Winning the weight loss battle
Many visitors to this site indicate that they want to lose weight. For some, the goal is just 5 or 10 pounds. Others want to shed 50 pounds or more.
Losing weight has become something of a national obsession among Americans. An estimated three-quarters of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, a harsh reality that leads to a laundry list of health complications.
People who are overweight have elevated risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and joint pain. During the coronavirus pandemic, obesity emerged as a risk factor in severe cases of COVID-19.
The rise of obesity reflects the paradox of prosperity. Fattening food is cheap and plentiful, and most Americans work in sedentary jobs. Yet human evolution remains far behind these cultural changes.
In one widely quoted study, a team of international researchers concluded that “ultra-processed foods” accounted for nearly 60% of Americans’ daily caloric intake in 2009 and 2010. This category includes breads, sodas, sports drinks, cakes, cookies, salty snacks, frozen foods, pizza and breakfast cereals.
In a subsequent study, University of Michigan researchers found that foods high in fat, sugar or white flour spurred some people to episodes of “addictive-like” eating. In other words, processed foods can trigger bouts of binge-eating.
This research underscores the new mindset among nutritionists: Overeating isn’t a function of willpower. Rather, it’s a result of complicated biological processes that scientists are still trying to understand.
A famous study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health looked at people who had been contestants on the reality show The Biggest Loser. The scientists learned that participants who succeeded at shedding pounds during the show later regained much of the weight they lost, despite eating less and exercising more than they did before the competition.
The researchers concluded that the contestants experienced long-term changes in their thyroid function, hunger hormones and metabolisms. One caveat: The contestants on the show shed weight quickly. A more gradual approach to weight loss might not cause the same unwelcome changes in metabolism.
5 Tips for Controlling Your Weight
Scientists continue to unlock the mysteries of human metabolism, but here are some best practices:
1. Eat nutrient-dense foods. Most of your calories should come from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy and lean proteins. Avoid highly processed and packaged foods that can trigger overeating. You’ve probably never gorged on celery or carrots, but you certainly have eaten more ice cream or potato chips than you should have.
2. Follow a sensible diet. Avoid diets that require extreme restriction of calories. They almost always backfire. There’s no shortage of healthy regimens – vegan, gluten-free, paleo, keto and the Mediterranean diet among them. While the details vary, these diets have one thing in common: All stress nutrient-rich, whole foods and steer followers away from junk food and processed foods. Limit added sugar, added salt, saturated fats and alcohol.
3. Don’t let the scale be the only metric you watch. Many people who begin exercise programs find themselves frustrated that they’re not losing weight. They overlook an important fact: Muscle weighs more than fat, and if you start cycling, swimming or lifting weights, you’ll build new heft. That’s good – the added muscle will boost your metabolism and help you feel more energetic, even if it doesn’t move the scale’s needle as much as you’d like. A more meaningful way to measure your progress would be to measure your body fat.
4. Pick a sustainable exercise program. To lose weight, you don’t need to become an Ironman triathlete or a CrossFit warrior. But you do need to start moving. Exercise – whether it’s walking, running, yoga, tennis, boot camp classes, or a mix of all of the above -- is an important part of any weight-loss program.
5. Monitor your progress regularly. If you’re off track, take action immediately. The Biggest Loser study suggests that the human body is programmed to treat its peak weight as something to strive for. So even if you successfully reduce your weight, your metabolism could stubbornly steer you back to your high point.
The bottom line: consistency is key.
Set reasonable goals, strive for gradual progress instead of dramatic changes or "on / off" behavior using a combination of diet and exercise, monitor your progress.
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