Losing weight is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, but it’s also one of the hardest to maintain and successfully accomplish. If you get down all the basics—you’re working out regularly and eating a healthy diet—but can’t seem to get past the first five pounds, it may be the finer details that warrant your attention.
We asked nutritionist Kristen Carlucci, R.D., for the most common nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle blunders that keep the scale from tipping in the right direction—and their fixes. Apply her tips and watch the pounds melt away.
1. You’re logging less than 6 hours a night
You’re a night owl. You travel a ton. You sleep with four cats. You’re trying to catch up on every Game of Thrones season. No matter the reason why, your lack of sleep is preventing the results of your diet and exercise regimen from being seen. If you didn’t think snoozing the night away could have an effect on shedding pounds, think again.
Reason: When you’re sleep deprived, the hormone (ghrelin) in your body that signals hunger increases, and the hormone (leptin) that tell you you’re full decreases. “Even worse, the foods you reach for are more likely to be high in carbs and sugar to get that energy quick,” Carlucci says. And, real talk, face-planting into your couch is far more tempting than the gym after a long day without enough zzz’s.
Solution: “If you need to be awake at 7 a.m., that means you should be in bed by 11 p.m. to get your full eight hours,” Carlucci says. To make it easier for yourself, begin by creating a routine; after some time, it’ll become mechanical and reflexive. “Set a recurring alarm to go off at 10:30 p.m. (30 minutes before your bed time) to let you know it’s time to start shutting down,” she says. Make sure you turn off any technology and turn down the lights so you’re guaranteed to be in bed with sufficient time to wind down and fall asleep.
2. You’re pounding processed snacks
If you have a pantry filled with the smiling faces of packaged cereal and snack mascots, you’re staring straight at the problem. Even if you know Ho-Hos are a no-no, and you opt for the “healthier” cereals, snack bars, and meal replacements, you’re still doing your body a disservice.
Reason: “Those fat- and sugar-free labeled snacks may seem like the healthy way to save calories, but these artificial and highly processed foods can mess with your metabolism, blood sugar levels, and just aren’t as satisfying as eating the real thing,” Carlucci says. Plus, research from the Journal of Marketing Research found packaged foods marketed as being healthy may influence people to exercise less and snack more on said “fit foods.”
Solution: It’s really quite simple. “Eat REAL food!” Carlucci says. “I tell my clients to choose snacks that don’t come in a bag/package. Instead, go for nutrient-dense, energizing fresh fruit, vegetables, or raw nuts instead.” Here’s a good exercise to rid your fridge and pantry of unecessary, processed foods. Carlucci advises: “If it has more than three ingredients listed (or ingredients you can’t pronounce), ditch it.” You’ll notice a difference in how your clothes fit and how good you feel in a week, she says.
3. You’re drinking less than half your body weight in water (oz)
There’s been a lot of back and forth over the actual recommended amount of water we need to keep our bodies working optimally. But for weight loss, the more water you drink, the better.
Reason: “When we’re dehydrated, our body starts putting all of it’s energy into keeping your internal water levels in check, so the energy that was keeping your metabolism revved to max capacity is now being delegated elsewhere,” explains Carlucci. It seems counterintuitive since water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight, according to the Mayo Clinic, but when you drink enough water, your body will recognize that and allow any retained water to be released from your cells through digestion (getting rid of any bloat). “We also tend to mistake thirst for hunger so by drinking water throughout the day, you’ll eat less,” Carlucci says. Water is one of the simplest solutions to stagnant weight loss.
Solution: “Keep a large 32oz water bottle with you and set goals to refill it throughout the day,” she advises. “If your daily target is 96oz, drink bottle #1 by noon, bottle #2 by 3 p.m., and bottle #3 by 6 p.m.. If you don’t like plain water, or want to mix it up a bit, add fruit, vegetables, or lemon juice for added flavor; you can also add seltzer water for added fizz.
4. You’re eating the wrong amount of protein
Like water intake, protein consumption is widely contested and constantly being tested and studied in new research. “Protein helps with burning fat and increasing muscle so the more we eat, the leaner we’ll get, right? Wrong,” Carlucci says. Long story short, if you eat too much protein, it’ll cause weight gain. if you eat too little protein, you’ll constantly be hungry and reaching for easy, quick-energy fixes like processed foods and carb-dense eats.
Reason: “Our bodies can actually only absorb ~30-40g of protein at one time, so any amount of protein we eat above that simply gets stored as fat,” she explains. Even if you’re a body builder and you’re trying to consume 100+ grams of protein per day, you can’t consume all of that in one meal. Our muscles can only metabolize protein in servings; if you exceed this threshold, you’re going to store it as fat.
Solution: Lean protein is awesome for muscle strength, recovery, and for keeping you feeling fuller longer, Carlucci says; the key is not overdoing it. “Aim for 30g of protein at every meal, which is the equivalent to a 4oz serving of chicken or steak,” she adds. Besides, a 35g high-protein breakfast is one of the best ways to keep body fat in check.
5. You’re stuck in an exercise rut
You find a class or routine that you absolutely love. It’s challenging, engaging, and rewarding—until it’s not. The problem is that most people lack the drive and motivation to push past the plateau, or they simply don’t know what to do.
Reason: “You start an exercise routine and see awesome results, then after a few months you’re not seeing any changes in weight or body fat; it’s typical,” Carlucci says. You need to constantly excite your muscles in new, unfamiliar ways to stimulate new growth. That means running on a treadmill isn’t going to cut it, unless you make some major changes.
Solution: Switch things up every six weeks. “Try adding one minute high-intensity cardio intervals (jump squats, jumping lunges, mountain climbers, burpees, jump rope, treadmill sprints) in between sets of weights at the gym,” she suggests. “And if you usually run for 30 minutes at the same pace, try adding extra time, increasing the speed, or the incline to get your body out of autopilot and back on track to get the results you’re looking for.” This will help you forge forward and accomplish your goals, whether they’re New Year’s resolutions or something you’ve been working toward for some time.
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