You’ve probably known people who aren’t overly focused on what they eat yet never seem to gain weight. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who obsessively count every calorie and can’t seem to reach their ideal body weight, despite years of deprivation. Why is it that some people are able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight without being compulsive about calories while others struggle to lose weight despite watching everything they eat?
No doubt, genetics is a factor for those who are slender, but lifestyle enters into the equation too. In a recent study presented at the Obesity Week 2015 conference, researchers revealed insights as to why some people stay so “effortlessly lean and slender.”
Stay Lean: What Science Shows
This study looked at the eating habits of 168 healthy adults. Just less than half of the participants in the study were “diet obsessives.” This group worried daily about gaining weight and structured their life and eating habits around controlling their weight, never letting their guard down. The other half had a more laid-back approach to their weight and how they ate. As the researchers put it they were “mindlessly slim.” They weren’t calorie counters or obsessed with every bite they put into their mouth.
What did this research show about the eating habits of the effortlessly slim versus their more restrictive counterparts? Being overly focused on what goes into your mouth may actually work against weight loss. In the study, three-quarters of the effortlessly slim said they almost never dieted, despite maintaining a healthy body weight without extreme effort.
Rather than being preoccupied with calories and dieting, the study showed the effortlessly lean group had learned to tune into their body and recognize when they’re full. Once they felt those first signs of fullness, they stopped eating. They also ate more meals prepared at home. That approach sure beats being obsessed with dieting, doesn’t it?
Stay Lean: The Pitfalls of Restrictive Dieting
If you subscribe to the “calories in, calories out” theory, you might think cutting your calories back and expending as much energy as you can working out is the key to weight loss success. Yet, research shows restrictive dieting doesn’t lead to long-term weight control. Most people who use such a strategy gain the weight they lose back within a year or two. What’s worse, such a strategy can lead to nutrient deficiencies, not to mention, a preoccupation with food. Plus, for some people, it can be damaging psychologically. It’s no telling how many eating disorders are spawned by such an approach.
Stay Lean: Dieting is Out, Eating Right is In
The concept of dieting is losing favor. No wonder! Here’s how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines dieting:
“A regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight”
Dieting essentially means a reduction in calories and doesn’t take into account the quality of the food you’re eating or whether you’re supplying your body with enough nutrients. When you diet, you don’t just lose body fat, you also drop muscle. Unless you’re doing resistance training, the amount of muscle tissue you lose could be considerable. Loss of muscle slows your metabolism, making it easier to regain the weight you lost.
Plus, when your focus is mainly on cutting calories, rather than upgrading the quality of what you eat, you’re not learning how to choose the right foods for keeping the weight off long term. When the University of California at L.A researchers looked at a meta-analysis of diet studies, they found most people who lost at least 5% of their body weight gained all of the weight back and frequently more. With statistics like that, it’s easy to see why the diet industry has so many frustrated, repeat customers.
Stay Lean: Eating to Lose Weight
If you’re trying to lose weight, use an approach that’s nutritionally sound and one you could theoretically sustain for years if you had to without developing nutritional deficiencies. Just as importantly, don’t fall for the promises of diets and fasts that promise rapid weight loss. Yes, you might lose weight fast, but most of it will be water weight and glycogen. Such extreme calorie deprivation, can alter thyroid function and slow your metabolism – exactly what you don’t want when you’re trying to slim down. Your body doesn’t respond well to the stress of starvation.
Avoid weight loss approaches that require eliminating complete food groups. Stick with proven, balanced eating plans like the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet that emphasize a variety of whole foods. These diets are among the most recommended by dieticians and health care professionals because they lower your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. You won’t lose weight as quickly as you would on the latest fad diet, but you’ll become healthier and be able to maintain the weight that you lose. Isn’t that the whole point?
The Bottom Line
Do you want to be obsessed with calories and everything you eat or adopt the mindset of the “effortlessly slim,” those who eat a balanced diet in moderation, eat mindfully, and don’t go on restrictive diets? The non-dieting, effortlessly slim people in this study show you don’t have to be an obsessive calorie restrictor to get to a healthy body weight. Make sure you’re making exercise part of the equation, including resistance training. Research shows exercise is important for maintaining the weight you lose. Think “healthy lifestyle,” not dieting. You’ll be healthier and happier if you do.
IB Times. “Why Can Some People Stay Slim Without Even Trying? They Don’t Diet”
Cornell Food & Brand Lab. “The Mindlessly slim: What can we learn from people who stay mindlessly slim.” Science Daily, 11 February 2016.
Metro. “Clark Russell: Dieting is waste of time and can be bad for your health”
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