For many of us, entering a transformation challenge is about burning fat, losing weight, and getting a lean, sculpted physique.
So, we lay out our training program and nutrition plan and get to work, taking each day as it comes and doing our best to stay the course.
But, a few weeks in, the pounds stop coming off as easily and motivation starts to slip.
Why does this happen?
Well, part of it may have to do with your body’s metabolism adapting to your weight loss diet and training program. But, what’s more likely, is that you might have some “under the radar” bad habits that are sabotaging your hard work.
As the sayings go “knowing is half the battle” and “with knowledge comes power”. With that in mind, we present a list of some of the most common unhealthy habits dieters have that prevents them from burning fat.
Top 8 Unhealthy Habits That Hurt Fat Loss
Not Sleeping Enough
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again.
No matter what your goal -- muscle gain, fat loss, body recomposition -- sleep is absolutely vital.
Poor sleep impairs our ability to perform to the best of our abilities in the gym, which means you’re burning less calories. And you’re also lifting less weight than before, which means you’re not building as much muscle.
Beyond that, poor sleep also messes with our body’s appetite-regulating hormones, which means that we tend to feel more hungry and have stronger cravings for high-calorie junk foods the day after.[1,2]
As a result, we end up eating more calories than we’re supposed to, and we’re also burning less calories during our workout, neither of which helps us burn more fat.
Furthermore, nutrient partitioning and insulin sensitivity is also adversely impacted following a night of bad sleep as is our motivation and energy levels to work out.
Any way you look at it, not getting enough sleep is a surefire way to sabotage your fat loss efforts. And what’s more, sleep deprivation is more commonplace than you would think.
In fact, research indicates that over ⅓ of adults in the U.S. are sleep deprived!
The bottom line here is that if burning fat and losing weight are important to you, then you MUST get enough sleep each night. For the average adult, this is roughly 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Not Tracking Your Nutrition
Burning fat and losing weight is first and foremost about creating an energy deficit where you burn more calories than you take in. As a result of this negative energy balance, your body has no choice but to turn to its fat stores to get the energy it needs to keep going.
However, the only way you can know with relative certainty that you are actually in an energy deficit is to track your nutrition.
So often, people will say that dieting or “counting calories/macros” doesn’t work for them. They tried it, and they didn’t lose fat.
This doesn’t mean that counting calories and macros doesn’t work. It means they weren’t actually in a deficit.
Remember when you’re calculating how many calories you need to eat to lose fat, those online calculators merely provide an estimate for how much you should eat.
They’re not 100% accurate.
They can serve as a starting point for your fat loss journey, but after that, you will need to track your daily calorie intake and weekly weight to see if you are actually losing weight.
Finally, when you do start tracking your nutrition, make sure that you are tracking everything you eat, not just your main meals throughout the day.
For instance, if you stop off at the breakroom at work for a muffin or other baked goody, make sure to add that into your daily calorie count. Every morsel of food or drop of liquid that contains calories needs to be accounted for in order for calorie counting to be effective.
This brings us to the next unhealthy habit…
Mindless Eating & Snacking
The occasional nibble of a snack here and there may not seem like much, but those extra tastes add up at the end of the week, and before you know it, you’ve consumed several hundred (or thousand) more calories than you thought.
So, not only have you taken yourself out of an energy deficit, but you have actually put yourself into a calorie surplus, where you are gaining weight instead of losing it.
Snacking and, its close cousin, distracted eating (sitting in front of the TV mindlessly munching away on food) are two of the biggest enemies of dieters. Simply put, if you aren’t paying attention to what you’re eating (mindfulness), you likely aren’t controlling your food intake, which increases the likelihood you will overeat and prevent your body from burning fat.
Eating Too Quickly
Today, we’re busier than ever.
In our effort to get everything done in a day that needs doing, we tend to shovel down our food as quickly as possible, or even worse, eat while trying to work at the same time.
Eating too quickly can quite frequently lead to overeating, weight gain, bloating, and GI distress.
The reason for this is that it can take up to 20-30 minutes for our brains to receive the signal that we’ve had enough to eat.
In other words, if you eat your entire lunch or dinner if under 5 minutes, you may still think you’re hungry and go eat more food, when in reality, you’ve had plenty to eat, you just didn’t give your body time to process.
Use meal time as an occasion to unplug from the rigors of daily life and enjoy a few moments of solitude while you relish the yumminess of your food.
Intermittent fasting is all the rage these days, and for some people, restricting their food intake to only a small window during the day improves their adherence, which is the single most important factor for any successful weight loss diet.
However, for an equal number of people, skipping meals and fasting leads to more intense cravings, significantly increasing the likelihood that they will deviate from their nutrition plan and binge on unhealthy snacks.
The reason for this is that some people just do better with a more regular eating pattern.
When you evenly space your meals out through the day, you help maintain stable blood sugar and energy levels, which prevents you from getting those ravenous hunger pains that can cause you to go face first into a bowl of cheese puffs.
Drinking Your Calories
Alcohol, fruit juices, gourmet coffee drinks, soft drinks, and sports drinks.
What do these five things have in common?
They are all sources of liquid calories in the diet, and they are the bane of every dieter’s existence.
The reason for this is that calorie-containing liquids are usually very high in calories and sugar and very low in fiber, protein and micronutrients. As a result, these drinks are incredibly easy to over-consume, which brings fat burning to a grinding halt.
When you’re dieting, the focus of your liquid intake should revolve around water. Unsweetened coffee and tea are also acceptable as is a post-workout whey protein shake, but outside of that, skip all the other calorie-containing liquids.
Avoiding Dietary Fat
It was once believed that eating fat made us fat, but nothing could be further from the truth. No single macronutrient, be it protein, carbs, or fats, actually makes us fat. Consuming an excessive number of calories makes us fat.
In reality, consuming a certain amount of dietary fat is essential to sustain life. It’s needed for the production of hormones as well as the uptake and absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, & K).
Furthermore, fat also helps improve the taste and texture of food we cook, and it also helps slow down digestion, which helps keep us feeling fuller for longer.
Some of our favorite dietary sources of fat are salmon, olive oil, nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc), seeds, and avocados. Not only are these foods rich in heart-healthy fats, they’re also packed with important micronutrients.
Stressing Over Everything
When we’re stressed our bodies release a flood of cortisol -- a hormone that increases our energy, alertness, and motivation. While this can be beneficial in certain instances (such as during a max weight squat attempt or being chased through the jungle by a cheetah), stress and cortisol become a problem when they happen all the time.
When cortisol levels rise and remain elevated, the body will start to breakdown muscle tissue, decrease fat burning, and begin storing more body fat, particularly around the midsection.
Furthermore, when we’re stressed, we also tend to have more frequent and intense cravings for unhealthy food, which further sabotages our fat burning and weight loss progress.
While some stress is a natural part of life, seek out ways to reduce its occurrence. And if that’s not possible, try to at least improve your response to stress. Rather than bottling it up and stewing on it for hours on end, learn to let go and unwind.
Some of our favorite ways to help relieve stress include going for a walk in nature, reading, meditating, stretching, or sipping a cup of chamomile tea.
None of us are perfect, and as a result we all have our own bad habits that we need to break in order to achieve success with our body transformation.
Use the information in this article to help break through your stumbling blocks and be on the way to greater fat burning and faster fat loss!
- Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med. 2004;1(3):e62. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062
- Markwald RR, Melanson EL, Smith MR, et al. Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013;110(14):5695–5700. doi:10.1073/pnas.1216951110
- "Data and Statistics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 Mar. 2019, www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html.