We met with two expert dietitians — Shana Strange and Elizabeth Newton — to break it down: Why we’re overweight and what we can do about it.
All Calories Aren’t Equal
You know how processed foods have chemical ingredients no one can pronounce?
Your body doesn’t recognize those ingredients, either. And when your body doesn’t recognize or know what to do with something you eat, your cells stash those things away – in your fat cells.
“For example, white bread – so refined it’s broken down quickly – makes you hungry faster,” Strange explains.
Newton notes, too, that “processed foods are highly palatable but are often not satisfying, so it is easy to overeat processed foods.” Also, these types of foods contain “artificial chemicals and preservatives that do not support our health and may even be harmful.”
So that’s why, having nothing to do with the calories involved, you could be adding, and keeping, extra pounds.
Not to mention that processed foods get their long shelf lives – and their addictive flavor! – from sugar, salt, and trans fats.
And you can definitely recognize those culprits.
Instead, Strange and Newton suggest choosing high-fiber foods, lean proteins, vegetables and whole grains, which:
- Help with digestion
- Take longer to break down, so you’re fuller for longer
- Have vitamins
- Balance blood sugar and energy levels
Sugar messes with your metabolism, leading to weight gain. And it’s affiliated with inflammation and chronic diseases, both of which can interfere with a healthy, active lifestyle.
The problem? Sugar is the ultimate spy. It infiltrates everything, from prepared meats at a buffet to savory snacks.
So, just avoiding the obvious sweets in candy and cookies won’t help you keep a reign on your sugar intake.
Still, Newton cautions, “We also don’t want people to become obsessive over sugar. The key here is finding a healthy balance with food, without getting too restrictive over any one thing.”
Diets Don’t Work
If you’ve tried dieting to lose weight, and it’s not working, it’s probably not your fault. What works for someone else may not work for you. One size does not fit all.
“In weight-loss research, we’re realizing one diet doesn’t work for everyone. Studies show a diet where some people lose nothing, others lose lots,” says Strange. “We are all so different. That’s why working with a dietitian is your best bet, taking into account your individual environment, genetics, preferences, family history, etc.”
Diets can also work against us. Typically, when we restrict things too much, we crave them more and more. Being told you can’t have something can make you obsess over it and eventually binge.
Diets can make us view food as toxic, not nourishing, which can have a negative effect on the foods we eat.
Life Factors That Keep Us Overweight
People often eat not from hunger, but from emotion. “Bored, stressed, tired, sad — ultimately food doesn’t help these, so you need to address the underlying emotion,” Newton says. “Make a game plan for an alternative to eating when those things come up – calling someone, reading. Taking a walk can actually stop a craving that’s not real hunger but caused by emotion.”
Also helpful: Get enough sleep, drink enough water, manage stress. Taking care of yourself as a whole person will help you stay healthy and achieve weight goals.
The Basics of Weight Loss
If you do want to lose pounds, a good, basic start includes:
- Lowering your intake by 500 calories a day
- Watch your portion sizes
- Read food labels
- Tune into your body
- Try mindful eating
Visit the UVA Nutrition Counseling Center
Get a customized plan for you: Meet with a UVA dietitian.