Health and Fitness

Common Fat-Burning Mistakes–And What to Do Instead

  • Burning fat involves a wide range of factors, including what you put in your body, how you put that fuel to work and other controllable lifestyle habits.
  • Severe calorie restriction is just one of many common mistakes people make when trying to trim body fat.
  • Learn about the science-backed strategies you should follow to help achieve your fat-burning goals.

Trimming body fat isn’t a goal exclusive to bodybuilders and fitness pros. From stay-at-home moms to dedicated gym goers, many of us strive to burn fat and improve our body composition. However, just because you commit to a fat-burning practice doesn’t mean you’re putting your body in the best position.

In fact, there are many common strategies supposedly aimed at burning fat that simply aren’t supported by research. We’re here to not only shed some light on the truth about several popular fat-burning myths, but also steer you in the right direction so you can achieve your goals.

Why burning fat can be a challenge

Woman standing with hands on knees with kettlebell on floor.

Life’s stressful. On top of paying bills, taking care of the kids or whatever responsibilities are on your proverbial plate, there’s a constant battle of trying to burn fat while keeping our waistlines in check. As anyone with a busy schedule knows, it can be difficult to consistently make the right choices when it comes to diet and exercise. And if you don’t eat the right foods, move around enough and embrace healthy habits, you’ll find it quite difficult to burn fat.

Does that mean you have to live a super-regimented lifestyle where you count calories and spend hours in the gym? Absolutely not. You can still burn fat, despite your jam-packed to-do list. But in order to conquer that challenge, you’ll need to abandon popular opinion in favor of science-backed ways of burning fat, instead.

8 Fat-Burning Mistakes (And What to Do Instead)

Woman eating a single piece of broccoli off a plate.

It’s easy to fall for the latest fad diet. It’s even easier to think you can trim away fat by turning the treadmill into your new bestie. Ultimately, there are science-backed ways to accomplish your fat-burning goals… and others that don’t belong in your arsenal of strategies.

Here are eight fat-burning mistakes to avoid–and what to do instead.

1. Severely restricting calories

Severe calorie restriction may seem like a smart way to burn fat, but doing so can lead to metabolic issues, as well as nutrient deficiencies. Out of all the fat-burning myths, Calories in Calories Out (aka CICO) might take the cake. CICO doesn’t account for food quality and how the food affects insulin levels. Plus, drastically reducing your caloric intake will leave you deficient in protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.

Solution: Rather than severely restricting your calories, change your eating window and what you put on your plate. Intermittent fasting (or IF) is a better strategy for fat burning, as your body burns fat and ketones in the absence of food. Combined with a diet that keeps insulin low so that fat can be burned as a fuel source (hello, keto!), IF can help you lose body fat.

2. Following a low-fat diet

Businessman eating a salad at work.

For decades, fitness gurus—and even doctors!—made fat the enemy. Luckily, this vital macronutrient is finally getting the respect it deserves. Yet even though research shows dietary fat is critical for healthy hair and skin, brain development and inflammation management, many people still fall for the fallacy of fearing fat. [1] Not only do low-fat diets have a negative impact on hormone production and the absorbability of fat-soluble vitamins, but they also typically have higher amounts of carbohydrates and sugar. Higher insulin from increased blood glucose will ultimately inhibit your fat loss journey. (No bueno!)

Solution: Eat fat to burn fat. The benefits of dietary fats include ramping up ketosis when carbs are kept low—a major boost for anyone with a body composition goal to accomplish. Our keto beginner’s guide gives an in-depth breakdown of how to follow the diet, including easy recipe ideas to help you move forward on your fat-burning mission.

Related: 7 Diet Trends to Ditch in the New Year

3. Running… and only running

It may seem intuitive to hop on the treadmill or go on long, daily runs to burn fat, but focusing too heavily on cardio can impede your progress. Yes, you will burn more calories in the moment than a typical strength-training session, but this catabolic activity can eventually lead to a loss of muscle tissue.

Solution: Incorporate resistance training into your fitness routine. In the battle of cardio vs. strength training, the latter deserves more credit for its fat-burning benefits. Strength training builds lean muscle—a highly metabolic tissue. So, if you want to reduce your body fat percentage, balance out your running regimen with a blend of lower- and upper-body strength sessions.

4. Sleeping less to do more

Stressed man holding his face while sitting in a car.

Quality sleep is essential to overall health and well-being. The physical and mental toll of the day-to-day grind, combined with whatever you put your body through in the gym, requires a nightly recharge. But if you have a stacked schedule and always seem to be behind on sleep, you’re only going to slow down your fat-burning progress. In fact, research shows insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adipose tissue.[2]

In other words: sleeping less to do more doesn’t pay off if you’re trying to burn fat.

Solution: Focus on getting quality sleep and into a nightly routine to put your body and mind at ease as you try to catch some zzzs. This could include utilizing supplements like Bulletproof Sleep Mode, a non-habit-forming source of melatonin and L-ornithine, or Bulletproof Sleep Collagen Protein, which combines collagen protein with a blend of melatonin, chamomile and magnesium in a delicious Lucuma Vanilla flavor.† Ultimately, getting quality sleep will help you feel refreshed and recovered for the next day of successful fat burning.

5. Skipping H2O

Water is essential for so many bodily functions and our overall health, yet dehydration is an issue many people unknowingly deal with due to a number of factors. While it certainly makes sense to focus on food choices, it doesn’t make sense to overlook the importance of hydration in the fat-burning process. Forgetting to drink water throughout the day (or intentionally doing so because, “water weight”) will put your body in a disadvantageous position, especially if you plan on hitting the gym.

Solution: Drink your water! The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) water intake recommendations are 13-16 cups of water per day for men and 9-11 cups for women.[3] To understand this in volume, consider that a restaurant water glass holds roughly 2 cups, and 8 of these glasses meet the IOM’s maximum recommendations for men. (That’s a lot of H20!) Hold yourself accountable by setting reminders on your phone to refill your water bottle. Plus, you can also use non-water options to stay hydrated–a key element to making positive progress in your fat-burning efforts.

6. Sticking to the same workouts

Woman on the elliptical machine.

It’s easy to continue doing something you’re good at, but that’s not the best way to burn fat. Following the same workout routine will eventually lead to diminishing returns, and you could easily neglect other muscle groups that need work. However, it can be intimidating to try something new or incorporate activities that you’re aren’t as comfortable or skilled at—yet.

Solution: Incorporate intervals or supersets into your workout protocol to up your fat-burning efforts. Doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) raises your metabolic rate for hours after exercise, and it has been shown to help reduce body fat and waist circumference.[4][5] In addition, give your muscles, ligaments, tendons, heart and lungs a challenge by switching things up. Utilize a blend of cardio and strength training, sports or athletic activities with friends and family, hiking, or even yoga to keep your body on its proverbial (and literal) toes.

Related: Fun Ways to Exercise: 23 Unconventional Workout Ideas

7. Overexertion

The all-in approach can lead to unnecessary stress—something that won’t help you burn fat or achieve any weight-loss goals. Many make the mistake of going too hard in the gym, which can lead to an injury. Others may go too extreme on the diet front, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies and a slower metabolism.

Solution: Trust the process and be patient with your journey. Gaining fat takes time, and so does losing it. Don’t try to do everything at once. Set short-term goals that are achievable and keep realistic expectations. This will help you stay motivated and not mentally and physically drained from putting excessive stress on your brain and body.

8. Daily weigh-ins

Woman standing on a scale to weigh herself.

It’s easy to get into the habit of daily weigh-ins. However, there are very normal daily fluctuations in weight that have nothing to do with fat loss. Plus, just because the scale goes up or down doesn’t necessarily mean you gained or lost fat. Constantly worrying about what number pops up on the screen will ultimately prove detrimental to your progress. Instead of appreciating your hard work, you can easily become stressed, mentally drained and unmotivated.

Solution: A better way to measure fat loss is to take measurements or use a piece of clothing as a yardstick. You can gain muscle and lose fat without fluctuation on the scale, but have your clothes fit better. Don’t add an unnecessary daily stressor by stepping on the scale every morning.

The bottom line: Burning fat requires a combination of a well-formulated diet, regular exercise and quality sleep, along with other factors. While some strategies seem logical on the surface, many fat-burning myths simply don’t match up with the science. However, there are several ways to set yourself up for success that should belong in your fat-burning repertoire. Stick to those practices and avoid making the common mistakes outlined above, and you will reap the rewards of your efforts.

Don’t fear the fat! Find out all the ways fat can help you manage your weight—along with which sources you should include in your diet.

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