You’re trying to lose a few kilos but your hard work isn’t paying off as well as you’d expected. Or you’re not sure you should even bother trying because you know from previous experience just how difficult it is to shake that excess weight. But don’t be too quick to give up or be discouraged from trying again. You might just have fallen for one of nine diet mistakes that tend to derail weight loss.

1. You’ve set too conservative a goal  

You want to shed 7kg so you decide to set a goal of losing 3kg to start with as it seems more manageable. But that could backfire. Researchers now say you’re more likely to be successful when you aim for the whole amount from the get-go.

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“Your goal should be challenging but possible,” says Professor Yael Benyamini of Israel’s Tel Aviv University. “Then turn it into an action plan focusing on one or two easy changes. Once you’ve established these as habits, focus on more changes.”

2. You’re losing weight too slowly  

It’s said to be the sensible approach, but if you’d prefer to use a plan that triggers rapid weight loss, then do. “People are more likely to quit slow, steady weight-loss plans because they get miserable,” says Dr Michael Mosley, author of The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet. “But as long as you have a plan as to how you’re going to maintain your weight after rwards, you’re no more likely to regain weight than someone who lost it slowly.” In fact, an Australian study found 80% of dieters losing weight over 12 weeks reached their goal, compared with just 50% of those who took 36 weeks to reach the same goal. Both groups had the same risk of regain.

3. You’re fixated on kilojoules 

There’s a place for counting kilojoules and it’s a popular weight-loss strategy, but it’s not as simple as it seems. “Everyone’s metabolism is different and we all burn food differently,” says Australian nutritionist Emily Holmes. On top of this, the way we’ve calculated kilojoules in food doesn’t accurately reflect how many we actually absorb from the food when we eat it. A rare steak, for example, provides 12% fewer kilojoules than a well-done one as we use more energy digesting it – and kilojoule charts don’t take that into account. Don’t beat yourself up if your losses one week don’t tally with what you expect – just look at any move downwards as progress.

4. You’ve gone gluten-free 

Cutting out gluten isn’t a cure-all. “Wheat and gluten are found mostly in refined carbohydrates and if cutting gluten out of the diet also removes these, most people lose weight,” says nutritional medicine practitioner Fiona Tuck. But if you swop gluten-containing carbs for processed gluten-free alternatives, the opposite might happen. “Gluten-free processed foods are often higher in refined carbs,” she says. “These turn to sugar and raise insulin levels – a big no for weight loss.

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5. You’re measuring results by the scale 

For starters, the scale doesn’t register whether the weight you’ve lost is fat, water or muscle, which does matter in terms of how your results look. Also, a scale isn’t the best motivator – pics and measurements are better, a new study says. “Measure weekly and take photos every three to four weeks,” says Dr Isaac Kuzmar of Spain’s University of Alicante. He says this is when you’ll notice the biggest changes.

6. You don’t allow for any treats 

Dieting tends to come with an all-or-nothing mentality. Fall off the wagon one day and that’s it, you’ve failed. But new research shows planned cheat days, on which you know you’re going to stray and what foods you’ll eat, will prevent this. People who cut back a bit more for six days a week, then had one planned cheat day, lost more weight and stayed on track longer than those dieting every day, the study found. Consider having a cheat meal rather than a cheat day – it might be easier to get back on track.

7. You’re relying too much on exercise

It’s brilliant for your health, amazing for building and toning muscle, and to enhance weight-loss. “But losing weight just by being active is hard work,” says Australian personal trainer Ali Cavill. “Not to mention that exercise has an effect on appetite hormones that can make you hungrier after a workout.” In fact, experts believe this compensation effect is why 70% of women asked to exercise for weight loss ended the 12-week trial fitter but fatter than when they began! “A successful weight-loss plan has two parts – healthy food choices and physical activity,” Cavill says.

8. You’ve given up fat

On the face of it, this makes sense – fat contains twice as many kilojoules per gram as carbohydrates. But a recent study that looked at the results of low-fat diets compared with losing weight in other ways found there’s no good evidence for recommending low-fat diets over other methods. Low-carb diets also show better weight-loss results than low-fat ones. “Fat helps us feel full,” Tuck says. “If we eat low-fat foods we feel less satiated and want more. “Low-fat diets also encourage you to eat processed diet foods, many of which are full of sugar and artificial chemicals that play havoc with hormones and the liver. Lose the processed diet foods and eat fresh foods instead.

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9. You’re relying on willpower

“Willpower is like holding your breath – you can do it only for so long. And every time it fails you reinforce the idea that you’re weak,” says Domini Stuart, author of You Can Beat the Binge! “Success comes from changing your mindset so you see your choices as being kind to yourself.” Some people can do this quickly, but for others it takes a while to change their thought processes. Stuart suggests tackling it like this: “Each day think of one tiny thing that would make you feel better about yourself – perhaps replacing your usual lunchtime soft drink with water – and choose to do it. Once you do, praise yourself.” As you repeat this, making the best choices will become a habit – and you don’t need willpower for habits