Want to Live Longer? Stop Worrying About Weight Loss.

Stressing about shedding pounds only leads to unwanted "weight cycling"

A man standing on a scale in the bathroom.
Stop worrying about the number on the scale, this latest study says.
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According to a recent study published in iScience, preventing obesity is not the be-all and end-all for one’s long-term health as we’ve long assumed. Adding fuel to the fire for proponents of the “metabolically healthy obesity” movement, these latest findings suggest that prioritizing weight loss is a waste of time. People should instead focus on cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and physical activity (PA), regardless of how thin they get along the way.

The researchers for this study noted disturbing trends in America’s obesity treatment strategy — since the 1980s, 42% of the general population has reportedly made an effort to lose weight. But during that same time, the prevalence of obesity in America has skyrocketed. After a comprehensive meta-analysis of over 100 different studies, the authors concluded: “This intense focus on weight loss has not prevented excessive weight gain in recent decades. Moreover, repeated weight loss efforts may contribute to weight gain, and is undoubtedly associated with the high prevalence of weight cycling, which is associated with significant health risks.”

In other words: the more we’ve tried to lose weight, the less it’s worked. Blame fad diets, the demonization of carbs, reality shows like The Biggest Loser. But in the race to get thin, most Americans aren’t making it to the finish line. That’s because focusing on weight loss (and by extension, body image and beauty standards) too often gets in the way of just implementing healthy, sustainable, everyday practices … BMI be damned.

The endgame here is longevity — protecting against diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes. Band-aid measures meant to get you in shape for one season (summer) or one event (a wedding) can lead to weight cycling, defined as a process of losing weight only to regain it all over again. This puts stress on your body, and it definitely puts stress on your brain. The shame and guilt associated with putting the weight back on often sabotages mental health.

Is it better to not have excess weight on the body? Yes. Other studies — which, confusingly, can seem somewhat at odds with these recent findings — have pushed against the narrative that you can be “fat and healthy.” Regardless, your best approach is going to be a balanced routine, and one that largely takes place in the kitchen. Go on walks and runs, take classes, strength train a couple times a week. Just try to include heart-healthy foods in your diet, watch your portions, limit your take-out, and emphasize plant intake.

With that in mind, you’ll likely live to see the next 100 groundbreaking studies on weight loss.

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