For decades, the advice for those who want to lose weight has been pretty simple: Consume fewer calories, burn more—with the emphasis on the output.
But recent research has found that the key to weight loss is more subtle. “The quality of the diet is much more important than the quantity of calories,” says JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.
Instead of counting calories of any kind, focusing on eating nutritious foods that are more satisfying is more effective. “A high-quality diet will almost automatically lead to better calorie control—you’re going to be eating foods with higher satiety,” says Manson, a contributor to the new documentary Better, which explains how Americans can turn back the current epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
But ignoring that advice isn’t the only everyday habit that’s making you obese. Read on to find out more, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID and Didn’t Know It.
When it comes to preventing obesity, “a lot has to do with the quality of the diet and the various habits that people can get into, such as snacking regularly,” says Manson. “In the film Better, there is a real effort to help people to improve the quality of their diet, because it refutes this notion that weight control is as simple as ‘calories in, calories out.’ It relates very much to having a diet that is high quality.”
For example: A diet that’s heavy in processed foods like chips and cookies will increase a person’s blood sugar level, which will cause insulin spikes and lead to a frequent sense of hunger, even if you’re working out like crazy at the gym. That hunger for more processed foods can foil even the most dedicated marathoner.
“Foods like that do not tend to lead to satiety, so you tend to overeat, and the foods are not nutritious,” says Manson. “A high-quality eating plan is something like the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil, while being low in red meat, processed meats and processed foods.”
RELATED: The #1 Cause of Obesity, According to Science
“For a snack, if you get hungry during the day, you’re having a handful of nuts instead of donuts or a bag of potato chips,” says Manson. “These are the types of dietary changes that can lead to greater satiety, lower total calorie intake and just improve nutrition.”
“Non-starchy vegetables and whole grains really fill you up,” says Manson. Eating more of those vegetables and grains, instead of starchy vegetables (like potatoes and peas) and white- or processed-flour products can prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes. Non-starchy vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, beans, mushrooms, salad greens, and these others recommended by the American Diabetes Association.
RELATED: 9 Everyday Habits That Might Lead to Dementia, Say Experts
“Everyday behaviors that can increase your risk of obesity include frequent snacking, nighttime eating, consuming foods/beverages high in sugar and low in nutrients (e.g, regular soda), long periods of sitting, and a lack of daily exercise,” says Kirsten Davison, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for research at Boston College. Even before the pandemic locked most of us down, only about 20 percent of American adults got enough exercise—which the American Heart Association defines as 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking) per week. And to get through life at your healthiest, don’t miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.