Diet and Weight Loss

Why pregnant women should avoid artificially sweetened beverages

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many pregnant women turn to zero-calorie artificially sweetened beverages to help avoid weight gain. However, these beverages may actually cause weight gain—and even alter your digestion and sense of taste. Recent research suggests that pregnant women who drink diet beverages to avoid weight gain may end up with heavier babies. So, if you’re pregnant, you may want to rethink that zero-calorie soda. After all, the old adage about “eating for two” is a reminder to eat and drink in ways that keep both you and your baby healthy.

Exercise: It does so much more than burn calories

Elizabeth Pegg Frates, MD

You’ve probably heard that if you want to lose weight, it’s as simple as “eat less, exercise more.” A recent study suggests that a lot of exercise doesn’t always translate into a lot of extra calories burned. But even if you never lose a single pound with exercise, it has so many other benefits for your body and mind that it’s always worth it to be active. Give it a try today!

Could lack of sleep trigger a food “addiction”?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people cite a lack of “motivation” or “willpower” as the reason that overweight people can’t control their eating habits. But a wealth of evidence has come to light that obesity is linked to insufficient sleep. Most recently, an experimental study has found that restricted sleep can increase the levels of brain chemicals that make eating pleasurable. Could it be that insufficient sleep makes the brain addicted to the act of eating?

How useful is the body mass index (BMI)?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The body mass index (BMI) has long been considered an important way to gauge your risk for many chronic conditions, from arthritis to sleep apnea to heart disease. But like all medical measures, BMI is not perfect — and a recent study has revealed that BMI alone may not be a solid measure of cardiovascular health. Here, we’ve examined the pros and cons of the BMI, and whether it’s a number worth knowing.

The missing rewards that motivate healthy lifestyle changes

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

Ask anyone who’s ever tried to make a healthy change — after a while, the motivation to keep at it just stops. Indeed, it can be incredibly hard to break old habits, or make new ones. But research has revealed that there are actually two different types of rewards in the brain — and that focusing on the less commonly pursued of the two can help you make lasting changes.

Are protein bars really just candy bars in disguise?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Eating on the go can be a challenge, so many of us turn to protein meal-replacement bars, or even to the ever-popular candy bar. While the protein bars may be a little better for you in terms of the nutrients they contain, they probably do not offer any significant health benefits, and the occasional candy bar won’t hurt provided you eat a balanced diet most of the time.

Exercise: You may need less than you think

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Getting regular physical activity is one of the most important things one can do to protect and promote health, yet many people say they don’t have time to exercise. A recent study has confirmed that even a little exercise — just 8 to 15 minutes a day — reduced the risk of death. When it comes to exercise, some is always better than none.

10 tips for mindful eating — just in time for the holidays

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Eating without awareness can lead to overeating and take away much of the pleasure that can be found in your meals. During the holidays, it can easily cause you to overindulge. Taking a mindful approach to meals by slowing down and savoring the experience can not only help with weight control, but also enhance health and well-being — as well as your enjoyment of the meal.

Quitting smoking doesn’t have to mean big weight gain

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

Weight gain might be one of the most dreaded “side effects” of quitting smoking. Constant reminders of the health dangers of being overweight lead some smokers to think that smoking is “safer” than the weight they might gain if they quit. But that’s just not the case. It’s true that people tend to gain 5-10 pounds in the first six months after they stop smoking. But a recent study suggested that for those who quit, weight gain slows down over the following 10 years after quitting. Over that same time period, people who continued to smoke also gained some weight, though not as much. Over all, kicking the habit doesn’t have to mean a larger waistline, especially if you plan ahead.

Making one change — getting more fiber — can help with weight loss

Nancy Ferrari
Nancy Ferrari, Senior editor, Harvard Health

Getting to a healthy weight and staying there isn’t always easy. Many complicated diets offer solutions. A study published in today’s Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that something as simple as aiming to eat more fiber each day can be just as good as a more complicated diet. In a head-to-head study of a simple diet (eat more fiber) and a complex one (eat more fruits, vegetables, high-fiber foods, fish, and lean protein but also cut back on salt, sugar, fat, and alcohol), participants lost almost the same amounts of weight on either diet. Both diets led to similar improvements in blood pressure the body’s response to insulin. The results of the study don’t prove that a high-fiber diet is necessarily as good (or better) for health than the AHA diet or the highly in-vogue Mediterranean diet. But it does suggest that one simple step can make a difference and that encouraging healthy behaviors may be more effective than discouraging unhealthy ones.