- It may be harder than ever to maintain a healthy weight, according to a Harvard researcher who has studied people’s diets for decades.
- The best way to avoid gaining weight in the long run may be to pick a healthy diet you can stick to and eat a little less.
- You may need to rethink your relationship with fat, cut down on sugar, and ramp up your intake of vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Nutritionists agree that it is getting harder and harder for people to maintain a healthy weight – and that’s not all your fault.
“There is so much great-tasting food, and it’s abundant and in your face all the time,” Dr. Meir Stampfer, an epidemiologist and nutrition expert at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote in a recent blog post over the summer. “To me it’s kind of a miracle that people aren’t even heavier than they are.”
Stampfer, who has pioneered many long-term, top-notch health studies, said the easiest way to get people to lose weight is to simply limit how much they eat every day.
“But for free-living people that’s really hard,” he said.
Sara Seidelmann, a cardiologist and nutrition researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, sees the issue in a similar way.
“There’s absolutely nothing more important for our health than what we eat each and every day,” she previously told Business Insider.
Here are some of the best tips for how to slim down for the long term, from Stampfer and Seidelmann:
Healthy eating isn’t necessarily low-carb
Seidelmann recently published a study involving more than 447,000 people around the world. The results indicated that people who ate too many or too few carbs didn’t live as long as those in the middle who ate a moderate amount.
Her team’s data suggests people should focus on putting whole, healthy foods on their plate, like vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans.
Even though some veggies and beans may be considered “high-carb,” eating them is associated with a longer life than low-carb diets that push people to eat large quantities of meat and animal products.
Focus on choosing healthy fats
“Eating healthy fats helps people control their weight better than diets than exclude them,” he added.
Fatty foods have more energy gram per gram than carbs or proteins, and they can also help keep you full and satisfied until your next meal.
Some of the best plant-based sources of healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, walnuts, and chia seeds. Even oatmeal has a potent dose of fat, making it a great way to fuel up in the morning.
Eat ‘just a little bit’ less
Though incorporating movement into your day can yield immense benefits for your brain and body, nutritionists agree that the surefire way to control your weight is to properly gauge (and perhaps reduce) how much food you’re putting in your mouth.
Eating less and forgoing food for an occasional fast may even help you live longer, some studies suggest. A group of Silicon Valley biohackers has even committed to skipping one meal per day, a version of the “intermittent fasting” craze that eliminates about a third of a day’s calories.
But we’re not suggesting that anyone starve themself. Just remember that a standard serving of whole-grain bread is one slice, a slice of meat should fit in an imaginary checkbook, and your cut of cheese should be about the size of four dice.
As Stampfer put it, “adopt a healthy diet, and eat just a little bit less.”
Don’t discount strength training
Your brain and your heart are some of the biggest calorie-burning machines in your resting body. But muscles can help keep your metabolism going all day, which means incorporating strength training into your fitness routine can be a great way to maintain a healthy weight. And the benefits don’t end there.
“Muscle building can not only bring up your body’s metabolic rate but also brings its own distinct health benefits that are often not as well appreciated as those associated with aerobic activity,” Stampfer said.
Those benefits include improving mental health, fighting off depression, and even reversing some of the physical effects of aging. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests doing strength training two or three times each week.
You don’t need a wide or colorful variety of foods – just find the healthy ones you like
Many principles of healthy eating that you may have learned as a kid are being debunked.
One such idea is that everyone should try to eat a varied, colorful “pyramid” of foods. Instead, the American Heart Association now suggests focusing on getting enough plants, protein, and healthy fats into your diet and not worrying as much about a diverse array of ingredients.
That’s partially because recent studies suggest that people with the most varied, colorful diets tend to eat more food of all kinds, including processed foods. That can wind up meaning they have less healthy, whole foods on their plates and bigger waistlines as a result.
“It’s OK if your diet is not very diverse if you’re focusing on healthy foods and trying to minimize consumption of unhealthy foods,” the University of Texas epidemiologist Marcia Otto told The New York Times.