The researchers followed 120,877 healthy, non-obese, U.S. women and men from 1986 through 2006. Every four years, each participants' diet, exercise, and lifestyle factors were evaluated, along with changes in weight.
On average within each 4-year period, the participants gained an average of 3.35 lb. each. That's a total of more than 13 pounds, or about 2 dress sizes. Getting the visual?
This weight gain was most strongly associated with eating 5 particular foods, in order of most fattening:
- Potato Chips
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Unprocessed red meats
- Processed meats
Not surprisingly, participants who lost weight over each 4-year period were those who ate more of the following foods, in order of most influential:
- Whole grains
The study also found 5 particular lifestyle factors that affected weight loss, or gain, including:
- Physical activity - more activity increased weight loss
- Alcohol use - participants who regularly drank alcohol gained an average of 0.41 lb (per daily drink) over 4 years
- Smoking - new quitters gained an average of 5.17 lb., while former smokers gained only 0.14 lb. over each 4-year period
- Sleep -getting less than 6 hours, or more than 8 hours of sleep, caused weight gain
- Television watching - over each 4 year period, T.V. watchers gained 0.31 lb. per hour watched daily
Bad news for meat and potato lovers.
But wait, all is not lost! There is no reason to drastically change your diet or habits; we all know that's a sure-fire path to failure. Instead, make a few small changes and let time do the work. After all, these participants lost, or gained, weight over the course of 4 years.
How? Cut back on the chips and soda to a once-a-week treat. Choose leaner cuts of meat, and why not skip the meat altogether now and then? Bake potatoes with the skins to gain the most nutrition, then use just a thin spread of butter, and a dollop of sour cream. Or skip the dairy altogether and top potatoes with minced garlic and olive oil - heart healthy!
One tried and true method to cut calories is to visually cut your plate in quarters, then fill half with cooked or raw vegetables. The remaining half can be split between starchy veggies/grains, and lean (not-fried) meat. By the way, no fair making a meat tower - your scale will notice the difference.
As this 20-year study has shown, these small changes, plus adding in an after-dinner walk instead of settling in front of the television, will result in a thinner you, over time. Slow and steady weight loss, from lifestyle changes - not diets - is long-term weight loss, versus quick results that don't last the test of time.