The mainstream advice for dieting, eat less unhealthy food and get more exercise, is definitely a valid and effective way to lose weight. But many people find it difficult to stick to. Personally, I find it excruciatingly difficult to force myself to actually get exercise on a regular basis. According to CBS News, a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that simply swapping the focuses of those two goals seems to be effective in sustainable health improvement. Instead of eating less unhealthy food, you can aim to eat more fruits and vegetables, and instead of getting more exercise, you can spend less time on sedentary recreation.
"Just making two lifestyle changes has a big overall effect and people don't get overwhelmed," Dr. Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press release. "Americans have all these unhealthy behaviors that put them at high risk for heart disease and cancer, but it is hard for them and their doctors to know where to begin to change those unhealthy habits," Spring said. "This approach simplifies it."
In the study, 204 adult patients between the ages of 21 to 60 with elevated saturated fat and low fruit and vegetable intake, high sedentary leisure time and low physical activity were placed in one of four treatment categories. One group had to increase fruit and vegetable intake, another had to decrease fat and sedentary leisure, yet another decrease fat and increase physical activity (otherwise known as traditional dieting) and the last group had to increase fruit/vegetable intake and decrease sedentary leisure. Patients had to record their daily results for three weeks and were coached remotely through mobile technology. If the patients met their goals and displayed healthy lifestyle changes, they would receive $175.
On average, daily fruit and vegetable intake increased from 1.2 servings to 5.5 servings, sedentary leisure time decreased from 219.2 minutes per day to 89.3 minutes, and daily saturated fat decreased from 12.0 percent to 9.5 percent of calories consumed. The group that participated in traditional dieting reported fewer improvements than the other groups.
There are a lot of ways to recontextualize dieting decisions. I, for example, am a weekday vegetarian. It seems like this sort of recontextualization might be a key to widespread, sustained weight loss. And as an added bonus, it can't really be marketed by a body-negative media campaign, because recontextualization works because we don't associate it with body hate, and so don't get overwhelmed.[1. This part is my hypothesis, not a part of the study.]