4 Diet Derailing Fat-Loss Mistakes You Don’t Even Know You’re Making

By Luke Briggs

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Here’s What You Need To Know…

1. Severely limiting your caloric intake can not only eat away at your lean muscle mass, it can also negatively effect hormonal balance, predisposing you to gain back the weight you lost, and then some.

2. Snacking mindlessly in front of the TV or your phone is not ok.  In fact, it may be the fastest way to lose track of your nutritional intakes, and derail even the best fat loss efforts in just one sitting.

3. We’ve all seen yo-yo dieters do too much too soon.  Nearly 75% of the time this leads to burning out before any real reshaping changes can take hold of your fat-loss efforts.

4. Non-training stressors may in fact be the primary controllable factor away from the gym when it comes to carving out a lean physique.  Stress is stress, hormonally, environmentally, and physically, and they can all prevent you from dropping that body fat percentage.

Just Eat Less and Exercise More For Fat Loss … Right?

You need to eat less and exercise more to lose weight.  That’s what we’ve always been told.  It has a certain simplistic novelty to it, but can reshaping your body really be as easy as move more and eat less?

While watching what you eat and exercising more can move people in the right direction in their weight loss goals to a certain extent, how you eat and the way that you exercise are just as important once the basics have been mastered.

Eating bags of potato chips washed down with a big gulp of regular Coke most likely isn’t going to chisel out the body of your dreams, even if it does fit your macros!

To the same extent, aimlessly slogging around on a treadmill for hours on end certainly isn’t going to build your ideal physique.  It just may leave you broken down and hurting though, if that’s what you’re after.

All that being said, you are left with a hard decision to make.  What should you do to shed some of that excess fat and drop down to a lower body-fat percentage that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also in the best interests of your overall health?

The options are limitless, but the common mistakes I see a majority of people overlook in their fat loss efforts can be derailing. Here are my top four mistakes that you may not even realize you’re making until it’s too late and you’re left skinny fat with only a sweaty tee shirt to show for it.

#4 Fat Loss Mistake – Severely Restricting Calories

fat loss calorie restriction

We’ve always believed that you need to burn off more calories than you consume in order to lose weight.  Like I said above, that can true to an extent.

While you must have a negative energy balance to reduce the size of your body, you should only be in a slight energy deficit to keep the fat off permanently.  For many fad and crash style dieters, the word permanent may as well be spelled in a different language with exponentiating number of relapses and weight gain after initial success with hard dieting strategies.

An Effective Negative Energy Balance

If you normally consume 2,500 calories per day, don’t drop your caloric intake to 1,000 calories per day.  Something this drastic is neither healthy nor effective, and may even set you up for future failure.

Your body needs a certain amount of energy each day to go through all of its processes, you know, like breathing, walking and not shutting down and passing out cold on the floor.

You also risk losing muscle and bone mass if you restrict your calories too excessively.  It’s no secret that muscle burns a lot of calories, even at rest as compared to fat.  Reducing your lean body mass has the ability to slow down your metabolism and leave you in an unbalanced and unsafe hormonal environment for long-term maintenance of a lower body weight.

You also need to take in a certain amount of protein each day to maintain or gain muscle mass while dieting for fat loss.  Muscle burns calories at a much faster rate than fat, so keeping protein levels high is important for keeping your metabolism high.

According to researchers at UCLA who analyzed 31 long-term studies, “Nearly 33-66% of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets, and these studies likely underestimate the extent to which dieting is counterproductive because of several methodological problems, all of which bias the studies toward showing successful weight loss maintenance”

How Many Calories Should You Consume to Lose Fat?

If you have a lot of fat to lose, you don’t need to focus on tracking calories.  You first need to work on developing lifestyle habits conducive to your physique goals.  Focus on things like eating higher quality foods, getting more sleep and exercising more, even if it is taking your dog for a walk.  No one ever got fat from over-eating broccoli.

If you don’t have much fat to lose and just want to get to a crisp single digit body-fat percentage, you should start focusing on caloric intake and macronutrient splits with a bit more focus and intent.

Because there are so many competing variables in optimizing body-fat percentages such as body type, activity level and metabolic rate, it’s difficult to give precise recommendations that would be a one-size-fits-all prescription for the average person.

You need to first spend a couple of days logging the number of calories you’re consuming currently.  Be honest with yourself. Don’t change your eating habits when tracking if you want accuracy.  Even elite physique competitors and athletes have a hard time quantifying what they are consuming, so be as accurate as possible.  This will be a big wake up call for many of you.

Once you figure out what you are taking in on a daily or weekly basis, gradually reduce your intake until you begin losing body fat.

The Best Macronutrient Breakdowns for Fat-Loss

According to Precision Nutrition, your macronutrient split should be as follows:

  • If you’re an ectomorph (naturally thin), consume 25% of your calories from protein, 55% from carbohydrate and 20%from fat.
  • If you’re a mesomorph (naturally lean and muscular), take in 30% of your calories from protein, 40% from carbohydrate and 30% from fat.
  • If you’re an endomorph (naturally thick), consume 35% of your calories from protein, 25% from carbohydrate and 40% from fat. (Berardi et. al, 2015)

Quality sources of protein include lean meats, fish, eggs and whey protein. Good carbohydrate foods are rice, potatoes, oats and quinoa.  For fats, choose foods like nuts, nut butters, avocados and coconut oil.

Toss the ice cream and cake in the trash.  It’s not even worth keeping it around the house, because you know you’ll be temped!  While they may taste good, they’re not going to help you lose fat, and if that’s your ultimate goal, that needs to be the priority and focus every day.

#3 Fat Loss Mitake – Eating While Distracted and Stressed

fat loss night eating

It happens all the time.

You sit down to watch TV and grab a bag of chips instinctively.  You’ve got every intention to have just a few chips, but all of the sudden you become immersed in the that rerun of The Real Housewives of Orange County and don’t even realize that  you’ve just smashed the entire bag to your face before the first commercial break.

That’s potentially thousands of calories you just wolfed down. Never a good thing for fat-loss.

How to Not Mindlessly Pig Out

Pay attention and actually focus on eating your food.  Think that’s too simple?  I challenge you to give it a try.  You’ll quickly realize you may be eating quite a bit more than you think.

In fact, you may be consuming significantly more calories than you think.

In a study released by the New England Journal of Medicine, obese subjects were placed into two groups.  Ten subjects were placed in a group with a history of diet resistance, and six were put in a control group (Lichtman et. al, 1992).

The study found subjects in the diet-resistant group reported consuming only about half of the amount of calories they actually took in during a two-week period.  The group also overestimated its energy expenditure from physical activity by nearly 33%.

The control group wasn’t quite as bad, but still underreported the calories it consumed by 56% and overestimated energy expenditure by almost 15%.  Still not too stellar.

It’s no wonder so many people struggle to lose weight.  They don’t notice they’re eating substantially more than they think.  What you don’t know can come back to bite you in the as (or rather add to the size of that ass).

All those little snacks during the day add up.  A bite here and a bite there, and you’ll derail any efforts you have made towards carving out a lean physique.

To top it off, a whopping 46% of people in the United States don’t even read food labels (https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm202611.htm).  I guess that’s why all that fuss over labeling GMO’s on food in the state of California never came to fruition.  People don’t even ready anyways, so what’s an extra label going to do?

So if you think you’re eating healthy but still aren’t dropping the pounds, it’s time to take a look at the label and actually measure out a serving size for the food that you’re eating.

Slow Down, Pay Attention, and Know What’s Going In Your Mouth!

Ensure you’re paying attention to what you’re eating during your meals.

In the age of smart phones and tablets, we’re almost always using electronics.  This type of distraction not only messes with our digestion to some extent, it also keeps us in no-mans-land when it comes to trying to track nutritional intakes.

Rarely anymore do we ever sit down and focus solely on eating.  We’ve got our forks in one hand and our phones in the other.  Tinder can wait people, and I guarantee you that your right swipe percentage will sky rocket by focusing on your diet instead of the mini-screen killing your posture and social skills.

It’s hugely important to eliminate distractions and slow down your eating.

It takes about 20 minutes for our body to signal it’s full, so you should make sure you’re eating at a slower pace if your goal is to lose weight.

Eat your vegetables first during your meal.  Studies show you tend to consume fewer total calories during a meal if you eat your vegetables before anything else.

A study conducted by Dr. Barbara Rolls at Penn State University found women who ate salad first in a meal consumed 7%-12% less pasta during their meals than women who didn’t have any salad (Aronne and Bowman).

So take a few minutes to eat your veggies. They’re mostly water, so they’re very low in calories.  You should have them anyway, so why not get them out of the way at the beginning of your meal?

You can have every intention to take in fewer calories, but you’ve got to actually focus when you’re eating.  Simple things here: start by putting your mobile devices away when you eat and actually concentrate on your meal – just like your parents and grandparents chastised you for when you were in kindergarten!

#2 Fat Loss Mitake – Trying To Do Too Much, Too Soon

fat loss exercise

We see it every single year at about the same time.  New Year’s rolls around and gyms become packed.  All of a sudden my bench press is permanently occupied by a bunch of half-repping newbies for a month or so, and I’m left waiting around stretching my pecs!

You had the weight room practically all to yourself in December, but as soon as January arrives, you can barely find space to lift a dumbbell, let alone get some meaningful training in without pumping elbows with the dude next to you.

But come February, the gym once again becomes your private sanctuary.  Many of the people who set New Year’s Resolutions fall back into old habits and spend more time in front of the TV than they do on their feet.  This is sad because even gyms have started catering to these plebeians by putting plasma screens in every visible nook and crevice.

How To Stick With Your Fat-Loss Goal

According to a study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Bodybuilding.com in November 2012, 2/3 of Americans who make New Year’s Resolutions choose fitness-oriented goals (Harris Interactive, 2012).

Of those people, 73% quit prior to achieving their goal.  Nearly half give up on their resolutions in just six weeks or less.  Forty-two percent of those individuals cite the reason for quitting as it’s “too difficult to follow a diet or workout regimen.”  Thirty-eight percent say it’s “too hard to get back on track once they fall off,” while 36% think “it’s hard to find time.”  All those numbers are pretty crapy, and proof that these strategies just don’t work.

It’s a shame so many people who have solid and noble intentions to drop the body fat they accumulated during the holiday season ultimately fail to do so.

While you can come up with a number of reasons why these individuals can’t reach their goals, a major problem is people just don’t choose a routine sustainable for their lifestyle.  They simply try to do too much too soon.

Sustainability of Diet and Exercise

If you haven’t been working out at all, it’s absolutely ludicrous to think you can begin exercising six days a week and maintain that regimen for a long period of time.  You’re just going to burn yourself out and end up quitting in a matter of weeks.

If you have kids and a full-time job, you may be better served to exercise two or three days per week at a gym and work your frequency up little by little according to a schedule you can 100% commit to.

And while we’re at it, please, don’t ever “go on a diet.”

According to research from the Boston Medical Center, about 45 million people in the United States “diet” each year and spend $33 billion annually on products for weight loss (Nutrition and Weight Management).

Despite these intentions, almost 2/3 of Americans remain overweight or obese.

People are always looking for the “quick fix,” which is completely understandable because who wouldn’t want to get lean and ripped as fast as possible?  I mean this is America, and we expect things to be handed to us without having to work for it.

What you need to remember is it took a long time to become overweight, so it’s going to take longer than a couple of weeks to become lean again.  Those 10 years of pounding Big-Macs won’t be nullified in a matter of 6 weeks.  Get that poisonous thinking out of your head right now.  It’s going to take time to reverse the damage that has been done.

Instead of spending loads of cash on the latest fat loss supplement and “going on a diet,” try ingraining one habit at a time.

And makes sure the goals you set are realistic. Losing 40 pounds in two months probably isn’t going to happen. That’s one of the reasons many people give up on their goals far too soon.  But hey, what’s wrong with 20 pounds over that same time period?

Instead try setting measurable mini-goals so you can have lots of successes along the way.

It could be something as simple as eating out fewer times each week.  If you currently go to a restaurant or fast-food joint 10 times per week, try going only seven times per week.  When you have that mastered, try eating out four times per week.  Widdle away at your habits, and all of a sudden you will start living a lifestyle that not only produces fat-loss results, but is also sustainable.

Add one habit at a time, and you’re much more likely to have long-term success with your diet, or anything else in life for that matter.  Simplistic actions that produce results are the ultimate form of sophistication.

#1 Fat Loss Mistake – Having Too Many Non-Training Stressors

fat loss stress

You had a stressful day at work. You stayed up late watching reruns of SportsCenter last night. You’re running late picking your son up from a soccer game.  Stress is a daily occurrence in our Western world, but unless you plan on moving to the beaches of Bali anytime soon, you better get a grip on your stressors and learn to control them.

Many people fail to realize stress from all areas of life affects your body the same way a workout does.  Before adding additional stresses like exercise to your body, it’s oftentimes important to remove other stressors.

How the Body Responds to Stress

The autonomic nervous system has two branches – the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system controls your “fight or flight” response which is highly active in times of stress, while your parasympathetic nervous system takes over control when you go into “rest and digest” mode.

Your body prefers to operate in a parasympathetic state, which allows it to properly digest food, maintain vital balance and be generally more chilled out.

Like a switch, your nervous system can quickly transition into a sympathetic state when it detects a threat of any kind.  We aren’t just talking about running away from leopards in the jungle here (remember that thing about your body not differentiating between types of stress?).  Your body then responds by creating a heightened sense of awareness, thus elevating your heart rate, blood pressure, siphoning blood to contractile tissues and even dilating your eyes so it can mobilize energy more rapidly and be ready for action.

Your body needs to be in this state at certain times, like when you’re physically at risk or stepping under the bar of a new PR.

If you’re constantly stressed from things like work or not getting the sleep that you require, you’re going to produce the stress hormone cortisol far too often, leaving yourself in an overly-heightened state.

Your adrenal glands produce cortisol in response to a stressor.  Everyone knows that cortisol is involved with stress, but what most people neglect to realize is that constant secretions of cortisol can lead to fat storage in the abdomen.  Yes, that fight with your spouse or project at work is literally feeding your love handles.

Hormones play a major role in body composition. While you must make certain you’re in a negative energy balance, you must also ensure your hormones are functioning properly.

First steps first; you may need to first focus on stress reduction, or exercise won’t have the same benefits toward fat loss.

So How Do We Combat Stress?

One simple thing is making sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep at night.  For some people, a minimum restful night’s sleep can be upward of 10 hours.  When you’re asleep, your body releases a number of important hormones for muscle growth and fat loss.

You should also take some time during the day to chill the eff out. Don’t try to work through your lunch break.  Food is a good thing, remember the section above?

Find some time during the day to take a walk, listen to some relaxing music or practice diaphragmatic breathing.

It doesn’t matter how busy you may think you are, you still need to make time for yourself.  If you can’t help yourself, you won’t be able to help others as effectively as you could otherwise.

Just de-stress, and you’ll give yourself a much better chance to burn fat when you exercise.

About The Author

luke briggs

Luke Briggs is a strength coach, powerlifter and former full time print journalist.  Luke is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association who also holds a bachelor’s degree from the prestigious University of Wisconsin’s school of journalism. Luke’s vision is to help people around the world build muscle, burn fat, get stronger and become the best versions of themselves.  With his background in print journalism, he combines his writing skills, knowledge of fitness and personal training experience to be the best possible resource for you to reach all of your strength and physique goals.

Connect with Luke at his:

Website: Luke Briggs Fitness                      Facebook: Luke Briggs                  YouTube: Luke Briggs

Instagram: @lukebriggsfitness                   Twitter: @lukebriggsfit 


1. Aronne, Louis J., and Alisa Bowman. The Skinny: On Losing Weight Without Being Hungry, The Ultimate Guide to Weight Loss Success. New York: Broadway, 2009. Print.

2. Berardi, John, and Ryan Andrews. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Second ed. N.p.: Precision Nutrition, 2015. Print.

3. Harris Interactive. “New Study Finds 73% Of People Who Set Fitness Goals As New Year’s Resolutions Give Them Up – Bodybuilding.com.”Bodybuilding.com. Bodybuilding.com, 28 Dec. 2012. Web. Fat Loss

4. Lichtman, Steven W., Krystyna Pisarska, Ellen Raynes Berman, Michele Pestone, Hillary Dowling, Esther Offenbacher, Hope Weisel, Stanley Heshka, Dwight E. Matthews, and Steven B. Heymsfield. “Discrepancy between Self-reported and Actual Caloric Intake and Exercise in Obese Subjects.” The New England Journal of Medicine. The Massachusetts Medical Society, 31 Dec. 1992. Web. 22 June 2015.

5. “Nutrition & Weight Management.” Tools for Ideal Weight Control. Boston Medical Center, 2014.

6. Mann, T., AJ Tomiyama, E. Westling, AM Lew, B. Samuels, and J. Chatman. “Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2007. Web. 13 July 2015.

7. Wolfe, Robert R., “The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, September 2006, 475-482. Web. 13 July 2015. Fat Loss

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