7 'healthy' habits that may slow weight loss, according to a dietitian – Insider
Some habits that seem healthy could be disrupting your weight loss efforts, and may not be as good for you as you think, according to a registered dietitian.
Popular dieting strategies that promise fast weight loss results could leave you feeling frustrated and deprived instead, said Jaclyn London, registered dietitian and author of Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked): 11 Science-Based Ways to Eat More, Stress Less, and Feel Great About Your Body.
“There’s no guarantee with the science of weight loss. As dietitians, our whole practice is about finding what works for an individual,” she said.
She said you should be skeptical of common dieting habits that seem healthy but could be detrimental to your weight loss and wellbeing, including fasting, juice cleanses, diet foods, and excessive restrictions. While some people may have weight-loss success after making dramatic changes, it’s better for long-term health to focus on consistency and small, sustainable tweaks to your current habits, London said.
One of the most pervasive mistakes people make with weight loss is trying to rush into it with a complete lifestyle overhaul, London said.
“It’s eliminating healthy habits and prioritizing weight loss at all costs,” she said.
It may be branded as a “kick start” or “jump start” to weight loss, or framed as a challenge to last a certain number of days, like the “75 Hard” trend.
But anything that promises fast results through an extreme routine is likely to end in frustration, according to London.
The reality is that weight loss takes time — while you may white-knuckle your way through the challenge, you’re unlikely to have lasting results unless you look for smaller, sustainable changes to your routine.
“It’s about finding solutions in your current lifestyle that meet your needs but any kind of total restriction or overhaul almost always backfires. Consistency is key,” London said.
Skipping meals to cut calories is a common dieting pitfall that can actually cause you to eat more than you would otherwise, according to London.
“Many of us grew up in this indoctrinated mindset of restricting to ‘save up’ for later in the day. It always tends to backfire and we end up in a restrict and binge cycle,” she said.
Similarly, a popular recent diet trend called intermittent fasting involves eating during a certain period of time during the day. While proponents say fasting can boost weight loss and improve health, research is mixed. Some studies have found it can be successful for weight loss, while other evidence suggests it’s no better than comparable diets and could have side effects like muscle loss.
London said it can be risky to leave yourself hungry throughout the day in an effort to cut calories, because you may just eat more at the next meal.
“I don’t recommend fasting for anyone, especially for people looking to lose weight,” she said. “Eating consistently every four hours or so helps us stay on top of our hunger and satiety cues throughout the day and gives us the energy we need.”
Another well-meaning but misguided diet strategy is trying to completely eliminate so-called “unhealthy” foods like sweets, snacks, and processed food, according to London.
“Cutting anything out is only going to have the effect of making you want that thing more,” she said.
Too much processed food can be lead to health issues and weight gain, so it it can be helpful to reduce foods that are high in calories, sugars, and fats.
Continuing to enjoy them in small portions helps make sure you can stick to your diet over time, though.
“Having treats is really important to keep into any eating pattern. Give yourself permission to enjoy every single bite,” London said.
There’s also no need to stress over one indulgent “cheat meal” or day. Making progress toward a weight loss goal is about consistency, according to London.
“No single meal or snack can make or break you, not going to change the number on the scale or derail your diet,” she said.
When you’re craving a sweet treat on a diet, it’s best to aim for the real thing, according to London — processed diet foods like keto cookies, sugar-free candy, or low-fat anything may be unlikely to satisfy.
“You want to distinguish between food you like to eat and food marketing claims. Often, it’s taking out the thing that made the food great in the first place,” she said.
As a result, you may end up eating more of an unsatisfying snack, and enjoy it less, than if you just indulged in a bit of what you’re actually craving, she said.
Opting for whole foods, even if they’re higher in calories, may make it easier to lose weight than processed alternatives, nutrition writer Mark Schatzker previously told Insider.
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While common dieting wisdom suggests losing weight is about eating less, London said a restrictive approach can leave you hungry, cranky, and less likely to stick to it.
Instead, a simple mindset shift of swapping in different foods can help you avoid feeling deprived, she said. Rather than reducing, prioritize adding healthy ingredients to your meals and snacks, especially things like leafy greens that add a high volume of food with few calories.
“Think about ‘more’ — more produce, more fruit,” London said. “The more you can think about including, the more satisfying your meals can be.”
Whole foods in your diet can help increase the nutrients and fiber you consume, leaving you more likely to feel full and stick to a diet, evidence suggests.
Protein, an essential macronutrient, is a popular diet ingredient because it can help reduce hunger, but you can have too much of a good thing, according to London.
It’s true that getting more whole-food sources of protein like lean meats, seafood, and legumes can help you feel more satisfied after eating and help you plan healthy meals.
“Just the simple mindset shift of including more protein and fiber at every meal can have benefits,” London said.
However, high-protein diets often rely on shakes, powders, or snacks. Processed protein sources can be problematic because supplements are poorly regulated, and you may not know what you’re getting. Some protein products are high in added sugars, packing in extra calories, or can have sugar alcohol that may cause digestive issues, London said.
You can also have too much protein, taking in excess calories without any additional benefit.
“If you take in more protein than you need, your body is just going to excrete it,” London said.
Protein products may also be branded as muscle-building, but you also need to do strength training in order to gain muscle, evidence shows.
“The wishful thinking is that just by eating a protein bar or protein cookie then poof, you’ve got lean muscles, but it doesn’t work that way,” registered dietitian Angie Asche previously told Insider.
The juice cleanse is a popular celebrity weight loss fad, but it can leave you feeling hungrier and slow down your weight loss at the same time, London said.
Juicing fruit and vegetables removes the fiber, a type of indigestible carbohydrate which is linked to benefits like more fullness after eating, better gut health, lower blood sugar, and reduced risk of chronic illnesses.
“Juicing takes out the things that make food satisfying and breaks them down to glucose [sugar],” London said. “And you’re not chewing, you’re ultimately taking in more calories that you would otherwise.”
Many liquid diets are also branded as a detox or “cleanse” to help eliminate toxins, but London said that’s untrue.
“It can feel really attractive, like you’re doing something really good for yourself, but if you have a functioning liver, kidney, you’re already doing it,” she said.