Trying To Lose Weight? You're Probably Doing This One Thing Wrong, New Study Says

Can't shed those pounds? Recent research may help explain why.

Shedding unwanted pounds is easier said than done. According to a Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans want to lose weight, and 84 percent of U.S. adults have attempted weight loss using various methods, with 30 percent sticking with it for less than a month.

While the barriers to losing weight vary—including dislike of exercise, not enough time, unhealthy lifestyle habits, and lack of support from family and friends—new research by the American Heart Association reveals that one simple error in judgment might be a major stumbling block for some people trying to lose weight. Read on to learn what it is, and how to overcome it.

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Expect roadblocks on your weight loss journey.

Women Holding and Apple and a Donut
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

If weight loss were easy, we wouldn't have a global obesity epidemic on our hands. In the U.S. alone, 42 percent of adults are considered obese, meaning they have a body mass index (BMI) score of 30 or higher. And this number is expected to rise, considering it's increased by roughly 12 percent in the last 20 years, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

One common pitfall for people trying to lose weight? Being too restrictive with their diets and placing unrealistic expectations on themselves, which leads to mental fatigue, causing them to ditch the diet and relapse into old eating habits.

Kelsey Lorencz, RDN, registered dietitian and nutrition advisor for Fin vs. Fin, tells Best Life, "Instead of focusing on the foods you can't eat, focus on the foods that should be a part of a healthy diet, like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains." Lorencz adds that tracking every bit of food you eat to stay within a calorie limit can make it difficult to focus on healthy eating.

"Many foods considered "unhealthy" can still have a place in a calorie-controlled diet," explains Lorencz. "However, that doesn't mean the diet itself is healthy. Take the focus off calories and place it on the foods and food groups you're eating."

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Doing this can sabotage your weight loss efforts.

Fruits and Veggies

Chronic dieters know better than anyone how tough it can be to get the number on the scale to drop. It's understandably frustrating when you're doing all the right things, like exercising, cutting calories, and eating healthy foods, without seeing results. But a new study may have the answer. According to preliminary research to be presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2022, people trying to lose weight often overestimate how healthy their diet is.

Jessica Cheng, PhD, study author and postdoctoral research fellow in epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a press release, "We found that while people generally know that fruits and vegetables are healthy, there may be a disconnect between what researchers and healthcare professionals consider to be a healthy and balanced diet compared with what the public thinks is a healthy and balanced diet."

Most people overestimate the healthiness of their eating habits.

Person Contemplating in Front of Fridge

For the study, researchers recruited 116 U.S. adults aged between 35 to 58 who were actively trying to lose weight. The participants met with a registered dietitian to discuss their nutrition and eating habits. Then they tracked everything they ate and drank for one year using the FitBit app while weighing themselves daily and wearing a tracking device to monitor physical activity.

After evaluating the participants' diets at the beginning and end of the year-long study, researchers assigned each person a Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score—a measure of diet quality used to determine how well a diet aligns with recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The participants also used HEI to score their diet quality at the end of the study.

Researchers found that 75 percent of the participants' perceived HEI scores didn't align with the researchers' and, in most cases, the participants' numbers were higher. Also, in assessing how much their diet improved during the study, only 10 percent of participants correctly estimated how much their eating habits improved.

So why the gap between perceived and actual diet quality? "Part of the discrepancy could be a lack of knowledge around healthy eating, but more likely, it's the perception that any small changes made are bigger than they are," Lorencz says. "It's easy to focus on one aspect of healthy eating, like eating more vegetables, and ignore other valuable aspects, such as cutting out added sugars and saturated fats."

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Being mindful of your eating habits, as well as the quality of your nutrition, can help you lose weight.

Plate with Divided Food Groups
New Africa/Shutterstock

It's not surprising that many people are fooling themselves about their diets. Social media and advertisements market countless food products as "healthy" when in fact, they contain added sugars, unhealthy fats, and other hidden ingredients that hinder weight loss. Remember this next time you're grocery shopping or reaching for a snack.

If you're trying to be more mindful of your eating habits and diet quality, Lorencz has a couple of recommendations.

"While tracking food in an app or on paper can be helpful to some people, it can create food anxiety for others," she explains. "Instead of tracking every morsel of food, look at food groups and try to get enough of the healthy stuff. Aim for at least two cups of fruit, three cups of vegetables, and five ounces of lean protein daily." By getting enough nutrient-dense and healthy foods in your diet, you'll naturally have less room for less healthy foods without tracking every bite.

Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more
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