10 Mind-set Shifts Dietitians Wish You’d Make When You’re Trying to Lose Weight

Ra Mindset Shifts

If you've tried everything, but can't seem to shed those last few pesky pounds, you could be sabotaging yourself without even realizing it. Shifting your mind-set can help get you over the hump. Here are 10 recommendations from dietitians that can help you avoid setbacks and keep the weight off, long-term.

1. Focus on fueling your body.

Just eating less and exercising more will help you drop pounds, right? Not necessarily. "I see this all the time," says Alix Turoff, MS, RD, CDN, CPT, registered dietitian and personal trainer at Alix Turoff Nutrition. One of the unintended consequences of eating less and moving more is that you might "eat too little at meals, feel unsatisfied, and then overeat or binge later."

Instead, Turoff says to focus on getting enough calories to fuel your body at every meal. "Within those calories, make sure you're getting a combination of protein, fat and carbs to keep you full, help balance your blood sugar and keep cravings at bay."

Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD, a New York City-based dietitian at ANEW Well, says that the "eat less" mantra unfortunately gets applied to fruits and vegetables too. You should be eating more produce, not less. "Eating more plants is associated with a lower risk for chronic disease and has been shown to play a role in weight maintenance and loss," Knott says. "This may be because of the combination of fiber and water content of plants which is important for satiety."

Laura Krebs-Holm, MS RD LD, says that while cutting calories "may work for a short period, eventually weight loss progress stalls and people think they need to keep cutting...sometimes as low as 800-1,000 calories per day!" Which is not sustainable long-term.

Katie Andrews, MS, RDN, CDN, dietitian and owner of CT-based practice Wellness by Katie also wishes her clients would stop eating so little during the day. "I'm often convincing people that the first step to losing weight is ensuring they have a healthy metabolism, and your metabolism can't function properly when you're running on a calorie restriction. This prompts the body to retain energy (aka fat), not burn it! So Step 1: ensure you are eating enough calories throughout the day, with the right balance of protein, fat and fiber, to ensure even energy distribution and satiety. And yes, this could mean MORE food!"

2. Allow yourself room for 'celebration foods.'  

People often restrict foods they view as "bad." But Lauren Smith, MS, RD, LDN, dietitian and owner of Sorority Nutritionist, says to stop "cutting out fun foods to lose weight like pizza, ice cream, and Starbucks lattes. You don't have to give up any one food to lose weight," she says. "Your habits and how many calories you consistently consume" are the factors that will determine whether you lose weight or not. Plus, depriving yourself can backfire, leading you to overeat. 

Melanie Wong, MA, RDN echoes this recommendation. "One thing I wish people would stop doing when trying to lose weight is heavily restricting their diets and not allowing themselves to eat foods they enjoy or foods that hold meaning in their lives," she says. "Instead of skipping out on celebration foods like birthday cake, balance intake throughout the day and continue with a well-balanced diet after celebrating."

3. Remember that weight loss takes time.

"Many people think they are going to change behaviors and lose weight overnight," says Denise Fields, RDN, CSO, founder of DF Nutrition & Wellness. It doesn't work that way.

Julie Andrews, MS, RDN, CD, chef and dietitian, agrees. "I have seen so many people make extreme changes in their diet and follow a restrictive diet in order to lose weight, but most of the time this type of approach leads to deprivation and an unhealthy relationship with food. The biggest advice I can give is to be patient when trying to lose weight and take a balanced approach that you can follow the rest of your life."  

Fields says this involves setting realistic weight goals and getting yourself organized to support them. "Plan meals out, go to the grocery store, and meal prep," she says. "Many people are not used to planning ahead when it comes to meals. This behavior takes time to become a habit and is essential to eating healthy and losing weight."

4. Be creative about how you track your progress.

When you say you want to lose weight, what you probably mean is that you want to lose fat. Just remember that the number on the scale is a sum of not just how much your fat weighs, but also how much your muscles, bones, fluid, tissue, weigh, too. "Stop focusing on the scale," says Meridith Fargnoli, RD. "Success isn't always linear. Take measurements, before and after photos, and a personal inventory of how you feel." All of these things can tell you how you're doing as well — if not better — than the number on the scale can.

You should also adjust your definition of what counts as progress. People often become too focused on results, dietitians say, instead of thinking about ingraining healthy behaviors that will help them sustain results in the long-term. "Too many times I hear my clients talking about their goal weight," says performance dietitian, Lindsay Oar, MS, RD, LDN. "Once they reach it, they fall off the course and spiral backwards, losing the motivation to continue."

5. Look beyond calorie counts. 

Some research suggests that calorie-counting can be a useful tool. "Numerous studies show tracking calories works to help people lose weight," notes Sarah A. Moore RDN, CD, CYT.

And yet it shouldn't "be the end-all-be-all of a weight loss journey," she says. Instead, when you approach food, focus on the bigger nutritional picture. "Using apps to track only calories is likely to result in making decisions based on calories alone, while simultaneously missing the eating pattern as a whole," says Knott. "It's important to recognize that calories are only one measurement of a food and many other nutrients in food have a significant impact on total health as well as mental and physical satisfaction."

Calorie-counting apps can also provide unrealistically low calorie targets, she notes. And one of the biggest downsides? "Relying solely on a calorie-tracking app can result in ignoring hunger or fullness cues. Tuning in to hunger and fullness is likely to mean you'll eat more one day or less the next and you'll rarely hit the exact number the app is telling you to hit. Remember, our bodies are not computers and our hunger or fullness will fluctuate, depending on a variety of factors like activity level, stress, sleep and more. Trust yourself and remember that an app is only one tool in a much bigger toolbox."

6. Prepare healthy meals that fill you up. 

You might have heard that it's better to eat five or six small meals a day if you're trying to lose weight. That might work for some people, but not everyone. Megan Kober, RD and owner of Nutrition Addiction, says that eating every two or three hours may lead you to "think about food constantly. Thinking about food all day like this can cause major food anxiety. " Also, she adds, "when we eat small meals that don't really satisfy us, we're much more likely to overeat later in the day."

Take a closer look at your meals. You may need to add more healthy choices to your plate, and make sure that you're getting a good amount of fiber, protein and healthy fats to keep you full. "Meals should keep us full for at least four hours," Kober notes.

7. Get enough sleep.

Kober often sees clients skimp on sleep to go to the gym. But that's not a great idea in the long run. "You've gotta earn your right to go to the gym in the morning by sleeping at least seven hours," she says. "If you don't, turn that alarm clock off! Your body makes leptin and ghrelin" — your satiety and hunger hormones — "while you sleep, so if you don't get enough, you'll be more hungry the next day. Sleep deprivation is also stressful on the body, which can lead to inflammation."

8. Mix up your exercise routine with more than just cardio.

Doing cardio five or six days per week may not give you the weight loss results you're looking for. For one, exercise alone won't change the way your clothes fit; adjusting your diet is necessary, too. Second, doing cardio — like running or spinning — can make you hungry, which can in turn lead to overeating and stymie weight loss.

You may also subconsciously feel like you can eat more when you do a lot of cardio. "People often feel entitled to eat more post cardiovascular activity," says Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, CEO and founder of F-Factor. "But people tend to overestimate calories burned in the gym and underestimate their caloric intake, which negates any calories their activity may have burned." 

Instead, recommends Zuckerbrot, use cardio to boost your mood and protect your heart health. To support weight loss, mix in strength training work and make sure you're retooling your diet.  

Zuckerbrot says to plan on walking 30 minutes several days per week, doing higher intensity cardio one or two days a week, and strength training three or four days a week. "The more lean muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will be, because even at rest, lean body mass is active, burning calories," she says. "In contrast to cardio, when you do strength training, you continue burning calories long after you finish working out." 

9. Enjoy smart, fiber-filled carbs. 

You don't want to eliminate carbs entirely from your diet. "Fiber is the most important tool for weight loss," notes Zuckerbrot, "and is only found in carbs. Fiber is the zero-calorie, non-digestible part of a carbohydrate that adds bulk to food. When eaten, fiber swells in the stomach. Therefore, when you follow a diet rich in fiber, you feel full after eating and you'll generally eat less throughout the day." 

The trick is picking smart carbs, and eating them in the right amounts. "While some foods high in carbs are not great for weight loss — think foods high in sugars with addition of fats, such as candy bars, ice cream or pastries — and some foods high in carbs have little nutritional value — bagels, white rice — many higher-carb foods can help with weight loss," says Jennifer Singh, RD, LDN.

Aim for 35+ grams of fiber per day to reap the weight management and health and wellness benefits, Zuckerbrot says. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are all rich — and delicious — sources. 

10. Get back to basics.

Forget about fads and get back to the fundamentals. "I like to encourage my clients to focus on the basics: balanced plates with lots of color from fruit and veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, beans, legumes and plenty of water," says Oar. "Let those basics guide you. Focus more on the quality of food and your behavior change. We want to get to that goal weight — and maintain!"

Also, think about what you can add to your plate. "I work really hard to focus on what we can add, instead of take away, food-wise," says Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN. "Focus less on restricting and more on rethinking the balance of your meals and snacks" can make working on losing weight feel more fun.

The Bottom Line

There's no quick fix for weight loss. Those who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off long-term find a way of eating they can keep up with every day. Eat more, not less, but of the right foods. Fill your plate with metabolism-revving fiber and protein in the form of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and plant-based proteins, fish, nuts and seeds.

This article was written by Lainey Younkin, MS, RD from EatingWell and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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