By middle age, 65% of women and 52% of men in Canada are considered overweight. And we know that being overweight has a direct result on our heart health. But an enviable minority stay slim throughout their whole lives. We hate those people.
Are these types just genetically blessed? Or do they, too, have to work at keeping down their weight? To find out, the Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed over 21,000 subscribers to Consumer Reports about their lifetime weight history and their eating, dieting and exercising habits.
Turns out that people who have never been overweight are not sitting around in their La-Z-Boys scarfing down gooey Tim Hortons maple dips like I always imagined they could do if they felt like it. Here’s what Consumer Reports did find out about how their always-slim respondents compared to people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off:
- a mere 3% of the always-slim group reported that they never exercised and that they ate whatever they pleased
- the eating and exercise habits of the vast majority of the always-slim group look surprisingly like those of people who have maintained their weight loss
- both groups eat healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains and avoid excessive dietary fat
- both groups practice portion control
- both groups exercise vigorously and regularly
- the only advantage the always-slim have over the successful dieters is that those habits seem to come a bit more naturally to them
Dr. Suzanne Phelan is an assistant professor of kinesiology at California Polytechnic State University and co-investigator of the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks people who have successfully maintained a weight loss over time. She explains:
“When we’ve compared people maintaining a weight loss with controls who’ve always had a normal weight, we’ve found that both groups are working hard at it; the maintainers are just working a little harder.
“For our respondents, that meant exercising a little more and eating with a bit more restraint than an always-slim person, plus using more monitoring strategies such as weighing themselves or keeping a food diary.”
The always-slim, who had never been overweight, comprised 16% of the Consumer Reports sample. Successful weight losers made up an additional 15%. That group was defined as people who, at the time of the survey, weighed at least 10% less than they did at their heaviest, and had been at that lower weight for at least three years.
Failed dieters (those who said they would like to slim down yet still weighed at or near their lifetime high) made up the largest group: 42%. (The remaining 27% of respondents, such as people who had lost weight more recently, didn’t fit into any of the categories.)
An encouraging note from the survey results:
“More than half of our successful losers reported shedding the weight themselves, without aid of a commercial diet program, a medical treatment, a book or diet pills. That confirms what we found in our last large diet survey, in 2002, in which 83% of ‘superlosers‘ – people who’d lost at least 10% of their starting weight and kept it off for five years or more – had done it entirely on their own.”
Are you overweight?
One commonly-used calculation to tell if you’re overweight (other than observing that none of your clothes fit properly anymore) is called Body Mass Index. A BMI under 25 is considered normal weight; from 25 to 29, overweight; and 30 or above, obese. Here’s how to calculate your BMI.
Although BMI has been considered an accurate indicator of obesity, it doesn’t differentiate between weight gained by pumping iron or weight gained by eating too many Tim Hortons maple dips. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, had a BMI of 33 at the peak of his elite body-building career – a number that would have inappropriately slotted him into the “obese” category.
A few months ago, slightly alarmed at the direction my bathroom scale numbers seemed to be insidiously heading (and with two of my daily meds listing ‘weight gain’ as a common side effect), I made a decision to avoid becoming one of those 65% of Canadian middle-aged women who are overweight. I beefed up my daily exercise regimen, and became far more careful about what I was eating.
The result: I’m now down
1 8 19 21 pounds so far! Stay tuned for ongoing updates.
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