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5 weight-loss findings from 2018 that could help you keep your New Year’s resolutions

If resolving to lose weight is your annual ritual, consider trying an evidence-based approach.

A plant-based eating plan light on sources of saturated fat, like the Mediterranean diet, proved its worth in research published in 2018.
A plant-based eating plan light on sources of saturated fat, like the Mediterranean diet, proved its worth in research published in 2018.Read moreGetty Images/iStockphoto (custom credit) / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Because losing weight is a popular New Year’s resolution, a recent report suggesting that dieting could boost your risk of dying from heart problems seemed like scary stuff.

A closer look shows nothing could be further from the truth.

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of weight and height, and the average BMI is increasing every year in our country. In 2018, more than two out of every three Americans had a BMI over 30, meaning they were significantly overweight. If your BMI is elevated as a younger person, the 24-year study showed, the risk of having heart disease increased 22 percent with each 5-unit rise in BMI, and was always higher in those who were overweight at the start of the study.

Not surprisingly, if weight loss occurs due to illness, that’s a bad prognostic indicator, which explains the scary conclusions some drew from the report.

Here are the real conclusions: Preventing weight gain in the first place is an important goal, providing your doctor with your weight history is helpful, and voluntary weight loss is associated with only positive outcomes.

Those are just some of the useful facts we learned about obesity in 2018. Here is a summary of what is new:

1. Fluctuations in body weight (also called yo-yo dieting) have again been shown to be harmful. Among 9,509 participants in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, body weight variability was associated with an increased cardiac risk, diabetes, and even death. Your takeaway: Gradually losing just a few pounds that you can keep off is wiser than reaching for a dramatic goal that isn’t sustainable.

2. South Korean researchers demonstrated that when blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight widely fluctuated over five years, there was a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Your takeaway: Work with your doctor to control all these health barometers.

3. Investigators showed a direct correlation between the specific kinds of carbohydrates we eat and mortality. The human body treats sugar, processed foods, and white flour products (such as bagels, pasta, and rice) the same way. Called “simple” carbohydrates, they can lead to inflammation, elevated triglycerides, and, according to this most recent study, an increased chance of dying from a heart problem. Both high-carb diets and low-carb diets were associated with increased mortality, and the lowest risk was seen with carbs at 50 percent to 55 percent of one’s calories. Your takeaway: White flour and sugar are just as bad for you as you’ve heard.

4. The PURE study looked at dietary data from more than 135,000 people in 18 countries. Tracked over a seven-year period, those with the highest intake of carbohydrates (77 percent of calories) were 28 percent more likely to have died than those with the lowest carb intake (46 percent of calories). People who had higher intake of polyunsaturated fat (35 percent) were 23 percent less likely to have died than those with lower intake of fat (10 percent). Your takeaway: Calories count, but so does the content of your diet.

5. A vegetarian diet and Mediterranean diet were both equally effective in promoting weight loss, with the vegetarian diet being a bit better to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and the Mediterranean diet better to lower triglycerides. Your takeaway: Saturated fats, such as those in marbled red meat, are not your friend. A plant-based diet, however, is.

These studies made for some interesting headlines in 2018 but missed some important things to remember as we embark on this new year:

  1. You can be overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) and fit. Healthy people come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes this is determined genetically.

  2. When obesity is caused by lifestyle, fat is often stored primarily in the belly. This kind of obesity is much more likely to lead to problems later in life. Overweight people who exercise regularly, have more of a pear shape, and do not have as much belly fat are at lower risk.

  3. It might be smart to be more concerned about waist circumference than total weight.

  4. Rather than embarking on a diet in January, to only gain back the weight by March, begin a lifestyle change.

  5. Remember the difference between good carbs and bad, eliminate sugar and processed foods from your diet, know that there are good fats (poly and monounsaturated) compared with bad (saturated) fats, and, most important, stay active and exercise.

Statistics suggest that by 2020, 3 of 4 Americans will be obese (BMI of 30 or more) or overweight (BMI of 25 to 30). Don’t let yourself become a statistic.