It is now well-established that most people do not gain a large amount of weight in a short period of time. Rather, weight tends to creep on little by little over a period of many years – the average adult gains one pound per year. What causes this to happen? A significant reason is that basal metabolic rate – or metabolism – slows gradually as we age, and if we continue to eat the same quantity of food as we get older we will invariably gain weight. The reality is that we don’t really require that many calories – the average active women needs 1800 calories per day. Consider that a Starbucks Frappaccino can contain, depending on the flavour, from 300 to 500 calories. This is one-third of the daily caloric requirement of an active woman! Some interesting new research on the problem of gradual weight gain has been published in the past year. A study from Harvard University, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated how change in a number of lifestyle factors – diet, exercise, sleep, television viewing – affected long-term weight gain. The researchers tracked the habits of 120,877 men and women over two decades. All were healthy and normal weight at the beginning of the study.
On average, participants gained 3.35 pounds during each four-year period. That added up to a weight gain of almost 17 pounds over the 20 year period. Bear in mind that as this is an average number, some of the participants gained much more, and some none at all The most interesting finding is that people who regularly ate French fries, potato chips, mashed potatoes, processed meats, meat, sugary drinks, sweets and refined grains were more likely to gain weight. And the food that contributed most to weight gain: French fries. People who increased their intake of vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains and yogurt during the study were far less likely to gain weight. In fact, they were more likely to lose a little weight over time. As well, people who slept 6 to 8 hours per night were less likely to gain weight, as were people who exercised regularly. This study reinforces what most of us already know with respect to making healthy lifestyle choices, thereby reducing the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers. Preventing weight gain over the years requires constant vigilance and careful nutritional choices. Deprivation need not be part of this equation – there are countless healthy foods to choose from. Remember that weight gain prevention is always an easier road than weight loss.