Have you ever felt like you’re giving your health and exercise routine your best effort: eating clean, exercising regularly, even keeping a food log and tracking calories burned – and still not getting the results you expect?
In my years of working with nutrition clients and taking a closer look at their behaviors, goals, and barriers, however, I’ve found that there’s almost always at least one not-so-evident reason behind the seemingly stubborn plateau – and it can take some searching to figure out what it is.
The answer is often found in the afterthoughts of our daily routines. It’s the little things that we’re doing – or not doing – throughout our day that may seem completely unrelated to our waistline or strength gains but can be the reason – or reasons –we’re not seeing the results we want.
Here are 8 common pitfalls that might be holding you back from becoming your leanest, fittest self.
1. You aren’t clocking in enough sleep
Did you know that many fitness-inhibiting factors are at play when you’re chronically sleep-deprived? And, when we skimp on sleep we tend to eat more, because sleep deprivation causes a series of hormonal reactions that make us hungrier, crave more carbs and not feel as satisfied after eating.
So, prioritize getting enough sleep every night. Most sleep experts say the average person needs about seven hours of sleep a night. There are many tips for how to get a better night’s sleep. Try to set a time for yourself to get ready for bed and wind down the evening, which includes unplugging from your devices and keeping your alcohol intake in check.
2. You’re stressed
Stress causes our bodies to release hormones that increase appetite and make it easier for our bodies to store fat, particularly abdominal fat. When we’re “stress eating” we tend to crave carb-rich foods. And carbs – especially when combined with salt and fat (think pizza, chips or chocolate) – activate areas of the brain that provide temporary relief of negative emotions like anxiety or sadness. And when we give into these cravings, “stress eating” also serves as a distraction from whatever negative thought or emotion is swirling within us.
So, while we can’t eliminate stress from our lives, we can control our reactions to stress. To combat stressful situations and control our reactions, try implementing proper diet and exercise habits, such as eating frequently through the day, limiting sugars and white carbs, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep.
3. Your medicine cabinet
Certain medications can cause weight gain or make it more difficult to lose extra pounds. Some commonly prescribed medications that can cause weight issues include blood pressure medications, steroids, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications and mood stabilizers like Tegretol, Neurontin, Depakote, Lyrica and Lithium, birth control pills and menopausal hormone replacement medications, and diabetes medications including insulin and some oral diabetes drugs.
If you suspect that any of these medications are contributing to weight concerns, it’s critical to talk with your physician before making any changes.
4. You underestimate weekend splurges
You may think you’re just “taking weekends off,” but those occasional weekend splurges aren’t so “occasional” when they’re happening Friday (or Thursday evening) through Sunday. A single splurge meal can easily have a day’s worth of calories – and a full “cheat day” can cram in the calorie equivalent of three-plus days.
Try keeping weekends in check by weighing-in every Friday and Monday morning and by reining things in as much as possible during the week.
5. You overestimate calories burned through exercise
Whether it’s an online calorie calculator or the digital readout on exercise equipment at the gym, the numbers are usually just an approximation – and some are more accurate than others.
Programs and gadgets that allow you to enter your age, height, weight, gender, and percent body fat, and then calculate calories burned based on the intensity of your workout as reflected by your heart rate, will be the most accurate. Regardless of the accuracy, don’t let the numbers dictate your appetite or your food intake. Instead, listen to your body (not the math) and dial it back a bit.
6. You’re eating too much of a good thing
Even diet-friendly foods can pack on the pounds, if we consume too much of it. Protein bars, fruit smoothies and nut mixes are among the common calorie culprits I see with clients. These calorie-dense foods could be thwarting your best efforts at shedding extra pounds. Try keeping a food journal for a few weeks and record your way to success.
7. You’re exercising daily but…
You’re sitting the rest of the day, at your desk, in meetings, watching TV, in the car, eating, you name it. Just hitting the gym for an hour a day may not be enough – we need to look at how we’re spending the remaining 23 hours. Research shows that we burn about 30% fewer calories when we’re sitting than when we’re standing.
Try walking around for two to three minutes for every half hour of sitting – or at least stand up or stretch a bit. Stand when you’re on the phone. Walk to talk with a coworker instead of calling or emailing. Small breaks can add up to big changes.
8. The scale dictates your fitness success
Stepping on the scale can be an effective way to keep ourselves in check, helping us to take note if there’s a trend up or down over time. But the number on the scale doesn’t tell the full story of what those pounds are comprised of. If you’ve been combining strength training with cardio and a lower-carb, protein-rich diet, for example, you’re likely going to see an increase in muscle mass, along with a decrease in body fat. But the number on the scale may not budge – or it may even go up a bit.
The scale is a great gauge, but keep in mind that it’s only that - a general estimate of where we are in terms of body fat, muscle mass, bone density, and hydration. Instead, go by how your clothes fit. If your jeans are getting looser by the week, who cares what the scale says? You know that you’re losing body fat, and that’s all that matters.
The bottom line
If any of these common pitfalls sound familiar, take small, strategic steps to overcome the behaviors that are holding you back. You’ll find yourself on the path to a stronger, fitter you, without the frustration or self-sabotage.
A version of this article originally appeared on Nola.com. See the full article here.
Note: Registered dietician Molly Kimball offers brand-name products as a consumer guide; she, along with Ochsner Health System, do not solicit product samples nor are paid to recommend items.