5 weight loss mistakes that can sabotage your New Year's resolutions, and what experts recommend instead

5 weight loss mistakes that can sabotage your New Year's resolutions, and what experts recommend instead
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • The New Year is a popular time to kick off diets and weight loss efforts, but mistakes are common.
  • People often restrict their foods too much or rush into big changes, which can backfire, experts say.

Research suggests that more than half of people who make diet and exercise New Year's resolutions fail to stick to them, only to reboot the same goals next year.

To avoid spinning your wheels each January, dietitians recommend steering clear of common mistakes, like excessive restriction and crash diets. Instead, good habits and a lot of patience can help you stay on track.

Don't try to "make up for" for indulgence by restricting after the holidays

You don't have to compensate for gaining weight during the holidays by severely cutting back afterward, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of "Read It Before You Eat It — Taking You from Label to Table."

"The biggest mistake people make is feeling like they need to be really strict on a diet," Taub-Dix previously told Insider. "You're entitled to enjoy what you're eating."

Instead, aim for a flexible mindset in your goals, she said. A food journal can be a helpful way to explore your relationship to food and process how you're feeling, while working towards a healthy routine.


If you're already stressed and busy, a major diet change is less likely to succeed

If you're currently dealing with a lot of stress, reconsider a diet that totally overhauls your lifestyle, said Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, a professor at West Virginia University's School of Medicine whose research includes low-carb diets.

A busy schedule, lack of sleep, or stressful events can mean you're less likely to have the resources and support to pull off a dramatic dietary shift.

"If you don't have the energy and time to prepare for success, you're not going to succeed," Cucuzzella previously told Insider.

Instead, focus on managing your stress and make sure you're mentally and physically prepared for a change.

Don't try to change everything at once

You can still make healthy changes under stress by starting small, Brigitte Zeitlin, a registered dietitian and owner of BZ Nutrition, previously told Insider.


One simple fix is creating a routine and sticking to it, which can stave off hanger and set you up for success.

"A structure to your day will help naturally ease some stress and anxiety, and add a little bit of self-care," she said.

Rather than overthinking or cutting out nutrients like carbs and fat, focus on incorporating protein and veggies.

"If you make sure you're getting a protein and a produce when you eat, you'll be fine. You won't have to know the science behind it and you'll feel good," Zeitlin said.

Cutting out favorite foods isn't sustainable

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to cut out beloved treats to lose weight.


"If you think cutting carbs is the most effective, but it makes you die inside, don't do it," registered dietitian Georgie Fear previously told Insider.

A sample structure for treating yourself is the 80/20 rule: make healthy, nutrient-dense food about 80% of your diet, with 20% foods you enjoy regardless of nutritional value.

Even high-calorie treats have a place in a healthy diet, since enjoying them can help stave off mindlessly snacking, nutrition writer Mark Schatzker previously told Insider.

Trying to rush your results can backfire

Weight loss isn't linear, and it's normal to have stalls along the way, Taub-Dix said. Trying to speed things up by cutting out calories or foods can lead to burnout.

"You don't have to be more strict, you have to be more patient," she previously told Insider.


Instead, look for signs of progress beyond the scale, like more energy or consistency with healthy habits.

"Don't confuse stability with stagnation. Stagnation is not progressing. Stability is about appreciating where you are, appreciating your body at any stage," Taub-Dix said.