You’re pumped. You’re motivated. You’re full of the adrenaline that this is going to supercharge the year you finally follow through on your New Year’s resolution to lose belly fat!
We hear you. But we’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. Bad news first:
Although you might feel untouchable right now, you’re not quite in the clear. A systematic review of 898 weight loss studies found that an average of 30 percent of dieters drop out of structured programs. Even worse, only 15 percent are "successful” in maintaining their weight loss of at least 20 to 24 pounds for three years or more. Ugh.
And now that that’s over with, here’s the good news: we’ve uncovered the harmful habits lurking in many new diets that are sabotaging your weight loss success. By kicking these habits to the curb, you’ll finally see those pounds fall off—and stay off. Once you’ve stripped your routine of these pesky patterns, start burning off the flab with these 44 Ways to Lose 4 Inches of Body Fat.
Don’t Set Unreasonable Expectations
This should come as good news for those of you who feel guilty for not following strict dietary lifestyles: Going vegan to lose weight won’t work for everyone. Especially for those who always eat eggs for breakfast and like to eat a burger for lunch. If the diet plan you’re following isn’t compatible with your lifestyle, the odds are higher that you’ll fall off the bandwagon and regain the weight. Rather, put a vegan spin on your omnivore lifestyle—add onions, peppers, and spinach to your omelet and order your burger with a side salad instead of fries. To lose weight without overhauling your lifestyle, also check out these 40 Ways to Lose Weight in 4 Seconds.
Don’t Go It Alone
You’ve decided to change your life—good for you! Now spread the news! When you share your mission with your close friends and family, it will help you to build a support system and you’ll have people who can keep you accountable to your goals. It’s easy to mindlessly scoop another spoonful of ice cream into a bowl, but you might think twice if you have to justify this extra portion to your family as you eat dessert together at the dinner table. Want to take it a step further? Find yourself a diet buddy! Dieters who have a weight-loss partner lose significantly more belly fat compared to those who try to slim down alone, according to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Don’t Cut Out Groups of Foods
You shouldn’t punish an entire food group as a dietary villain. A diet that forbids entire food groups is not only unsustainable, but it can also be dangerous. (Unless, of course, there’s a medical reason—such as lactose intolerance or Celiac disease—to scratch something from your diet). For example: While eating too many refined flour foods can pack on the pounds by spiking your blood sugar and never fully satisfying your hunger pangs, that doesn’t mean that all carbs have the same effect. In fact, whole grains are rich in energizing B vitamins and digestion-slowing fiber. Plus, since carbs are an essential source of energy, completely slashing this food group from your diet can cause exhaustion, irritability, and lethargy.
Don’t Fall for Health Halos
Whether it’s slapping a product with a “sugar-free” label or pointing out the food’s myriad of vitamins and minerals, marketing claims can get in the way of weight loss if you’re not actually reading the ingredients and nutritional information. You see, when dieters perceive a food to be nutritious—thanks to buzzwords like “organic” or “gluten-free”—they tend to misjudge how many calories are actually in them. As a result, dieters tend to feel entitled to indulge, which can lead to eating 131 percent more calories than you otherwise would, according to a Cornell University study.
RELATED: 14 “Health” Foods Worst Than a Donut
Don’t Eat While Watching T.V.
The big game is on and it’s dinner time? Well, that’s why we have DVR! Press pause. Experts find that when your mind is distracted by other things while eating, such as watching TV or listening to loud music, it can block certain satiety cues from alerting your brain that you've eaten your fill. As a result, you consume more calories than your body needs, which will likely be stored as fat.
Don’t Skip Meals
Constantly find yourself downing bags of chips or sleeves of cookies? Despite what you may think, feeling like you’re always hungry is not because you have a lack of willpower. In fact, if these binges are happening on busy days when you’ve “forgotten” to eat lunch, it’s likely a sign you need to change up your diet. "While skipping meals might seem like an easy way to eat less, it will most likely actually cause you to eat more later on," says Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, LDN.
Don’t Dine While You Dash
In a rush? Don’t start shoveling food in your face. If there’s one resolution to make this year, it should be to extend your lunch break to at least 20 minutes. Why the time minimum? Experts have found it takes around that amount of time for your stomach to tell your brain that you’re full. It’s one of the reasons why fast food is so bad for your waistline; you quickly eat the calorie-laden fare before your body can tell you you’ve had enough!
Don’t Forget to Exercise
According to recent research published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, weight loss programs that formally include an exercise routine are significantly more effective for weight loss and improved health than diets without recommended sweat sessions. Dr. Conrad Earnest, lead co-author of the study, recommends an exercise routine that includes both aerobic and strength training. Before you hit the weights, don’t miss these 24 Things No One Ever Tells You About the Gym.
But Don’t Go Too Hard Too Fast
It’s great to switch things up into a new exercise routine, but don’t hit the ground running—both literally and figuratively. If your body isn’t used to working out on the reg, you could injure yourself if you up your reps or mileage too quickly, which can hamper your weight-loss progress. Take your time to build up your base before you start racking up 10-mile runs every day.
And Don’t Rely on Exercise Either
“Moving more” isn’t going to be the only thing that helps you slim down. For starters, a 2012 review published in the journal Obesity Reviews found that people tend to overestimate how many calories they burn when they workout. As a result, people will not only overcompensate for their workout by eating more calories than they burned, but they may also think they can now indulge in junk food as a “reward” for exercise. As an example, a 155-pound person biking for one hour burns on average 520 calories. That can all be undone by under two slices of Domino’s Hand Tossed Cheese pizza.
Don’t Slack Off When It Comes to Beverages
Although diet usually refers to food, don’t forget beverages! Processed juices, sugary sodas, and sweetened teas are all full of calories and can do major damage to your waistline. It’s not just the calories that will encourage your body to pack on the pounds. Studies have found that our bodies don’t register liquid calories like it does solid calories—and as a result, we may end up drinking more calories until we feel full.
And Don’t Assume “Diet” Drinks Are Good Replacements
They may tout “zero calories,” but a 2017 review published in the journal PLOS One concluded that diet drinks are not helpful for weight loss and that they may even cause people to pile on the pounds because they can dull your sweet receptors, causing you to consume more of traditionally sweet foods, and thus, consume more calories.
Don’t Treat One Food Like a Magic Diet Pill
Yes, apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been connected to delaying gastric emptying (i.e. keeping you fuller for longer) and minimizing spikes in blood sugar. But just because you’re coating your salad with it every day doesn’t mean you don’t have to change anything else about your diet. There is no magic cure-all food that will help you drop the weight. Continue drizzling on that ACV, but just make sure you’re also cutting out junk food, doing your exercise, and avoiding these 31 Things You Did Today to Slow Your Metabolism.
Don’t Rely on Supplements
Americans may spend billions of dollars on dietary supplements a year, but according to a 2016 study published in the journal JAMA, many of these products show no benefit over placebo. Another surprising finding? Supplement users are apparently among the healthiest members of the population and likely don't even need supplements. So, unless you have a nutritional deficiency and have been instructed by your doctor to take a supplement, you should look to get your nutrients from whole foods. Doing so will mean you’re getting more than just the vitamin you’re looking for; you’re also getting belly-filling fiber, muscle-building protein, and brain-powering healthy fats.
Don’t Forget Fats
Let this be the last time you choose the “low-fat” option! Don’t fear fats! In fact, when you don’t eat enough fat, you may suffer from feeling constant hunger, could develop adult acne, and may constantly feel like your brain is in a fog. Fats are necessary to feed the brain and help mitigate cravings. Incorporate more healthy fats like those from avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, and grass-fed butter.
Don’t Skimp On Sleep
When you snooze, you lose—weight that is. Sleep helps your body recover from those heart-thumping workouts, allowing for cell regeneration and muscle building. That’s not all. Sleep also keeps your metabolism humming, your hunger hormones in check and your stress levels low. When you don’t sleep enough (experts recommend seven to eight hours a night), your cortisol levels skyrocket, which can slow down your metabolism and lead to excess production of belly fat.
Don’t Forget to Dress Your Salads
Leafy greens are some of the top sources of vitamins. In particular, four vitamins that are fat-soluble: vitamins A, D, E, and K. That means these essential micronutrients will only be absorbed into the body once they're dissolved in fat globules (in other words, a little EVOO). These vitamins play varying roles in maintaining proper bone, eye, and skin health, but also help keep your immune system fend off the colds that could put you out of commission and may throw your diet off track.
Don’t Eat Your Brown Bag Lunch at Your Desk
Being mindful is a major part of weight loss, and it’s a sure bet that it’ll take a back seat when you're simultaneously working and chomping on your lunch. Trying to do two things at once can distract your brain from recognizing that you’ve reached your fill. Not to mention, being able to step away from work briefly can subliminally tell your body you don’t have to be so stressed about work, which can help you get a handle on your fat-inducing cortisol levels.
Don’t Eat When You’re Not Hungry
You know about the seafood diet right? Every time you see food, you eat it? It’s a mildly amusing joke, but it’s also surprisingly accurate. You see, the problem is that when we see food, we’re more likely to eat it even if your body isn’t in need of calories. According to Oxford researchers, the phenomenon is called “visual hunger.” It refers to our body’s natural response to increase your “I’m hungry” hormones upon sight of food since our brains developed when food was scarce and your body wanted to ensure you consumed all available resources that could provide energy and nutrients for survival. Science says the solution to the “see-food diet” is simple: hide your vices and steer clear of the break room box of donuts. You can also try these 30 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Feeling Full.
Don’t Eat Dinner Too Late
And no, it’s not because it stalls your metabolism. When you eat a large meal too close to your bedtime, you may have trouble falling asleep, thanks to your body working to digest that meal. And when you don’t get a good night’s rest, studies show you’re more likely to have higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin the next day, which can cause you to overeat. "Research also shows that when we're sleep-deprived, our brains respond more strongly to junk food and have less of an ability to practice portion control," Alissa Rumsey, RD, and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tells us.
Don’t Celebrate Success with Food Rewards
Whether it’s hitting a personal best mile time or losing another five pounds, you should certainly celebrate—just don’t rely on alcohol and sweets to reward your success. If you do, odds are you’ll see the weight creep back onto your slimmed-down frame before you know it. Instead, use things like a facial, manicure, or a favorite exercise class as a reward for your hard work.
Don’t Stop Weighing In
What’s the harm in reminding yourself of your continued success? The scale keeps you mindful of your diet, and it will quickly tip you off to regained pounds. In fact, dieters who weigh themselves daily can lose twice as much weight as those who weigh themselves less frequently, according to University of Minnesota researchers.
Don’t Bore Yourself with the Same Workouts
Routines are great when it comes to always heading to the gym before work, but if you get there and repeat the same elliptical workout, you’re likely not getting as much from your exercise as you could. That’s because you’re not challenging new muscles. To wake up your metabolic rate, shock your muscles by changing up your workouts every two weeks.
Don’t Let Frozen Options Replace Homemade Meals
Frozen meals once in awhile: approved. But for every meal? Skip it. Not only are these cold concoctions typically loaded with bloat-inducing, blood-pressure-raising sodium, but—let’s face it—you’re not likely going to be able to subsist on frozen meals forever. After a while, you’re likely to tire of the same menus. Plus, if you rely on pre-portioned meals, once you go off them, you’re likely to regain all that lost weight since you have no replacement. If sustainable weight loss is your goal, kick the shortcuts to the curb and make your meals at home from scratch. Doing so can help you banish these nasty additives as well as cut calorie consumption by an average of 200 calories a day, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
Don’t Deprive Yourself
You don’t have to deprive yourself to lose weight. The reasoning is simple: research published in the journals Appetite and Eating Behaviors supports the notion that giving into a guilty pleasure is more effective at keeping weight off long term than trying to suppress it. Why is that? Well, both studies demonstrated that when participants gave into a craving (rather than fighting it off), it actually helped to reduce binge eating and decreased subsequent cravings.
Don’t Save Your Calories for Later
You know you’re going out to dinner with your friends later tonight, so you choose to sip on a fruity drink and chomp on a couple carrots for lunch to save calories for later. It may seem responsible, but “it rarely works out as cleanly as we like,” nutritionist Lisa Hayim, MS, RD tells us. “By the time you get to dinner, and have a drink or two, the feelings of extreme hunger rush in, and you’re grabbing for whatever you can get your hands on, which is usually foods high in calories and fat. You’re so hungry, you may even end up consuming more than a day's worth of calories in one sitting,” explains Hayim. Instead, she recommends eating on a normal schedule during the day and choosing to eat responsibility at night. And remember—one day of overindulgence isn’t going to do your body much harm. It’s only when it becomes a bad habit.
Don’t Leave Your Water Bottle at Home
“Not drinking enough water can have a negative impact on the metabolism as well as your appetite,” says Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN. Research has shown that people often respond to their thirst inappropriately by eating instead of drinking since the same part of our brain controls both responses. When you’re hydrated, it also helps to make your stomach feel full, which can fend off the feeling of hunger.
Don’t Gush Over Food Porn on Instagram
If you shouldn’t eat it, don’t stop to gawk at it on your social feeds. That includes looking at oversized milkshakes and extra cheesy pizza. Studies have found that simply looking at calorie-laden fare can actually cause your hunger hormones to spike—even if your body isn’t physically in need of food.
Don’t Rely on Food to Ease Your Nerves
The deadline for your project is fast approaching and you need to ease your nerves before the presentation. Here’s a newsflash: Downing a pint of ice cream is not the answer. Not only are the foods we typically lean towards when we’re stressed high in things that exacerbate your stress hormone levels—like fat and sugar—but they’re also high in calories and can cause weight gain. Plus, making a connection between eating and emotions can result in poor eating decisions and coping mechanisms. Instead, create an automatic response to stress that doesn't involve food, such as going for a walk or taking a shower.
Don’t Plan Your Life Around Your Diet
There’s a difference between being committed to a weight loss plan and being obsessed with it. If you start planning your entire life around your diet—like avoiding birthday parties so you don’t feel tempted by cake or miss out on seeing your old friend who’s in town briefly because you don’t want to get a drink—it will make your diet hard to stick to in the long run. A sustainable diet is one that leaves some wiggle room and doesn’t hinder you from living a fun and a fulfilling life. And now that you know what not to do, be sure to keep the healthy living going with these 40 Best Fat-Burning Foods.