Tag Archive for: healthy weight

COVID-19 has people are stuck in their houses, video conferencing from their kitchen tables, creating home workouts, and staying distant to stay safe. Joe De Sena, the founder and CEO of Spartan, has another suggestion.

“Socially distance from your kitchen.”

If you’ve read about or participated in a Spartan Race, it’s no surprise De Sena wants people outside and moving. It’s a key part of his Spartan doctrine. To dig deeper into De Sena’s health and fitness philosophy—with a focus on Spartan preparation at home–Ask the Scientists’ Austin Winegar conducted a wide-ranging interview.

Inside Joe De Sena’s Spartan Mindset

Austin Winegar: What parts of the body would you focus on for Spartan preparation? And why do you think those are the most important areas?

Joe De Sena: The number one thing we’re motivated by is the avoidance of discomfort. There are a few of us that are outliers or maniacs that wake up early and get after it. So, my answer to that question has to be very digestible, very possible for folks to engage in. I would say, at a minimum, it’s 30 burpees, 30 of the best pullups you could muster up, and it’s a one-mile walk or run. Obviously, I can go much deeper than that, but I’ll scare people if I do. So, I’ve tried to tone down my message to something really scalable. Walk, crawl, whatever—one mile. Park a little further away from the grocery store when you shopping. Anybody could do 30 burpees in two minutes—even stretch it out to three minutes. And if you can’t do a pull-up, jump up 30 times. If you just did that, it’d change your whole life.


AW: Digestible things that are realistic is your number one recommendation?

JD: It’s gotta be realistic. It’s gotta be something people will actually do. I could give you a giant list that looks like one of those scrolls a king would drop, of things I’d want people to do every day. But nobody’s doing it. I’ve been putting on races for 20 years. And for 10 of those years I used to have to lie to people and tell them they were coming to a barbecue, because they don’t want to do it. ‘Joe, why are we getting up at 5 a.m. for a barbecue?’ ‘Well, we gotta carry the barbecue up the mountain.’ Little did they know they were the ones that were going to be getting barbecued. True story. I’m not kidding.

I would also do hot yoga as often as I could. I would sit in a sauna post-workout. I would take cold showers. I would take stairs instead of elevators. I would carry a kettlebell. I do thousands of crunches. It depends on how far you want me to go with the answer to that question. Yes, I have opinions on physical fitness and diet, but you gotta give people bite-sized pieces.


AW: I’m inclined to agree with your approach. Rather than it being one movement or exercise, it’s probably more important to push whatever your current capabilities are and step it up more every day.

JD: I’d rather see you do it every day—seven days a week—than get after it once, buy a gym membership, go in for two weeks, then disappear for two months. Consistency is everything. Consistency in general, in everything, in life. Stick-to-it-ness. Write it down, be disciplined about it. Forget about motivation. Motivation is fleeting. You might have it, or you might not. Just create a narrative that you constantly talk about in the public. ‘I do 30 burpees every day. I walk one mile, no matter what—rain, snow, shine. I do my 30 pullups even though I’m not good at one pullup. Every single day.’ You say it over and over and before you know it, if you don’t do it, you’ll be a fraud. You gotta do it.

AW: What about diet? Do you follow the same strictness?

JD: I would say if you had the Joe Spartan food pyramid, the very top would be animal protein. The middle would be nuts, oils, and avocados. And the bottom would be veggies.

I would say you must, with all three meals, have a small bowl of salad. And that doesn’t mean covered in ranch dressing, but raw veggies with every meal. If you’re eating eggs—it sounds crazy—but I’ve actually acquired a taste for salad and eggs and sprouts. I don’t need any dressing.


AW: What about Spartan-specific preparation? How much preparation should people do in the weeks leading up to an event?

JD: Do you want to win it?


AW: Let’s say you want to be competitive—upper half—but don’t need to be the first-place person.

JD: We have multiple distance events—three miles, eight miles, 13 miles, 26 miles. Why don’t we keep this to three miles. If your staple training diet was what we said—30-30-1—if you did three days a week of hot yoga on top. ‘Why would we do hot yoga, Joe?’ Because the only thing that’s going to stop you from doing well is injury. So, to avoid injury we have to keep you mobile and flexible. I’m a big believer in that. I would get one five-mile run in a week, and I would spend some time on a rope. Out at a Spartan race, a lot of people struggle with the rope. The pullups will get you through the other hanging things. You’re going to need some grip strength, so I would spend a lot of time on a rope every week.

Let’s say you gotta do 10 rope climbs a week. One five mile run. And three classes of hot yoga. On top of that basic 30-30-1. You’d crush it. You’d do great. And fitness starts in the kitchen, so you want to be eating healthy. You don’t want to be doubling up on chocolate cake while you’re doing this.


AW: How do people set up ropes in smaller spaces?

JD: You could literally hang it off of a pullup bar. It’s not going to be ideal, but if you had no other choice, you’d start sitting down. In the beginning, you aren’t going to be able to get off your butt with your legs straight out like a gymnast and climb up. But you could leave your heels on the ground and work your way up to a standing position and work your way back down to a sitting position. You do it enough times to where your grip strength is able to get you standing up and sitting down.

AW: What’s people’s usual weakness?

JD: Grip strength, in general, is going to break you in a Spartan Race because there’s so many things to hold onto if you’re not used to it. Also, on the rope, it’s technique. You could deal with the lack of technique if you can get your hands strong enough. You’ll get sucked up in the vortex of the people and the music and you’ll get up that rope and ring the bell.


AW: What are the bodyweight exercises you’d have people do?

JD: We do them all. Reverse lunges. Leonidas burpees—which is a double perfect pushup at the bottom. Inverted pushups. I love all kinds of yoga poses. I’ve basically taken a bunch of yoga poses and turned them into callisthenic exercises. So, I’m working on mobility and flexibility at the same time I’m getting a workout.


AW: Why is a healthy approach to life important for people, in general, and not just those looking forward to Spartan Races?

JD: I’m glad you asked that question, because it’s the biggest thing we didn’t talk about. You guys have watched boxing matches throughout your life. The interesting thing about most of those boxers is they fall out of shape. As soon as they get a date on the calendar, they start getting in shape for the fight. And most people are like that. If they don’t have something on the calendar, they don’t get after it.

When I think about why I started Spartan, I recognized 30 years ago if I didn’t have a date on the calendar, I wasn’t training hard enough. I’d go through the motions, but as soon as there’s a date on the calendar—a fight that’s on the calendar, whatever that fight means in your life—you get after it. You work out a little harder. You put down that cookie. You go to bed a little earlier. You get serious. That’s why it’s so important—it doesn’t have to be a Spartan Race, though I wish it were—but it could be anything hard, anything challenging that forces people to change their habits for the better.

Life and health all come down to blood flow and circulation and what you’re putting in your mouth. So, I think of a body like a swimming pool. A swimming pool is 20,000 gallons of water, and the human body is seven gallons of water—depending on your size. A swimming pool has a pump and filter. You have a pump and filter. And a 20,000-gallon pool, if I started throwing French fries and coffee drinks and ketchup and all kinds of things in that pool, and then I turned the pump off and the filters got dirty, it turns black pretty quick. So, we’re expecting this little swimming pool, our body, with this little pump and a few filters to keep clean with all the stuff we keep stuffing into our mouths. Then we aren’t running the pump because we’re sitting on the couch and we’re not cleaning the filters. So, that’s why it’s important for everybody.

Start Your Spartan Journey to Better Health

Now that you’re pumped and ready to turn up the heat on your fitness journey, start with Joe’s 30-30-1 advice. Then try to build out with more home workouts you can try to supplement the Spartan advice you just received.

For more information on Spartan Races and preparation, head over to their site.

Your shape is all your own. A unique mixture of your in-born genetic blueprint and lifestyle choices manifest what’s reflected in the mirror. While nobody shares your body’s specific shape, there are categories of body types most fall into.

You’ll have a chance to figure out your type below—if you don’t know it already. But there’s an important fact to cover first that’s essential no matter the shape of your body.

An endomorph, ectomorph, or mesomorph can lead a healthy, happy life. Having any morphic body type doesn’t shackle you to specific health outcomes forever. Your life and health are yours to shape.

That doesn’t mean helpful information can’t be gleaned from a discussion of body type (also more formally called somatotype). Knowing what signifies a body type and which lifestyle tips work better for different body shapes may be enlightening.

General recommendations of frequent physical activity, a balanced diet of whole foods, good sleep, and other health habits work across the board. But knowledge about your specific somatotype can help guide you in the development of goals and healthy lifestyle approaches to achieve them.

After all, the shape you’re in now is just the starting point. Your body type is as much a reflection of your recent choices—diet, exercise, sleep, and more—as anything. From that starting point, and with the additional information below, you can make changes so your goals are what’s eventually reflected in the mirror.

Your Guide to the Endomorph Body Type

You might recognize an endomorph by their stockier or rounder shape. This body type has a tendency to accumulate fat around the midsection and hips. Some of that can be attributed to a slower metabolism. Sedentary lifestyles and calorie overages exacerbate fat build up.

Fighting the natural inclination for gaining and holding onto fat guides the health choices endomorphs should consider making. Diet and exercises focused on fat loss and maintaining proper calorie balance are key.

Diet suggestions for endomorphs include:

  • Watching refined and simple carbohydrate intake (especially sugar). The propensity to store fat leads to these easily overeaten items to help pack on unwanted pounds.
  • Turning to lean proteins to fill up and fuel muscle growth.
  • Choose the right fats. Don’t shy away from beneficial omega fatty acids—like those found in cold-water fish—and plant-based fats just because fat storage is a common concern for this body type.
  • Keeping a watchful eye on calories in vs. calories out. It’s the key to weight management for any body type, but it’s even more important for endomorphs.
  • Fill up on colorful, fiber-rich plants. These fruits and vegetables are lower calorie and have the fiber to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Exercising as an endomorph should focus on burning fat while maintaining muscle mass, stabilizing joints, and promoting cardiovascular health. That means using a mix of cardio exercises (walking, running, biking, etc.) and strength training. This helps burn extra calories while working to maintain or grow muscle. Using a combination of cardio and strength exercises has also been shown to burn more fat after your workout ends than sticking to one type of exercise.

Gaining weight around the midsection can be troublesome for long-term health. So, endomorphs need vigilance to fend off this trend. Healthy lifestyle choices can help fight off the weight-related health issues that can crop up.

Your Guide to the Ectomorph Body Type

Slender. Narrow. Petite. All these descriptors fit a typical ectomorph. A fast metabolism plays a big role in keeping this body type thin, with long, lean frames.

An ectomorph can have trouble gaining weight and building muscle, though. To some, that may sound like a good problem to have. And one that means you can eat whatever you want and not exercise. But that’s not actually true. Ectomorphs still need to focus on a healthy diet and physical activity to support their best possible life.

The dietary specifics for the ectomorph body type include:

  • Packing the menu with nutrient-rich foods, and not simply feeding on less nutritious foods to fuel a fast metabolism.
  • Shooting for a high-protein approach. This macronutrient is essential for everyone, but is especially helpful for ectomorphs to maintain or bolster muscle mass.
  • Aiming for an energy imbalance of more calories eaten than burned if weight gain is the goal. Use these extra calories on beneficial fats, lean proteins, and nutrient-rich options.
  • Pick smart carbs. Since carbohydrates can take up more of the macronutrient balance for ectomorphs, your options open up. More choices could lead to less-than-ideal selections, though. Stick to smart sources of carbs—like whole grains.

The exercises an ectomorph chooses should fit specific goals—like any body type. But that frequently means heavy weight training for those looking to bulk up. These weight-bearing exercises are also good for the bones and joints.

A tip for ectomorphs is to take more rest between sets. This leads to fewer calories burned during exercise. And that’s a good thing because ectomorphs’ fast metabolisms can quickly rack up a calorie deficit that hampers efforts to gain mass.

With a natural tendency to be thin, it can be easy to fall for the misconception of “skinny always equals healthy.” Just because you could get away with a laissezfaire approach to eating and activity doesn’t mean it’s good for your healthspan.

That’s where a balanced, varied diet and regular exercise comes in. One feeds a fiery metabolism while providing nutrients needed to help maintain overall health. The other assists in supporting cardiovascular, bone, joint, and muscular health.

Your Guide to the Mesomorph Body Type

A little bit of Latin and Greek helps crack the code of the mesomorph. You can roughly translate mesomorph to the middle shape. So, it answers the question: what’s in the middle of endo- and ectomorph?

And that’s a good place to start.

If endomorphs are stockier and ectomorphs are thinner, mesomorphs stand athletically in the middle. Broader shouldered and muscular, this body type takes more of a v-shape.

Much of this springs from the mesomorph’s place in the metabolic sweet spot. Weight goes on and comes off fairly easily. So, muscles are easier to grow, but fat isn’t as hard to burn. If this sounds perfect, that’s because many cultures have held up the mesomorphic body type as the aesthetic ideal. And the average gym is full of different body types trying their hardest to achieve a mesomorph somatotype.

That doesn’t mean people with this body type can ignore their diet. A mesomorph should target a diet that:

  • Focuses on proper calorie balance. They can turn the calories dial to add weight or lose it.
  • Promotes nutrition through a focus on fruits and vegetables. Fitness goals need to be supported by quality nutrition. It’s no different for mesomorphs, and nutritious plant foods are vital.
  • Splits the essential macronutrients basically in thirds. An efficient, but not overachieving metabolism means this body type can aim for a fairly equal split between fat, carbs, and protein.

When it comes to a workout routine, the mesomorph has definite advantages. Pick a fitness goal, and this body type makes it a bit easier to hit it. Building muscle means aiming for light cardio and more strength training. Dropping weight may look like more running or biking. The raw materials for gaining speed, power, or enhancing athleticism are on the surface for mesomorphs. It’s just a matter of matching a fitness goal to the right exercises.

Any activity that helps hit the recommended 150 minutes a week works great. Even though mesomorphs rule the gym and the pop culture spotlight, they aren’t immune from the hazards of a sedentary lifestyle or poor diet.

That’s because the way you look in the mirror is a literal reflection of your health. But it isn’t everything. A visually striking exterior still might paper over long-term health issues if proper care isn’t taken with diet, sleep, activity, and stress management.

Your Body Type is a Freeze Frame of Your Health Right Now

There’s no skirting the truth of what you see in the mirror. Where you stand with your shape today is an impression of your health—a snapshot of where you are right now.

That’s a more modern view of body type, though. The original concept of somatotypes—proposed by W.H. Sheldon in the 1940s—was more rigid. It locked people into their type, even attributing personality traits to people’s shapes.

This philosophy has been thoroughly debunked. Today, fitness and health professionals have kept the beneficial information these classifications provide. But they focus on body type as a starting point, not a trap.

Throwing away the whole theory would ignore the immutable aspect of body shape—genetics. The perfect diet and right exercises aren’t likely to make you taller, reshape the structure of your bones to widen your shoulders, or change how where you store fat.

But—as you’ve read above—lifestyle factors like diet and exercise can help each body type achieve health goals and live their best lives. It’s also possible to reshape your body.

If you’re born an ectomorph, you can build muscle to climb closer towards a mesomorphic type. Endomorphs, if they want, can sculpt a stockier starting point into the mesomorph’s characteristic v-shape. It goes both ways, too. Poor diet and inactivity can round out any body type with extra fat accumulation.

Shape Your Life, Shape Your Health

You can be an endomorph who is healthy and happy. You can be an ectomorph who is healthy and happy. You can be a mesomorph who is healthy and happy.

It’s worth repeating one more time: wherever you fall on the somatotype spectrum—and most people will be some combination of types—you can be healthy, happy, and live a fulfilling life.

Don’t be defined by your body type because that isn’t the totality of who you are. Don’t let it box you in because you can make changes if that’s what you want or need to do. And remember, people of all shapes and sizes are beautiful and valuable. It’s most important to be healthy and happy—and that’s not one-size only.

Humans are 99.5 percent the same, at least genetically. The other 0.5 percent of your DNA, combined with lifestyle choices and circumstances, determines the extent to which you are physically different. Many differences are inconsequential and unrelated to health. They include hair, eye, and skin color, as well as your height. Other differences are tied to body composition—like body fat, bone density, and muscle mass—and can have a direct impact on your health and lifespan.

Too much emphasis is put on body weight in relation to health, when in reality health and lifespan are linked more closely to body composition. Does the number on the scale matter? Yes, but the composition of that body weight is most important to overall health.

In very simple terms, your body’s two major components are fat mass and lean mass (muscles, bones, organs, and water). The distribution of these two types of body mass mean so much to your health. Understanding how your body composition impacts you and learning how to optimize it will help you forget all about the number on the scale.

Defining Body Composition

There are several ways to describe the composition of the human body. For example, body composition can be expressed in terms of chemicals:

  • Water
  • Proteins
  • Fats
  • Carbohydrates (like glucose)
  • Genetic material (DNA)
  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Gases (like oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen)

Body composition can also be evaluated as tissues or other types of material. This includes muscle, fat, bones and teeth, nerve tissue, body fluids, connective tissue, and air in the lungs.

When the concern is health and fitness, body composition typically describes the percentages of water, fat, bone, and muscle. These are the body components over which you have the most control and can make the greatest impact on your daily health.

Body Composition vs. Other Body Measurements

A quick check of your health or fitness progress often includes stepping on a scale to get your weight. It isn’t without benefit, but the number doesn’t say much about your health.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is another way to analyze health. Your height and weight are considered, which makes it slightly more accurate in determining health status. But BMI is still comparing how heavy you are to a standard. And, that standard may not fit your individual goals.

Like the number on the scale, the BMI doesn’t distinguish between muscle and fat or tell you anything specific about your body tissues. People with the same BMI could have drastically different body types and fitness levels. But knowing the make-up of your body is helpful for understanding your current health, setting health goals, and monitoring progress.

General Composition of the Human Body

Along with giving you shape, your body tissues have different functions and roles, affecting your health in different ways. Knowing what you’re made of may explain a lot about your current health and help direct your wellness efforts.

Water is generally the largest portion of the body, accounting for about 60 percent of total weight. In an average 70 kg (about 150 pounds) person, that amounts to about 40 liters of water. Of the remaining 40 percent of body weight, the adult skeleton accounts for about 7-15 percent. The rest is muscle and fat, which vary considerably between individuals.

Let’s take a closer look at how each of the four components influence your body composition and health.

Part 1: Fluids and Total Body Water

Total body water (TBW) is all the water contained throughout your tissues, blood, bones, and various fluid compartments. TBW is a significant fraction of the body both by weight and volume.

The average adult male’s weight is approximately 60 percent water. The number for an average adult female is about 55 percent. Age, health, water intake, gender, and body fat can significantly influence total body water. The body of a newborn infant can be as much as 93 percent water and a very obese adult can have as little as 15 percent water.

This large variation is due to the difference in body fat tissue, which retains less water than lean tissue. About 75 percent of the body’s water content is found in muscles. Fat accounts for only about 10 percent. Water not contained in the muscle and fat is part of various body fluids (like blood), inside organs, gastrointestinal tract, the eyes, and elsewhere. About two thirds of the body’s water is located within cells.

Part 2: Body Fat (Adipose Tissue)

There are two major types of adipose tissue: white and brown. For the purposes of this article—and in general when discussing body fat—white adipose tissue is what’s referred to as fat. That’s because brown adipose tissue makes up only about five percent of the fat tissue in a newborn. And that number decreases significantly with age. Its primary function is to generate body heat.

The primary role of fat is to store energy. But fat also plays an important role in protecting and insulating the body and its organs. Until recently, fat was thought of as an inactive storage site for energy. Body fat is far from inert, though.

Fat cells produce hunger-related hormones (like leptin), sex hormones (like estrogen), cell signaling molecules called cytokines, and a fat-specific hormone called resistin. This hormone has been linked to insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes. Because of these important functions, fat is now considered an endocrine organ.

And when it comes to health, there are three things to remember about fat: location, location, location. Where fat is stored makes all the difference. It is better for your health to be pear-shaped (fat stored in the hips and thighs) than apple-shaped (high percentage of abdominal fat). Take a look at the different places fat accumulates.

  1. Belly Fat or Visceral Fat

Fat that surrounds the abdomen and is packed between organs is known as visceral fat. But it’s more commonly referred to as belly or abdominal fat. An excess of visceral fat results in a protruding belly, and infiltrates the abdominal cavity and the body’s organs. This visceral fat, much of which is hidden within the abdomen, is most closely linked to obesity-related disease and health conditions. Many studies have suggested visceral fat can predict disease risk and life expectancy more accurately than BMI or waist circumference.

Sex hormones have a large influence on the storage location of body fat. That’s why males are more likely than females to store fat in the abdomen. Female sex hormones direct fat to be deposited primarily in the buttocks, hips, and thighs. When estrogen declines, excess energy is stored mostly in the belly.

  1. Subcutaneous fat

Subcutaneous fat is located just below the surface of the skin. It provides insulation, protection, and a reserve of energy. This fat is located throughout the body in the limbs, hips, and buttocks but is not significantly related to most obesity-related health conditions.

It does increase the burden on the circulatory system, as each pound of fat requires approximately a mile of new blood vessels. In addition, subcutaneous fat is metabolically active (less so than visceral fat) and secretes hormones, like leptin and resistin. The release of these hormones increases with the level of body fat. And since they influence appetite and insulin resistance, these hormones can certainly complicate your intention to lose weight or get into better shape.

  1. Intramuscular Fat

The majority of body fat is located in the abdomen and under the skin, but there is another location that can impact your health. Fat stored within muscle itself is known as intramuscular fat. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s an important source of energy that can be used during exercise. But like most things, a little is good and a lot is bad. Too much intramuscular fat can lead to increased insulin resistance and obesity-related health conditions.

Part 3: Muscle

Your body has three different types of muscle: skeletal, smooth, and cardiac. But skeletal muscle is the only type significantly influenced by exercise and diet. Unless otherwise stated, discussion of muscle refers to skeletal muscle.

Skeletal muscles work the skeletal system, support movement, posture, balance, and actions like chewing and swallowing. Skeletal muscle gives you broad shoulders, strong arms, or toned legs. But skeletal muscle isn’t all about physical size and strength.

Muscle holds a valuable source of energy stored in the form of carbohydrate (glycogen), which is made available when the body needs sugar (glucose) for energy. It’s also an important source of amino acids that support protein synthesis and energy production when dietary and other resources are depleted or unavailable. This storage role is increasingly important in times of high stress and when supplies are too low (during starvation). Age-related muscle loss greater than normal can decrease the quality of life in many ways and leave the elderly at a higher risk of poor health and disease.

The other two muscle types are under involuntary control. Smooth muscle lines the walls of blood vessels and digestive organs. Cardiac muscle makes up the bulk of the heart, and is responsible for the life-long rhythmic contractions of one of the body’s most vital organs. You may not have as much direct influence on smooth and cardiac muscle, but your diet and lifestyle do influence the function and health of these vital and unseen muscles.

Part 4: Bone

Bones are more than a structural framework that also protect vital organs. They’re living tissue that play many roles in health.

Bones contain nerves and blood vessels, and marrow is the site of red-blood-cell creation. Perhaps bones’ most important function—as it relates to body composition—is as storage for minerals. That’s mainly calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. When needed, these minerals can be released from bone to help buffer the pH of the body and maintain acid-base balance.

About 80 percent of adult bone mass is the hard, durable outer layer known as cortical, or compact bone. The interior is filled with a spongy network of tissue called cancellous bone, but is also referred to as spongy or trabecular bone. It’s less dense and more flexible than cortical bone, and contains blood vessels, fat, and marrow.

Since bones are living tissue, they need constant nourishment and maintenance. Bone anatomy and function is complex, but the thing you need to know is your diet and lifestyle directly impact the density, strength, and function of your bone.

Why Body Composition Matters

Obesity rates around the world have been rising for years. And there is near universal agreement that excessive body fat is a serious risk to health and lifespan. That’s because numerous health problems are related to excess body fat and obesity.

The current obesity epidemic highlights the importance of knowing and understanding your body composition. Whether it’s too much body fat, too little muscle, low bone density, or a combination of each, body composition can significantly impact your short- and long-term health.

Health complications related to excess body fat are well established and commonly understood. That makes it tempting to assume that it’s healthiest to have as little body fat as possible. However, having too little body fat, has its own complications. It’s also possible to be overfat and underweight. Being lean, on the other hand, represents a healthier ratio of muscle to fat and better illustrates a healthy body type.

When it comes to health and nutrition, the importance of balance cannot be overstated. The same principle applies to body composition. Variations within and between individuals are of little consequence to health when they are within normal ranges, but extremes on either end of the spectrum can significantly increase the risk of health problems.

Some complications associated with unbalanced body composition include:

Excess Body Fat/Obesity

  • Shorter lifespan
  • Cardiovascular disease and impaired heart function
  • High blood pressure
  • Glucose dysregulation and Diabetes
  • Gallbladder disorders
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Increased risk of various types of cancer
  • Osteoarthritis and back pain
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Various complications in pregnancy
  • Menstrual abnormalities
  • Shortness of breath and other respiratory disorders
  • Compromised immune function
  • Increased stress levels

Low/Insufficient Body Fat

  • Low body insulation
  • Minimal energy reserves
  • Inadequate cushioning for organs
  • Decreased cardiovascular function
  • Depressed immune health
  • Impaired ability to recover from exercise and illness
  • Diminished testosterone levels
  • Menstrual abnormalities, amenorrhea

Low Muscle Mass

  • Increased risk of frailty and poor balance
  • Insulin resistance and poor glycemic control
  • Increased risk of metabolic disorders
  • Poor bone health
  • Disruption in normal hormone functions
  • Decrease in strength
  • Increased susceptibility to hospitalization

What is a Healthy Body Composition?

The best body composition for you depends on several things. But body fat percentage usually takes center stage. That’s because it’s the easiest to manipulate and has the greatest influence on health. Aside from feeling healthy and vital, a minimal level of body fat is necessary to maintain life and reproductive functions.

Your ideal body fat percentage depends on your gender and your fitness level and goals. For example, females require a slightly higher percentage of body fat than men, mostly for reasons of childbearing and maintenance of reproductive hormones. Based on guidelines from the American Council on Exercise, the table below provides the ranges of body fat that best represent fitness level and gender.

Percent Body Fat Definitions for Men and Women
Description Men Women
Minimum Essential Fat 2-5% 10-13%
Elite Athletes 6-13% 14-20%
Healthy and Fit 14-17% 21-24%
Acceptable 18-24% 25-31%
Obese >25% >32%

How to Analyze Body Composition

Body composition analysis gives you a snapshot of your health. A variety of methods describe the make-up of the body, differentiating between fat, protein, bone and minerals, and body water. Approaches vary from quick and simple estimates to complex and highly accurate results. Some methods require a health professional or experienced practitioner to perform the analysis and interpret the results.

Here is a short summary of the most common methods of body composition analysis to help you decide the best fit for you.

  • Skinfold Thickness (Calipers): The most commonly used method measures subcutaneous fat by pinching the skin and using a caliper device to measure the thickness of the skin fold in several sites on the body. The chest, arms, abdominals, and thighs are usually measured, although some protocols may include as many as seven different parts of the body. The caliper measurements are then plugged into a formula used to estimate body composition. This method is quick, accessible, and inexpensive. But it’s limited in its ability to accurately portray total body composition since it only measures subcutaneous fat.
  • Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA): This method uses electrical impulses to determine the level of lean body mass. Machines used for BIA range from simple home scales with electrodes under each foot, to more complex, elaborate devices with electrodes for hands, feet, and other parts of the body. BIA works on the principle that water is a good conductor of electricity. The devices send tiny electrical impulses through the body and measure how quickly they return. Since lean tissue has a much higher water content than fatty tissue, lean body mass can be estimated based on the speed of the electrical impulses throughout the body. BIA is quick, safe, and doesn’t require any expertise. It does, however, rely on certain assumptions (ie. percent of body water) that limit its accuracy.
  • Hydrodensitometry (Underwater weighing): First, your weight is taken outside the water on a scale. Then, your weight is determined while fully submerged underwater. Because lean tissue is denser than fatty tissue, the difference in the two weights can be used to determine the density of your body. That measurement can then be used to estimate your body composition. The accuracy and reliability of this method is good, but accessibility and convenience can be a negative.
  • Air Displacement Plethysmograph (ADP): The method of using air displacement to assess body composition is a more recent advancement. Using a similar principle to underwater weighing, a machine called the Bod Pod measures body weight and air displacement to determine body density. Body composition is then calculated and stated as a percentage of lean body mass and fat mass. It’s quick, safe, and accurate, but requires access to a machine and an experienced clinician.
  • DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry): If you’ve had a bone density test in the past several years, you may already be familiar with a DEXA machine. But they can be used for more than bone density scans. Using X-ray beams, DEXA machines can determine bone mineral density, lean body mass, and fat mass. It’s the gold standard for measuring bone density, but it is also very accurate in determining the composition of other body tissues. It can also measure the status and change in specific parts of the body. But it does require expensive equipment and results in exposure to small amounts of radiation.
  • Ultrasound: This method has been used to accurately assess body fat and tissue composition for over 50 years. The portable machine is capable of making fast regional estimates of body composition. It is used most often in research situations because it is reliable, accurate, and reproducible.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Strong magnetic fields and radio waves are used, in concert with your body’s own natural magnetic properties, to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. MRIs can analyze a range of different fat and muscle tissues with high precision, including individual muscles. This method can differentiate different types of fat and muscle, and determine the volume of fat within organs and muscles. MRIs are highly accurate, but for the purposes of body composition analysis would only be used in clinical or research settings.

No single method is best for everyone. They all have advantages and limitations. Working with your health professional, trainer, or clinician will help you determine which method is best for you based on your health status, fitness goals, and the practicality of the method. But the following table recaps the characteristics of selected body composition assessment methods.

Measurement Methods Table

Method What is Measured Pros Cons
Skinfold thickness Thickness of subcutaneous fat in various sites of the body Inexpensive, non-invasive. Reliable and useful for measuring body fats in specific regions of the body. Use is limited to moderately overweight and thin subjects.

Accuracy and reliability can vary, depending on the skill of the technician and the brand of caliper.

Estimate regional fatness, but doesn’t give an accurate representation of body composition.

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) Total body water (TBW) which is converted to fat free mass (FFM) Inexpensive, safe, quick, and require little-to-no technical expertise.

Good for monitoring changes within individuals over time.

Because it assumes a typical body water content, validity is best in young, healthy, and normally hydrated adults.

Accuracy can be influence by disease states and tends to overestimate lean mass in obese individuals.

Hydrodensitometry (also called hydrostatic weighing or underwater weighing) Body weight on land and under water, body volume, body density, and residual lung volume Reliable and consistent in determining body density with long history of use in clinical settings and sports. Not easily accessible. Residual lung volume can influence its accuracy. The density of lean mass is an assumed constant, but varies with age, sex, and fitness level.
Air Displacement Plethysmography (ADP), BOD POD Total body volume, lean mass, and fat mass Accuracy similar to underwater weighing, but easier to perform.

Reliable for assessing body fat and body density.

Expensive machine and not easily accessible.

Can overestimate fat mass. Health conditions and disease states can reduce accuracy.

Clothing and facial/body hair can alter results.

Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) Total and regional body fat, lean mass, and bone mineral density Highly accurate and reproducible. Can determine body composition in specific body regions. Gold standard for analyzing bone density. Expensive equipment required. Small amount of radiation exposure.

Changing Your Body Composition in a Positive Way

Nothing has greater influence on your body composition than your diet. This is especially true of body fat because it’s a matter of energy balance. You’re either storing fat or using it for energy to perform activities. Understanding your energy needs and knowing the appropriate range of calories you need to consume for your ideal weight is a good place to start.

In addition to consuming an appropriate amount of food, what you eat is also important. Acquiring adequate amounts of quality protein, and a wide variety of colorful and fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will also impact your body composition and health.

Focusing solely on diet or exercise to lose weight or stay healthy might not be the answer. Combining consistent exercise with a healthy diet can help propel you to a healthy weight and achieve a body composition right for you.

Ideal body composition is not just about weight or the level of body fat. Training to improve muscle size and strength is another way to improve body composition and positively alter the ratio of lean body mass to body fat. Whether you choose to focus on cardio-type exercises, emphasize strength training, or combined both, it’s most important to find a routine that you enjoy and promotes consistency.

There’s no doubt diet and exercise have the greatest impact on body composition, but there are other factors to consider. Genetics, current or past health conditions, quality of sleep, and stress management can all influence body composition.

Start Changing Your Body Composition Today

Lifelong health and wellness is most often a matter of balance. This is also the case with your diet, exercise, and physical body itself. Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that a healthy body composition represents a balance between fat and muscle, as well as sturdy bones and good hydration.

Instead of focusing solely on weight, challenge yourself to make improvements to your body composition. Even small changes for the better can improve many aspects of your health. Chances are good you will move easier, sleep better, and be in a better mood.

If you’re not sure where to start, check with your health or fitness professional about the healthiest ways for you to eat better and incorporate physical activity. This is especially important if you haven’t been active for a while.

From now on, when you think about fitness, focus on “shape” rather than weight. It provides a better picture of your actual health. And it’s more likely to increase your “healthspan” as well as your lifespan. 

If you’re alarmed by the number on the bathroom scale, you probably want to find a way to lose weight fast. But healthy weight loss takes place over time, not over the weekend.

Small, manageable changes to your diet and exercise will yield lasting results—even if it feels too slow. It’s important to think about weight loss as a sustainable solution, not a quick fix. This kind of thinking isn’t your fault.

The idea that you can lose a lot of weight quickly and maintain it long-term is a classic weight-loss trap. Avoid it by sidestepping the well-trod path of rigid diets that leave you feeling hungry. These diet plans produce results that may not last long. You could quickly tire of the restrictions and find yourself rebounding into old habits. And it’s more likely you gain the weight back than see lasting changes.

That’s because quick weight loss isn’t the best way to settle at a healthy weight. In other words, it simply isn’t sustainable.

Incremental changes over a longer period of time aren’t flashy or cool, but they are the best path to a healthy weight. This includes lifestyle modifications and shifts in the way you think about food, rather than just how much you eat.

Eat up these facts about how this measured approach is the right one for healthy weight loss that will last.

Why Healthy Weight Loss is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Here’s a fun fact: It takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose one pound (equal to about 0.5 kilograms) of fat. If that seems like a lot of calories, that’s because it is. The average recommended daily calorie intake for adults is 2,000 calories. So, one pound of fat represents almost as many calories as two full days of eating.

This is one reason why healthy weight loss is a gradual process. If you want to lose weight, you have to start by reducing the number of calories you consume. If you eat 500 fewer calories each day than you burn, you can expect to lose one pound over the course of a week.

You can achieve this calorie deficit with diet alone. Or you can mix in exercise to burn more calories in a day. Thirty minutes, five times a week is a great place to start. Focus on any type of exercise or activity that increases your heart rate and moves your body.

By incrementally altering your diet and exercise habits, you can safely lose one to two pounds a week. At the same time, you’re creating manageable lifestyle habits that can stick.

The Open Secret to Weight Loss: Calorie Deficit

No matter what new diets promise, the proven way to lose weight is by creating a calorie deficit. Calories are converted from food into cellular energy by your body during metabolism. They power muscle contractions, breath, brain activity, and so much more. But when you consume more calories that your body needs to operate, they are stored as fat (including visceral fat) for later use.

Learn more about calories in this helpful overview.

Typical Changes in Your Weekly Weight-Loss Rate

Even a gentle, incremental start to losing weight can provide you with an encouraging beginning. That’s because it’s possible to lose more in the first few weeks of your weight loss journey.

Build on the momentum, but understand what’s going on biologically. This quick start is the result of your body ridding itself of extra water weight. But staying the course means your weekly weight-loss rate could eventually settle around a pound or two per week—the incremental, sustainable rate you want.

Be cautious of diets and exercise programs that promise faster results. And remember that it’s typical to experience a weight-loss plateau a few weeks after you start. This is your body’s natural response to a sudden drop in weight. Along with the fat loss you’re aiming for, it’s possible to lose a bit of muscle mass, too.

Since muscles are the calorie-burning machines of the body, decreasing their mass can hurt your rate of calories burned. You can minimize muscle loss by ramping up your exercise and keeping your protein intake high. That way you’ll bust through the plateau in no time.

One way to break through periods of changing weight-loss rate is to focus on why you’re doing it. People lose weight for many different reasons. But the fact is, living at a healthy weight benefits your overall well-being.

The heart is one of the first organs to see lasting benefits. Maintaining a healthy weight supports your cardiovascular function, circulation, and reduces the workload on your heart.

Sleep issues are often linked to being overweight. So, one added benefit of your healthy weight loss could be improved sleep. Healthy weight loss can also be good for your mood and help support healthy energy levels. You may find you have more strength and endurance than before, along with a boost in self-esteem that often comes with weight loss.

Designing a Sustainable Weight-Loss Diet: Quality of Calories vs. Quantity of Calories

Diet is one of two main ways to control your calorie balance sheet. So, what you eat obviously plays a key role in the success of your weight loss journey.

While the numbers vary individually and by gender, adults need between 1,600 and 3,000 calories each day to thrive. As you’ve read above, a moderate, consistent calorie deficit will be enough to trigger weight loss.

But you should think beyond simple calorie counts.

It’s important to know all foods are not created equal. Some are high or low calorie. Some foods are filling, while others are not. Look at what you’re eating to determine if the calories in your food are being put to good use.

High-calorie, low-quality foods eat up a large piece of your daily intake, but don’t fill you up. Take soda for example. A 12-ounce serving of the sugary drink represents about 150 calories. These empty calories are all liquid, without fiber or other nutrients, and leave you hungry. Eating 150 calories of filling, fibrous vegetables have a different outcome.

Cutting out empty calories will bring you closer to your weight loss goals. Aim to make high quality, whole foods—like vegetables and lean protein—the center of your diet. Poultry, lean beef, and fatty fish provide quality nutrition and ample energy without the extra calories, starches, or sugars typically found in processed foods. Green vegetables are naturally low-calorie and packed with fiber that leaves you feeling full long after you eat.

On a daily basis, that means limiting high-calorie, low-fiber foods—like sugary drinks, fruit juice, and candy. Replace the drinks with water and snack on an apple instead. Always remaining mindful of where your calories are coming from can help you take control of your diet and create lasting, healthy weight loss.

Up the Ante on Exercise

It often takes healthy eating and exercise to create lasting weight loss. Experts recommend 150 minutes of exercise each week to achieve healthy weight loss. That can look like 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week, or three 50-minute workouts.

One of the best tips for your meeting long-term weight loss goals is to find a physical activity that suits you. Exercise isn’t limited to grueling days at the gym. It can look like a walk or jog with a friend, a hike in the woods, playing a sport, or a group fitness class in your neighborhood.

Don’t beat yourself up if your exercise routine is at a beginner level. Everyone starts somewhere. You will gain strength over time. Your endurance will improve. Soon you’ll find you can do more, have more fun, and feel better.

Celebrating Non-Scale Victories Helps with Long-Term Weight Loss

Over the course of your weight-loss journey, there will be hiccups that slow or halt your progress. You might indulge in too many sweet treats, catch a cold, or suffer an injury. When these obstacles pop up, don’t fret.

Trust the process. Continue to eat well. Also keep incorporating regular exercise to help break out of your slump. No matter whether your weight loss is flourishing or has plateaued, celebrate achievements other than the number on the scale.

Here are some examples of non-scale victories worthy of revelry:

  • Fitting into old clothes
  • Keeping up with your kids
  • Increasing endurance during exercise
  • Experiencing better sleep
  • Developing a new love for healthy food
  • Feeling more energized
  • Gaining self-confidence
  • Noticing an improved sense of overall health and wellbeing

These non-scale victories will make the excitement of reaching your goal weight even sweeter. You’ll feel better in your body and see all the fruits of your hard work.

Remember that a slow, steady pace is the key to long-term weight-loss success. When you focus on the whole-body benefits of weight loss, you’ll summon the willpower to keep going. If you need more motivation, think of your heart, mental health, sleep, and endurance improving each day. Reaching a healthy weight has added benefits that set you up for a happy and full life ahead.

Everything is fast. Now life needs to be 5G, supercharged, and express. But your meals shouldn’t be a sprint. In fact, slower eating might actually crank up your weight-management efforts.

Try to think about the last time it took you 20 minutes or more to eat a meal. If it wasn’t recently, you may be scarfing your food down too fast. That’s because the 20 minute mark is important.

Science shows that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message you’re full. Eating slower can help you feel full sooner. This eliminates the unintended, extra calories consumed after you’re actually full—but don’t know it.

So, instead of spending a lot of time thinking about the right mix of macronutrients or counting calories, just take more time to eat. This simple approach is just one of your options, obviously. Dieters use hundreds of different methods to try and reduce food intake. But eating slower might be worth trying on its own, or in combination with the diet of your choice.

Wondering if eating slower can really help you manage your weight? You aren’t alone. Researchers around the world have taken quite an interest in the topic of slower eating. Let’s see what they’ve found.

And the Slower Eating Study Says …

A lot of promising results have come out of all the research on eating slower and weight management. Some research has shown eating slower can help reduce food intake, which is great for weight-management.

You don’t have to seek out all the research yourself. A meta-analysis (a study of studies) published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2014 did it for you. The study analyzed differences in eating rate and its influence on energy intake and hunger.

Researchers analyzed and combined the evidence from 22 studies. They calculated the average differences in food intake between slow and fast eating, and the possible differences in hunger.

The combined evidence showed that eating slower is associated with less calorie consumption than a faster eating rate. This was true regardless of the type of manipulation used to alter the eating rate. But how fast eating was done did not have an impact on hunger.

This review supports the idea that the rate of eating does affect energy intake. Eating slower will help reduce food intake and limit excess consumption, regardless of the method used to slow down eating rate. You’ll see some of those methods a little bit later.

How Does Eating Slower Make You Lose Weight?

Research on pace of eating has found correlations between lower body mass indexes and slower eating. That’s exciting. But why does it happen?

The lower calorie consumption for slower eaters is obviously a key part. Eating fewer calories is probably the most well-established weight-management advice. And you’ve already seen how eating slower ties to decreased caloric intake.

You eat slower, you tend to eat less. That’s mostly because you feel full before you overeat. Go back to the fun fact from earlier in the story. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to figure out if you’re full or how full you really are. So, if you eat a meal’s worth of food in 10 minutes and keep going for another five minutes, then you took in a lot of extra calories.

But research suggests the links between eating slower and weight go deeper than the simple math of calories.

The habit of inhaling food at a fast pace has established ties to metabolic issues. This revolves around how fast eaters’ bodies react to food—including glucose tolerance issues and insulin resistance. These connections aren’t surprising. Maintaining your metabolic health and staying at a healthy weight go hand in hand.

And eating slower could help you keep your metabolism and fat burning churning normally, as well as help you eat fewer overall calories. That’s a good combination for weight management. As a bonus, a study in Japan found that eating slower helps you better digest your food.

The Right Pace to Feed Your Face

There’s been far more studies on the reasons to eat slower than on the pace that’s right for weight management. It’s not easy to figure out how to categorize your eating—too fast, too slow, just right.

One study from the University of Rhode Island introduced numbers into the conversation about pace of eating:

  • Fast eating: about 3.1 ounces of food per minute
  • Medium eating: about 2.5 ounces per minute
  • Slow eating: about 2 ounces per minute

The numbers are helpful. But you don’t have to weigh everything you eat and break it down into two-ounce segments. There are easier ways to figure out the right pace to slow the flow of food into your stomach.

The simplest solution—use chewing as your pacing mechanism.

The more you chew, the slower you’ll eat. Counting the number of chews per bite, and aiming for 15-20, will help you hit the sweet spot for eating slower.

You can also time your chewing. One study found that 30 seconds of chewing helped study participants eat half as much candy as they would have when chewing normally.

No matter how you find the right pace for you, remember the 20-minute magic number. Eat at a leisurely pace to stretch the meal out enough for your brain to catch up to your mouth.

How to Eat Slower

Pacing yourself is good advice. But it’s kind of vague, right? There has to be a few practical pointers to achieve the right pace.

Actually, there is. You’re about to read six tips for eating slower. They can help you use slower eating to manage your weight. But they might even help your digestion and bring more enjoyment to your meals.

  1. Chew with purpose. You read about chewing in the pacing section above. But it’s worth repeating: chewing each bite more, and doing it slowly, helps properly adjust your pace. Try chewing each bite at least 20 times. You’ll slow yourself down and prepare your food better for digestion. If you’d rather time your chewing than count each chomp, go for 15 seconds or more.
  2. Take smaller bites. Chewing slow is great. But if you eat your meal in seven or eight huge chunks, your pace will still be too fast. Reducing the size of your bites, combined with purposeful chewing, helps you eat slower.
  3. Engage your senses. Taste is the sense most associated with food. But taking time to really enjoy how your food looks, and paying attention to texture (feeling) can also help slow eating. The most important might be smelling, though. Taste and smell are companions. Getting a good whiff, and enjoying the aromas will enhance your eating experience and throttle back your speedy eating.
  4. Break between bites. Intentionally pausing after each bite slows the speed of your meals. Do this by putting down your fork or spoon between bites—or setting down the food if it’s handheld.
  5. Listen to your body. Hunger is physical. You can feel it. There are signs when you need food, and different ones when you’ve had enough. Take time to check in with what your body is saying. And don’t disregard the signs because there’s more on your plate.
  6. Change your food mindset. Food is many things. At its most basic, it’s fuel. But food is also emotion and family and pleasure and intellectual stimulation and much more. So, don’t just treat food like the gas you dump in your car quickly so you can race down the road. Focus on each bite. Savor it. Discuss it. And really embrace and enjoy the full experience of eating.

Dieting to lose weight has become a regular pastime for many adults. But, how is that working out? Not great. Studies show that within five years, 60 percent of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets.

If no diet seems to work well over time—according to the research—why are there so many? A quick search can pull up hundreds. It’s because even if you haven’t succeeded before, attaining and maintaining a healthy weight is a noble goal. And it’s one that can pay big health dividends.

Why Diets are Popular?

Weight management is one of the world’s biggest health issues. Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. In the United States, 39.6 percent of adults are classified as obese. As of 2016, globally, 39 percent of adults were overweight and 13 percent were obese.

The reality of modern life is that most of the world’s population lives in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than the problem of being underweight. And, it’s not just about food consumption. Less than five percent of U.S. adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day. And only one in three adults receives the recommended amount of physical activity each week.

What is a Diet?

A general definition of diet is “the sum of energy and nutrients obtained from foods and beverages consumed regularly by individuals.” The fact that a diet is healthy or nutritious doesn’t necessarily make it ideal for weight control. So, this article will focus only on reduced-energy diets intended to shrink bodyweight and body fat.

The most basic and long-held principle of weight loss or gain is determined by either a calorie deficit or excess. You might know this as calories in/calories out, or caloric balance. The oversimplification of the caloric balance concept has led to a call to “eat less, move more” as a solution to the worldwide obesity problem.

While the caloric balance concept is ultimately true, it isn’t that simple and doesn’t account for the composition of weight gained or lost. Numerous factors influence eating behaviors and dictate energy intake (calories taken in). In addition, there are multiple factors tied to the “calories out” side of the equation (calories burned). This article only focuses on the diet, or “calories in” side of the equation.

And there’s plenty to discuss on that side of the equation. Below, you won’t find every popular diet available today—there are too many. Instead, you’ll see analysis of the major diet types, or concepts. Don’t worry, most common diets or brands will fall under one of the classifications discussed below.

With so many major diet types, conflicting information and new fads thrown at you constantly, how do you know which diet or eating pattern is the best? Take a look at the science behind these major diet types.

Low-Carbohydrate Diets

You’ve heard it before: carbs are just the worst. That statement may be a little too over the top. But there are plenty of diets that focus on limiting carbohydrates. Low-carb diets are a broad category that’s difficult to define precisely.

But let’s try. Official U.S. government guidelines suggest an intake of 45-65 percent of calories from carbohydrates. So, let’s define a low carb diet as a carbohydrate intake of 10-40 percent of total daily calories. (Carbohydrate intakes of 10 percent or less—or about 50 grams—result in elevated blood ketone bodies and changes in energy metabolism. These very low-carb diets deserve a separate discussion. So, you’ll read about ketogenic diets in the next section.)

Their popularity might make you expect the research about low carb to be outstanding. But studies comparing the effects of low-fat diets and low-carb diets have provided mixed results. That’s especially true with studies that use a more liberal definition of low-carb diets (less than 40 percent of calories from carbs). That research has shown little difference in body weight and waist circumference when comparing low-carb to low-fat diets.

But research comparing lower carbohydrate intake (less than 20 percent of calories) has favored low-carb diets over low-fat for weight loss and improvement of health risk factors.

A recent meta-analysis looked at the effect of low-carb diets on fat mass and body weight. The diets in the analysis were categorized as either mild low-carb (about 40 percent carbs) or very low-carb (about 10 percent carbohydrates). With all low-carb diets considered, the fat loss was greater with low-carb than the control diets.

And the lower carb, the better the results. When they compared each type of low-carb diet (mild and very low), the diet with just 10 percent carbs had significant difference compared to the control. The mild did not.

But it should be noted that the absolute difference in fat loss after 12 months between either of the low-carb diets and the control diets was only 0.57-1.46 kg. This small difference in results after a year is likely not very compelling for the average dieter.


  • Defaults to higher protein intake, which helps you feel fuller.
  • Provides flexibility with regard to fat and protein intake.
  • Does not indiscriminately prohibit foods based on fat content.


  • Significantly limiting carbohydrates may falsely convey the message that carbohydrates are solely responsible for weight gain.
  • Limits healthy fruit, vegetable, whole grain, and legume servings in the diet.

Examples: Atkins, Dukan, Zone, South Beach diet, Stillman, Kimkins

Ketogenic Diets

If you have read anything about health and diet over the past couple of years, you’re probably familiar with the term “keto.”

The ketogenic diet (KD) is a variation of a low-carbohydrate diet, but different enough to earn a separate discussion. Unlike the rather liberal definition of low-carb diets in general, the keto diet is objectively defined by its ability to measurably elevate circulating ketone bodies or ketones. These are chemicals your body produces when it burns stored fat.

Entering this state of ketone elevation is also known as nutritional ketosis. And it’s important to distinguish it from diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). DKA can be a life-threatening condition resulting from dangerously high levels of ketones and glucose (sugar) in the blood. This combination makes your blood too acidic. That can severely impact the function of organs like the liver and kidneys. Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs primarily in Type I diabetics and in the absence of insulin.

Nutritional ketosis can result from a very low-carb diet, fasting, or if you’ve consumed too much alcohol. If you’re in ketosis, you have a higher than usual level of ketones in your blood or urine, but not high enough to cause acidosis.

Now you know the difference between DKA and dietary ketosis. So, let’s focus on how to achieve the sweet spot for dietary ketosis. Aside from completely fasting, ketosis can be attained by restricting carbohydrates to less than 50 grams per day (or about 10 percent of energy intake). The typical ketogenic diet would be:

  • 5-10 percent carbohydrates
  • 15-20 percent protein
  • 70-80 percent fat

It is important to mention that extreme carb restriction often results in unpleasant side effects at the beginning. Commonly known as the “keto flu,” many dieters experience fatigue, weakness, brain fog, headaches, irritability, and nausea. The time it takes to adapt to a keto diet is different for everybody. But after two-to-three weeks, most low-carb dieters report improved mental concentration, focus, and physical energy.

Keto advocates say the production of ketone bodies and a state of ketosis results in a unique metabolic state. It’s this state, they say, that helps keto diets do better than other diets at losing fat. But the scientific evidence for this assertion is mixed, at best.

The true test of the keto state happens when researchers match up the protein and energy intake between keto and non-keto diets. Experiments with this setup, with very few exceptions, have failed to show a fat-loss advantage with keto. This has been shown in the most controlled setting (where participants eat only what is given to them). In these strict studies, comparisons between keto and non-keto diets that have equal calories and protein have never reported significantly increased energy expenditure or greater loss of body fat with keto diets.

Two meta-analyses provided strong evidence against a metabolic advantage to near total carbohydrate restriction, like keto. The analyses included 32 studies, all of which were strictly controlled with all the food provided to the subjects. Carbohydrates ranged from one to 83 percent and dietary fat ranged from four to 84 percent of total energy. No metabolic or fat loss advantage was seen in the low-carbohydrate conditions. On the contrary, fat loss was slightly greater in the higher carb or low-fat condition.

Critics of the existing literature suggest that trials need to run longer to allow for sufficient “ketoadaptation.” This is a physical shift away from using sugar for fuel and toward an increase in fat as a primary fuel source. However, when objectively measured, the increased percentage of fat burned for fuel plateaus after about one week on a ketogenic diet. Simply put, rigorously controlled studies have shown ketoadaptation doesn’t necessarily amount to a net decrease in body fat.

If there is any advantage to keto diets for fat loss, it is potentially in the realm of appetite regulation. Even without calorie restrictions, keto has consistently resulted in body fat and/or body-weight reduction. That’s because fat and protein improve satiety, which helps keto dieters to eat fewer calories. Ketogenic diets also may increase satiety through a suppression of ghrelin production (a hormone that stimulates appetite). However, it remains unclear whether the appetite suppression is due to ketosis or other factors like increases in protein, or restriction of carbohydrates.


  • Defaults to higher protein intake.
  • Suppresses appetite or controls hunger, even with no imposed calorie restrictions.
  • Simplifies meal planning and dietary decision-making process.


  • Severely restricts fruit, vegetable, whole grain, and legumes, which are significant sources of fiber and nutrients in the diet.
  • Can compromise high-intensity training output.
  • Has not shown superior effects on body composition compared to non-keto diets when protein and calories are matched.
  • Dietary extremes make it hard to stay on or stay compliant, long term.

Intermittent Fasting

You can probably guess how intermittent fasting diets work. It’s right there in the name. Intermittent fasting is where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. That makes dieting less about which foods you should eat, and more about when you should eat them.

There are numerous variations of intermittent fasting. But it can be divided into three major subclasses: alternate-day fasting, whole-day fasting, and time-restricted feeding.

Alternate-day fasting is the most studied variation. You may have also heard it called The Every Other Day Diet. As the name suggests, alternate day typically involves switching between 24-hours of fasting and 24-hour feeding periods. The feeding day is not restricted by calories or food types.

Studies have shown that dieters do not eat enough on feeding day to offset the prior day’s fast. Over time, this leads to a calorie deficit and weight loss. Research has also shown that lean body mass is well conserved with this approach. A popular variation of the alternate day diet includes a small meal (fewer than 500 calories) on fasting day rather than zero calories. This variation may slow weight loss slightly, but seems to help further preserve lean body mass and improve compliance.

Whole-day fasting typically involves one or two 24-hour fasting periods throughout the week of otherwise normal eating. Like alternate day, variations to whole day include no-food fast days or those with 500-600 calories. Whole-day fasting has been shown to be as effective as daily calorie restriction for losing body weight and fat. (This was shown over a period of three to six months of similar weekly calorie deficit.)

Time-restricted feeding does just that—limiting the time you eat to several hours a day. Generally, that means a fasting period of 16-20 hours and four to eight hours of unrestricted eating. Until recently, little research has been done on these diets. Two recent studies using 20/4 and 16/8 fasting and feeding schedules in active individuals showed promise. They found the time restrictions lowered body fat while maintaining lean-body mass—compared to normal diet controls.

The largest review of intermittent fasting research found very similar results when comparing the effects of intermittent fasting to continuous calorie restriction. Body-composition change and other positive outcomes between the two diets were considered equivalent. However, intermittent fasting was considered superior at suppressing hunger.


  • All three forms of intermittent fasting have relatively strong evidence for performing equally or better than daily caloric restriction for improving body composition.
  • Intermittent fasting diets have unrestricted eating cycles and precise calorie counting isn’t needed.
  • Time-restricted feeding—combined with training—has emerging evidence for fat loss while maintaining strength.


  • Unhealthy food choices and excess calories can become part of the unrestricted feeding periods.
  • If optimal athletic performance is a concern, intermittent fasting requires caution and careful planning.
  • Extra considerations may be necessary with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.

Examples: Every Other Day Diet, The 5:2 Diet

Low-Fat Diets

Low-fat diets typically provide 20–35 percent of calories from fat. This range is based on the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR) for adults set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine.

Since the 1950s, health professionals have promoted eating less fat to improve public health. Updated dietary guidelines have maintained these recommendations, and major health organizations—like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association—support these guidelines. And, a strong base of scientific evidence supports low-to-moderate fat intake for health benefits.

Research has consistently shown that reducing fat intake below normal levels is helpful. It can lead to moderate, but consistent, weight loss, reduction in body fat, and decreased waist circumference. However, over the long-term, lower fat diets have not consistently resulted in greater weight loss than simply reducing overall calories.

The average adult in the U.S. consumes only 33 percent of their calories from fat. So, simply reducing fat intake slightly won’t likely be an effective strategy for most people eating a typical diet.

What about a more drastic reduction in fat? Getting only 10-20 percent of your calories from fat is considered a very low-fat diet. Limited amounts of research exist on diets that fit this profile. But the diets have consistently shown positive effects on weight loss and health.

Results change when very low-fat diets were compared with other diets of equal calorie intake. These studies analyzed body composition and showed no significant difference in body-fat reduction. Also, these very low-fat diets are difficult to maintain long-term. And studies that have instructed subjects to consume fat at 10-20 percent have revealed actual intakes around 26 percent.


  • Low-fat diets have the support of major health organizations. That’s because they have a large base of scientific evidence supporting their health effects.
  • They allow flexibility with protein and carbohydrate intake.
  • Does not indiscriminately vilify foods based on carbohydrate content.


  • May falsely convey the message that dietary fat is solely responsible for excess body fat.
  • Increased intakes of carbohydrates often include unhealthy sugar and increased processed foods.
  • Very low-fat diets are hard to maintain and lack enough solid evidence on body composition comparisons.

Examples: Lowfat: Volumetrics, DASH  Very low-fat: Ornish, Pritikin

Meal Replacements and Low-Calorie Diets

A meal replacement diet is just what it sounds like. Meal replacement programs typically provide between 800 and 1,200 calories per day. That’s why they’re often called low-calorie diets.

These diets usually require substituting one or two meals per day, with an additional healthy, low-calorie meal. There are considerable variations between programs, but the goal is the same. You replace your regular meals with low-calorie shakes and snacks to reduce overall energy intake. This beneficial calorie imbalance results in weight loss.

Most meal replacement programs suggest replacing two meals per day initially. That starts dieters off with more rapid weight loss. Then they transition to one replacement per day as a maintenance routine. Many scientific trials have supported the feasibility of this strategy. But it’s usually a relatively short-term fix. So, long-term success also depends on improved dietary habits and lifestyle modifications.

Before swapping out your ordinary food for packaged shakes, snacks, and soups, there are a few things to consider about the quality of the products. They should provide a balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), just like in a healthy meal.

Protein quantity and quality should be a primary concern. Aim for enough to provide the minimum daily recommended protein intake when added to your regular meal(s). A protein intake of 15-25 percent of total calories is generally accepted as safe in normally healthy adults. This would equate to 45-75 grams of protein on a 1,200-calorie-per-day diet.

The quality of the protein is also important. So, most meal-replacement shakes use dairy, soy, egg, or a mixture of plant proteins. This ensures the shake contains adequate levels of all the essential amino acids. A sufficient dosage of varied, high-quality protein will help conserve lean body mass (muscles and organs) during weight loss. For more information on protein, check out this page.

The amounts of carbohydrate and fat will vary significantly between different replacement products. Even though their specific dosages are less important than the protein, they’re still worth noting. The average adult already struggles to get the recommended intake of fiber (25-30 grams). So, the products should contain a beneficial amount of soluble and insoluble fiber.

The addition of some fat helps with satiety and improves the absorption of certain nutrients.

And, because you’re replacing meals, it’s important your meal replacement contains a mixture of vitamins and minerals. This helps account for nutrients in the food you replace. If not, a daily multivitamin can help you meet daily minimum recommendations.

The safest and most effective meal replacements contain an appropriate balance of micro- and macronutrients. That means adequate level of quality protein, low-to-moderate carbohydrate content (with significant amounts of fiber), some healthy fat, and a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals.


  • The diets involve premade products that eliminate or minimize the need for cooking and planning.
  • Can help break snacking and other mindless eating patterns.
  • Meal replacement products can be found in just about every supermarket health-food aisle and pharmacy.


  • Lack of variety can affect compliance and long-term adherence.
  • There is high variation in the quality of processed foods.

Examples: Slim Fast, USANA RESET, Medifast, Body for Life, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig

Very Low-Calorie Diets

Very low-calorie diets are indeed very restrictive. They typically provide only 400–800 calories per day. Because of the extreme calorie restriction, they’re rarely the first treatment plan for weight loss.

These diets are typically commercially prepared liquids, although some plans include soups and bars. The purpose of the diet is to induce rapid weight loss (1.0–2.5 kg/week or 2–5 pounds per week) while preserving as much lean mass as possible. Very low-calorie diets are generally used in situations of extreme obesity and require medical supervision.

On this type of diet, all regular food consumption is replaced. But theses diets shouldn’t be confused with meal replacement products, which typically replace one or two meals per day. The replacements in very low-calorie diets are fortified with the full spectrum of essential micronutrients and appropriate levels of macronutrients. The macronutrient content is approximately:

  • Protein: 70-100 grams per day
  • Fat: 15 grams per day
  • Carbohydrates: 30-80 grams per day.

Dieters using these programs report weight loss that’s 75 percent fat and 15 percent lean mass. Resistance training can help preserve muscle during a very low-calorie diet, especially in untrained obese subjects.

In obese populations, aggressive caloric restriction is a potentially powerful intervention. The greater initial weight loss is associated with greater long-term success in weight-loss maintenance. (That shows the importance of a strong start for dieters.) But some research has found these diets don’t result in greater long-term (one year or more) weight loss than diets of 800-1,200 calories per day.

Although very low-calorie consumption can be the best suited for certain situations, it should be done with professional assistance. Poor quality protein and inadequate medical supervision can lead to disastrous results. Possible side effects include excessive loss of lean mass, cold intolerance, fatigue, headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, and constipation. Hair loss has also been noted as a common complaint.


  • Can induce rapid weight loss (1.0–2.5 kg/week or 2–5 pounds per week).
  • The diets generally involve premade products that eliminate or minimize the need for cooking and planning.


  • Very low-calorie diets have a higher risk for more severe side-effects, but don’t necessary outperform low-calorie diets in the long-term.
  • Should be done under the supervision of a medical professional.
  • Very low-calorie diets have limited relevance to healthy and athletic people.

Examples: Optifast, KicStart, Optislim, Proslim

And the Winner Is?

If you are uncertain or confused about which diet or diet type is best for weight loss, that’s OK. Because there isn’t really a winner.

The various diet subtypes are wide-ranging in what and how much you can eat. Each type carries varying degrees of supporting data, and unfounded claims. In the end, though, long-term diet studies don’t support a significant difference between diet types. When calorie count is equal, the ability to reduce body fat is pretty much equal, too.

Each diet type has potentially unique means by which they can achieve the intended objective (i.e., improving satiety, ease of compliance, reducing hunger, etc.). But there’s a common thread that runs through all of the diets. And it’s a sustained reduction in calories eaten relative to calories burned. Diets may get there in different ways, but they’re all ultimately based on energy balance.

What Diet Should You Choose?

It comes down to what works for you. There are numerous subtypes that fall under the major diet categories above. But most diets focused on fat loss work the same—through calorie deficits. With adequate protein levels, it makes little difference whether the calorie deficit is due to a reduction in fat, carbs, or improved portion control. It also seems to make little difference whether you reduce calories daily and consistently, or by alternating fasting and unrestricted days over the course of a week.

The long-term success of the diet depends upon how well you can stick to it over time. Your chance of success is significantly better if you choose a diet with these four things:

  • Fits your general food preferences
  • Controls your hunger
  • Supports your activity level
  • Fits your lifestyle

If you need to lose weight, choose a diet that works for you, focus on health, and sticking to it. Even modest weight loss of five to 10 percent of your total body weight, can result in health benefits. These include improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.

You may need to purchase some new clothes, but that’s a side effect you will likely be fine with.

Characteristics of the Major Diet Subtypes

Diet Composition Strengths Limitations
Low-carbohydrate diets (LCD) 50–150 g carbs, or up to 40% of kcals from carbs Defaults to higher protein intake, which helps you feel fuller.

Provides flexibility with regard to fat and protein intake.

Does not indiscriminately prohibit foods based on fat content.

Significantly limiting carbohydrates may falsely convey the message that carbohydrates are solely responsible for weight gain.

Limits healthy fruit, vegetable, whole grain, and legume servings in the diet.

Ketogenic diets (KD) 5-10% (less than 50 grams) carbohydrates

15-20% protein

70-80% fat

Defaults to higher protein intake.

Suppresses appetite or controls hunger, even with no imposed calorie restrictions.

Simplifies meal planning and dietary decision-making process.

Severely restricts fruit, vegetable, whole grain, and legumes, which are significant sources of fiber and nutrients in the diet.

Can compromise high-intensity training output.

Has not shown superior effects on body composition compared to non-keto diets when protein and calories are matched.

Dietary extremes make it hard to stay on or stay compliant, long term.

Low-fat diets (LFD) and very low-fat diets (VLFD) LFD: 25–30% fat

VLFD: 10–20% fat

Low-fat diets have the support of the major health organizations. That’s because they have a large base of scientific evidence supporting their health effects.

They allow flexibility with protein and carbohydrate intake.

Does not indiscriminately vilify foods based on carbohydrate content.

Upper limits of fat allowance may falsely convey the message that dietary fat is solely responsible for excess body fat.

Increased intakes of carbohydrates often include unhealthy sugar and increased processed foods.

Very low-fat diets are hard to maintain and lack enough solid evidence on body composition comparisons.

Intermittent Fasting (IF) Alternate-day fasting (ADF): alternating 24-hour fast, 24-hour feed.

Whole-day fasting (WDF): 1–2 complete days of fasting per week.

Time-restricted feeding (TRF): 16–20-hour fast, 4–8-hour feed, daily.

All three forms of intermittent fasting have relatively strong evidence for performing equally or better than daily caloric restriction for improving body composition.

Intermittent fasting diets have unrestricted eating cycles and precise calorie counting isn’t needed.

Time-restricted feeding combined with training has emerging evidence for fat loss while maintaining strength.

Unhealthy food choices and excess calories can become part of the unrestricted feeding periods.

If optimal athletic performance is a concern, intermittent fasting requires caution and careful planning.

Extra considerations may be necessary with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.

Low-Calorie Diets (LCD) with

Meal Replacements

Balanced macronutrients –

800-1,500 kilocalories (Kcal) per day

The diets involve premade products that eliminate or minimize the need for cooking and planning.

Can help break snacking and other mindless eating patterns.

Meal replacement products can be found in just about every supermarket health-food aisle and pharmacy.

Lack of variety can affect compliance and long-term adherence.

There is high variation in the quality of processed foods.

Very Low-Calorie Diets (VLCD) VLCD: 400–800 kcal/day Can induce rapid weight loss (1.0–2.5 kg/week or 2–5 pounds per week).

The diets generally involve premade products that eliminate or minimize the need for cooking and planning.

Very low-calorie diets have a higher risk for more severe side-effects, but don’t necessary outperform low calorie diets in the long-term.

Should be done under the supervision of a medical professional.

Very low-calorie diets have limited relevance to healthy and athletic people.

List of diets – Wikipedia. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_diets

(2018, March 23). Trends in Obesity and Severe Obesity … – The JAMA Network. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2676543

(2017, October 13). Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth – CDC. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db288.htm

(n.d.). Clinical Guidelines – National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute – NIH. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/guidelines/ob_gdlns.pdf

(n.d.). Dietary Guidelines – Center for Nutrition …. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/dietary-guidelines

(2011, November 8). Healthy People 2010 – CDC. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/healthy_people/hp2010.htm

(n.d.). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets … – NCBI – NIH. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17469900

(2011, August 9). Does dieting make you fat? A twin study. – NCBI – NIH. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21829159

(2018, February 16). Obesity and overweight – World Health Organization. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight

United States Census Bureau. The 2012 Statistical Abstract. Health & Nutrition: Food Consumption and Nutrition. Table 217. Per Capita Consumption of Major Food Commodities: 1980 to 2009.

Meal Replacements and Low-Calorie Diets

Low-Fat Diets

Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Ketogenic Diets

Intermittent Fasting


Long-term weight loss maintenance for obesity: a multidisciplinary approach (Feb 2016)

A whiff of something enticing hits you and you immediately wonder what it is. You have to identify the smell. Before you know it, the scent has started a tango between your brain and your stomach. When you finally walk by a burger joint, pastry shop, or a place serving one of your favorites, it’s hard to turn off the craving.

This scene happens to everyone, even if your tummy is full. That’s because everybody has strong connections to different foods. It’s part of everyday life in a world full of potential food addictions. Yes, they’re real, and food addictions are hard to break.

But how, exactly, do you know when you’re addicted to a food or beverage? The answers are below. You’ll find out how your tastiest choices consistently register in your memory and what causes food addiction. With that brings the usual internal battles like how to pace or limit yourself in the face of your delicious addictions. You’ll find tips for accomplishing that tough task, too.

What is Food Addiction?

You have cravings for a variety of foods. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s been scientifically shown that food addiction is an everyday issue some people encounter. So, if you’re dealing with it, you aren’t alone.

The cause of food addiction might seem like it starts in your rumbling stomach. But food addiction actually begins in your brain. That’s because it realizes that foods or drinks replete in fat, sugar, or salt are among the most rewarding and pleasurable for certain parts of your brain.

Studies have related the chemicals released in the brain when you eat certain foods to those that are released in the presence of an addictive drug. The substance most responsible for this is called dopamine.

That fact makes dopamine arguably one of the most impactful and crucial chemicals in your body. It’s a messenger between cells in your brain (also known as a neurotransmitter). And dopamine plays a direct role in how you move around, learn, and digest information—and digest foods, too. This brain chemical is what gets you up and going and helps you stay determined to tackle whatever you have in front of you.

But it also plays a key role in food addiction and cravings. Here’s how dopamine works with food cravings and addiction: Soon after you eat certain foods, this chemical messenger in your brain arrives. Dopamine increases stimulation of your brain’s reward centers. And your brain wants to trigger this reaction again and again. That’s because your brain craves these pleasurable, rewarding experiences. And certain foods are one way for your brain to get its reward fix.

Humans aren’t alone in this. In studies where rats were fed diets rich in junk food and unhealthy snacks, the subjects adopted similar behavior to that of habitual drug users. The rats wanted more food that did them no good nutritionally in order to feel eased by the dopamine rush. The rats even refused to dine on more healthy options once they got used to the foods rich in sugar, fats, salt, and carbs. The 2009 study showed rats even went as far as starving in order to wait for the junk food that might never come.

That’s a startling example. So, what are the traditional trigger foods and drinks that can influence this process in your brain? Unfortunately, there are a lot.

What are Among the Most Addictive Foods?

They’re usually the best tasting ones. And that’s maddening. A food addiction researcher gave her rundown in a recent study. The results showed that processed foods higher in fat and glycemic load were “most frequently associated with addictive-like eating behaviors.” Here’s a few of the most addictive foods:

  • Pizza: Of course, this delicious combination of carbs, salt, and fat is near the top of the list. You’ve probably asked yourself: “How many slices should I eat?” The answer, is one, if any. But pizza is hard to resist. That’s bad, because it’s usually filled with processed ingredients. It also has more fat per bite than most healthy meals. Combine that with the salt and you have a perfect recipe for a flood of dopamine that sets you down a path toward another slice. You know you don’t need it, but your brain wants it.
  • Sweet treats: Chocolate, cookies, cake, and ice cream are all chock-full of sugar and fat that can easily convince your brain that you need more. Offsetting the savory of your meal with a sweet dessert is common. But it isn’t a healthy choice. Those sugars can piggyback an unhealthy main course decision and lead you to overeat when you don’t need to. And you’ll get a lot of extra calories, fat, and sugar, too.
  • Fried foods: From what you already know, there’s no surprise here. French fries and potato chips are salty and usually baked or fried in oils that don’t do your body or brain much good. As out-of-this-world good as fried delicacies can be, at times, they’re the perfect recipe for unhealthy and addictive decision making.

As is the case with everything in life, moderation is key. If you’re going to have a glass of red wine at dinner for heart health, have one, not four. If you’re going to have a cheat day once a week, try and stick to it. Don’t weave your way through the kitchen to plunder your snack drawer every day. Also: It might be wise to avoid having a snack drawer at all.

What About Soda?

Soft drinks are just as addictive as fatty, salty foods. And consumption of soda has a direct correlation to negative nutritional and health effects, as well as weight gain. One study in 2007 found a clear link between soft drink intake and increased energy intake—in other words, getting more calories in a day. Drinking soda was also associated with lower intake of calcium and other nutrients. Soda drinkers are also at a higher risk for medical issues down the road.

So why is soda so addictive? Well, it’s not that hard to decipher. Non-diet soft drinks are filled with a serious amount of sugar. And they sometimes pair the sweet with high levels of caffeine.

You might counter with, “What about diet soda?” Turns out research shows that diet soft drinks can also contribute to weight gain. Artificial sweeteners are designed to create similar reactions in the brain as normal sugar. And one study suggests those who regularly take in artificial sweeteners may crave more sweets, choose sweet food over nutritious food, and find healthier options like fruit less appealing. This can lead to weight gain.

Overcoming Food Addiction

This is the hard part. But you don’t need to feel guilty for a sudden hankering for food or soda. It happens to everyone. And beating yourself up about these cravings isn’t a productive way to deal with food addictions. Understanding what causes these addictions is the first step, but there are more things you can and need to do.

Start by planning ahead to figure out how to manage your intake. The expert advice is pretty simple: Get ahead of these urges. That means dumping your snack drawer, and stocking your house with healthier options.

Luckily, you can also trick your cravings. If you’re craving a sweet, go the route of natural sugar and have fruit. If you’re looking for something more filling, plan out a meal you know will satisfy—starting with dietary fiber and protein is a good start.

A meal-prep plan for those dealing with food addiction entails spacing out meals throughout the day—anywhere from four to five hours between eating. You should include fresh fruit and vegetables in as many of the snacks and meals as possible.

You can break the cycle of food addiction, though. It takes daily focus, determination, and planning. An ideal daily routine could go something like:

  1. A strong start: Healthy foods might not have the same amount of clout in your memory bank as the sort of foods that set you back in your fight against food addiction. But there are still good substitutes. For example, breakfast foods to put on your list include eggs, granola, bananas and strawberries. Sure, it might take a little longer to prep, but that sounds like a tasty start instead of a Pop Tart or cinnamon roll.
  2. Include the fresh stuff: Find the time for fruit and veggies. Getting in the habit of including vegetables and fruit in at least two meals a day is a good start. That will help you turn to fruits and veggies on a regular basis. Making this a habit will help in your fight against unhealthy food addictions.
  3. Think ahead: Understand your cravings and try to plan ahead. If you know you love fried foods, find a healthier option—maybe roasted sweet potatoes instead of French fries—and have it ready to go. Making a healthy choice more convenient can help you short-circuit your cravings before they take over.
  4. Learn to trick your brain: Dopamine can be released by foods that benefit your stomach and overall health in the long-term, too. In fact, healthy food like spinach, watermelon, avocados, and even tofu, can offer rewarding neurological responses. If you’re looking for alternatives for fatty or salty snacks, carrots and hummus work, as does peanut butter and apple slices.

Win the Battle, Because You Can

Overcoming food addiction can be a long, painful process. You have to take it meal-by-meal, and day-by-day. But there’s hope. You can do it. And your attitude is a critical part of the battle. Know you can do it. And then start taking small actions and building on them.

Bookmark this article as a reminder of the science behind food addictions, how they occur, and a step-by-step guide to overcoming them. Start by identifying triggers and then make healthy substitutions. Soon you will have the power to say no to your cravings. Because you will have discovered healthy alternatives you enjoy and you’ll also understand the dangerous path quick-fix foods can present.

Weight may be a number on a scale. But it hangs heavily over the health of many people. That’s because excess body weight can drag down many aspects of your health. So, if you’re looking to maintain a healthy weight, you aren’t alone. Weight management is one of the biggest concerns for people around the world.

Setting goals, making a plan, and using a checklist are all important ways to jumpstart your weight-management journey. But first, you need to get some information.

Take this short quiz to weigh the amount of knowledge you have about weight management. Then see the answers and share your score—and the quiz—so everyone in your life can fill up on this important information.

Journal, tape measure and apple - diet concept

Journal, tape measure and apple - diet concept

It’s time to lighten your load—literally. Carrying around extra weight isn’t good for your body. You know that. But staying at a healthy weight is easier said than done. This weight management checklist helps you focus your energy on impactful activities. Start checking off items and building momentum to achieve weight management goals.

Maintaining a healthy weight is all about the balance of calories in and calories out. Use more than you take in and you lose weight. Do the opposite, and you gain. If they’re balanced, that’s how you maintain.

This means a focus on diet and exercise together. But this weight management checklist goes deeper and provides simple tips to get you started.

It’s time to start checking off some boxes.

Cropped image of businesswoman writing on checklist

Item 1: Set a Goal for a Healthy Weight

Determining your target weight isn’t a guessing game. There are many factors that can help you determine the right number for you.

The most common way to figure out a healthy weight is using the Body Mass Index (BMI). This is a ratio of your height to weight. This is going to involve some math, but you can do it (or use a BMI calculator). You can find your BMI with this equation:

Weight in Kilograms(kg)/(Height in meters)2

Here’s an example: Dave is 84 kg (or about 185 pounds) and 1.8288 meters (six feet tall). His BMI would be 25.1, which is just barely in the overweight range. (Here’s the math: 1.8288 squared is 3.345, and 84 divided by 3.345 is 25.1.)

The healthy range for BMI is 18.5 to 24.9. That’s what you want to aim for. There are charts available that will give you the healthy weight range for your height.

But BMI isn’t everything. It’s a very simple calculation that doesn’t consider different circumstances.

You can also use measurements like body fat percent or determining belly circumference (around the belly button) to help determine your ideal weight. Body fat percentages should be less than 31% for women and 25% for menBelly circumferences should be less than 40 inches (102 cm) for men and 35 inches (88 cm) for women.

If this is all a little bit overwhelming (and math can do that) you can always talk to your doctor, dietician, or nutritionist. They’re great resources.

Item 2: Assess Your Calorie Needs

Calories aren’t scary or mysterious. They’re simply the units used to measure energy in your food. And you need calories to run all the processes of your body.

Most of what you see about calories is based on an average diet of 2,000 calories per day for women and 2,500 a day for men. That’s a good starting place. But there are many factors to consider when assessing your daily calorie needs.

Weight and activity are probably the biggest considerations. A larger person needs more calories. That’s because you need more energy to move around more weight. And if you’re on the go a lot or you’re an athlete, you need more fuel to support that extra activity.

Age and sex are two other factors. Calorie needs decrease with age. And men need about 500 more calories per day (on average) than women. That’s mostly due to their overall larger size and the fact that they have a higher basal metabolic rate or BMR.

BMR is what your body burns at rest. About two-thirds of your calories are used this way—just to keep your body running smoothly. Those are like freebies. The rest of your calories are burned because of activities you do during the day.

There are calculators that will tell you your BMR and how many calories you need to maintain your weight. But for simplicity’s sake, if you’re a man, it should be around 2,500 calories. If you’re a woman, that number is around 2,000.

Use those as the starting point for maintaining a healthy weight. You can adjust your needs if you’re more active, larger, or have other health considerations.

Item 3: Design a Diet to Achieve Your Weight Management Goals

You know how much fuel (calories) your body needs. But counting calories is just a part of planning your perfect weight-management diet.

The foods you choose to acquire those calories makes a big difference. Think about how 300 calories of sugary treats compare to 300 calories of almonds and fruit. One will fill you up with fiber, sustained energy, and micronutrients. The sugary snack is empty energy that can lead to a crash.

Like any healthy diet, you should target a balance of nutrient-rich protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, plant-based fats, and foods with fiber.

Protein (especially in the morning) and fiber are especially important. You only absorb half the available calories in fiber. And it helps you feel full for longer. Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

Any diet should give you a foundation of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds. It’s the starting point for getting your body all the nutrients it needs.

Item 4: Examine Your Exercise Expectations

The best exercise plan is one you can follow. That’s a popular saying, but it’s true (the same is true for your diet, too). You don’t want to make these common mistakes:

  • Starting at a higher level than necessary
  • Forcing yourself into activities you hate
  • Expecting results right away

Being honest with yourself about your fitness level will help you avoid jumping into something too hard. You really shouldn’t run before you walk. So, assess where you are and work—in steps, since health won’t happen all at once—to get where you want to go.

Taking an inventory of healthy activities you enjoy is essential to developing an effective exercise routine. You shouldn’t focus on running if you find it boring. Maybe playing a sport works better for you. Figuring out what you like to do will help you look forward to exercise instead of dreading it.

Also, properly set expectations. One trip to the gym isn’t going to reshape your body or improve your fitness. It’s a process. You have to burn 3,500 calories to eliminate a pound of fat. A good goal is using 500 more calories than you take in each day. That can lead to losing a pound a week.

And remember, exercise is only part of the equation. You can’t exercise your way out of bad eating habits. So, you need both as part of your weight-management plan.

Female runner tying her shoes preparing for a run a jog outside

Item 5: Plan Your Exercise Routine

You know what you like. You have properly set expectations. Now it’s time to plan.

Take the activities you like and figure out how many calories you’ll burn. Then figure out how many minutes are required to hit your goal for the day. You can find these estimates online or in a fitness tracker app.

Then carve out time in your daily schedule. Make sure to vary the activities so you don’t get bored or fatigue one part of your body too much. Ideally, you should get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. The easiest way is to split that up into five, 30-minute sessions.

Item 6: Get Going

This is the simplest one on paper, but the hardest in practice. It’s also the most important part of any weight-management plan.

Doing it.

Understanding your calorie needs is great. Planning the perfect diet and exercise routine is important. Crossing off items on the weight management checklist builds momentum. But you’ll need action and perseverance to achieve your weight management goals.

So, put your plans into motion. Get out and move. And remember progress and consistency—not perfection—is what you want. You’ll have successes and snags, but focus on continuing to move forward, in the direction of your weight-management goals.

A simple way to put it is to be good—eat right and incorporate exercise—the majority of the days of the week.

stress affects your weight

stress affects your weight

Your work meeting ran late. Your car wouldn’t start immediately. You’ve hit every red light on the drive home. You realize you have no groceries at the same time hunger hits.

Surely, you’ve experienced a night like this and didn’t handle it gracefully. That’s because when you are experiencing stress—no matter how insignificant—the demands on your mind and body have exceeded the resources you have to cope with them. It’s hard to deal with each stressor when you’re standing at the crossroads of eight different frustrating scenarios.

Some nights like this might be unavoidable. But it’s important to learn about the long-term, negative impacts of stress so you can keep yourself healthy, well, and whole.

A common concern with ill-managed stress is an impact on the ability to maintain a healthy weight. There are a lot of factors that explain how stress affects weight. Your body’s response to stress—the hormones it releases—can impact fat storage. Stress can cause shifts in your microbiome. And, on top of that, the stress eating—turning to comforting, unhealthy foods—used to cope can compound the issues.

Below, you’ll get in-depth explanations of these bodily responses and the vicious stress cycle. But before you explore the impact, let’s discuss the different types of stress and your body’s response to it.

Types of Stress

Short-term stress happens quickly, over a short duration of time. It could be bad traffic or a long line at the store when you’re in a hurry. A short-term stressor might be small, but it’s something you’re able to handle without much difficulty.

Long-term stress is an ongoing battle against your stressor(s). It can be repetitive, continuous situations or conditions that feel insurmountable. For example, a lot of people struggle with crippling debt or maybe going to a job they hate. These types of looming stressors can last for months and even years.

Your body handles these stressors differently. From chemical pathways to behavioral changes, a lot can happen in response to stress. Let’s explore your body’s response to stressors to better understand how you can stay healthy while overcoming life’s obstacles.

The Short-Term Stress Response

Short-term stress happens when your body reacts to a risk, whether it is real or perceived. Let’s say you’re home alone and you hear an unfamiliar sound. Your brain may process this as a risk. You might assume it’s an intruder, even if the sound is not.

Before you determine the sound was just the washing machine, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode. And your adrenal glands secrete the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine.

These hormones make your body prepared for survival mode, should the need arise. Increased hormone levels elevate your heart rate, blood pressure, and they increase the rate at which fat and carbohydrates in your system are broken down. Basically, these hormones are changing your metabolism to fuel this heightened state to be ready to fight or run away. Once the threat is eliminated, your body can return to its normal state.

The Long-Term Stress Response

Since the exposure to the “risk”—again perceived or real—is prolonged during long-term stress, your body can be strained physically and psychologically. Instead of short-lived spikes in the flight-or-fight hormones, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, the primary stress hormone.

Cortisol’s presence doesn’t wreak havoc on the body. The strain comes from elevated levels for a prolonged period of time. The body becomes accustomed to these levels, establishing a new baseline tolerance. Consequently, if high stress levels are maintained, the secretions will continue to increase.

High levels of cortisol stimulate your appetite. On top of that, it can influence a rise in insulin levels. Insulin is responsible for regulating blood sugar. As the insulin level raises, blood sugar levels drop. This can create cravings for especially calorie-dense foods to regain a reasonable blood sugar level.

The Vicious Cycle of Stress & Weight Gain

The sequence of events above may not seem that harmful on the surface. However, if cortisol continues to course through your system for days, weeks—even months—on end, a vicious cycle is born. Elevated cortisol leads to increased insulin levels, which leads to lower blood sugar, and finally sugar cravings.

It’s not surprising that if you experience stress without relief, you might reach for “comfort foods” to sustain you. These foods are aptly named. They often supply a lot of energy in the form of refined sugar. They’re rich in fat to boot. And your brain experiences a calming effect from these foods.

In a way, comfort foods provide a short respite from the stress response. But this positively reinforces the frequent consumption of comfort foods. When you experience this relief, it’s likely you’ll reach for a similar food the next time you’re stressed and hungry. If the cycle continues long-term, there are implications for weight gain.

But there’s more to it than the cycle of stress eating. Cortisol activates lipoprotein lipase (LPL), an enzyme responsible for depositing and storing fat. A group of researchers found a correlation between high cortisol levels and central fat accumulation (distribution of fat around the midsection).

The group studied women at rest and subjected them to stress tests. Measurements of participant cortisol levels and psychological responses were taken after each rest or testing session. The researchers found that these correlations back up the existing hypothesis that long-term stress and “stress reactivity” can lead to greater central fat accumulation.

The Impact of Stress on Your Microbiome

A recent study in mice reiterated that stress has physical implications too, not just psychological ones. The researchers took a group of mice and fed half of the male and female mice a high-fat diet and then exposed the entire group to mild stress for a prolonged period of time.

The most notable finding was in the group of female mice not on the high-fat diet. After the stress period, their gut microbiota had changed. Though they were not eating a high-fat diet, their microbiome told a different story. Over time, the bacteria in their gut shifted to resemble that of the mice fed a high-fat diet.

Though this study was conducted in mice, the lessons and implications are clear. First, the biological effects of stress are far-reaching. It affects how you feel emotionally. But stress also changes the body physiologically. Second, the conclusion also implies that eating well alone is not enough to keep your body as healthy as it could be. While diet is important, so is your response to stress.

Tips for Managing Versus Coping with Stress

While they may sound similar, managing and coping with stress are two very distinct behaviors. Management involves planning ahead and building systems of support before stressors become overwhelming. Coping implies a sense of survival or just scraping by during an episode of stress.

Creating a stress-management plan doesn’t have to be stressful—it can be simple! It takes a little bit of forethought and planning, but once in place, it can help you through a hectic day. Consider the list below and think of how to personalize each for your life.

  • Create a support system. You likely already have a network of family and friends. But it’s helpful to pinpoint exactly who in your web can help you and when. And don’t just name them—write them down. It’s easier to reach out for support when a name and number are ready to use.
  • Block out alone time. This actually means time spent alone—free from distractions and visitors. You’re encouraged to physically block out these times on your calendar, too. This way colleagues or family can’t schedule over your time to recharge. If you’re a busy person, don’t give this up if you don’t have a free hour. Even five minutes alone can help.
  • Prioritize your tasks. It’s always gratifying to check off items on a to-do list. But often the easiest tasks get checked first, leaving the larger, more important tasks waiting for too long. Be honest with yourself when creating and prioritizing your list.
  • Make time for self-care. This doesn’t necessarily mean treating yourself in the way of bubble baths and bon-bons. It means actually taking care of yourself by eating balanced meals, sleeping well, and exercising, to name a few. Taking care of your body shouldn’t be a luxury, so make these self-care pieces a priority.
  • Be active! Exercise can intimidate some, but it can be enjoyable if you tailor it to your interests. Whether it be a leisurely walk or a vigorous game of soccer, both are valid options for getting your body moving. Research has shown that regular exercise can lower cortisol levels and boost endorphins.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.


Bridgewater LC, et al. Gender-based differences in host behavior and gut microbiota composition in response to high fat diet and stress in a mouse model. Nature Scientific Reports. 2017; 7(1):10776.

Epel ES, et al. Stress and body shape: Stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2000;(62):623-32.

Maglione-Garves, CA et al. Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight. ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal. 2005; 9(5):20-23.

Montes M and Kravitz L. Unraveling the Stress-Eating-Obesity Knot: Exercise can significantly mitigate the effects of stress and weight gain. IDEA Fitness Journal. 2011; 8(2):44-50.