Weight Loss Mistakes Beginners Make


Weight-loss rookies beware: despite your best efforts, you may be making some well-intentioned mistakes that not only halt your progress, but can actually cause weight gain, leaving you feeling anything but motivated.

But before you get discouraged, know this: If you know what you're up against, you can play defense against the most common diet destroyers to ensure you lose weight and hit your diet and fitness goals. Here, author of The Belly Off! Diet and The Belly Off! Workouts Jeff Csatari shares five seemingly benign missteps that initially tripped up many of the weight-loss winners in the Men's Health Belly Off! Club.

1. Overestimating workout intensity 

When you're sweating buckets and gasping for air, it can feel like you've just run a marathon when you've only travelled half a mile. Workout machines like the elliptical, which supposedly track calories burned, don't help, either. One study found exercise machines overestimated calorie burn by an average of 42 percent!

One easy way to make sure you're accurately gauging your workout intensity is to time yourself. Research shows that you need to exercise at moderate to high intensity for at least 12 minutes to reap the greatest fat loss rewards. That level of activity boosts your body's ability to generate more of the fat-burning enzyme lipase, which breaks down fats.

Another smart strategy: learn to accurately gauge your exertion level. A heart rate monitor does the work for you, but if you don't have one, use this helpful tool, the Rating of Perceived Exertion chart, which describes the psychological perception of performing an activity.

1 Very Light Activity: Anything other than sleeping, watching TV, riding in a car, etc. 

2-3 Light Activity: Feels like you can maintain for hours; easy to breathe and carry a conversation 

4-6 Moderate Activity: A comfortable pace; breathing a bit heavier but can hold a short conversation

7-8 Vigorous Activity: Starting to sweat; short of breath and breathing harder but can speak a sentence. 

9 Very Hard Activity: Difficult to maintain exercise intensity; can barely speak a single word 

10 Max Effort Activity: Feels almost impossible to keep going; completely out of breath and unable to talk

Recognizing exertion level is key to reap the most benefit from interval training. A study from The College of New Jersey found that women who switched between moderate and high intensity burned about 15 more calories for 30 minutes after a workout than those who exercised at a moderate, steady pace.

2. Underestimating food intake 
Turns out, most people aren't good at estimating how much they're actually eating, and this only gets worse as the meal size increases. A study from Cornell University found that people are able to accurately estimate the number of calories in smaller meals, but are very likely to underestimate the number of calories in a larger meal. Translation: you think you're eating less than you actually are. 

The best move: keep a food diary and look up calorie counts online. If you know you're going to a restaurant that serves big meals (and most do), look up the nutrition information before you go out so that you can outsmart the menu. The Men's Health and Women's Health Workout Logbooksinclude a sample daily food diary, and allow you to track your diet and exercise program for 52 weeks.

3. Chugging sports drinks 
Unless you're exercising at a high level for more than an hour, your body simply doesn't need to replenish electrolytes (read: salt). Water is all you need for healthy hydration. Besides, sports drinks add calories that you're trying to burn off!

4. Skipping resistance training 

Walking, even running, on the treadmill can only take you so far. Your body needs resistance training as well as cardio. A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that alternating days of aerobic exercise and resistance training was more effective for improving overall body composition. The combined program resulted in more lean body mass, where aerobics alone did not and women lost more weight on the combined program than on the aerobics class.

What's more, lifting weights increase the number of calories you burn after a workout. A University of Wisconsin study found that when people performed a total-body workout targeting the largest muscle groups of the body, their resting metabolisms stayed elevated for 39 hours afterward. Try adding big muscle resistance exercises to your routine like squats, lunges, bench presses, and rows. 

5. Only stretching before a workout 

It's easy to remember to stretch when you're at the gym-you look around and people are bending, pulling, and using foam rollers all over the place. But what about the day after? A study at Brigham Young University-Hawaii found that beginning lifters who did static stretching on their rest days grew stronger than lifters who didn't stretch. Researchers say that lengthening muscle fibers through stretching causes the muscles to allow faster contraction speeds, which can result in increased power. These strength-building stretches will boost your results.