Change: You’re Eating More
Some of the milestones that come with being an adult can lead you to pack on the pounds. Studies have shown that marriage tends to lead to weight gain, possibly because women dish out the same portions for themselves as for their husbands, who eat more. Having children (and eating their leftover chicken nuggets) can also lead to weight gain. A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that women in households with kids consume more fat and calories than those without children. The researchers noted that the difference in fat was the equivalent of a slice of pepperoni pizza every day.
But even if you adhere to exactly the same diet for 20 years, you may gain weight as you age. In your 20s, you burn about 2,000 calories a day. By your 50s, thanks to those shifts in hormones and body composition, you burn only about 1,600 calories.
Step on a Scale
“People who weigh themselves every day are, on average, seven to eight pounds lighter than those who don’t,” says Robert Jeffery, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and an obesity expert at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis. Tracking your weight allows you to cut back on meals or step up activity if you notice the needle rising. “Pay attention when it gets to about three pounds above what it was before,” says Deborah Tate, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. A recent study that followed 314 successful dieters over 18 months found that when participants weighed themselves each day, most could avoid regaining more than five pounds.
See the Big in Small Changes
Simple strategies to trim a few calories here and there can have a large effect. Tate suggests eating a portion-controlled frozen meal for either lunch or dinner as a way to keep overall calories down. Or “try starting meals with a bowl of vegetable soup or a plate of leafy greens,” says Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, in University Park, and the author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan ($16, amazon.com). Both those foods fill the stomach and help satisfy the desire for more food.
“Over the course of a single day, a person makes more than 200 food decisions, most of them unconsciously,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., the author of Mindless Eating ($15, amazon.com). In studies, he has found that people are influenced by such factors as the size of their plates (the bigger the dish, the more that gets eaten) and whether they’re eating straight from the box or from a premeasured amount set on a dish. Use these findings to help you eat less. Buy smaller plates and skinny glasses. Repackage that barrel of pretzels from Costco into snack bags that conform to the recommended serving size. Little adjustments like this may pare only 100 to 200 calories from your daily diet, but in a year they can translate to 10 to 20 pounds that you’ve lost or haven’t gained.