Prevent Weight Gain
If you’ve found your waistline expanding along with your advancing years, you’re not alone. With almost 2 in 3 Australian adults now overweight or obese, it seems that those who don’t gain weight are the exception rather than the rule.
Despite this, it seems that most of our focus is on losing weight once we have gained it, rather than preventing it going on in the first place. And anyone who has tried to lose weight knows that it isn’t easy. Taking steps to prevent weight gain is most certainly the better option.
Why it happens
The fact is that anytime we regularly eat more energy (kilojoules or calories) than we burn, we will gain weight. While this can happen at any time, for many of us, there are certain times of our lives when weight gain is more likely to occur. Being aware of these ‘danger’ times means you can take some steps to avoid piling on the pounds.
- Leaving home – swapping mum’s healthy home cooked meals for regular takeaways and fast foods is a trap that many young adults fall into. Find some quick easy meals you enjoy, plan your meals for the week, and cook extra for leftovers on the nights you don’t have time to cook. You could also ask mum for a few cooking lessons and for some of her favourite recipes.
- Starting full time work – sitting all day, having less time for exercise and having more money to spend on takeaway lunch or dinner meals can easily add up the kilograms. To avoid this, schedule in regular exercise such a lunchtime walk or gym class after work, and make your own healthy lunches to take to work rather than facing temptations in the food court.
- Getting married – whether it’s spending more time cuddling up on the couch at home, adopting your partner’s questionable eating habits, or just relaxing now that you’ve found your life partner, research has shown that it’s common for newlyweds to gain weight. Avoid this by planning time to shop and cook healthy meals together and finding some activities you enjoy doing together such as a dance class, weekend bushwalk or a stroll around the neighbourhood after dinner.
- Pregnancy – it’s normal to gain weight during pregnancy but too much weight gain can not only affect your health and that of your newborn baby but can also make it difficult to get back to a healthy weight. When it comes to eating for two, while you do need more of certain nutrients during pregnancy, you certainly don’t need to double your energy intake. You can prevent excess weight gain in pregnancy by choosing nutrient-dense foods and staying active through walking or a pregnancy aqua-aerobics or yoga class.
- Having children – the arrival of kids means less time for yourself (and for exercise) and can mean bringing extra foods into the house that you wouldn’t otherwise have eaten. And then there’s eating the kids leftovers to prevent them going to waste! To avoid kid-related kilos, set a good example for your little ones by serving and eating healthy meals at home and keeping less nutritious snacks as special occasion rather than everyday foods. Combine being active with time spent with your children – walk them to school, kick a ball around the backyard or a local park, go swimming or bike riding on the weekend and discourage too much screen time for the whole family.
- Middle age – middle age spread might be common but it isn’t inevitable. It happens because we generally become less active and as a result lose muscle, which in turn reduces our metabolism meaning that we need less energy to run on. If we continue to eat the same amount, rather than cutting down as our activity levels drop, the weight will gradually pile on. The solution is to stay active and include some resistance training to help maintain muscle mass and prevent that fall in metabolism. When it comes to eating, choose nutrient-dense foods to ensure that you still meet all of your nutritional needs while consuming less energy.
- Holidays – regardless of our age or time of life, holidays can spell disaster when it comes to our weight. But they don’t have to. Of course you want to relax and enjoy yourself – that’s what holidays are all about. But you don’t need to throw all caution to the wind. With a bit of planning and self-control you can come back feeling relaxed, fit and healthy rather than regretting your few weeks of indulging. Consider planning a holiday where you can walk or cycle places rather than drive and alternate lounging by the pool with swimming and an early morning walk on the beach. You could also consider staying somewhere self-contained so you can prepare your own breakfast and lunch rather than eating all of your meals out.
- Quitting smoking. While giving up the habit is the best thing you can do for your health, it’s not uncommon to gain weight as a result. Replacing your smoking habit with snacking, comfort eating to help cope with withdrawal symptoms and enjoying the taste of foods more can all contribute. Keeping healthy snacks on hand, finding other enjoyable activities and heading out for a walk when the cravings hit can all help to prevent this unwanted side effect.
Prevention is the key
The good news is that gaining weight isn’t inevitable. Instead of letting your weight creep up while you’re not paying attention, build some waist-friendly habits now. By making a few simple lifestyle changes you can prevent weight gain.
- Exercise regularly – regular exercise burns energy and helps to maintain muscle mass which keeps our metabolism firing. Incorporate some resistance training (using weights, resistance bands or your body weight) a few times per week. You don’t need to go to a gym – an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist can design you a simple home based program.
- Go plant-based – a number of studies have found that vegetarians are less likely to be overweight or obese than meat-eaters. A Mediterranean diet (high in vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, seafood and olive oil and low in meat and dairy foods) has also been found to reduce weight gain. If going vego doesn’t appeal, just cutting down on animal protein and building in more plant-based meals can make a difference.
- Eat mindfully – Many of us have lost touch with our appetites. We tend to eat for all sorts of reasons other than hunger including boredom, stress or just because the food is there or someone else around us is eating. Learn to listen to your appetite and only eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied (but not overly full!). Mindful eating also means sitting down to relax and enjoy your meals rather than eating in front of the computer, television, in the car or on the run.
- Get enough sleep – A number of studies have now shown that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight. Lack of sleep worsens insulin sensitivity, leads to hormonal changes which influence weight and can also affect levels of satiety hormones which in turn influences hunger and appetite. Being tired also makes it harder to get enthusiastic about exercising and eating well. Getting enough sleep (7-8 hours is optimal for most people) should be an important part of your weight management plan.
- Manage stress – High levels of stress can worsen insulin resistance and lead to weight gain When you’re tired, stressed and rundown it is also pretty hard to get motivated to make the lifestyle changes that will improve your health and waistline. Take steps to reduce your stress levels and find ways to manage stress, including scheduling time for rest and relaxation.