Weight loss is hard for a lot of people. For some people, it comes very easily. But one of the biggest challenges for everyone is keeping the weight off in a sustainable way. A lot of diets emphasise a form of quick fix and rapid result, but once you've actually lost a significant amount of weight, it's very common to gradually put the weight back on.
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One study, published in the journal Medical Clinics in North America, found that in many of these cases, gradual weight gain is a product of our environments. The researchers referred to a sedentary lifestyle in which we drive to work, sit at a desk, and eat cheap high-calorie processed foods because they are very easily available. The researchers call this an "obesogenic environment".
The study said: "The rise in obesity prevalence over the past several decades has been mirrored by industrialisation of the food system, involving increased production and marketing of inexpensive, highly-processed foods.
"In addition, changes in the physical activity environment have made it more challenging to be active throughout the day. Occupations have become more sedentary and suburban sprawl necessitates vehicular transportation rather than walking to work or school as had been common in the past.
"Taken together, changes in the food and physical activity environments tend to drive individuals towards increased intake, decreased activity, and ultimately weight gain."
Don't feel disheartened if you've lost and put weight back on again: in some ways, it's like trying to row a boat against a current, with lots of environmental factors working to try and get you to put all that weight back on.
However, you can make things easier on yourself. There are a few simple changes you can make to your environment in order to encourage better weight management. Here's three:
Weight loss hack: Celebrate small goals
The study found lots of people fall into cycles of negative and maladaptive thoughts. For example, the study lists thinking “What’s the point…I failed again and I’ll never lose weight!” as a common phenomenon, as are coping patterns such as binge eating.
Smaller, achievable goals (for example, writing "Two mile run" on your to-do list at the start of the day, and ticking it off on completion) are the way forward. When we achieve a goal, whether levelling up in a video game or hit a personal best, our brains release the pleasure chemical called "dopamine". We can use this to stay motivated and avoid those negative thought spirals.
Weight loss hack: Keep moving
If our sedentary lifestyles are the cause of our obesogenic environments, make sure you're moving when you can. Innovate: for example, stretch to improve circulation in front of the telly after work, break up your lunchtime with a regular brisk walk, cycle for an hour on Saturday mornings or use headphones and walk around the block during a family phone call. Every little helps.
Weight loss hack: Drink more water
Too often, our bodies confuse hunger with thirst. Drinking lots of water, especially before meals, can stop us overeating or snacking to satisfy cravings. One study found middle-aged adults who drank a glass of water before mealtimes lost 44% more weight than those who didn't.
If you find your cravings return after a few weeks of good dieting, grab a glass of water before dinner to curb your appetite. "Eat until you're 80% full" is one of the science-backed rules of longevity, followed in the fabled 'blue zone' communities like the Japanese island of Okinawa.