As we start a new year, shedding pounds remains high on many people’s plan to improve their health. And dropping a little weight is not a bad idea for many of us.

Here's why: Obesity is associated with serious health risks, including Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It can also seriously diminish your quality of life.

More than 40% of American adults are obese (have a body mass index of 30 percent or more), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Amanda Smith, a registered dietitian at Novant Health Bariatric Solutions in Winston-Salem, examined five common weight loss mistakes, and some better alternatives.

1. Setting goals that aren’t realistic

It’s easy to tell yourself “I’ll lose 30 pounds by summer,” or “I’ll be the slimmest person at my next high school reunion.” But that's probably not going to get you where you want to be.

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Solution: Set smaller, incremental goals. “Realize that even with small amounts of weight loss, you can see benefits to your health, such as lower blood pressure and better blood sugar control for patients with diabetes,” Smith said. “A weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week is what we consider to be healthy and safe.”

2. Using fad diets or quick fixes

“A lot of fad diets promise a large amount of weight loss in a short period of time,” Smith said. “Intermittent fasting and the keto diet remain popular, and a lot of people think ‘Oh, I can eat all the bacon and cheese I want to.’ It becomes appealing to eat foods that on other healthier plans they’re told to eat in moderation.”

Solution: A diet asking you to give up entire food groups is usually a red flag that it’s not sustainable. Many people end up just gaining back the weight they lost on fad diets. With many restrictive diets, you’ll also miss the nutrients that a balanced diet provides. Stick to a well-rounded plan over a longer time span. (Pssssst! It's hard to go wrong with the Mediterranean diet.)

3. Skipping meals/starvation

“When you’re skipping meals, you’re not giving your body enough of the nutrients we need to survive,” Smith said. “Food is our fuel. So, just like you have to have gas in your car to go somewhere, we have to have fuel in our bodies to perform our best.”

Solution: Fuel your body correctly – all the time – and keep moving through exercise. Depriving your body of protein, for example, can limit muscle growth, bone health and your immune system.

4. Fixating on the numbers on the scale

“That one number (your weight) can be very discouraging sometimes, but it’s only a small indicator of health,” Smith said.

Solution: Don’t obsess about weighing yourself every day. Common fluctuations can lead to frustration. Be more aware of the numbers you can’t see and measure daily – your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar level. If they improve, you’re helping your overall health.

5. Too much intense exercise, too soon

Exercise, even in massive amounts, by itself isn’t enough. You’ve got to mix in correct foods, and avoid thinking that overexertion is helpful.

“There’s the saying ‘You can’t outrun your fork,’” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter how much exercise you’re doing, if you’re not eating healthy in conjunction with it, it’s unlikely you can burn enough calories to see significant weight loss.”

Solution: Recovery days are important when you’re exercising. Listen to your body. Be consistent, but don’t overdo it and risk injury. Find an exercise you enjoy, and don’t use exercise as punishment.

Consider these weight-loss tips instead

  • Buy your groceries online.

It saves time and helps with budgeting. You also avoid impulse purchases of foods that aren’t healthy.

  • Don’t take an all-or-nothing approach.
Avoid claiming you’ll never eat XYZ again, ever. An occasional doughnut or slice of cheesy lasagna is OK.

“Realize that change takes time,” she said. “Almost any food can fit into a healthy diet. It just comes down to how much and how often you’re eating those foods. Don’t categorize by saying ‘These foods are good, these foods are bad.’”

  • If you’re not a great cook, there are healthy options.

Consider options that are convenient and healthy, such as frozen bags of vegetables that you can steam, precooked frozen chicken breasts and bagged brown rice. They don’t take a lot of time or skill to prepare.

  • Be forgiving if you make a misstep.

“One meal is not going to make you or break you,” Smith said. “Every meal you have the opportunity to make a good choice. Even if you ate a cheeseburger at lunch doesn’t mean you have to eat pizza at dinner because you already ‘blew it.’ At dinner, you can eat grilled salmon and broccoli and it’s all good.”

  • Sleep is important. Aim for at least seven to eight hours every night.

Your brain, and entire body, uses sleep to rejuvenate. The long-term effects of routinely not getting enough sleep can include being at higher risk for high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, obesity and heart problems.

  • Manage your stress levels.

Learning to relax can slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve digestion, maintain blood sugar levels and increase blood flow to your major muscles. Some popular techniques that can help slow your pace include deep breathing, massage and meditation.