Food and Lifestyle Changes Linked to Long-Term Weight Gain
You really are what you eat! A study from Harvard School of Public Health suggests that the types of food you eat, not just the calories they contain, may be crucial to avoiding age-related weight gain. The study, led by Dr. Dariush Mazaffarian and Dr. Frank Hu, collected data from more than 120,000 people, over a period of 12 to 20 years. Participants filled out a survey every 2 years, providing specific information on changes to their physical activity, television watching patterns, sleep habits and diet. Their weight was recorded every 4 years.
Increasing consumption of the following foods led to major average weight gains over the 4 year period:
- Sugary drinks and soda – A pound or more
- Refined grains and sweets – A half a pound
- Processed meats and unprocessed red meat – A pound or more
- Potato chips – A pound or more
- French Fries – Over 3 pounds!
In contrast, increasing consumption of vegetables, whole grains and nuts led to significant average weight reductions. Eating yogurt produced the most dramatic effects, resulting in an average of .82 pounds of weight loss.
The study identified several general lifestyle changes also linked to long-term weight gain. Increases in physical activity during the 4 year period were associated with gaining less weight, while absolute levels of physical activity were not associated with change in weight. Sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 8 hours was associated with weight gain. Being a couch potato (not just eating them) also led to major weight gains. Increases in the time people spent watching TV led to an average of a third of a pound for every hour of TV watching per day.
The researchers believe that highly processed foods may lead to an overall greater total intake of calories, because they do not satisfy hunger as well as unprocessed and higher fiber foods. Dr. Hu says that “the idea that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods is a myth that needs to be debunked.”
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