Obesity—defined as a BMI (body mass index) over 25—is a worldwide crisis. And it might be hitting uncomfortably close to home: A whole bunch of us may be stepping on the scale or taking a good look in the mirror after a year of pandemic-related lockdowns and thinking: What have I done? And what can I do to change it?
It turns out that even before the pandemic, the traditional way of weight loss—cut calories, amp up exercise—wasn't really working. That's because it overemphasizes eating less, period, instead of eating more really good food that won't make you gain weight. "A high-quality diet will almost automatically lead to better calorie control—you're going to be eating foods with higher satiety," says JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham&Women's Hospital, a contributor to the new documentary Better, which explains how Americans can turn back the current epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
Like many, you may be carrying around a few more pounds than you'd prefer right now, but there are some easy, science-backed steps you can take to prevent obesity. Read on to find out more, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID and Didn't Know It.
Watch Out For the Slow Creep
"One of the best ways to stop obesity is to prevent slow, creeping weight gain that can occur over an extended period," says Kirsten Davidson, PhD, professor and associate dean for research at Boston College. "We are all vulnerable to this if we are not vigilant. In today's environment, it is easy to consume 100 to 200 calories beyond what your body needs on a daily basis—this could be two cookies, for example—but over an extended period, this leads to weight gain."
Davidson's advice: Weigh yourself daily, or at least once a week. Track that information over time. "If your weight is on an upward trajectory, then you need to make lifestyle changes," she says. Davidson adds one caveat: Although that strategy works well for many people, it may not work for those who have an emotional relationship to food and weight. Checking in with a healthcare provider may be needed.
Don't Let Your Body Feel Deprived
As discussed in Better, experts have seen the frustration of many dieters who pound away hours on a treadmill and endure low-calorie diets to little or no effect. That's because the body seems able to suss out when it's being deprived, so it downshifts metabolism to keep things stable. The net effect: You don't lose weight, and may even gain more.
"There is evidence that metabolism changes as part of an evolutionary adaptation to starvation and the body sensing the reduction in calories," says Manson. "You don't want the body to feel deprived, because it is going to make changes in metabolism that will sabotage your efforts to control your weight."
The hack: Satisfy your body, don't punish it. Eat foods "that lead to satiety, that lead to emotional well-being and that have the nutrition your body needs," says Manson. To find out what some of those foods are, read on.
Eat Nutritious, Satiating Food
"A high-quality eating plan is something like the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil, while being low in red meat, processed meats and processed foods," says Manson.
The key: Focus on nutritious foods that will fill you up, not high-calorie processed foods that won't. For example, when snacking, reach for a handful of nuts instead of chips. Nuts are nutrient-dense and rich in good fats that will satiate you, not leave you feeling hungry or queasy. "It leads to satisfaction," says Manson. "As opposed to, after you've had three donuts, you might feel really sick."
Snack on These Fruits And Vegetables
Snacking on non-starchy vegetables and fruits that are low in fructose can be very satisfying, while preventing the blood sugar spikes and crashes that starches and sugars can stoke. Manson suggests brussels sprouts or broccoli for a side dish, or for snacking, putting together a bag of mixed vegetables with hummus or a yogurt-based dip. Lower-fructose fruits include berries, apples, pears and strawberries.
Don't Leave This Out of Your Workout
It's important to include resistance exercise as part of your activity plan. "Exercises that lead to increased muscle mass are a way to boost your metabolism," says Manson. "They're also really good for your health in terms of improving bone health, bone density, and greater muscle mass is important for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes."
She adds: "It doesn't require that you have an exercise ritual or routine. But just trying to maintain an active lifestyle—being outdoors, walking, taking stairs, doing some resistance activities and avoiding prolonged sitting—are all really important to good health." And to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these 16 "Health" Tips to Stop Following Immediately.