As we ring in the new year, many of us take some time to reflect and consider changes we want to make in the coming year. We also start getting bombarded with nonstop weight-loss messages: diet pill commercials, gym membership deals, makeover contests, and on and on and on.
The diet industry can be infuriating. I recently saw a package of “weight-loss shakes” at the store, and out of curiosity checked the ingredients. Its first four were fat-free milk, water, canola oil and fructose. As you may know, canola oil in North America is often derived from genetically modified plants, which means it’s likely heavily treated with pesticides, and studies have found that its production process forms trans fats, the worst form of fat that is directly linked with weight gain. And fructose is the type of sugar most directly linked with weight gain. Continue down the list of ingredients and you find a slew of synthetic chemicals, artificial sweeteners and other garbage—all of it more likely to increase, not reduce, weight and body fat in its unwitting consumers.
The topic of body weight pervades every part of our culture, and it’s an incredibly complex topic. On the one hand, obesity is a growing epidemic, associated with a range of other health problems including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Obesity costs hundreds of billions of dollars in health-care expenses each year. On the other hand, our culture often promotes unhealthy and unrealistic beauty standards, with models and actresses airbrushed and Photoshopped to inhuman perfection. One study found that 80 percent of 10-year-old American girls report having been on a diet.
There is a middle ground between the dangers of obesity and unhealthy attitudes about weight and beauty. For me, it lies in adopting habits that align with my beliefs about living well. Let’s take, for example, eating organic whole foods. I choose these foods because I believe organic agriculture is much better than industrial farming for the health of every creature on our planet. An added bonus is that avoiding processed foods means I don’t consume chemical emulsifiers (ubiquitous in packaged foods), which researchers have discovered alter gut bacteria in mice, making them rapidly develop inflammation and metabolic syndrome. And, I won’t be consuming glyphosate residues which, though the topic hasn’t been studied in humans, have been shown to harm beneficial bacteria in the guts of both chickens and cattle. Or consider meditation: Meditation is proven to benefit our brains in so many ways, it’s almost unbelievable. It makes us calmer, more empathetic, less reactionary—and reduces stress. That makes meditation our ally in weight management, too, as the stress hormone cortisol is a direct cause of fat gain.
At the end of the holiday season, many of us find ourselves hoping to clean up our diets and maybe lose a few pounds. It’s a worthwhile goal (experts say losing even a few excess pounds can have measurable impacts on our health), but don’t turn to weight-loss gimmicks. The keys to healthy weight maintenance are the same as the tenets of overall healthy living: eat well, sleep well, manage stress, exercise and spend time outdoors. Whether your aim is to live a well-balanced life, maintain a healthy weight, lose a few pounds or start a long-term weight-loss journey, those are your best bets for success.