Weight loss is a billion dollar industry because many people find that their weight has gone up over the last 15 to 20 years; by the time they return to their 20th high school reunion they have, without realizing it, gradually gained 20 pounds or more. Most people scratch their heads wondering what happened to their young bodies or blame their new figure on childbirth. Yet there are many factors that contribute to weight gain over the course of several years. The Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital conducted a study that identified factors that support preventing weight gain. They are: food choices, sleep, watching less TV, and exercise. In the study, they found that paying attention to small changes in food choices, the amount of TV watched per day, and the amount of sleep and exercise adults were getting had a positive impact on avoiding weight gain in the first place!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determine overweight and obesity ranges for adults by using weight and height to calculate a number called the "body mass index", or BMI. BMI is more useful than weight alone because it correlates height, weight and body fat to give a more accurate picture of weight health. An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight; an adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. Overweight and obese persons have an increased incidence of chronic diseases and other health problems. Fortunately, there are solutions! I am thrilled that the Harvard team conducted a study that confirms how lifestyle issues impact weight over time.
The study looked at over 120,000 Americans over the course of 20 years in 4-year time blocks. During a 4-year time frame the researchers found that several few foods caused or prevented weight gain in adults: potato chips caused about 1.69 pounds weight gain; potatoes, 1.28 pounds of gain; sugar-sweetened beverages, 1 pound gain; red meats .95 pounds gain and processed meats caused .93 pounds gain.
So, if you eat each of these foods daily – for example a lunch of consisting of a sandwich with processed luncheon meat, chips and a soda and a dinner consisting of a burger and fries - over the course of 4 years you would gain about 7 pounds! Even if you are not eating this meal every day but several times a week you would still gain weight over a 4 year period of time. Participants who lost or maintained their weight ate a diet consisting of primarily unprocessed food, i.e. more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The researchers concluded that these participants achieved or maintained a more normal weight because they were making healthier food choices rather than consuming an abundance of processed, weight promoting foods.
Knowing that what looks like a normal, modern day meal actually causes weight gain will help people make small food lifestyle changes – such as choosing an apple instead of potato chips – that will help prevent weight gain. This awareness can also help us ensure our children will make healthy food choices and won’t have to deal with obesity issues in their youth and beyond.
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Dr. Dae is a Naturopathic Physician who practices in the Washington DC metro area treats the whole person using safe and effective combinations of traditional and natural methods to produce optimal health and well-being in the lives of her patients.