Diet & Weight Loss

A healthy weight is an important element of good health. How much you eat—and what you eat—play central roles in maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight. Exercise is the other key actor.

For years, low-fat diets were thought to be the best way to lose weight. A growing body of evidence shows that low-fat diets often don't work, in part because these diets often replace fat with easily digested carbohydrates.

Hundreds of diets have been created, many promising fast and permanent weight loss. Remember the cabbage soup diet? The grapefruit diet? How about the Hollywood 48 Hour Miracle diet, the caveman diet, the Subway diet, the apple cider vinegar diet, and a host of forgettable celebrity diets?

The truth is, almost any diet will work if it helps you take in fewer calories. Diets do this in two main ways:

  • getting you to eat certain "good" foods and/or avoid "bad" ones
  • changing how you behave and the ways you think or feel about food

The best diet for losing weight is one that is good for all parts of your body, from your brain to your toes, and not just for your waistline. It is also one you can live with for a long time. In other words, a diet that offers plenty of good tasting and healthy choices, banishes few foods, and doesn't require an extensive and expensive list of groceries or supplements.

One diet that fills the bill is a Mediterranean-type diet. Such a diet—and there are many variations—usually includes:

  • several servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and olive oil
  • lean protein from poultry, fish, and beans
  • limited amounts of red meat
  • moderate wine consumption with meals (no more than two glasses a day for men; no more than one a day for women

A Mediterranean-style diet is a flexible eating pattern. People who follow such diets tend to have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and other chronic conditions.

Diet & Weight Loss Articles

Top five habits that harm the heart

Five poor heart habits are responsible for the majority of heart disease, but their opposite, healthy behaviors can help protect the heart and improve overall health. And it's never too late to start. You don't need to aim for a complete transformation all at once. Small changes in diet, exercise, or weight can make a big difference in your health. Setting goals you can realistically achieve, and then meeting them, can snowball into even bigger improvements. More »

Taking aim at belly fat

Though the visceral fat that lies behind the abdominal wall makes up only a small percentage of the body's fat. A growing body of research indicates that this intra-abdominal or belly fat is linked to a number of medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, dementia, breast and colorectal cancer. More »

Why People Become Overweight

Everyone knows some people who can eat ice cream, cake, and whatever else they want and still not gain weight. At the other extreme are people who seem to gain weight no matter how little they eat. Why? What allows one person to remain thin without effort but demands that another struggle to avoid gaining weight or regaining the pounds he or she has lost previously? On a very simple level, your weight depends on the number of calories you consume, how many of those calories you store, and how many you burn up. But each of these factors is influenced by a combination of genes and environment. Both can affect your physiology (such as how fast you burn calories) as well as your behavior (the types of foods you choose to eat, for instance). The interplay between all these factors begins at the moment of your conception and continues throughout your life. The balance of calories stored and burned depends on your genetic makeup, your level of physical activity, and your resting energy expenditure (the number of calories your body burns while at rest). If you consistently burn all of the calories that you consume in the course of a day, you will maintain your weight. If you consume more energy (calories) than you expend, you will gain weight. More »

Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights

The table below lists the calories burned by doing dozens of activities listed by category (such as gym activities, training and sports activities, home repair etc.) for 30 minutes. Activities and exercises include walking (casual, race, and everything in between), swimming, jogging, yoga, and even watching TV and sleeping. In each category, activities are listed from least to most calories burned. (This table was first printed in the July 2004 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter. For more information or to order, please go to http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart.) If you're concerned about heart disease, you need expert information and advice you can trust. The Harvard Heart Letter, from Harvard Medical School, is your monthly advisory on the latest developments in heart health, new treatments, prevention, and research breakthroughs. Read more » More »