According to the CDCl, 4 in 10 Americans are classified as obese, and this rate has been rising since the turn of the millenium. Obesity is a tough problem to solve because there are so many potential factors that can cause it. It makes sense, then, that the solution has many factors, too, and involves optimizing many different areas of your life. If you’ve been trying to lose weight for a while without success, a holistic approach might be the solution.
Focus on What You Eat, Not How Much
Is it better to go low carb, or are low-fat diets better? A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association tried to find out, by asking around 600 participants to follow either a low-carb or low-fat diet for a year. At the end of the study, participants in both groups lost 12 pounds on average. That’s right — both diets were equally effective! However, some things did matter. Specifically, the people who ate more vegetables and the fewest processed foods and sugary drinks lost the most weight. Crucially, people following this diet didn’t count calories — focusing solely on eating healthier foods is what made the difference.
Exercise Less, But More Vigorously
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an exercise technique where you alternate between short bursts of very intense exercise and active recovery periods. According to a review of 18 studies published in Obesity Science and Practice, HIIT is more effective at reducing body fat than traditional exercise.
The great thing about HIIT is that you don’t need expensive equipment to get results. You can do effective HIIT workouts in a home gym with inexpensive equipment — resistance bands and dumbbells are a great start, but a Swiss ball (or gym ball) would be useful, too. Just pick a multi-joint exercise, like the kettlebell swing, dumbbell thruster, or dumbbell squat, and do as many reps as you can in 30 seconds. Next, take a 60-second rest where you either jog lightly on the spot or do light ab work like Swiss ball crunches. Then repeat for 12-18 minutes. If you do have access to a treadmill or elliptical machine in your home gym, consider alternating days for HIIT strength training and cardio.
Get More High-Quality Sleep
Diet and exercise are key behaviors for weight loss, but those precious hours you spend unconscious each night can play a role, too. For one thing, if you don’t sleep as much, there are simply more hours in the day for you to be awake and eating! But there may be more to it than that. Sleep deprivation may also play havoc with your hormones, increasing your appetite and potentially leading you to more unhealthy food choices. So make sure you get your full seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
After a hard day at work, it’s easy to throw healthy eating out the window and reach for quick, tasty snacks. Everyone has experienced comfort eating like this, but stress may also play a more direct role in obesity via increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. High cortisol levels can interfere with other hormones like insulin, and over time this may cause the body to store more fuel as fat. So plan out some time each day to reduce your stress levels, such as through meditation, getting a massage, breathing exercises, or spending time in nature.
Connect With Healthy People
A landmark study in 2007 found that someone’s chances of becoming obese in a given time frame were 57 percent higher if a friend became obese in the same period. Scientists think this is due to the spread of social norms — in other words, behaviors and values spread through groups. Of course, you don’t need to uproot your whole social network to lose weight, but by connecting and spending time with people who dedicate time to health and fitness, you might adopt these values yourself.
There is no single cause of obesity, and so you’re not likely to find a single solution. Diet and exercise are key foundations, but your mental health, sleep quality, and social connections also matter. If you take a holistic approach to battling obesity, you’re more likely to be successful.