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

Can you be overweight and still be fit?

Science is quite clear that excess weight carries considerable health risks, including a higher risk for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Yet where that weight accumulates may pose the greatest threat. A large waist size suggests excess visceral (belly) fat, which is stored in the abdominal cavity and surrounds vital organs like the pancreas, liver, and intestines. It poses an increased heart attack risk because of its association with high blood pressure, elevated blood sugars and abnormal lipid levels. (Locked) More »

Open your heart to mindful eating

Mindfulness techniques, especially those that cultivate self-awareness and compassion, may help people lose weight and keep it off. One key example involves noticing mindless eating, which happens when people eat without paying attention to their physical and emotional state. People sometimes eat to soothe anxiety, sadness, or other unpleasant emotions. Mindfulness practices teach people how to identify emotions rather than avoid them and to ride out cravings, which tend to come and go. (Locked) More »

Small tricks to help you shed pounds and keep them off

Weight loss can be a major challenge today because of the abundance of food available and a more sedentary lifestyle. But there are strategies people can use to reach and maintain a healthy weight, including choosing eating patterns that are sustainable over the long term, adding in regular exercise, and focusing on restarting their efforts if they go off track. More »

Weighing the Facts of Obesity - Longwood Seminar

Obesity among children and adults dramatically increases the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. What are the contributing factors that lead to being overweight? In this seminar, Harvard Medical School doctors and researchers will address the stigma that surrounds obesity and discuss concrete methods, including changes to sleep and diet, that could help scale back this growing problem. Each spring, Harvard Medical School's Office of Communications and External Relations organizes a series of four free "mini-med school" classes for the general public in the heart of Boston's Longwood Medical Area. At the end of the seminar series, participants who attend three out of the four sessions receive a certificate of completion. Topics are selected for their appeal to a lay audience and have included the human genome, nutrition, sleep dynamics and health care access. Faculty from Harvard Medical School and its affiliate hospitals volunteer their time to present these lectures to the community. More »

Belly fat may pose more danger for women than for men

Weight carried around the middle may signal a greater risk for heart attack in women than in men with belly fat. Strategies to prevent weight gain can help reduce this risk. Monitoring waist-to-hip ratio can help indicate a potential problem. Whittling the waist requires reducing calories and increasing physical activity. (Locked) More »

Drink your fruits and vegetables?

People who struggle to eat the recommended amount of vegetables and fruits each day can drink low-sodium vegetable juice, although a fresh raw salad is a better choice. Fruit juices, which are high in sugar and calories, should be limited to a half-cup daily. Blended smoothies that combine fruits, vegetables, and other healthful foods (such as yogurt, nut butters, and chia or flax seeds) are another option. (Locked) More »