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Proven Ways to Prevent Obesity, Say Experts

Follow these tips to avoid the health scourge.

The science behind weight gain is getting more sophisticated; scientists have discovered it's a little more complicated than "calories in, calories out." Of course, it's key to watch what you eat and to be active, but there are right and wrong ways (and more efficient and less efficient ways) to do that. And if you don't supplement those pursuits with other essential healthy activities, you might torpedo your efforts. These are the latest proven ways to prevent obesity. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.

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Getting sufficient sleep is one of the best things you can do to prevent obesity. Experts say poor sleep alters the production of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that regulate appetite, and that can increase feelings of hunger. Not sleeping enough can also increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which tells the body to hold on to fat. Experts advise getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night to promote overall health, including a healthy weight.

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Not all calories are created equal. The quality of what you eat can make the difference between a healthy weight and excessive body fat. Consuming processed foods and foods high in added sugar doesn't satisfy your body; it just spikes and crashes your blood sugar and makes you hungry for more. "In the United States, most people's diets are too high in calories—often from fast food and high-calorie beverages," says the Mayo Clinic. Substitute processed foods for nutritious, satisfying whole foods like lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats like olive oil—they'll fill you up while keeping the pounds off.

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Consuming sugar-sweetened drinks—like sodas and juices—can cause your daily calories to pile up even before you've eaten anything. That can cause the pounds to pile on. "People can drink many calories without feeling full, especially calories from alcohol," says the Mayo Clinic. "Other high-calorie beverages, such as sugared soft drinks, can contribute to significant weight gain." Ditch sugar-sweetened drinks and replace them with healthy substitutes like water (you can infuse it with fruits slices if you don't like the taste) or seltzer.

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For the last time: Starvation diets don't work. The latest research indicates that the body can sense when it's being starved or deprived; it tries mightily to maintain a kind of stasis and actually downshifts the metabolism to compensate for any sharp drop in calories. Your better bet is to eat a healthy diet full of high-quality, satisfying foods.

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The UK's National Health Service is blunt: "Obesity is generally caused by eating too much and moving too little." Experts say the easiest thing you can do to prevent obesity is to exercise regularly. Incorporating resistance training (via free weights or bands, weight machines or your own body weight) is key—it builds lean muscle, which helps your metabolism burn more calories at rest. Experts advise that all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (such as brisk walking, biking or gardening) each week. To lose weight, you may need more.

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"One of the best ways to stop obesity is to prevent slow, creeping weight gain that can occur over an extended period," says Kirsten Davidson, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for research at Boston College. "It's easy to consume 100 to 200 calories beyond what your body needs on a daily basis—this could be two cookies, for example—but over an extended period, this leads to weight gain." How to avoid the creep: Weigh yourself regularly. If you see the numbers on the scale start to climb, make some healthy changes. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael