Common Weight Loss Mistakes to Avoid

Running is an excellent way to drop pounds, but weight loss efforts often get derailed and then it's tough to get back on track. Here are common weight loss mistakes and how to avoid them.

Unrealistic Expectations

woman on scale

While television shows such as "The Biggest Loser" may inspire people to lose weight, they also set them up for very unrealistic weight loss expectations. Just because someone on TV loses 10 pounds in a week doesn't mean that it's safe, healthy, or realistic for you to do the same thing.

How to Fix It

A healthy amount of weight loss is a pound to two pounds per week. Research shows that people who lose a lot of weight very quickly are more likely to gain it back. (Just as you may have seen in the "Where Are They Now?" episodes of those weight loss shows.)

It's important to be patient and see each lost pound to be a huge achievement along the way. And remember to have ways other than the number on the scale to measure your progress, such as how your clothes are fitting or the number of inches you've lost. Think about all the other health improvements and benefits of running that you're seeing, including reduced stress, improved sleep, increased energy, and reduced risk of many diseases.

Depriving Yourself

You may assume that being on a diet or eating healthy means giving up all your favorite indulgent foods. But what happens if you deprive yourself too much is that it usually leads to overeating. One day you just cave in and then you really go overboard.

How to Fix It

If you have a really strong craving, it's fine to indulge — a little. Try to prevent yourself from going overboard by placing only a certain amount of food in front of you. Put potato chips in a small bowl rather than eating them right out of the bag, for example. This is especially important after a tough run or workout when you may feel that a big-calorie binge is justified. In reality, you could end up eating way more calories than you burned during your run.

Using Food as a Reward

Whether they're trying to lose weight or not, it's very common for runners to use food as a reward. They often want to treat themselves after a hard workout or race. But that kind of reward system can really derail your weight loss efforts. You may start using every little excuse to treat yourself to a high-calorie dessert or other indulgences when you have an urge for them.

How to Fix It

Instead, treat yourself to non-food rewards, such as new running gear, a pedicure, or a massage when you reach a running goal. Once you reach a specific goal, pick a new milestone and another non-food treat to go along with it. 

Skipping Meals

Some people skip meals thinking that they'll save calories. But that strategy usually backfires. Our bodies have a built-in survival mechanism to conserve calories when we go for a long period of time without eating. So, when you skip meals, your body slows your metabolism to prevent you from starving. Also, skipping a meal will make you hungrier, which increases your temptation to eat everything in sight.

How to Fix It

Try to eat five to six small meals each day, or three meals and some healthy snacks in between. You'll find that eating mini-meals will help maintain your energy levels throughout the day and keep you from feeling hungry (and then binging) all the time. If you skip meals, such as breakfast, because you don't have time, try eating something quick like cereal, peanut butter on toast, or cottage cheese and fruit.

Drinking Too Many Calories

Some runners assume that because they're running or doing other forms of exercise, they're supposed to drink sports drinks. But the truth is that, while it's important that you use sports drinks to replace electrolytes during your long runs, you don't need to constantly drink them when you're not running. Not only are they high in calories, but they also have a very little nutritional benefit and they won't keep you full.

How to Fix It

Stay away from sugary sports drinks, unless you're running more than 90 minutes and need to replace electrolytes lost through sweat. You should also try to avoid fruit juices (whole fruit is always better), regular soda, and high-calorie specialty coffee beverages. Plain water is fine for staying hydrated during the week. If that's too boring for you, try squeezing a lemon in your water or drink no-calorie flavored seltzer water. Also, try to limit beer and alcohol consumption to 1-2 glasses per week.

Overestimating Your Calories Burned

Some people trying to lose weight will rely on calorie expenditure tables to figure out how many calories they're burning while running or doing other physical activities. The problem is that those tables tell you the calorie expenditure of an average person and usually overestimate the calorie expenditure. The same is true for treadmills and other cardio machines that display calorie expenditures. Some reports suggest that treadmills and other cardio machines actually overestimate calories burned by up to 15% to 20%.

How to Fix It

​It's important that you take calories burned estimates with a grain of salt. It's fine to use the numbers as a benchmark for your runs, but don't plan on consuming additional calories based on that number. That's an easy way to start gaining weight, despite your exercise efforts. If you really want to get a better idea of how many calories you're burning during your runs, try using a heart rate monitor. That will be more accurate than relying on tables or cardio machine readings.

Not Readjusting Calorie Needs

As you lose weight, your calorie needs change because it takes fewer calories to maintain your weight. So if you keep eating the same amount of calories, you'll probably hit a weight loss plateau.

How to Fix It

If you want to keep losing weight, you have to gradually reduce your calorie intake. Use a calorie calculator to determine how many calories you actually need each day. Once you have that number, you need to create a deficit — either by dieting or exercise — of approximately 500 calories per day to lose a pound a week.