14 Dumb Things Holding You Back From Losing Weight


If the number of advertisements, books, TV shows, and websites devoted to weight loss are any indicator, losing weight is generally viewed as a monumental task, one that requires many pages of instruction and encouragement, as well as starving and sweating and self denial.

Or… maybe not.

After all, many studies suggest that gaining and losing weight aren't so much tied to one big effort so much as a lot of smaller ones. If you've been trying to lose a few pounds, here are 14 dumb little things that might be holding you back. (See also: 7 Killer Ways to Really, Actually Lose Weight)

1. You Have the Wrong Genes

Before someone looks at my picture and sends me hate mail, I'll come right out and say it: I'm thin. My secret? A thin mother, a thin father, and a whole long line of unusually tall, lean ancestors. I also have huge, flat flipper feet and an uncooperative complexion. Genetics is a mixed bag.

When it comes to carrying extra weight, research suggests that how easily we gain and lose weight is largely genetic. That isn't to say that diet and exercise won't work for you, and working to stay at a weight that keeps you feeling good and that falls within what your doctor says is healthy is still important. However, if big bodies (or, in my case, feet), run in your family, striving for a completely different physique may be unrealistic — and unhealthy. Unfortunately, this is one dumb impediment to weight loss that you can't do much about.

2. Your Plates Are Too Big

At some restaurants, the plates are so big the server can hardly fit two of them on the table. It looks impressive, it feels generous… and it's really really bad for your waistline. That's because, according to research by Cornell University Food Lab, most people aren't very good at judging portion sizes. So, if we usually fill a small bowl with cereal, we are just as likely to fill a much larger one and assume that the portion size is about the same. In other words, bigger plates tend to lead to bigger portions.

If you're struggling with weight gain, getting smaller dishes might be a great way to enjoy a full plate — and a smaller portion size.

3. You're More Sedentary Than You Think

Exercising regularly — even daily — may not be enough if you have a sedentary job. That's because long periods of sitting can essentially undo many of the benefits of exercise, and have negative effects on your cardiovascular health, risk for diabetes, and waistline. If you work at a desk, that probably won't change. What you can do is try to get up more and add more exercise into your everyday routine. Take a walk or a yoga class during your lunch break. Get a standing desk. Walk to speak to a co-worker instead of emailing. Take the stairs to use the restroom on the next floor.

All these little things take little effort but can make a huge difference in your metabolism over the course of a day.

4. You're Eating Less Instead of Eating Right

The old adage of weight loss is "calories in, calories out." But while that's true to an extent, more recent research shows that what we eat and the quality of our diets is actually tremendously important, and may even have a greater impact on weight loss than the number of calories we consume. A study released by Harvard researchers in 2011 found that potato chips were more strongly associated with weight gain than any other food (betcha can't eat just one!), while those who ate more servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and yogurt, gained the least weight over time. The lesson? Focus on quality first.

5. You're Exercising Too Much

Have you ever gone out and burned about a zillion calories exercising for hours only to come home and spend the rest of the day devouring everything in sight? It happens. And for some people, the hunger that a lot of exercise produces is so intense, they fail to lose weight — and might even gain some. This isn't to say that you shouldn't exercise. It's good for you! But if a long run makes you ravenous, exercising even more might not be the key to weight loss for you.

6. You Aren't Sleeping Enough

It seems counter-intuitive, but spending more time lying in bed can actually help keep you both leaner and healthier (not to mention less grouchy). Many studies have associated "short sleep duration" with weight gain and obesity. Not only does lack of sleep leave you too tired to be active and more likely to make poor food choices, but it also has a physiological effect on your metabolism. So get to bed earlier and sleep in when you can. Hey, maybe this game isn't all about deprivation after all!

7. You're Eating Too Fast

Are you usually the first to clean your plate at the dinner table? Research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2011 found that the fastest eaters tended to gain the most weight. After all, if you're the first to finish your meal, you're more likely to add a few more spoonfuls to your plate. Plus, it takes some more time for the stomach to register that it's full. If you polish of your dinner in a few minutes, you may still feel hungry for more, even if your body doesn't need it.

8. You're Too Stressed Out

Stress sucks. Over the long term, it can affect just about every part of your body, including your body weight. That's because our bodies were designed for short-term, fight-or-flight stress. Like the kind where you see a predator coming after and you quickly produce hormones that help you run away. This is followed by the release of cortisol, a hormone that essentially tells you to eat to replenish your energy stores. The problem is that while sitting on the couch worrying about your bills essentially produces the same kind of stress and the same surge of hormones, it doesn't burn nearly as many calories as fighting off a saber-toothed tiger. That makes keeping long-term stress in a check a major component to losing and maintaining weight loss. (See also: 20 Free (or Really Cheap) Ways to Reduce Stress)

9. You're Dieting

Just about every bit of research out there shows that when it comes to long-term weight loss, extreme diets are bad news. As it turns out, starving yourself not only makes you hungry (and possibly homicidal), it also sets your body up for failure. That's because the faster you lose weight, the more likely you are to lose a lot of muscle, and it's muscle that helps keep your metabolism high. So, once you quit your diet, your body will actually be less efficient, making you more likely to gain weight — and even gain more weight than you lost. Small changes and slow, steady weight loss are best.

10. You're Snacking

Ask your grandparents how they ate growing up, and chances are they'll tell you that they ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And, for the most part, that's about all. Snacks are a relatively new phenomenon. And it doesn't help that most typical snack foods are little more than processed junk. That's why it might just be better to skip snacks altogether; a recent Dutch study found that eating three larger, well-balanced meals a day may help reduce the accumulation of abdominal fat.

11. You're Watching TV

Maybe there's a reason we tend to use terms like "binge watching" and "couch potato" to refer to habits around TV; while the latest season of "Game of Thrones" may be calorie-free, watching can still have a negative impact on your waistline. In fact, research shows that watching TV has more links to weight gain than any other sedentary activity. That means swapping TV time for just about any other activity may have a positive effect when it comes to weight loss.

12. You're Not Taking Care of Your Intestines

Yes, your intestines. You probably don't give much thought to that squiggly mess of an organ, now do you? Recent research suggests, however, that keeping things just right in there can really affect our overall health — and determine our success at maintaining a healthy weight. A study released in January found that regular consumption of probiotics (bacteria that's good for your gut), can help accelerate weight loss in women. Foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and just about anything that's fermented contains healthy bacteria that helps keep your digestive system — and metabolism — going strong. You can also take a supplement.

13. You're a Woman

Sorry, ladies, but there is some evidence to suggest that weight loss is harder for women than it is for men, at least initially. That's because men tend to have more lean muscle tissue, which helps them kick-start their weight loss more quickly. But there's another reason too: Women are designed to have more body fat, particularly on our lower bodies. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. According to Dr. David Katz, founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine, the fat women find it hardest to lose is generally the least harmful to health.

14. You Need to See a Doctor

In some cases, weight gain doesn't just indicate a change in exercise or dietary habits, it can signal a health problem. Thyroid problems, hormone imbalances, food intolerances and certain medications can all contribute to weight gain. If you think a medical problem could be the reason you're gaining weight, see your doctor. Being treated for the problem might help you lose a few pounds — and feel a whole lot better.

What's helped you shed those unwanted pounds? Please share in comments!

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