Calorie counting is out
Calorie counting is out. Why what you eat and do, matters more than counting numbers.
There are three main problems with weight loss studies. The first is that most only focus on weight loss once obesity is already an issue. The second is that most studies don’t follow a significant time period and the third is that most studies follow too few people to obtain significant data. The good news is that a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine changes all this.
The study of 120,877 well-educated men and women took place over a 20-year period between 1986 and 2006 (with analysis taking another five years). Reporting periods were conducted every four years. The study was done by five nutrition and public health experts at Harvard University with the goal of determining if and why healthy, non-obese people gain weight throughout their life.
‘Prior research has often focused on what works for weight loss once obesity has already developed,’ says Dariush Mozaffarian, lead author of the study and both cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. ‘We wished to study how diet and other lifestyle factors might prevent weight gain in the first place.’
Researchers confirmed that people don’t become overweight overnight. Instead, the pounds creep up slowly, often unnoticed, until one day nothing in your closet fits the way it used to.
Just how much weight did people gain?
The average participant in the study gained 3.35 pounds every four years, for a total weight gain of 16.8 pounds in 20 years. Some gained much more, while a small number managed to stay the same or even lose weight. People gained weight throughout adulthood, but the most crucial time for weight gain was the younger part of middle age. What was surprising was that the weight gain showed no preferences – people gain weight for the same reasons, regardless of gender or age. Here’s why:
Quality, Not Quantity,Matters
The biggest news is that counting calories doesn’t help people lose weight. ‘Conventional wisdom often recommends “everything in moderation,”’ says Mozaffarian. But this study finds the focus should be taken away from counting total calories and refocused on what people eat. ‘Our results demonstrate that the quality of the diet – the types of foods and beverages that one consumes – is strongly linked to weight gain’ says Mozaffarian. ‘Indeed, increasing the consumption of several specific foods was actually associated with relative weight loss.’ What you eat, not how much you eat, makes the difference.
‘There are good foods and bad foods,’ says Mozaffarian. It’snot okay to eat everything in moderation. People need to focus on eating more good foods and less bad foods if they want to maintain a healthy body weight. ‘The current conventional wisdom to prevent weight gain focuses on total calories, or even total fat or sugars,’ says Mozaffarian. ‘Our findings suggest that these are not the right targets.’ People need to start paying attention to what they eat and limit their bad food choices.
So what’s bad? The white stuff needs to go. ‘Starches such as potatoes, white bread, low-fibre breakfast cereals, white rice, and refined grain foods top the list of what to avoid,’ says Mozaffarian. People need to be especially careful of ‘low-fat’ foods. Most of these are high in refined carbohydrates and sugars and can lead to weight gain when used on a regular basis.
As for protein, you should stick to fish, chicken and legumes while limiting yourintake of processed and red meats. We also need to watch what we drink. Between 1965 and 2002, beverage consumption in North America increased from 11.8 to 21 per cent of all calories consumed. We’re drinking ourselves fat! Sixty per cent of this intake is attributed to sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sugar-sweetened ice tea and energy drinks. Another large percentage is alcohol and fruit juices. Very little of the calories we drink are healthy choices like milk.
What should you eat? ‘Eat more minimally processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and yogurt,’ says Mozaffarian. Fruits and vegetables are really key. The difference between the people who gained the most weight and those that stayed the same or lost was three servings of vegetables a day.
Despite conventional advice to eat less fat, weight loss was greatest among people who ate the most nuts, including peanut butter. We’veall been told that cheese is fattening, but dairy appears to aid weight loss. When it comes to increased intake of dairy products, such as low-fat milk or full-fat milk and cheese, there was a neutral effect on weight. Yogurt, however, turned out to be the biggest indicator of weight loss in the entire study. Participants who ate more yogurt, lost an average of 0.82 pound every four years. ‘The strong relationship of yogurt consumption with lower weight gain was unexpected, and requires further investigation to clarify cause-and-effect and potential mechanisms,’ says Mozaffarian. One possible explanation is that yogurt contains healthful bacteria. In animal studies this bacteria has been found to increase production of intestinal hormones that enhance satiety and decrease hunger. The bacteria in yogurt may also raise the body’s metabolic rate, making weight control easier.
‘STARCHES SUCH AS POTATOES, WHITE BREAD, LOW-FIBRE BREAKFAST CEREALS, WHITE RICE, AND REFINED GRAIN FOODS TOP THE LIST OF WHAT TO AVOID.’
Food is the most important indicator of long term weight gain, but lifestyle choices also play an important role. No surprise here, keeping fit keeps the pounds in check. Participants who exercised less over the course of the study tended to gain weight, while those who increased their activity did not. Those with the greatest increase in physical activity gained 1.76 fewer pounds than the rest of the participants within each four-year reporting period. Other indicators of weight gain include: sleep, watching TV, alcohol intake and smoking.
In general, people who slept less than six or more than eight hours a night, tended to gain the most weight. Why? Lack of sleep has a negative effect on the body’s satiety hormones. It also provides more opportunity for lack-night snacking. Too much sleep? It may be that the lifestyle that goes along with excess sleep is generally inactive.
Also unsurprising, was the fact that people who watched more television gained more weight and the more they watched, the more they gained. The effects of alcohol and smoking were abit more complex. Drinking wine had little effect on weight gain, but other forms of alcohol were likely to add extra pounds. When it comes to smoking, quitting the habit resulted in added weight gain for the first four years, but subsequent weight gain was minimal. Taking up smoking had no effect on weight.
Why Size Matters
‘Overall, small dietary and other lifestyle changes together can make a big difference – for bad or good,’ says Mozaffarian. Eating more minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains and fewer starches and refined foods like potatoes, white bread, low-fibre breakfast cereals, processed meats, sweets, and soda will have lasting effects on your body weight; as will being active, turning off the TV, and getting enough sleep.
Size isn’t just important because of the way you look or how your clothing fits. Gradual weight gain will harm your health. Previous studies have found that an increase in bodyweight increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer in men and heart disease, diabetes, stroke and breast cancer in women. It pays to make small changes now and stick with them for the long haul.
10 WORST FOODS
|Here’s a look at which foods contributed to the greatest weight gain.|
|Bad Food (to avoid)||Weight Gain (over 4 years)|
|1. French fries||3.4 pounds|
|2. Potato chips||1.7 pounds|
|3. Sugar-sweetened drinks||1 pound|
|4. Red meats||0.95 pound|
|5. Processed meats||0.93 pound|
|6. Potatoes||0.57 pound|
|7. Sweets & desserts||0.41 pound|
|8. Refined grains||0.39 pound|
|9. Other fried foods||0.32 pound|
|10. 100 per cent fruit juice||0.31 pound|