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7 Mistakes of Fat Loss & How to Avoid Them

When we talk about reasons for going to the gym, fat loss seems to be the most popular motivation. I could guarantee you that 95% or more of trainers in the gym would like to lose some more body fat, however a good majority of those trainers will also fail at reaching their goal. Most of these desires to lose weight and hit the gym seem to occur around the New Years period with a recent Australia survey1 showing 54% of New Years resolutions are health and fitness related. More than half of these resolutions will be broken with 15% broken within the first month and 40 percent of all resolutions broken after 9 months. Getting fit and losing fat isn’t easy, but if you can avoid some of these 7 most common mistakes, you might just be one of the lucky few who can stick to their resolutions this year.

Tracking Progress1. Not Tracking Your Progress

A quarter of all people who make health and fitness resolutions break them due to not tracking their process. One of the most important aspects of setting goals is to set ones which are measurable. The more factors you can track, the more you can see whether your training and nutrition plans are working. Of course, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too many, but having 2-4 trackable indices can provide motivation and guidance to maintain progress. If your goal is to lose weight, here are some things you can track:

  • Weight – This is probably the best and most obvious indicator for weight and fat loss and is best for those who are quite overweight or obese. It can fail for trainers who do plenty of resistance training as muscle often weighs more than fat and can create the illusion that you’re not losing any weight.
  • Photos – Photographs rarely lie, especially if you’re taking them in the same light, the same time of day and same straight angle. You can them examine how your body is changing with your routine, where you might be getting results and whether there are imbalances.
  • Clothing Fit – Depending on how much weight you lose, the fit of your clothes are another good indicator to how well you’re progressing. Jeans are an excellent indicator as are other fabrics which don’t have much give.
  • Fitness Test – While it’s not really a measure of fat or weight loss, fitness tests are easy ways to check whether your body is reaping the benefits of your training. Even if you’re not losing weight or fat, being fit can make a huge, impacting difference.

Rewarding Yourself Too Much2. Rewarding Yourself Too Much

This happens more often than people are willing to admit. They work out for 1.5-2 hours and suddenly treat their next meal as a buffet. By the end of it, they’ve actually eaten more calories than they’ve burned and wonder why they’re putting on weight at the next weigh in. Losing fat doesn’t mean you have to let go of all the foods you enjoy, rather just make sure that you’re not overindulging after each training session and that you’re controlling how much food you’re eating. It doesn’t have to be calculated to the last gram of carbohydrate, fat and protein. To avoid overeating at each meal, make sure you focus on two things:

  • Portion Control – A simple way of tracking how much you eat is through portion control2. Simply eating less of what you’re used to can reduce the amount of calories you consume.
  • Know Your Energy Dense Foods – While portion control is important, sometimes the energy density of a food can skew how we see things. For example, a regular doughnut can have the same amount of calories as 8 apples. Fruits and vegetables are always a safe bet if you’re after low energy density, but fairly filling snack.

3. Not Enough Protein

Most people will start a diet as soon as they decide to lose weight. However, by doing so they also sometimes decrease the amount of protein they have. While they will still be getting enough to meet their daily protein requirements, it might not be enough to help them build muscle and also lose fat. A recent study by Longland et al (2016)3 found that doubling your protein intake from 1.2g/kg of body weight to 2.4g/kg of bodyweight significantly improved body composition whilst following a typical fat loss training program of resistance exercise and high intensity interval training along with a reduced calorie diet. Over 6 weeks, those on a higher protein diet resulted in 1kg extra lean muscle and 1kg less body fat than those on a slightly lower protein intake. In fact, other studies4 have shown similar results. If you want to maintain and even gain muscle with a reduced calorie diet, you must focus on getting enough and even higher thresholds of protein. Here’s a quick guide on protein intakes5:

  • Sedentary Adult – 0.8g/kg bodyweight
  • Recreationally Active – 1.2g/kg bodyweight
  • Active with Resistance training – 1.5g-2.0g/kg of bodyweight
  • Cutting Phase – 2.5-3.0g/kg of bodyweight

While most people don’t need more than 2.0g/kg of bodyweight, if you’re planning on losing a lot of weight and trying to get your body fat percentage way down, then higher protein intakes can be protective of any muscle loss.

4. Being Too Comfortable

Humans tend to be creatures of habit, but when it comes to exercise, habitually doing the same exercises at the same intensity is a shortcut to boredom and no results. Your body has an excellent capacity to adapt to the stresses that you place on it so that the same level of intensity of exercise performed over a greater period of time no longer has the same desired effect on fat loss, muscle gain or fitness. If your goal is performance and technique, doing the same thing repeatedly can definitely help. If your goal is fat loss and muscle gain though, it might be time to try some different activities. Here are some quick tips on how to adjust your training to burn more fat:

  • Movement – The stranger a movement is to your body, the more your body has to work to adjust to the new movement. This adjusting process will help burn extra calories. For example, if you’re used to steady state, long distance running, why not try stop-start exercises such as tennis or basketball. Or explosive plyometric training.
  • Variables – Intensity is what your body needs to burn fat. By adjusting the many variables of training (sets, reps, rest periods, type of exercises, total training time, speed of movement, etc), you can increase the intensity and therefore increase your fat burning capability.

5. No Attention to Diet

A lot of trainers seem to think that training hard is enough to support fat and weight loss. However, there is evidence6 that supports a slight superiority of dietary changes over exercise interventions on fat loss. That is, while combining dietary and exercise changes together is best for fat loss, removing exercise isn’t going to make too much of a different on your weight. After all, the average person may burn anywhere between 200-500 calories per training session. To burn 500 calories though, the level of intensity would be quite high and most likely higher than most average training sessions. Making suitable dietary changes throughout the day though is often simpler, but can still help reduce calories and support better long term weight loss. Make no mistake, exercise is still important, but perhaps not as important as diet when it comes to fat loss. Here are some do’s and don’ts of diet changes:

  • Don’t make a habit of skipping meals and starving yourself.
  • Do eat more vegetables.
  • Don’t unnecessarily restrict foods and food groups such as dairy, carbs or fats.
  • Do consider nutrient density.
  • Don’t have highly processed, energy dense junk foods.
  • Do learn how to read nutrition labels.

Sedentary6. Being Too Sedentary

We live in an age where sitting has practically overtaken our lives. From sitting at work in front of a computer, to sitting at home to sitting down to eat, the average amount of sedentary sitting or lounging time has increased dramatically over the past two decades. What’s alarming though is that a bout of exercise may not be enough to counteract some of the negative effects of prolonged sitting7. For most people, the daily gym or training session is about as physical as we’ll be for the day, however, if you’re serious about weight loss, you’re going to have to do a whole lot more. Here are some tips on how to incorporate some activity throughout your day:

  • Take a quick walk (5-10 minutes) every 3 hours.
  • Get out of your chair and walk to the toilet, kitchen or common area every 90 minutes.
  • Take the stairs whenever possible.
  • Go in earlier to work and park somewhere further away from your workplace.

7. Not Enough Rest

When you start dieting and increasing the amount of exercise you’re doing, you’re going to find yourself having periods of low energy. From here, two things generally occur. Some trainers forge on, even through the tiredness and risk the chance of burning out. Others focus entirely on their tiredness and begin to make excuses for not training. Neither of these two options are ideal and the more tired you become, the more your stress hormones can rise, which pretty much spells doom for your fat storage8. To continue to burn fat and lose weight, make sure you get adequate rest, both in terms of sleep and training off days.

Avoid Fat Loss Mistakes

By avoiding some of the most common mistakes impeding fat and weight loss, you can ensure long term success in reaching your goals and dodging any relapses. Losing fat and getting leaner is not an easy process, so don’t make it harder for yourself by making any of the above mistakes.

1. 2015. New Years Resolution Statistics. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 February 16].
2. Rolls BJ. ‘What is the role of portion control in weight management?’ Int J Obes (Lond). 2014 Jul;38 Suppl 1:S1-8. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2014.82.
3. Longland TM, Oikawa SY, Mitchell CJ, Devries MC, Phillips SM. ‘Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial.’ Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Jan 27. pii: ajcn119339.
4. Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. ‘Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation.’ J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:20. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-20. eCollection 2014.
5. Antonio J, Kalman D, Stout JR, Greenwood M, Willougby DS, Haff GG. 'Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements'. International Society of Sports Nutrition. Humana Press 2008
6. Schwingshackl L, Dias S, Hoffmann G. ‘Impact of long-term lifestyle programmes on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors in overweight/obese participants: a systematic review and network meta-analysis.’ Syst Rev. 2014 Oct 30;3:130. doi: 10.1186/2046-4053-3-130.
7. Younger AM, Pettitt RW, Sexton PJ, Maass WJ, Pettitt CD. ‘Acute moderate exercise does not attenuate cardiometabolic function associated with a bout of prolonged sitting.’ J Sports Sci. 2015 Jul 17:1-6.
8. Spivey A. ‘Lose sleep, gain weight: another piece of the obesity puzzle.’ Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Jan;118(1):A28-33. doi: 10.1289/ehp.118-a28.
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