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What’s sabotaging your weight-loss success?

Q: Why does it seem so hard to lose weight yet so easy to put it on?

A: Getting an exact count of calories in vs. calories out is nearly impossible, not to mention tedious, so most people guesstimate. In doing so, they typically vastly overestimate calories burned with exercise and underestimate those consumed from diet.

Things to keep in mind:

When using cardio machines, don’t rely on the calorie readout for accuracy. Many factors affect the number of actual calories burned, including ratio of fat to muscle, total body weight, age, gender, and current state of health.

Instead of focusing primarily on the amount of time spent exercising, focus on how hard you are working during those minutes. Naturally, the greater the exertion minute to minute, the more calories burned. A simple way to rate your exertion level: Low intensity — Easy to breathe, you can easily carry on a conversation. Moderate effort — You are feeling somewhat taxed and moderately winded. Vigorous intensity — You are breathing heavily and sweating.

Include both strength training and cardio when working out. Cardiovascular exercise is an excellent way to burn calories, but does little to increase muscle tissue. Strength/resistance exercise may not burn as many calories minute to minute as cardio, but nothing beats lifting weights for muscle building, which in turn gives your metabolism a boost 24/7.

Far too many people reward their exercise efforts with a calorie-laden smoothie or other post-workout treat, assuming that at the very least they’ve broken even as far as calories in and out. Unless you are working out at a consistently moderate to high intensity level for more than an hour, you likely don’t need more than about a 200 calorie nutrient-dense snack to ward off hunger pangs and keep blood sugar levels in check.

It’s also not uncommon for exercisers to assume that since they’ve hit the gym, they can be less active the rest of the day without much impact on weight. Instead of falling into this trap, try to get up and move more throughout the day, seeking ways to add bits of activity where you can.

Don’t mistake weight loss for fat loss. The scale may tell you total body weight, but it is impossible to determine how many of those pounds are fluid loss or gain, and how much is muscle or fat weight. Are you exercising regularly and at the right intensity? Are you eating a portion controlled nutritious diet every day? Your lifestyle choices are the best predictor of your success in meeting goals, regardless of what the scale says. If you find that these things only matter some of the time, re-evaluate priorities and come up with a plan that allows you to succeed.

Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. She owns Custom Fitness Personal Training Services LLC. Send email to

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