Select Page

As a little girl, I wanted to be an emergency room doctor, a police officer, a rock star, an Olympic gymnast, and a quarterback in the NFL. All ambitious choices, but not nearly as ambitious as the plans I also had to be a saint. (Catholic school scared me on a daily basis, but it made its impact on my career plans.)

No one ever said that kids have a handle on the realities of the world. As children, very few of us envision ourselves as insurance adjusters or furniture salespeople.

Adults may chuckle at such lofty goals. But then we adults engage in some fantasies of our own.

When it comes to weight loss, unrealistic expectations abound. Time and time again, they smack up against reality, but hope prevails. Given the $61-billion/year weight loss industry, it’s clear that we keep expecting wonders from each diet du jour.

Here are five unrealistic expectations about weight loss that hold you back.

1. Choosing an unrealistic goal weight.Girl being weighed - worried

If you choose a weight or clothing size that is too small for you, you are bound to have short term results at best. Each of us has a setpoint: our body’s natural weight. There are no medical or insurance charts to determine what your setpoint should be, nor can you decide what it should be. It is a range of 10-20 pounds where your body naturally settles when you are not on a weight loss plan. In other words, where does your weight tend to land when you stop trying to control it?

When you try to go below your setpoint, your body will fight you like a ninja. If you push your weight too low, it will be unsustainable in the long run. Your natural weight is yours – not your sister’s, your co-worker’s, not anyone else’s.

2. Not eating enough.

Your body’s job is to keep you alive, and it does a damn good job at it. Throughout most of human history, food was hard to come by. So when you decide to cut back on your food intake, your body notices. And if it seems to your body that maybe the crops are failing (AKA, you’re on a diet), it will pull out some tricks to help you live through the famine. Your metabolism will slow down, you’ll feel extra hungry, and you’ll crave things like chocolate chip cookies. All the things that make you feel like you suck at sticking to a weight loss plan.

3. Assuming the simple equation calories in = calories out is literal.

Almost every day, I hear somebody say something like, “It’s not rocket science. Just burn more calories than you take in.”
It may not be rocket science, but it is biological science. By scientific definition, a calorie (actually, it’s a kilocalorie) is the amount of Test Tubes coloredenergy that it takes to raise one gram of water by one degree Celsius.

Thankfully, humans are more beautifully complicated than that. We are not water in a test tube with a Bunsen burner under our butt. There are a lot of different factors that affect how much energy (calories) we extract from food, and a lot of different factors determining how much energy much we use.

Taking time to calculate the amount of calories (or carb grams, or fat grams, or points) we absorb, vs. how much we burn, is an inexact exercise. Your time would be better spent at the movies, walking your dog, or snuggling with your honey.

4. Striving for “perfect” eating.

How many different Mondays have you started a new eating or exercise program? What was going on in the few days before Monday? Did you have a “what the hell” attitude, knowing that on Monday, you’d be disciplined? How’d that work for you? So many people start on Monday only to give up within a few days because they blew it/cheated/etc. Then they figure they’ll start the next Monday.

And the next Monday.

And the next Monday.

There is no perfect. If you stepped back and looked at the really big picture, an extra order of French fries here and there amount to very little. But all those “I blew it, so I’ll eat everything in my path this week and start again Monday” will add up.

5. Believing that a smaller body automatically means big things in your life.

It is an often-unquestioned assumption that when you lose weight, you will gain confidence and a whole host of other positive attributes. You may have even experienced this yourself. However, it’s not the actual loss of weight that makes you feel better – it’s the meaning you place on that weight loss. Take a moment to examine your deep-down beliefs. Do you believe that being a smaller person increases your self-worth? Or is it that taking the steps you did to lose weight means something about you as a person (like you’re determined, or you’re successful)?

It’s really important to understand what your values are, way down deep. Because there are things besides how much you eat and exercise that affect your weight (see item #1). If you truly believe your size is totally within your power, then of course you will feel badly if you can’t make it happen.

You know all those good things you assume you need to lose weight to have? They’re there for you no matter what. It’s just hard to see that, if you’re too tied to your scale.

Images courtesy of sattvo; Ambro; and Salvatore Vuono at