What's the best way to maintain a healthy weight?
1/18/2021 by Meghan Theofiles, M.D.
There are many ways to lose weight, but some ways are just not good for you. For example, smoking, cancer and cholera can cause you to lose weight. But all are not good for you, and they will not solve society's weight problem. Likewise, there are many diet plans and diet fads on the internet, such as low-carb and low-fat diets, and intermittent fasting. It can be overwhelming.
It is not unusual to yo-yo from one diet plan to another. So, what should you do to promote health, wellness and longevity?
Most medical professionals agree that the healthiest way to maintain a healthy weight, feel good and prevent chronic disease is to eat a diet that is rich in:
- Whole grains
- Plant-based proteins (e.g., legumes, lentils and soy-based products)
In addition, this diet should be low in animal products, saturated fats and refined sugars.
Although this is how people were designed to eat, you are surrounded by a toxic food environment that makes it too easy to choose convenience or processed foods that are not nutritious versus nutritious whole foods. No wonder that society is fatigued and rapidly gaining weight.
What is the good news?
If you decide to go all in and adopt a whole-foods, plant-based, minimally processed diet, you will likely find yourself losing weight and feeling better, without the need for calorie-counting. If you have food and lifestyle-related diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, erectile dysfunction, fatty liver disease or diabetes, you will likely be able to work with your provider to reduce, if not get rid of some of your medications, and possibly reverse the disease process.
People tend to underestimate the power of lifestyle change. Lifestyle, including nutrition and exercise, is the most important way to treat disease. Unlike medications, the side effects are good.
In the words of Dean Ornish, M.D., a famous cardiologist and lifestyle medicine guru, "What is meaningful is sustainable." If you can commit to even four weeks of a plant-based, whole-foods diet, you will experience meaningful benefits in how you feel and relate to food.
If you eat this way, will you be hungry?
Most Americans do not get enough fiber in their diet. The good thing about fiber is that it fills you up, and helps you eat smaller portions than you normally would if you were eating simple carbohydrates and refined sugars. Fiber is good for your gut and helps keep you regular. More and more studies show the health benefits of a high-fiber diet.
If you are interested in reading more on this, check out "Fiber Fueled" by Will Bulsiewicz, M.D.
How do you get started?
There are plenty of plant-based recipes on the internet with tips for ingredient substitutions, and practical tips for cooking, shopping and eating out. Simply type in "plant-based recipes" in your favorite search engine, and the options are endless.
How can you help your children make healthy food choices?
It is important to be an example by eating and preparing healthy foods. Emphasize the importance of good nutrition rather than weight. Get your children involved in the kitchen with meal preparation when they are young. Eat and exercise together as a family.
What are some resources on nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight?
- "How Not to Die," Michael Greger, M.D.
- Forks Over Knives
- "The Spectrum," Dean Ornish, M.D.
- "UnDo It!," Dean Ornish, M.D., and Anne Ornish
- "Plant-Based on a Budget," Toni Okamoto
- "The Game Changers," documentary available on Netflix
So how much exercise should you get?
There is a close connection between movement and better health. Ideally, you should work toward a minimum goal of 150 minutes, or about 2-1/2 hours, of moderate activity per week. However, the more the better. People of all ages benefit from exercise, and it is never to late to start. It is OK to start slowly and progress over time.
In conclusion, healthy change begets healthy change. It is a virtuous cycle. If you start with focusing on what's at the end of the fork and a little movement, you will likely begin to make healthy changes in all aspects of your life.
Meghan Theofiles, M.D., is a family medicine physician in Mayo Clinic Primary Care's Department of Family Medicine and practices at Mayo Family Clinic Northeast. She will soon join the core faulty for the Family Medicine Residency program at Mayo Family Clinic Kasson. Her medical interests include resident and medical student education, hospital medicine, obesity, and lifestyle medicine.