If discussions about weight trigger you, don’t read this. “Text Me When You Get Home” is a good read. Try that instead.
Body fat increases during the adult years, particularly visceral fat. It’s a gradual process and easy not to notice because often weight stays constant as fat overtakes muscle. It’s not all bad. The extra fat provides reserve energy. It helps us recover after an illness or surgery and keeps us warm in cold weather and cushions falls. It’s also where we store a reserve of vitamins and minerals.
I read this in one of my nutrition books and found myself nodding along. It’s true. One day I was a slim 20-something. The next thing I knew, I was standing on the scale at the doctor’s office wondering how I’d put on 25 pounds since my high school graduation without noticing.
It creeps up on us. Just like a coffee habit, amIright? It starts with the occasional latte run. Then it becomes a cup every morning. Then two. Then one afternoon you open your eyes and see a latte sitting on your desk. When did this happen that I started drinking coffee all day?
Same with my weight gain. Even though I’ve only lived in a house with a scale for the last year and a half, I actually do know how I put on that weight. When I graduated from high school, I was around 115 pounds. That’s the low end of a normal BMI for my height, but to me it looked too thin. Through my 20s, I maintained a weight I was happy with – in the region of 125.
When I moved to Seattle from New York and took a work from home job, I started gaining weight. I was working out 3-4 mornings per week plus some fun active weekend activities like hiking and paddleboarding. The morning workouts left me hungry. I’d usually eat a small breakfast (like a banana) before my workout, then eat a bigger breakfast (oatmeal or eggs) when I got home. I’d usually want lunch around 11. There were always snacks nearby. That’s when I started buying pants a size up.
One thing I’m realizing, though, is that this can also act in the reverse. On a nice day in March, I decided to go for a run outside. I took off the 2.5 kilometers to the lake. Usually I’d do this, meet a friend for a walk around the lake then run home. Or I’d stop, look at the lake, then make the reverse trip for about 5K. This day, though, I didn’t feel ready to head home, so I took the nearly 5K lap around the lake before heading home for a total of 9.7K! Granted I walked up most of the hills on the way home, but still. I didn’t know I could run that far. In part because most of my winter running is done on a treadmill and I get dreadfully bored around 2K. Sometimes I’ll tough it out to 5K. Max!
I was amazed that my body had gradually adapted without me even noticing.
I’ve also been weight training for the last two years or so, which made a difference. The scale told me my weight went up, but those pants that I’d relegated to the back of the closet suddenly buttoned up comfortably again. It also helps that I now work away from home, at a company with a good salad bar available for lunch. I feel stronger and healthier than ever.
I like the small changes approach to preventing obesity. Small lifestyle changes can reduce weight gain and are also easier to fit into our lives.
Creating a 200-calorie deficit per day can improve metabolic rate and doesn’t increase hunger1, which means you might not even notice until those extra pounds gradually roll off. Some simple swaps include trading an apple pie dessert for some apple sauce. For a 150-pound person, a 30-minute walk can burn 105 calories.2
3,500 calories make up a pound of fat, so a combination of diet swaps and increased physical activity that adds up to a 500-calorie deficit can lead to losing a pound per week. But remember, nothing has to be all or nothing. Starting by reducing 100 calories per day is totally respectable and will improve health.
As one trainer once told me, “it’s not going to get any easier next year, so you might as well start now.”
- Hills AP, Byrne NM, Lindstrom R, Hill JO. Small Changes’ to Diet and Physical Activity Behaviors for Weight Management. Obes Facts 2013;6:228-238
- Zied E. Losing 10 Pounds: Small Changes In Diet Can Mean Big Health Benefits. Envir Nutr. 2002;1. http://link.galegroup.com.une.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A83677808/ITOF?u=bidd97564&sid=ITOF&xid=c97949c1. Accessed 12 May 2018.