Heavily processed foods cause overeating and weight gain, study finds

This small-scale study of 20 adult volunteers, conducted by researchers at the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), is the first randomized controlled trial examining the effects of ultra-processed foods as defined by the NOVA classification system. This system considers foods “ultra-processed” if they have ingredients predominantly found in industrial food manufacturing, such as hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, flavoring agents, and emulsifiers.

Previous observational studies looking at large groups of people had shown associations between diets high in processed foods and health problems. But, because none of the past studies randomly assigned people to eat specific foods and then measured the results, scientists could not say for sure whether the processed foods were a problem on their own, or whether people eating them had health problems for other reasons, such as a lack of access to fresh foods.

“Though we examined a small group, results from this tightly controlled experiment showed a clear and consistent difference between the two diets,” said Kevin D. Hall, Ph.D., an NIDDK senior investigator and the study’s lead author. “This is the first study to demonstrate causality — that ultra-processed foods cause people to eat too many calories and gain weight.”

For the study, researchers admitted 20 healthy adult volunteers, 10 male and 10 female, to the NIH Clinical Center for one continuous month and, in random order for two weeks on each diet, provided them with meals made up of ultra-processed foods or meals of minimally processed foods. For example, an ultra-processed breakfast might consist of a bagel with cream cheese and turkey bacon, while the unprocessed breakfast was oatmeal with bananas, walnuts, and skim milk.

The ultra-processed and unprocessed meals had the same amounts of calories, sugars, fiber, fat, and carbohydrates, and participants could eat as much or as little as they wanted.

On the ultra-processed diet, people ate about 500 calories more per day than they did on the unprocessed diet. They also ate faster on the ultra-processed diet and gained weight, whereas they lost weight on the unprocessed diet. Participants, on average, gained 0.9 kilograms, or 2 pounds, while they were on the ultra-processed diet and lost an equivalent amount on the unprocessed diet.

“We need to figure out what specific aspect of the ultra-processed foods affected people’s eating behavior and led them to gain weight,” Hall said. “The next step is to design similar studies with a reformulated ultra-processed diet to see if the changes can make the diet effect on calorie intake and body weight disappear.”

For example, slight differences in protein levels between the ultra-processed and unprocessed diets in this study could potentially explain as much as half the difference in calorie intake.

“Over time, extra calories add up, and that extra weight can lead to serious health conditions,” said NIDDK Director Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D. “Research like this is an important part of understanding the role of nutrition in health and may also help people identify foods that are both nutritious and accessible — helping people stay healthy for the long term.”

While the study reinforces the benefits of unprocessed foods, researchers note that ultra-processed foods can be difficult to restrict. “We have to be mindful that it takes more time and more money to prepare less-processed foods,” Hall said. “Just telling people to eat healthier may not be effective for some people without improved access to healthy foods.”

Support for the study primarily came from the NIDDK Division of Intramural Research.

10 Tricks to Help You Gain Weight

This one is for all the ladies who want to gain weight! If your metabolism works a little over board burning calories instead of gaining them, we’re going to tell you 10 tips and tricks to help you gain weight, and go up a size. Other than eating more, you need to try and incorporate the following tips and tricks to help you gain weight.

1. A great trick to help you gain weight easily, is to increase your number of meals during the day. Instead of having three meals, make them six, to increase your calorie intake during the day.

2. In order to make sure you gain weight the healthy way, increase your intake of healthy foods and drinks and stay away from sodas and preservatives.

3. Food containing carbohydrates helps you gain weight without making you feel too full. So, be sure to load up on whole grains, bread, pasta, beans, vegetables and fruits like apples and bananas.

4. To gain weight means you need to build your muscles. Eating protein is a great way to strengthen your muscles, so be sure to load up on fish and meats, as they are a great way to help you gain weight.

5. Eat dessert right after your meal! Not only will it increase your intake of calories, but also it will give you an incentive to finish your main meal, as you get a delicious treat after it.

6. The best trick to gain weight, is to eat your dinner right before you go to sleep. Since your body burns calories while you are sleeping, be sure to give it some extra ones, so as you not lose any of your initial weight.

7. When working out, be sure to stay away from cardio exercises, as these workouts help you lose weight. Instead, opt for toning and building muscle.

8. A great trick to help you gain weight, is to always keep snacks on hand with you, that you can eat between meals.

9. Eat efficiently and effectively. Meaning, do not take an hour to finish your lunch, as your brain will register a full stomach before you are done. Eat in a good amount of time and chew your food well, to prevent any signs of indigestion.

10. In order to gain weight, make sure you do not over do it when you are working out. Make sure to workout at least two to three times a week, to keep your body in good shape, yet also allowing it a chance to gain some weight.

We all (understandably!) want something quick, easy, and painless, but if the diet sounds too good to be true, it probably is. “As a society, we are always looking for a quick fix,” says Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Expecting results without a long-term lifestyle plan is unrealistic and destined for failure.”

Despite your best intentions, these diet tricks might actually be sabotaging your hard work to lose some weight.

1. Skipping meals
A new study may shed some light on why skipping meals can backfire: A group of mice was placed on a restricted diet; they ate all their food at one time, fasted the rest of the day, and initially lost weight. Another group was free to eat continuously throughout the day.

“When we started feeding the restricted diet group the same amount as the other group, they would still eat all the food within a couple hours,” says Martha Belury, PhD, RD, the study’s author and a nutrition professor at Ohio State University in Columbus. “They had already set themselves up for feasting and then fasting for up to 20 hours a day,” not unlike some human behavior. The researchers also noticed physiological changes, including regained weight and an uptick in visceral fat (which surrounds internal organs in the abdominal area and has been linked to an increased risk for serious disease) because of a hormonal reaction to the restricted diet and the subsequent binge. (Learn how to regulate your hormones for permanent weight management with The Hormone Reset Diet.)

“Normally, you wake up in the morning and your liver pumps out a low amount of glucose. You have a meal, and insulin levels go up in response, and then your liver stops producing glucose because your organs have it from the food,” she says. “In these mice, their livers couldn’t stop.” While we can’t know for sure if human livers and fat would respond in the same way, skipping meals may set some people up for detrimental gorging later on.

“Most people assume that if you skip a meal you’ll eat fewer calories for the whole day,” says Angela Ginn-Meadow, RDN, CDE, a food and nutrition expert. “But going longer periods of time without any food puts you in a danger zone of being really hungry, and you can make poor choices or eat more than planned.”

MORE: How To Turn Off Your Weight Gain Hormones

2. Drinking diet soda

Sam Bloomberg Rissman/Getty Images
Cutting out calories from your soda habit seems like a smart move, but there’s ever-growing evidence that drinking diet soda has no benefit whatsoever. In fact, a number of studies have found that diet soda consumption is linked with obesity, and the most recent research suggests a particular link with belly fat. There are a number of theories as to why this might be, but some experts believe that artificial sweeteners trick the body. “Diet soda causes conflict in the body; you get the perception of sweet taste without the energy that typically accompanies it,” Sheth says. In other words, your body is primed to expect calories from the sweet taste, but then receives zero, sending you straight to the snack stash.

Diet soda might also act as an unwarranted get-out-of-jail-free card for some people, Ginn-Meadow says. “If you said, ‘I’m going to have a double cheeseburger with onion rings because I’m drinking a diet soda,’ that’s not helping you.” (Ready to kick the habit? Check out these 8 things that will happen when you give up diet soda.)

3. Eating fat-free foods
An upsetting secret of fat-free and low-fat foods: manufacturers often up the sugar count to make up for the lack of fat-based flavor. “In some shelf-stable products such as fat-free cookies, you might end up with more sugar and almost the same calories as the regular version,” Sheth says. In a recent study, people who ate low- or non-fat dairy actually ate more carbs throughout the day than people who stuck to whole-fat dairy. “Fat is satisfying,” Ginn-Meadow says. “People aren’t successful at maintaining low-fat diets because they’re hungry.” Just stick to the “good” fats: poly and monounsaturated ones in fish, olive oil, and avocado, to name a few.

4. Taking “miracle” pills
Yes, there are FDA-approved weight-loss pills to help you along a weight-loss journey, but that doesn’t mean you sit back and enjoy the ride. It seems that people pop a diet pill and suddenly feel less pressure to hit the gym (according to one new study, this may be the result of how pills are marketed to us, but that’s another story). “You need to learn skills that will allow you to be successful in the short- and long-term,” Sheth says, and not rely on a pill to do the work for you. Also, if you read the drug information very carefully, you’ll notice that they’re meant to be taken in conjunction with exercise and a healthy-eating plan—so they’re not magical after all.

5. Counting calories

Martinina/Getty Images
The total number of calories you take in might not be as important as the type of calories. Researchers argue this is because calories from simple carbs like sugar and white bread spike blood sugar levels, which in turn raise insulin. Then, the resulting crash leaves you searching for more carbs, reinforcing a pattern of overeating. People who count calories might also be tempted to avoid foods with more fat to cut calories, but we already know that going fat-free won’t do you any favors (see above).

However, there is good news: Counting calories can be a helpful tactic when eating at a restaurant. “When we dine out, meals are often very high in calories, so if you have a calorie budget, you won’t get so overwhelmed,” Ginn-Meadow says. A budget might mean deciding to consume 500 calories or less during a Friday night out with friends.

MORE: 8 Things Food-Safety Experts Never Ever Eat

6. Cutting carbs
“People still think carbs are the enemy, but they’re really not,” Ginn-Meadow says. Cutting out carbs can lead to shedding some water weight quickly, so dieters get hooked when they see fast progress, but it can backfire—reincorporating carbs back into the diet can mean gaining back the weight. “I don’t believe in cutting out a whole food group,” Sheth says. “Carbs are the best source of energy for the brain and body. Choose whole grains and watch the portions.” Whole grains boast more filling fiber, which can aid digestion, too. And don’t forget: veggies, fruit, and even dairy contain carbs, and you wouldn’t want to cut all those out, Ginn-Meadow adds.

7. Cheat days
It feels really great to loosen the diet rules come Friday night, but if it’s tough to get back on track on Saturday, you could be doing more harm than good. “There’s no such thing as cheat days, because losing weight is a lifestyle,” Ginn-Meadow says. “If there’s something you want, think about three things: Am I going to eat this less often, in smaller portions, or choose a healthier option? This will help you not feel deprived and not overeat what you enjoy.” And rather than going wild one day of the week, consider the 80/20 rule instead. “Follow a healthy way of eating 80% of the time, and allow for indulgences 20% of the time,” Sheth suggests.

MORE: Fight Colon Cancer, Diabetes, And High Cholesterol With…Leftover Pasta?

8. Weighing yourself

Nico De Pasquale Photography/Getty Images
While experts recommend checking your progress from time to time, becoming too obsessed with the number on the scale is a slippery slope. “I have clients who become easily disheartened by minimal changes when weighing themselves,” Sheth says. You probably won’t see enormous variations day to day—nor should you. A safe weight loss pace is about one to two pounds a week, so for some people, weekly weigh-ins might offer insight into whether they’re on track. Just try not to compare your results to anyone else’s. “You have to realize that you’re an individual, and everybody loses weight differently,” she says. “You’re going at your own pace.”

Drowning in a sea of suggestions on how to lose weight, I spotted a friend of mine, angrily typing about her need to gain weight. Spotting the quote, “Only dogs go after bones, real men go for curves,” did not make it any better for her.

If you are someone who believes that your ‘skinny’ friends have it easy, you’re wrong. It’s not just the need to lose weight that exists, skinny people also feel the need to gain weight. We often read numerous articles online on how to lose weight but no one gives any tips on how to gain a few kilos.

Gaining weight might not be the easiest task, but here are a few tips to get you started:

1. It is very important to first know how much weight needs to be gained

This calculation can be done here. It’s a given that sometimes we tend to push ourselves a bit too much. So, take it easy and steadily increase your pace of working towards your goal.

2. Increase the amount of food intake.

Eat more food on a daily basis in regular intervals. The secret is to take 3 meals a day and 2 snacks between them. It may sound like an easy task, but trust me, it’s not.

3. A gap of 4 hours does the magic trick.

As most of us are busy, caught between classes and meetings, our body needs a constant supply of food. So within a gap of four hours, just grab another bite or a quick munch to keep you going!

Source: www.instagram.com

4. Adopt a diet that includes everything.

Rather than getting bored of just one banana every evening, pair your food item with members from other food charts. Top that banana off with a glass of milk and a spoon of honey so repetitive meals don’t seem boring.

Source: www.nataliedee.com

5. Grab a bite right before crashing.

Grab a plate of food just before you hit the bed. Doctors say a belly full of food helps you fix the tissues you need, as you sleep! This ‘eat-before-you-sleep’ trick is replenishment in every sense.

Source: www.google.com

6. Stock your cupboard with milk, cheese and cream.

An extra glass of milk, a bit too much peanut butter with the sandwich and some extra cheese are the answers to all your troubles!

Source: www.instagram.com

7. A little bit of physical activity everyday will take you a long way.

The age-old mantra of fitness, either to lose or gain, has been physical activity. Paired with the right diet, watch wonders happen. Some of us have a tendency to overdo sometimes, so it is safe to work out under the guidance of a professional trainer.

Source: www.instagram.com

8. With professional training, comes professional intake.

The right amount of protein shakes paired with physical training over a period of time will make you gain healthy weight steadily. We’re not talking flabs, but some serious ab formation!

Source: www.instagram.com

9. Keep visiting the weighing machine to keep a check on those kilos.

Having done all this hard work, it is only fair that you also monitor your steady progress. Fix an appointment with your weighing machine, everyday at the same time, as our bodies have a tendency to fluctuate weight throughout the day.

Source: www.instagram.com

How This Woman Gained 22 Pounds but Stayed the Exact Same Clothing Size

Age, weight, clothing size…it’s all just a number. Fitness influencer Victoria Winterford proved as much in her latest transformation post, which revealed that she gained weight but didn’t change her size. Both images show her in a black bikini, but there’s a difference of 22 pounds (or 10 kilograms). The one constant? Her size 8 frame.

“How??” the 25-year-old from the UK asked. “Yep that little thing we call muscle.”

Winterford went on to talk about how the numbers on the scale and on the clothing tag distract us from seeing real fitness results—such as her recent increase in muscle mass. A boost in muscle is a common body change many people notice after switching up their fitness routine, and it can cause an uptick on the scale because muscle weighs more.

“We all get so paranoid over those numbers … we let it control us, how we train, how much we should be eating … when really we need to be focusing on how we LOOK and how we FEEL.”

RELATED: These Women Look Like They Lost Weight, but They Actually Gained

She tells Health that she’s struggled with finding a more intuitive way to eat and exercise. “I used to be very underweight,” she says. “I would restrict myself from eating too many calories, obsessed with weighing myself in case I put on weight, and definitely overtrained my body. I was very body conscious and always wanted to look like someone else.”

Now, she’s learned how to train and eat properly, and she’s hoping that her message is something others, particularly young women, can relate to.

“The pressures of social media these days make people think they have to look a certain way, realistically we should just be the best version of ourselves no matter what,” she says. “I just want to help as many people as possible spreading a positive message about body image and living a healthy but also balanced lifestyle.”

If my weight is going up, but my measurements stay the same…

Hi everyone,
2 weeks later, and I’m still steadily gaining a pound (or two) every week . The only changes I’ve made in my eating and exercise now have been to eat even more cleanly (is that even a word LOL?) than I usually do (I usually sneak in a few treats since I figure I’m burning a lot of calories with marathon training, but I’ve stopped doing that) and upping the weight training with heavier weights to build more muscle to burn more fat (as I mentioned, I’d been doing a lot of functional training, especially with kettlebells; I’ve switched back to more traditional gym style weight training). I’ve also upped my water intake since I’ve gotten REALLY slack with that. I figure I don’t need to do much to my cardio since I’m training for a marathon and getting more than enough (and once a week, our training involves interval training, so it’s not all steady state).
I’m doing all of the “right” things and yet instead of my weight fluctuating up and down–or even remaining STEADY–it keeps creeping up and up and up. I’ve also now gained a 1/2 inch in my waist and hip area, which is not a lot, but is showing me that even my measurements are now being affected.
I’m going to make an appointment with my doctor, but I’m afraid she’s going to tell me that because of my age and lifestyle, I’m relatively “fit” and that I shouldn’t worry about anything. But for me, what’s worrying is the trend, not so much the absolute numbers. I mean yes, if you looked at my current weight and measurements, you’d say it’s within the normal range. But if I told you that I’ve gained 8 pounds and 1/2 inch in the waist and hip area in 8 weeks, wouldn’t you think that’s a little… well, accelerated? Or maybe that is normal and I’m just panicking for no reason.
It’s just really hard for me to believe this is all muscle that I’ve gained, since it’s soooo hard for me to gain muscle, but I also can’t believe this is all fat that I’ve gained because my measurements would have really shown that. Ugh. If my doctor can confirm I don’t have some sort of thyroid issue or any other kind of health issue, then I’ll relax more. It’s annoying, but something I can live with, as long as I know I’m living a healthy lifestyle and can still wear the same clothes. But I just have a really weird feeling that something else is afoot and I’m hoping I’m just being paranoid .

Why Am I Gaining Weight Even When I Exercise?

Q: I’m a 40-year-old, healthy, sporty female. As a triathlete, I get 60 minutes or more of exercise 6 or 7 days a week, but I find I’m gaining weight anyway. Can hormonal changes influence my food cravings and, if so, how can I manage them? How do I reset my metabolism to lose weight?

Many things can affect your ability to lose weight, such as:

  • food choices
  • activity level
  • genetics
  • age

Stress can also affect your weight loss, and over-exercising can lead to stress-related hormonal fluctuations that may make weight loss harder.

Although getting the right amount of physical activity is important for your overall health, overtraining and not getting adequate rest between your workouts can keep you from losing weight. This is why balancing exercise with recovery periods is critical.

Overtraining — especially physically demanding cardiovascular activity, such as marathon or triathlon training — may increase levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress (1).

Although this hormone plays an important role in health, chronically elevated cortisol levels have been associated with (2, 3):

  • weight gain
  • sleep disturbances
  • increased inflammation
  • excess belly fat (even in lean people)

Elevated cortisol levels drive hunger and cravings for tasty junk foods, which is why chronically elevated levels can lead to weight gain or prevent weight loss.

Smart ways to prevent stress-related weight gain include:

  • cutting down on training sessions
  • giving your body time to recuperate between workouts
  • adding cortisol-reducing activities to your routine, such as yoga or meditation

Although stress and high cortisol levels may be slowing your weight loss, there are several other factors to consider.

Food Choices

Diet is one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy weight. Making small adjustments to your diet is one of the best ways to improve health and promote weight loss.

Eating more protein-rich foods, filling up on fibrous vegetables, and incorporating healthy fats into meals are some evidence-based, sustainable ways to encourage weight loss (4, 5).

Weight Training

If you find that most of your training sessions involve cardiovascular activity and little resistance training, try replacing some of your cardio workouts with muscle-building activities, such as bodyweight exercises — think push-ups or crunches — or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Strength training helps build muscle and can boost the number of calories you burn while at rest (6).


Menopause transition (perimenopause) typically begins in your mid-40s. However, it can occur earlier in some women. Studies show that hormonal fluctuations during this time may lead to weight gain, especially in your abdominal area.

Speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing perimenopause symptoms, such as hot flashes, irregular periods, weight gain, or fatigue (7).

Tips for Cravings

If food cravings are keeping you from maintaining healthy body weight, here are several simple, effective ways to tame them:

  • Make sure you’re eating enough calories. Undereating during the day can lead to cravings for foods like candy and cookies at night.
  • Stay hydrated. This is especially important for active individuals like triathletes. Drinking enough water throughout the day may help reduce food cravings.
  • Fill up on protein. Add a source of high-quality protein — such as eggs, natural peanut butter, chicken, or tofu — to meals and snacks to keep cravings at bay.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can raise cortisol levels and has been associated with increased food cravings and weight gain in studies (8).

To prevent weight gain and maintain a healthy body weight, try implementing a few of the suggestions listed above. If you’re still having trouble after trying out these tips, consult your doctor for advice.

Jillian Kubala is a Registered Dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. Jillian holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science. Aside from writing for Healthline Nutrition, she runs a private practice based on the east end of Long Island, NY, where she helps her clients achieve optimal wellness through nutritional and lifestyle changes. Jillian practices what she preaches, spending her free time tending to her small farm that includes vegetable and flower gardens and a flock of chickens. Reach out to her through her website or on Instagram.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health and well-being.

As you grow older, if you continue eating the same types and amounts of food but do not become more active, you will probably gain weight. That’s because your metabolism (how your body gets energy from food) can slow with age, and your body composition (amount of fat and muscle) may be different from when you were younger.

The energy your body gets from the nutrients in the food you eat is measured as calories. As a rule of thumb, the more calories you eat, the more active you have to be to maintain your weight. Likewise, the reverse is also true—the more active you are, the more calories you need. As you age, your body might need less food for energy, but it still needs the same amount of nutrients.

How Can I Keep a Healthy Weight?

Many things can affect your weight, including genetics, age, gender, lifestyle, family habits and culture, sleep, and even where you live and work. Some of these factors can make it hard to lose weight or keep weight off.

But being active and choosing healthy foods has health benefits for everyone—no matter your age or weight. It’s important to choose nutrient-dense foods and be active at least 150 minutes per week. As a rule of thumb:

  • To keep your weight the same, you need to burn the same number of calories as you eat and drink.
  • To lose weight, burn more calories than you eat and drink.
  • To gain weight, burn fewer calories than you eat and drink.

Share this infographic and help spread the word about healthy diet and exercise.

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Weight

  • Limit portion size to control calorie intake.
  • Add healthy snacks during the day if you want to gain weight.
  • Be as physically active as you can be.
  • Talk to your doctor about your weight if you think that you weigh too much or too little.

What Should I Eat to Maintain a Healthy Weight?

Choose foods that have a lot of nutrients but not a lot of calories. NIA has information to help you make healthy food choices and shop for food that’s good for you.

How Much Physical Activity Do I Need?

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. You don’t have to do that all at once—break it up over the whole week, however you like. If you can’t do this much activity right away, try to be as physically active as you can. Doing something is better than doing nothing at all.

The benefits of exercise aren’t just about weight. Regular exercise can make it easier for you to do daily activities, participate in outings, drive, keep up with grandchildren, avoid falls, and stay independent.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money joining a gym or hiring a personal trainer. Think about the kinds of physical activities that you enjoy—for example, walking, running, bicycling, gardening, housecleaning, swimming, or dancing. Try to make time to do what you enjoy on most days of the week. And then increase how long you do it, or add another fun activity.

Learn more about exercise and physical activity from NIA’s Go4Life, which offers a variety of free, evidence-based resources for older adults in one convenient spot.

Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en español.

For More Information on Maintaining a Healthy Weight

President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition

U.S. Department of Agriculture

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
[email protected]

This content is provided by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure that it is accurate, authoritative, and up to date.

Content reviewed: April 29, 2019

Maintaining Weight Loss

Benefits of maintaining weight loss

While losing weight is difficult for many people, it is even more challenging to keep the weight off. Most people who lose a large amount of weight have regained it 2 to 3 years later. One theory about regaining lost weight is that people who decrease the amount of calories they consume to lose weight experience a drop in the rate their bodies burn calories. This makes it increasingly difficult to lose weight over a period of months. A lower rate of burning calories may also make it easier to regain weight after a more normal diet is resumed. For these reasons, extremely low calorie diets and rapid weight loss are discouraged.

Losing no more than 1/2 to 2 pounds per week is recommended. Incorporating long-term lifestyle changes are needed to increase the chance of successful long-term weight loss.

Weight loss to a healthy weight for a person’s height can promote health benefits. These include lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure, less stress on bones and joints, and less work for the heart. It is vital to maintain weight loss to obtain health benefits over a lifetime.

Keeping extra weight off takes effort and commitment, just as losing weight does. Weight loss goals are reached by a combination of changes in diet, eating habits, and exercise. In extreme circumstances, people turn to bariatric surgery.

Weight loss maintenance strategies

The strategies that encourage weight loss also play an important role in maintenance:

  • Support systems used effectively during weight loss can contribute to weight maintenance. According to the National Weight Control Registry, 55% of registry participants used some type of program to achieve their weight loss.

  • Physical activity plays a vital and essential role in maintaining weight loss. Studies show that even exercise that is not rigorous, such as walking and using stairs, has a positive effect. Activity that uses 1,500 to 2,000 calories per week is recommended for maintaining weight loss. Adults should try to get at least 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous level physical activity at least 3 to 4 times per week.

  • Diet and exercise are vital strategies for losing and maintaining weight. Ninety-four percent of the registrants in the National Weight Control Registry increased their physical activity.

  • Once the desired weight has been reached, the gradual addition of about 200 calories of healthy, low-fat food to daily intake may be attempted for one week to see if weight loss continues. If weight loss does continue, additional calories of healthy foods may be added to the daily diet until the right balance of calories to maintain the desired weight has been determined. It may take some time and record keeping to determine how adjusting food intake and exercise levels affect weight. A nutritionist can help with this.

Continuing to use behavioral strategies is necessary to maintaining weight. Be aware of eating as a response to stress. Also, use exercise, activity, or meditation to cope instead of eating.

A temporary return to old habits does not mean failure. Paying attention to dietary choices and exercise can help maintain weight loss. Identifying situations, such as negative moods and interpersonal difficulties, and using alternative methods of coping with such situations rather than eating can prevent returning to old habits.

Weight cycling

Weight cycling is losing and regaining weight multiple times. Some studies suggest that weight cycling, also called “yo-yo dieting,” may result in some health risks. These include high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, and high cholesterol. However, these studies are not true for everybody. The best strategy is to avoid weight cycling and to maintain healthy weight through a commitment to increased physical activity and healthy eating.

One myth about weight cycling is that a person who loses and regains weight will have more difficulty losing weight again and maintaining it compared to a person who has not gone through a weight-loss cycle. Most studies show that weight cycling does not affect the rate at which the body burns fuel. Also, a previous weight cycle does not influence the ability to lose weight again. In addition, weight cycling does not increase the amount of fat tissue or increase fat distribution around the stomach.

Always talk with your healthcare provider for more information.

Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight

Why is physical activity important?

Regular physical activity is important for good health, and it’s especially important if you’re trying to lose weight or to maintain a healthy weight.

  • When losing weight, more physical activity increases the number of calories your body uses for energy or “burns off.” The burning of calories through physical activity, combined with reducing the number of calories you eat, creates a “calorie deficit” that results in weight loss.
  • Most weight loss occurs because of decreased caloric intake. However, evidence shows the only way to maintain weight loss is to be engaged in regular physical activity.
  • Most importantly, physical activity reduces risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes beyond that produced by weight reduction alone.

Physical activity also helps to–

  • Maintain weight.
  • Reduce high blood pressure.
  • Reduce risk for type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and several forms of cancer.
  • Reduce arthritis pain and associated disability.
  • Reduce risk for osteoporosis and falls.
  • Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

How much physical activity do I need?

When it comes to weight management, people vary greatly in how much physical activity they need. Here are some guidelines to follow:

To maintain your weight: Work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mix of the two each week. Strong scientific evidence shows that physical activity can help you maintain your weight over time. However, the exact amount of physical activity needed to do this is not clear since it varies greatly from person to person. It’s possible that you may need to do more than the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to maintain your weight.

To lose weight and keep it off: You will need a high amount of physical activity unless you also adjust your diet and reduce the amount of calories you’re eating and drinking. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight requires both regular physical activity and a healthy eating plan.

What do moderate- and vigorous-intensity mean?

Moderate: While performing the physical activity, if your breathing and heart rate is noticeably faster but you can still carry on a conversation — it’s probably moderately intense. Examples include—

  • Walking briskly (a 15-minute mile).
  • Light yard work (raking/bagging leaves or using a lawn mower).
  • Light snow shoveling.
  • Actively playing with children.
  • Biking at a casual pace.

Vigorous: Your heart rate is increased substantially and you are breathing too hard and fast to have a conversation, it’s probably vigorously intense. Examples include—

  • Jogging/running.
  • Swimming laps.
  • Rollerblading/inline skating at a brisk pace.
  • Cross-country skiing.
  • Most competitive sports (football, basketball, or soccer).
  • Jumping rope.

How many calories are used in typical activities?

The following table shows calories used in common physical activities at both moderate and vigorous levels.

Calories Used per Hour in Common Physical Activities

Calories Used per Hour in Common Physical Activities
Moderate Physical Activity Approximate Calories/30 Minutes for a 154 lb Person1 Approximate Calories/Hr for a 154 lb Person1
Hiking 185 370
Light gardening/yard work 165 330
Dancing 165 330
Golf (walking and carrying clubs) 165 330
Bicycling (<10 mph) 145 290
Walking (3.5 mph) 140 280
Weight lifting (general light workout) 110 220
Stretching 90 180
Vigorous Physical Activity Approximate Calories/30 Minutes for a 154 lb Person1 Approximate Calories/Hr for a 154 lb Person1
Running/jogging (5 mph) 295 590
Bicycling (>10 mph) 295 590
Swimming (slow freestyle laps) 255 510
Aerobics 240 480
Walking (4.5 mph) 230 460
Heavy yard work (chopping wood) 220 440
Weight lifting (vigorous effort) 440
Basketball (vigorous) 220 440
1 Calories burned per hour will be higher for persons who weigh more than 154 lbs (70 kg) and lower for persons who weigh less.Source: Adapted from Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, page 16, Table 4External.

To help estimate the intensity of your physical activity, see Physical Activity for Everyone: Measuring Physical Activity Intensity.

Weight gain over time

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