5 ways you’re sabatoging your fitness goals

It sounds simple: obtain and maintain a healthy weight, exercise often and eat right… but heeding this important advice is much harder than we think. Despite our best efforts, a slip-up here or there can seriously sabotage our goals. Here are some common mistakes that could be getting in the way:

Mistake 1: Not doing the math

What do healthy finances and a healthy lifestyle have in common? If you want to avoid trouble, you have to live within your means. Imagine trying to save money and pay down debt when you have no idea what your income is or how much you’re spending. Tracking spending habits and setting up a budget seem like logical first steps, but they’re often something we fail to do when it comes to diet and exercise.

If you want to lose weight, you have to regularly burn more than you eat. The problem is that most people don’t have an accurate idea of how many calories they are consuming versus how much they are expending. A good place to start is to figure out what your daily calorie intake needs are based on your weight, gender and age, and then subtract 200. Think of it as your “calorie allowance” and adjust your meal plans accordingly.

How can you get a better idea of how much you’re consuming? Paying attention to nutrition labels is just the first step — portion size is often the culprit. Diet experts like Judith S. Beck recommend measuring your food so you can get an accurate idea of what a serving looks like. That means getting out the measuring cups and buying a set of digital scales and using them, for every meal. (At least for a little while — soon you’ll be able to “eyeball” portion sizes). Learn what a serving of meat or bread looks like, and how much butter or salad dressing you should be using. The amounts may surprise you.

On the fitness side, it’s also important to understand how many calories a workout actually burns. Forget the numbers on the digital display — experts warn they’re often not accurate. Online tools and charts like the Mayo Clinic’s Calorie Counter can help you “ball park” how much your daily activities really add up to.

Also, make sure to check out how many calories your workout actually burns off. For example, a brisk, hour-long walk only burns about 200 calories, not the 400-500 people often think. If you want to burn off a hamburger or a rich dessert, you’ll need to triple that amount just to break even.

Another big no-no: Taking a break on weekends. It’s okay to enjoy a treat, but “being good” isn’t something you should just do during the week. Skipping your exercise sessions and having a dietary free-for-all is going to undermine all of the progress you made during the week. Your body doesn’t like those ups and downs, and may end up storing those extra calories instead. In order to work, any budget has to be consistent.


Mistake 2: Ignoring what you drink

It isn’t just food we need to worry about. While we’re working, socializing or relaxing we may be sipping away more calories than we realize — especially during the hot summer months when we take in more fluids. If you’re paying close attention to the numbers, everything that passes through your lips has to figure into the calculations.

For instance, if you drink three cups of coffee with cream and sugar each day (that’s 225 calories), you’ve already undone all the calorie-burning benefits gained from a moderate exercise session. Frozen coffee and tea drinks can range from a “modest” 150 calories to a whopping 650 calories and 30 grams of fat.

Fruit juices, though healthier than soda and sugary drinks, can also pile on the calories. Worse yet, an evening of alcoholic beverages can net as many 300 – 600 calories alone.

So what should you drink? Water, and lots of it — especially when you’re “mindlessly” drinking in front of the computer or TV.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy a liquid treat, but keep it in moderation. Drink a glass of water before anything else to quench your thirst, and keep drinking water alongside your other beverages too. Skip the sports drinks and vitamin-enhanced waters — unless you’re a professional athlete you don’t need the sugar.

If you want some flavour, try plain herbal teas (hot or iced). Without sweeteners, they have little or no calories. A squeeze of lemon or a sprig of mint can also do the trick. (For more information, see Drinks that pack on the pounds).

Mistake 3: Focusing on cardio

Bad news: We start to lose muscle after the age of 30, and we’ll lose roughly one third of our muscle mass between the ages of 50 and 80 if we fall prey to inactivity. Cardiovascular exercises are important, but the heart isn’t the only muscle that needs attention.

There are good reasons why health experts recommend we include strength training and flexibility exercises as part of a balanced fitness routine. First of all, strong, flexible muscles will help prevent injury. It’s not just strains and sprains we should aim to avoid but also falls and fractures. Strength training will help improve balance, increase flexibility and support the bones, joints and tendons.

Building muscle is also important for weight loss. Why? It will give your metabolism a boost. Replacing fat with muscle means your body will run more efficiently and burn more calories (even when you’re resting).

And perhaps the best benefit of all: Strength and energy are great motivators. When you feel better, you’ll be able to do more and you’ll want to do more.

(For more information, check out our Fitness section).

Mistake 4: Getting sloppy

When it comes to fitness, it’s all about form. It’s essential to make sure you’re doing an exercise properly to get the full benefits and to avoid injuries that will set you back. According to health experts, here are some common mistakes we make:

Letting fitness machines do the work. We lean on them, slouch, and grip the handles instead of moving our arms.

Not using the right muscles. If you’re not following the right form, chances are you’re not working the right muscles. Abdominal exercises are especially prone to error as people tend to use their back, neck and head to do the work instead of their abs. In order to solve this problem, we need to focus on the exercise and pay attention to what we’re feeling.

Rushing through exercises. Take your time when working your muscles to give them a full workout (and to avoid an injury). Proper form and breathing should never be rushed, and slow, controlled movements will provide the full effect.

Not adjusting the equipment. If you’re using weight lifting equipment, you’ll need to set it up properly to suit your body size and strength. Machines that aren’t adjusted properly won’t give you a full range of motion in your exercises and can place unnecessary stress on your joints.

Using old exercises. It’s time to learn some new tricks. A lot of the exercises we learned years ago have been updated or replaced with more efficient and effective ones.

How can you avoid the problems? Take a class or arrange some time with a personal trainer to learn the right moves. Don’t be self-conscious — the whole point is to have an expert on hand to correct your posture and movements while you’re still learning.

A watchful eye is especially important if you have health concerns or previous injuries. Experts recommend talking to your doctor before embarking on any new exercise program, and a physiotherapist can also help you get on the right track.

Mistake 5: Giving into guilt

You had to eat that generous helping of pie because your mother-in-law made it from scratch. You had to skip the gym because you needed to work late or rush home to spend time with the family. You had to have that second portion because it would have been rude or awkward to say no, and you didn’t want to be a bad guest.

Emotions can wreck havoc on our plans, and it’s hard to say no to people who are close to us. We’re encouraged to put family and work first rather than our own personal needs, so exercise isn’t often high on our list of priorities. Furthermore, our society equates food with fun, and being a good host means feeding your guests well. As a guest, it’s hard to resist the temptation even without interpersonal dynamics at play.

In her latest book, The Complete Beck Diet for Life, Beck recommends some ways around these sticky situations. Communication is key. Let your family know about your diet and fitness goals so they understand where you’re coming from and support your decisions. If they know your goals, they’re less likely to be offended when you turn down a tasty tidbit or want to get out for some exercise.

However, some people may not be so understanding. Beck recommends to prepare some gentle ways of saying no beforehand if you’re headed to a gathering where you know you’ll be accosted by a well-meaning friend or family member. Be prepared to politely handle some persistence on their part too.

And sometimes you just have to risk hurting someone’s feelings. However, Beck warns not to worry — the disappointment a friend or family member may feel won’t last that long. Instead, people should focus on their long-term goals rather than someone else’s short-term emotions.

Overall, diet and exercise aren’t easy — so why add to the effort with mistakes that can easily be avoided? The investment of a little extra time and energy at the outset will pay off in the long run.

Additional sources: WebMD, MedineNet.com

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Pidjoe

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