’s fairly easy to reduce for most people – more sleep, less stress, less stimulants. It’s a lot harder to do though, right?
#16 Letting the resistance beat you
There’s a voice in your head making you fail.
Most of you will immediately know what I’m talking about. But some of you will have no idea.
You know the little voice that says “Eh, maybe next time” or “I’ll say yes (or no) just this once” or “I’ll start that project next week.”
It’s the voice of resistance – the little demon that makes us choose what’s easy now and sacrifice our long term success.
It’s what happens when, even when you know exactly what you should be doing, you don’t do it anyway.
It’s the little devil on your right shoulders that talks you into doing something you shouldn’t do, or not doing something that you should do.
But here’s something that I hope will change your life: do an experiment. For 30 days, don’t listen to a single word that your head says.
Do whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish for your health, or just your life – fix your relationship, lose 10 pounds, sleep a little more, spend more quality time with those you care about. And IGNORE whatever your head says. Just keep following your plan.
30 days is long enough for miracles to happen.
The Fix: Most of your life, whether or not you realize it, is driven by drama produced by your mind. Every time you feel resistant to something, it’s made up in your head. Every time you procrastinate, it’s that resistance beating you. And sometimes, our lives are just a product of this resistance. For 30 days try pushing forward and ignoring everything your mind says.
#17 Silver Bullet Syndrome
Do you know how long the average Olympian trains for the Olympics?
This article at Forbes suggests 4-8 years – and I assume that’s full-time, or 3-6 hours a day.
So, conservatively, that’s a couple thousand hours invested to get where they are. I get it, you’re not an olympian and you don’t want to be one, but the point is still the same:
There will never be a silver bullet diet, program, book, or system that makes it easy for you to achieve the results you want.
The bottom line is that the people with the best health, who maintain that forever, are the ones who show up every day and do something little.
My mom is a good example: she’s maintained her weight around ~115 pounds for her entire life – from 22, to now almost 60. How? No secret sauce, no diet books, no hidden techniques, she just did the work every week, for the past (almost) 40 years.
I told you the secret wasn’t sexy.
She just exercised 3-4 times a week, every week, without fail, for 40 years and always cooked at home. Sure she changed her exercise, and now does zumba and kickboxing and all kinds of stuff, but there is no secret to her health – and the fact that people regularly tell her she looks 40 is also no surprise.
Take care of your health, and it’ll take care of you.
The Fix: There is no secret, and there will never be a secret to perfect health. It’s about the tiny things you do daily, over time. So are you doing those things today?
#18 Neglecting the “2 week rule”
Too many people make huge sweeping changes they can only maintain for a few weeks. In fact, I would say this is where most of us fail.
The “2 week rule” is this: when “that day” rolls around that you decide to get healthy, you’re over-estimating what you can realistically maintain (habit-wises), for more than 2 weeks.
So we often start working out four hours a week, or we start saying “i’m never having sugar again!” when in reality these are pretty silly decisions.
Realistically, the million dollar question is, “Can I do this for the next 30 years?” not “Can I do this for the next 30 days?” Remember: the process never ends.
The Fix: Anytime you plan on making a new habit or going through a new routine, ask yourself if it’s realistic beyond 2 weeks. If it isn’t, chances are you won’t stick with it.
#19 Ignoring the “Success Principles”
A few months back, I filmed a video that showed the 5 psychological differences between people that succeed at maintaining their weight loss, versus those that don’t.
One of the most painfully obvious differences was this: social support. Now I know that you know this. But are you doing it?
Look at the differences:
In successful maintainers, 85% used social support.
In relapsers, only 35% used social support.
It’s that easy – schedule a call once a week with a friend for 5 minutes just to check in. Just check in! That almost triples your chances of being successful over the long run:
The Fix: Have some kind of check in – whether that’s with a friend, with your journal, or with something else. It’s the easiest way to triple your chances of succeeding.
#20 Trying to incentivize yourself to take action
“Okay, if I go work out today, or take 1000 steps, I can have that cookie.”
Do you often use this kind of stuff to motivate yourself?
If so, holdup!
You’re doing yourself a HUGE disservice further down the line.
First – you’re forcing yourself to rely on extrinsic motivation. You’re making yourself take an action only for the reward.
And sometimes that’s just a symptom that you’re doing something you really don’t like. And I get it with exercise – but for example, the solution is often a lot easier. Hate Zumba? Stop going to Zumba class and do yoga instead.
Hate running on a treadmill? Then stop. Start lifting weights, or doing something more fun and exciting, or do martial arts, or pick up a new hobby. There are so many various options that it’s mind blowing that so many people do what they hate thinking that there is no better way.
The Fix: Focus on intrinsic motivation. Activities that are flow producing for you that you actually enjoy. Read this quickstart guide on finding flow.
#21 Taking advice from Debbie Downers
When you start seeing any kind of results in your life, your friends often feel threatened or will try to sabotage you.
Sol talked about this in the interview I did with him – whereas most people were really excited to see him start losing weight, after he had lost 100+ pounds and he was getting super fit and thin, they started to envy him and would sabotage him by saying things like:
- “Dude you’re looking pretty skinny, you should eat more!”
- “Is there something wrong with you? You look sick!”
- “Whoa, you need to stop, this is unhealthy, I’m going to stage an intervention!”
People literally told him these things – and in reality, this happens quite a lot – beyond just weight loss. Anytime others see you pursuing your dream of health, wealth, or happiness, they are often envious that they aren’t doing the same. They know they should be, but they aren’t.
The Fix: Ignore naysayers, and just focus on making tiny, incremental changes every single day. Do you want to be the success story, or be the one watching success stories on TV?
What else would you add to this list? Tell me below!
This was one great comprehensive guide.
“#8 Getting seduced by wedding day syndrome” made me laugh, but I’m also aware that I’ve been looking at weight loss in the same way.
Also, addressing emotional issues is a *big* one. All my struggle with body image and weight loss has been rooted in emotional issues and it took me a really long time to finally figure out *which* emotional issues triggered my chaotic eating. Now I’m slowly going in the right direction and it feels amazing.
Totally Lina :-). Haven’t heard from you in a while, how have you been?
I’ve been really good. 🙂
Actually, I’ve dropped you an email about 3-4 days ago with some “updates.”