And How To Fix Them
I see it (and hear it) everyday: women feeling frustrated and confused in their pursuit of a better, healthier body. Many of us often feel like we’re missing out on some secret, like there’s just one thing we need to know, do or buy to get into the shape we want to be in.
Not just from my perspective as a personal trainer and women’s health coach, but as a woman myself — I totally get it. In addition to the societal pressures to look a certain way, we’re bombarded everywhere with tips, tricks, secrets, shakes, teas, wraps, and a new fad diet seems to surface every 6 months.
It’s no surprise we’re obsessed with changing out bodies and clueless about how to do it.
I’ve been there myself and can, unfortunately, very much relate to the women who come to me saying, “I just don’t get what I’m doing wrong. What else can I do?”
In all of my conversations and consultations, I’ve found that most “mistakes” women are making in their health and fitness pursuits eventually circle back to about 10 main things.
1. Not drinking enough water
The answer is almost always 1 of 2 things:
- “I don’t know.”
- “I need to be drinking more.”
Both answers are no good!
First, if you don’t even know how much water you consume (on average) each day, you’re clearly not as intentional about your water intake as you should be, which is the main issue.
Second, there’s no lack of knowledge here. Pretty much everyone knows water is important to our overall health, but few of us know just how important water really is.
Many of us tend to think water is simply good for our internal health: our blood, digestion, organ function, etc. Some of us may drink up for clearer skin, but most of us underestimate the impact water has on our physical health as well.
In addition to skin clarity, good hydration can relieve bloating, body aches, headaches, and majorly contribute to weight-loss! Yes, it helps digest food (which is clearly linked to weight-loss) but it also helps you feel full and control cravings.
So if you’re not drinking enough water, you could absolutely be sabotaging SO MANY different areas of your health, including weight loss.
“So how much is enough and how do I drink it?”
A general guideline is to aim to drink your bodyweight in ounces of water each day.
- have at least 2 1L water bottles to make refills less frequent & easier
- start drinking right when you wake up
- don’t try to go from 16 oz/day to 140 oz/day; gradually increase intake
- use flavored water or sparkling water to help reach your goal!
- drink through a straw! (*studies have shown this to be more effective*)
2. Not eating enough
For lots of women, this sounds counterintuitive, because we’ve been mostly taught and told to eat less. Smaller portions, count calories, skip meals… less has been the go-to method for weight-loss since forever pretty much.
However, under-eating can contribute to maintaining weight as well as hinder muscle growth.
Everyone’s bodies have a minimum caloric requirement: a certain number of calories it takes just to be alive. This is because your body burns calories even when you don’t exercise! It requires calories to breathe, think, and carry out all of the other internal organ functions your body does on its own.
If you eat below this number, your body essentially starts to panic and holds on to any energy it can, resulting in weight maintenance.
“But how do I know how much is enough?”
This is the part no one wants to do! You need to get at least a baseline estimate of your caloric requirement, and even further, your macronutrient needs. I suggest starting with this free online calculator to get an idea of how much you should be eating.
Start to log or track your food in a way that works best for you. Do you have to do it forever? No, and you shouldn’t! But if you never get familiar with these numbers and learn to manipulate them, you will forever have a hard time manipulating your body and making progress as well.
3. Eating too much
Similar to number 2, over-eating can result in weight-gain (or “bulking up” as many women fear.) “Over-eating” is a confusing term though: what exactly are you eating “over?”
Again, this is the part no one wants to do, but if you don’t — how will you ever know how much is enough or too much?
When you “over-eat,” you’re simply eating more calories than you’re burning on a daily basis. So, if you burn a ton of calories everyday through exercise and physical labor, over-eating is going to be more difficult due to your high caloric burn.
If, however, you have a sedentary job and then come home and sit on the couch and then go to bed, over-eating is going to be fairly easy because you are not burning a lot of calories in your day.
4. Doing too much cardio
While cardio certainly plays a role in weight fluctuation, it’s not the solution, and just doing a ton of cardio isn’t going to sculpt you into the figure you want (unless the figure you want is shapeless and bony.)
The most important factor in losing weight is being in a caloric deficit. Period.
Cardio is simply ONE of many tools that can help us get into that deficit.
But there are so many others, and also many that are more efficient!
If you’re a woman who’s hitting the elliptical or stairmill 5x a week or going for a run every single day and then wondering why your body still doesn’t look the way you want — then could that be a sign cardio *isn’t* the magic solution you thought it was?
Don’t get it twisted: cardiovascular health is vital to overall health and some good ole sweat sessions on the treadmill or trails is highly encouraged. But if that’s all you’re doing, that’s your problem.
“Too much” cardio will vary person to person, and the forms cardio can take also vary. For starters, aim to elevate your heart rate for at least 30 consistent minutes 3x/week. The rest of your exercise can consist of off & on heart rate elevations and should also include weights.
5. Not lifting weights
Typically, women are doing too much cardio because they’re not lifting weights. And 9 times out of 10, they’re not lifting weights because they don’t know how.
So while this mistake is a bit harder to address in article form, I can educate you on the benefits of strength training (weights) and then direct you to some resources I trust and find helpful myself.
Here’s a truth I want to shout from the mountains a million times over because I know that if it were fully understood by women, this mistake wouldn’t be an issue:
muscle burns calories.
Muscle is metabolic, meaning it requires energy (calories) to sustain itself. If you’re connecting the dots here, this would mean that more muscle = more calories burned.
How do we build muscle?
If I could tell women one thing in our consultations it would be to do less cardio and more weights and see what happens.
If you’re ready to get into weight training but have NO IDEA where to start — you’re in the right place! Beginner’s fitness is totally my thing. I have programs and 1:1 coaching offerings here, and I also personally refer to bodybuilding.com and various non-fitspo, actual weight-lifter instagrams like this one.
6. Not lifting heavy enough weights
Piggy-backing off of number 5 here, another thing I see way too often is women lifting weights (yay!) but never pushing themselves or getting to the point of really struggling.
This is an issue because in order for your muscles to grow (and thus affect the shape of your body, aka, tone up) they need to be challenged! If you go in to the gym every week and do the exact same routine with the exact same weights, your muscles are going to be like, “Alright we got it!” and have no reason to adapt or change.
The way to fix this is to be sure you’re struggling and feeling fatigued in every set. If you’re doing 3 sets of 10 bicep curls, you should be needing to stop at number 10. If you feel like you could keep going to 12 or 15, keep going and up your weight next time!
Remember to continually challenge yourself and your muscles and progress your workouts as you get stronger!
7. Doing something unsustainable
I’ll just come right out & say it: keto is not sustainable. Low-carb is not sustainable. Starving yourself is not sustainable. 2-a-days are not sustainable.
People (not just women) do unsustainable things in their health because they’re more interested in the short-term results than building long-term habits.
Lots of people see great results on the Keto diet in the beginning and think they’re going to eat like this forever. But eventually, you’re going to want some pizza, or a sandwich, or just some sushi, right?!
If you start to develop the mindset that you need to “cheat” or “take a break” or start to feel guilty for “falling off,” chances are, you’re doing something that’s not sustainable long-term for you.
Sure, there’s going to be some struggle and feelings of restriction in the beginning of any lifestyle change, but if you forever feel like things are off-limits or you “can’t” have certain things because it will “break” your diet — that diet ain’t for you.
The solution here is to educate yourself (which you’re already doing here!), be patient, and go about it the right way rather than the fast way. Take time to find an approach that feels good for you and your lifestyle, and focus on integrating real changes rather than adopting quick-fixes for results you’ll only rebound on later.
8. “Punishing” & “rewarding” yourself
I think everyone has been here before. You hit all your workouts for a week and decided this means you “deserve” that ice cream on Friday night.
The truth is: you don’t.
You don’t deserve it because you don’t have to “deserve” something you’re consciously choosing to eat and enjoy.
It works in reverse, too.
You have visitors in town and spend the weekend hitting all your favorite dining spots and miss your workouts for a couple days. When Monday rolls back around, you decide to double up on your workout and stay an extra hour at the gym and go for an early run the next morning before work, even though you never do that.
While it’s okay to want to “get back on track” because it simply makes you feel better, there’s no need to think of your workouts as punishments for experiences and time well-spent with people you love.
Plan your workouts and plan your rewards. This way, your workouts won’t be reactionary and your rewards will be pre-planned based on pre-determined goals. Also, avoid making your rewards too food-focused. Choose rewards like: treating yourself to a new plant or candle, a spa-night at home (guilt-free!) or a massage.
9. Not being consistent
This could actually be number 1. I always ask my frustrated clients, “Well, how long have you been honestly consistent?”
And sometimes they’ll say, “I’ve been working out for a whole month!” to which I’ll say, “Keep going.”
Other times, they’ll hear the keyword “honest” and say, “Well… I’ve been trying to exercise 4x/week… but I’ve really only made it 2 or 3,” and “I’m watching what I eat, but we still eat out every weekend.”
Firstly, a month is not quite long enough to see real change. Sure, you should see something after a month of real, honest consistency. However, I wouldn’t expect a total body transformation unless you just want to be disappointed.
Secondly, many women feel they’ve been consistent, but when they’re honest with themselves, they see all the “small” times they strayed from the plan.
Aiming for 4 workouts/week but only making it 2x or cutting out fast-food but still having it on the weekends does not equal honest consistency. If you’re feeling frustrated with your progress, get honest about your consistency and reassess from there.
10. Blindly following a program or plan
Last on the list of mistakes I encounter frequently among women is just ignorantly subscribing to a workout regimen or diet plan.
There is no shortage of online resources for health and fitness these days — many of which are excellent, trustworthy resources — but there’s also an influx of desperate women willing to try just about anything to lose weight or shape up.
The danger of blindly following a program is that you likely feel totally out-of-control of the results because you have no idea why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you don’t understand the plan, how can you feel confident carrying it out?
The other big risk here is that you could be following a program or diet that’s not effective for you and your body type and goals. Just because it worked for Annie Instagram doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you.
Do your research, ask questions, and make sure you feel confident that it’s a good option for you.