Do you feel like you’re putting in the hard yards at the gym and not getting the results you expect? Making little to no progress is frustrating and can seriously derail your motivation. Before you throw in the towel, here are some common pitfalls that may be standing in your way of achieving your health and lifestyle goals.

1. You’re not giving it your all at the gym

Minimal efforts at the gym will give you minimal results. In order for changes to occur in your body composition, consistency, variety and intensity are key. Yes, you can get in shape by just completing 20-30 minutes a day of high intensity exercise, but if you’re inconsistent, not giving it your all or pushing yourself past your personal limits, you can expect to get out what you put in. You will never be able to lift a certain weight unless you work for it, or run 5km unless you start by running 1km.

2. You’re not keeping track of your food

Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle, or simply improve your athletic performance, nutrition is 80% of the journey. Being aware of what you are eating is incredibly important. Studies show that keeping track of your dietary intake helps with losing weight. Keep a written food diary or log your food on a smartphone app such as easy diet diary of my fitness pal. Under-consuming calories, over-consuming calories, and not getting a good balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat, can stop you from working towards your goals. If you are unsure of your energy and nutrient requirements, see an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

3. You’re drinking your calories

Australians now derive one-fifth of their daily calories from beverages, and most do not compensate for the energy they consume from beverages by reducing their intake from other foods. There are no magical evaporating liquid calories. Soft drinks, coconut water, fruit nectars, vegetable juices, smoothies, energy drinks, flavoured water— the list of beverages now available on the market is rising exponentially, and so are the number of calories we derive from them daily. Calories in drinks are not hidden (just have a look at the nutrition information panel), yet many people are oblivious to the “hidden” calories they drink.

4. You’re not getting enough shut-eye

Numerous studies have found that weight increases in proportion to decreased sleep. In other words, less sleep = more weight. In fact, population studies across numerous age groups show a dose-response relationship between short sleep duration and high body mass index (BMI)— the shorter the sleep, the greater the obesity .

One such reason may be that sleep restriction can affect internal processes related to energy balance, such as impairing glucose (sugar) metabolism, increasing appetite, and reducing the hormones which signal to the brain that you are full. Sleep restriction can also affect external factors such as food choices, increased time available to consume food, reduced physical activity and energy expenditure.

5. Your expectations are unrealistic

The weight loss industry has everybody convinced that they can transform their bodies in a matter of weeks. Sustainable weight loss is generally a much slower process than most people expect. Diets that result in rapid weight loss usually have a very small effect on fat. That is, they mainly result in muscle and water loss.

Be realistic about what is achievable with a healthy diet and exercise. The truth is, not everyone is designed to look like a lean fitness model and nobody is going to follow you around photoshopping out the blemishes. If you have already lost some weight and feel good about yourself, but your DEXA scan results are not really changing dramatically, perhaps it is time to start working on accepting your body the way it is or being more accepting of what a realistic healthy weight goal looks like.

At some point, your weight is going to reach a healthy set point where your body feels comfortable. Trying to go beyond that may not be worth the effort, may be unsustainable, or may even be impossible for you. If you would like some help setting realistic fat loss or muscle gain targets, see one of our experienced Accredited Practising Dietitians.