Maintaining Healthy Weight

By eliminating processed foods, monitoring liver and kidney health and other practices, you can achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

| January/February 2017

  • Couple Walking Dog
    Maintaining a healthy weight involves many factors, including exercise.
    Photo by iStock
  • Food
    Eliminating or greatly reducing our intake of processed foods may be the single most effective step we can take toward achieving our ideal weight.
    Photo by iStock
  • Woman Lifting
    Increasing lean muscle mass helps resting metabolism, which in turn helps maintain an optimal weight.
    Photo by iStock
  • Woman Working Out
    Manage stress and anxiety with herbs and physical activity.
    Photo by iStock

  • Couple Walking Dog
  • Food
  • Woman Lifting
  • Woman Working Out
Weight management is sometimes depicted as a basic equation: calories in versus calories burned. But research is discovering that a number of variables — including hormones, resting metabolic rate, food quality and more — can confound that seemingly simple equation. People often find it difficult to lose weight with a single-pronged approach, such as dieting or exercise alone. But a combination of sensible steps can help us reach and maintain our ideal weight. 


“A calorie is a calorie” has been a long-standing truism when it comes to diet and weight loss, but today we are discovering that this isn’t accurate. In fact, food quality is critical when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.

Eat a highly nutritious diet made up of whole foods.

In a review of studies, the Harvard School of Public Health recommends eating high-quality foods — including unrefined, minimally processed vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and healthy protein — and to minimize processed foods, sugar and high-glycemic foods. When it comes to various approaches of eating whole foods, it appears that the type of diet is less important than simply eating real, whole foods. Although in certain circumstances — allergies, disease management, etc. — a highly specific diet may be required, in general, follow one simple rule: Eat real foods found in nature. Outside of special circumstances, diets that tell us to avoid carrots, tomatoes, beets or any food derived directly from nature are unnecessary. At the grocery store, avoid items with ingredients and instead buy ingredients and make those items yourself. Eating a healthy diet made up of whole foods leaves us feeling more satisfied, with reduced or eliminated food cravings. 

Limit or eliminate processed foods.

Most processed foods contain some combination of hyper-processed grains; added sugar — in the form of table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, concentrated fruit juices, etc. — which is linked with increased weight; and the types of fat strongly linked with obesity, such as soybean oil and trans fats. Even “natural” and organic packaged snack foods often contain these ingredients. What’s more, many packaged foods contain chemical additives such as emulsifiers, which have been found in studies to alter gut bacteria, causing intestinal inflammation that can make us more likely to develop metabolic syndrome and significant weight gain. 


You may have read a spate of recent articles declaring exercise ineffective for weight loss or weight management. While it is true that our diets are more likely to directly influence weight loss, studies have found that exercise can contribute to weight loss, and is critical when it comes to preventing weight regain (not to mention exercise’s multitudinous other benefits to our physical and emotional health). When it comes to fat loss, studies have found some types of exercise more effective than others — namely, intense, short bursts of cardio, and weight training. 

Step up the cardio.

Studies have found high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to be a more efficient and effective strategy for reducing total body mass. In one study published in the International Journal of Obesity, 45 women were broken into three groups: One did steady-state exercise (cardiovascular exercise keeping the heart rate steadily elevated); another did high-intensity intermittent exercises (alternating between bursts of high-intensity work and low-intensity rest periods); and a third did no exercise. Although both exercise groups significantly improved their cardiovascular fitness, only the high-intensity group saw a significant reduction in total body mass, fat mass, trunk fat and fasting plasma insulin levels. 

Women who followed a 20-minute HIIT program consisting of eight-second sprints followed by 12 seconds of rest, lost six times more body fat than women doing a 40-minute cardio workout at a constant intensity of 60 percent of maximum heart rate. To do a HIIT workout, simply choose an aerobic activity you enjoy — running or biking, for example — and alternate between periods of your maximum intensity and a low-intensity rest period. For example, sprint on the treadmill for 20 seconds, then walk slowly for 40 seconds, alternating for about 10 minutes. You can also find a wide variety of HIIT workouts online. Try for a range of HIIT and other exercise programs, all free. 

Lift weights.

Increasing our lean muscle mass helps increase our resting metabolism. One frequently cited reason so many dieters regain weight is that resting metabolism goes down as weight is lost and food intake is reduced. Therefore, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham decided to study the effects of various exercise programs after a group of 100 overweight, sedentary women lost 25 pounds on a restricted diet. The women were put into three groups: One group did a supervised aerobic exercise program (40 minutes of walking or jogging three times a week); one did a supervised upper- and lower-body weight-training program; a third group did not exercise. The women who didn’t exercise burned considerably fewer calories each day than before losing the 25 pounds. Meanwhile, the exercise groups, particularly the weight-lifting group, moved more and saw an increase in the calories burned in activities apart from exercise. Weight training appears to be especially important as we age; in a study reported by Harvard Gazette, more than 10,000 healthy men older than 40 gained less in waist circumference when they increased their time spent weight training by 20 minutes a day, compared with those who increased aerobic activity by the same amount. 

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