Today I’m delighted to have fellow Dietitian and sports nutrition expert Sharmian Davis on the blog chatting about the common mistakes women make when trying to lose weight.
Sharmain runs her own private practice as The Diet Consultant and is one of the go to sports nutrition experts for both professional and amateur athletes in the UK. She is passionate about helping to set the record straight when it comes to nutrition myths and providing practical advice to people with diet dilemmas.
Over to you Sharmain!
Common Mistakes Women Make When Trying To Lose Weight
Dieting. Most of us are on a diet or have been in the past and if not we can probably say that many of our girlfriends, mum, sisters or aunts currently are. I’m talking about non-fad diets here. Whichever way you define it, whether its ‘healthy eating’ or a ‘lifestyle change’ the end goal is ultimately the same…. to reduce body fat. You may be eating less and moving more and if so, that’s great! You may find that you have reached a plateau, which is also a normal occurrence on your weight loss journey. However, from years of experience advising my clients on nutrition, I’ve noticed that women tend to make some common fundamental errors when it comes to losing weight (men make others, but that’s another article).
Do you even lift?
I thought I would start with the exercise element of weight management. Most people know that exercise/physical activity is a vital ingredient to support weight loss and health. However some of us are doing it all wrong. Hitting the gym, we spend most of our time on the treadmill or cross trainer; if we’re not working away on a machine, we are shaking it like Beyoncé in a zumba class. Now, I’m not knocking cardio, it’s great for burning extra calories (helping to create an energy deficit; for weight loss) plus, if it’s something you enjoy you are more likely to stick with it, which is often half the battle. However, cardio isn’t the only form of exercise you should be doing. At least half your time should be spent doing some form of resistance training or weight lifting. That’s right ladies heav(ier) weights aren’t just for men. Maintaining and even building muscle mass is an important part of your long-term weight management goals. After all muscles burn calories! It only makes sense that strengthening/maintaining your muscle by pumping some iron will benefit you. Nothing helps to ‘define’ body shape and curves like muscle. Think of your body like a butter-iced cake (probably not the best analogy, I know). Yes, you can smooth and skim the icing (the fat) but you are never going to get the shape you want unless the sponge (your muscle) is the defined shape you want it to be.
In case you’re still not convinced, here are some quick facts for you: -
- Weight training will not result in you looking like an extra from Rocky. Please note, it takes a lot of training and hard graft to build substantial muscle mass, it’s simply not going to happen to you because you’ve started lifting a couple of 8lb dumbbells.
- Resistance weight training may increase total daily calories burned compared to steady state aerobic training. (Greer et al, 2015)
- It can support your cardio training by helping to improve posture, strength and prevent injuries.
Practical Tip: If weight training is new to you – book yourself in with an experienced Personal Trainer. Ask them to devise a plan aiming to combine resistance weight training with cardio to get the best of both worlds towards your weight loss goal.
Dope about Dairy
Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are a fantastic source of protein, calcium, iodine and vitamin B12. Despite boasting this nutrient rich profile, many women don’t consume enough dairy foods. This may have something to do with a recent diet trend to omit dairy; such as paleo and free-from. However, I’ve noticed that those who actually consume dairy often fail to achieve the recommended 700 mg of calcium per day too; which may negatively impact your weight loss efforts. Dairy foods provide a significant amount of calcium within our diets, and calcium (especially from milk) is thought to regulate fat metabolism, enhance fat loss and may even reduce abdominal fat when combined with an energy-restricted diet (Gonzalez, 2012). Milk is also our main source of iodine in the diet; a mineral required to produce the thyroid hormones; that help to regulate our metabolism, among many other functions. Since girls and women seem to be omitting/reducing dairy foods in their diet (Vanderpump, 2014), a low iodine status may well exist, resulting in a suboptimal metabolism and resultant weight gain.
Practical Tip: Aim to consume 3 servings of dairy per day this might include any of the following foods:
- 200mls milk
- 125g pot of yoghurt
- A matchbox size of cheese
If you omit dairy because you have a specific dairy allergy or intolerance, or simply dislike dairy foods then aim to ensure your milk/yoghurt alternative is calcium enriched. You can increase your intake of iodine from non-dairy sources such as eggs, fish and iodised salt.
Calories count but so does protein
Yes, to lose fat ladies, you need to be in a calorie deficit; i.e. you need to be consuming fewer calories, than you are burning for a consistent period of time. As women, we tend to be a little more calorie aware, likely due to our previous ‘dieting’ experiences. Many of us, therefore tend to get this part right. The part we get wrong, however, is the amount of protein we consume. In fact, women are so focused on eating less generally; we end up eating less protein too. Research has shown that increasing protein to 1.6g per kg of body weight, while restricting calories for weight loss, can help to maintain muscle tissue (Layman et al, 2005). Remember this is ideal since… yep you got it; muscle burns calories. Not only does a higher protein diet help to keep your metabolism efficiently ticking over, it can also help you to control hunger and subsequent appetite by stimulating gut hormones, which help you to feel fuller for longer. It doesn’t stop there, a higher protein intake helps to support recovery post exercise; reducing muscle soreness, which hopefully promotes a positive association with the gym; increasing exercise frequency. With so many amazing (and research proven) benefits for a higher intake of protein, it’s an absolute must as part of your weight loss plan.
Practical Tip: Ensure you are in a calorie deficit. Then, make sure all meals and snacks contain a source of protein, such as meat/fish/eggs/soya/quorn/beans/lentils at mealtimes. Snacks could contain other protein rich foods such as yoghurt, milk, cottage cheese, nuts and seeds.
We are the most empathetic of the genders some might say. Well it certainly appears so, when it comes to our portion sizes. For example when we start a new relationship, we may gain an extra layer of padding. Some speculate that this is due to contentment; we feel happy and secure – who needs the diet and the gym? Well we do! Because along with the ‘hearts a flutter’, comes the Friday night takeaways, indulgent 3 course Michelin star dinners and bottle of wine (or two). Coupled with the wining and dining comes a tendency for portion distortion. That’s right ladies, according to research we eat larger servings when we are eating with others, who are eating more (Vartanian et al, 2015). Since men normally eat more than women (they need to), they set a standard that we then subconsciously deem an appropriate amount of food to consume. In fact we eat more in social situations too. So what can we do about it? Well, being aware we are doing it is the first step, planning to change is the next.
Practical Tip: When you have a date night coming up – make a plan in advance, decide on how many courses and/or the healthy meal you plan to have – regardless of the choices your friends/other half make. Stick to this at home as well, by serving your meal on a smaller plate to his so that you automatically eat a smaller serving.
Have (a lot) of Self-Compassion
As the female of the species we commonly live on the emotional diet rollercoaster which looks a little like this….
Stress/trigger => Consume ‘forbidden’ food => ‘feel good’ (temporarily) => Guilt/shame = > Consume ‘forbidden’ food => feel stressed.
And so on. Can you see that if we have a little more compassion for ourselves by saying its ok to have an indulgent food occasionally, you know, we might actually enjoy the said treat for longer than a second and break the cycle of emotional comfort eating by avoiding any self shame or guilt. It’s obviously much easier said than done, and we may have years of emotional eating baggage to change but eating ‘mindfully’, instead of mindlessly combined with a huge dollop of self compassion will lead you to being a lot kinder to yourself and a better healthier relationship with food long term.
Practical Tip: Focus on each meal and snack one at a time, make healthy choices where possible before, enjoy it during and forget about it afterwards. Try to be ‘present’ at all eating occasions, focus on your food and chew slowly. Notice the flavours, the smell the texture of the food – most of all enjoy it.
So to summarise; eating an energy restricted diet and doing cardio a few times per week may only get you so far. Lifting weights in the gym while ensuring a higher protein intake, adequate dairy consumption, portion control when eating with others, combined with mindfulness and a huge dollop of self-compassion may be some of the few extra tweaks you can make for long term weight management success.
About The Author
Sharmain (aka The Diet Consultant) is a Sport Nutritionist and Clinical Dietitian by profession and a food and fitness lover by heart. She has a wide range of experience within sport, having worked with many elite athletes from Rugby Union players to Antarctic Explorers. Here to make sense of the nutrition confusion out there, Sharmain is passionate about helping others to achieve their nutrition and fitness goals .
You can see more of her blog posts and find out about her practice on her website www.TheDietConsultant.com
- Greer, BK, Sirithienthad, P and Moffatt, RJ 2015. EPOC Comparison Between Isocaloric Bouts of Steady-State Aerobic, Intermittent Aerobic, and Resistance Training. … quarterly for exercise ….Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02701367.2014.999190.
- Kapil, U. (2007). Health consequences of iodine deficiency. Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074887
- Layman, D. K., Evans, E., Baum, J. I., Seyler, J., Erickson, D. J., & Boileau, R. A. (2005). Dietary protein and exercise have additive effects on body composition during weight loss in adult women.TheJournal of nutrition, 135(8), 1903–1910. Retrieved from http://jn.nutrition.org/content/135/8/1903.full.>%20pdf+html
- Leidy, HJ, Carnell, NS, Mattes, RD, & Campbell, WW. (2007). Higher protein intake preserves lean mass and satiety with weight loss in pre‐obese and obese women. Obesity. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.531
- Vanderpump, M. (2014). Thyroid and iodine nutritional status: a UK perspective. Clinical Medicine, 14(Suppl 6), s7–s11. doi:10.7861/clinmedicine.14-6-s7
- Vartanian, L., Spanos, S., Herman, C., & Polivy, J. (2015). Modeling of food intake: a meta-analytic review. Social Influence, 1. doi:10.1080/15534510.2015.1008037