Lifelong dieters know the basics. To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume. Proteins are more satiating than carbohydrates. Donuts are seriously bad news. But what if you think you’re doing everything right? Exercising more and, eating less,and still not seeing results? It could be an underlying health problem like hyperthyroidism or medication-related weight gain. (Check with your doctor.) Or it could be something simpler.
Take this quiz to find out what could be sabotaging your weight-loss goals:
How much sleep do you consistently get per night?
A) Less than 7 hours
B) 7-9 hours
C) More than 9 hours
The culprit: Poor sleep.
Sleep plays an essential role in health, and too much or too little can lead to weight gain. One study found an association between short amounts of sleep and higher body mass indexes (BMIs). Lack of sleep can also upset the hormones that regulate appetite. Sleep deprivation can increase the levels of the hormone ghrelin in your body, which makes you feel hungry. And fatigue can make you crave sugary junk foods that help you stay awake. Excessive sleepiness can also signal an underlying medical condition, so talk to your doctor if you feel tired all the time.
How often do you work out?
B) 75-150 minutes a week
C) More than 1 hour per day
The culprit: Too much or too little exercise.
You probably know that a sedentary lifestyle leads to weight problems. It’s even associated with an increased risk of dying from heart disease in men. Most experts recommend 75 minutes of intense or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, and a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise. (If your weight is increasing from weight lifting, stop looking at the scale and measure inches instead.) Too much, exercise, however can tire your body. And long workouts are ineffective if they cause you to overeat afterwards. Don’t let a long run be justification for binging on cheeseburgers.
How stressful would you say your life is?
A) Not stressful
C) Don’t even bother asking
The culprit: Chronic stress.
Stress can cause you to overeat, crave junk food and store belly fat. When your body is stressed, it releases higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone can increase your appetite and cause you to seek out high-calorie comfort foods. An English study published in 2017 in the journal Obesity found that chronic stress is associated with higher levels of obesity. It’s essential to manage stress to maintain a healthy weight. Meditation, mindfulness and yoga are just a few of the techniques that may be helpful in reducing stress.
How do you count your calories?
A) By hand with a food journal
B) With an online calorie tracker
C) I don’t count my calories
The culprit: Misjudging your calories.
The good news is that if you answered C, this is an easy fix. People who kept a food journal doubled their weight loss, according to a study from Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research. Without logging every morsel by hand or online, it’s hard to get an accurate feel for how many calories you may be consuming. So write it down! A food diary forces you to think about a food’s nutritional content before you eat it.
How often do you eat dessert?
B) Occasionally as a treat
C) All the time
The culprit: Overindulging, or over-depriving.
Not all calories are created equal. Sugary foods are calorie-dense and won’t leave you feeling satiated the way protein will. But a diet that’s overly rigid is nearly impossible to maintain long-term. It can also lead to binge eating. The key is moderation and a diet rich in good foods. Think of crowding out bad foods with nutritious ones. But leave just a little room in your daily diet for some joy. Eat a Hershey kiss at the end of the day, or a small serving of full-fat, high-quality ice cream on the weekend.
How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you eat in a day?
B) 4 or (preferably) more
The culprit: A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables
A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables tends to be high in carbs and other fatty foods. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense and low in calories, especially in their raw, unprocessed forms. They are ideal foods for the nutritional idea of crowding (mentioned above). The trick is to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables before you get hungry and make a diet-destroying choice. For example, one study found that eating three apples or pears a day helped overweight women shed pounds. Remember that calories always matter in weight loss, even if they come from fruits and vegetables.
What types of drinks do you typically drink each day?
B) “Healthy” drinks such as fruit juice, sports drinks and vitamin water
D) Diet soda
E) Sugary drinks such as soda and energy drinks
The culprit: Too many liquid calories.
The liquids you consume can add a lot of extra calories to your diet. Fruit juices, sports drinks and vitamin waters typically have sugar and calories. So do sodas, alcohol and energy drinks. A 12-ounce glass of beer, for example, typically has about 150 calories. A 12-ounce can of cola has about the same. Although more research is needed, there is some thought that diet sodas may trigger weight gain by making your body crave sugary treats. (A 2015 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society links diet soda consumption with increased waist circumference in older adults.) On the other hand, there is evidence that drinking water before meals promotes weight loss, and can increase the calories you burn in a day. Some studies have shown that increasing your dairy consumption can also help you lose weight. Just be sure to account for the calories in milk.