Much of my writing focuses on strategies to improve our health. I also like to differentiate between what we can call either hearsay, or myths, and what science knows to be true. When it comes to weight loss, the science is always evolving and we know more and more. We also know what isn’t true and what won’t help. Recently someone came in to our clinic to inquire about our weight loss program and before we got very far, he was asking me about weight loss teas, crazy diets of less than 700 calories a day, and asking about highly advertised weight loss herbs and supplements. Obviously, none of those are avenues to real and permanent healthy weight loss. But in order to turn around our weight gain and create a trend to lose weight, it is important to understand what it is exactly that causes us to gain weight. Science has narrowed down 6 behaviors that if not tackled, will increase our weight and ultimately cause a deterioration in our health.
Eating high-calorie foods often. A study in 2011 by Mozaffarian and his colleagues found that over any four year period, people gained weight if they had regular consumption of: potato chips, French fries, and mashed potatoes, red processed and unprocessed meats, sweets and desserts, and refined grains like white bread, white flour products and white rice.
Drinking sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages. Malik, Shultz, and HU concluded in a study in 2006 that sugar sweetened beverages accounted for 8-9% or total caloric intake in adults and children alike. What to look for when you read the ingredients? High-fructose corn syrup, sucrose and of course, and artificial sweetener. Yes it’s true—ironically, artificially sweetened drinks don’t help you lose weight. They actually make you gain. You can drink a lot and still be hungry too, so you always want more.
Are you sleeping enough—or too much? In a study done my Marshall, Glozier, and Grunstein done in 2008 showed that getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night or more than 8 contributed to weight gain. The study showed that people who sleep too little can develop impaired glucose metabolism, which on a steady basis contributes to obesity. In addition, people who are chronically overtired secrete too much of the hormone cortisol and that increases their appetite, especially for fatty and sugary foods. If you find yourself hunting for food late at night, go to sleep instead of eating! Given today’s ability to be connected to the whole world, try not to fall into someone else’s time zone by not sleeping at normal hours.
Too much screen time. Here is a pretty startling statistic. Almost 60% of Americans watch more than 2 hours of television on a daily basis. And by the way, roughly a third of America watches 5 hours a day on either television or computer screens. Aside from other dangers associated with too much screen time, people who use the computer or television for entertainment snack more while watching their screen, have a higher overall calorie intake from foods, and consume more energy-dense foods. Older studies have even shown that just watching slows your metabolism and even without the eating, you will gain. Certainly sitting instead of being active also leads to weight gain.
Over-consumption of alcohol. The dangers of drinking alcohol are well known. But beside the commonly known risks and hazards, it is also very calorie-dense. There are 7 calories per gram. That is more than protein or carbohydrates, although less than fat. Also, similar to sugars, these calories don’t seem to fill you up, so you are still hungry.
Inactivity! There is a huge relationship between being inactive and weight gain. In studying 15 years trends, Gorden, Larasen, and colleagues saw that the more people walk the less likely they are to gain weight. You don’t have to run a marathon or be an Olympic athlete in order to benefit from exercise. Daily brisk walking can make a huge difference.
Too much, too fast, too easy. Stay away from short cuts, gimmicks, diets, quick-fixes, supplements and herbal remedies. None of them do the job! And if you cut too many calories too quickly and you lose a lot of weight too fast, it WILL come back on.
Now that we know what the problems are, let’s take a look at the solutions. Troy Purdom, an exercise scientist and Dr. Len Kravitz, an exercise physiologist have suggest 9 positive tips to help you lose weight. Interestingly enough, their first suggestion is to include stress management activities in your daily life. Others are:
- Avoid a diet with too much red meat, potatoes, processed foods, sweets and desserts. Also, keep butter to a minimum.
- Replace sugar-sweetened beverages with water, seltzers or slightly flavored waters and seltzers.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
- Walk briskly for 2-4 hours each week. It can all be in increments of 10 minutes or more.
- Keep your screen time that is non-essential (work) to no more than one hour per day
- Keep alcohol consumption in moderation—meaning very little!
- At least twice a week, do some muscle building exercises (push-ups, sit-ups, bands or weights all work).
- Once you get your walking going well, try to make 150 minutes (30 minutes 5 days a week for instance) of it a little more intense. Any other aerobic exercise is fine too, but try to have 150 minutes of more intense work during any one week.
So now that we know what to do, how are we going to get ourselves to do it? My suggestion is one change at a time. You can decide to take upon yourself a resolution that you will accept one change per week over 2 months. Every change you make will bring a positive result. But don’t take on everything at once and make sure that you adjust your schedule in order to accommodate your new resolutions! These adjustments are usually minor and you won’t have to turn the world upside down in order to accomplish them. But we know that in order for all of this to happen, one has to decide that health is a top priority. After all, without our health, how can we function and perform all of the daily tasks that we must do in the best way possible?
Implementing the right changes, the ones that scientific research tells us will work, and doing it gradually will help us lose weight and maintain that loss will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”