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

How to spot questionable nutrition advice

People can be easily confused or misled by questionable nutrition and diet advice on the Internet. A new resource co-developed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers advice on how to identify trustworthy research about healthy food choices. Some of the key attributes of high-quality nutrition research are studies that include large numbers of human participants (not animals) who are followed over many years. The best—those that assign people to different diets and track them over time—are difficult to carry out because people don’t always stick to the diet. (Locked) More »

Moving away from knee osteoarthritis

An estimated 10% of men ages 60 and older having symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or aspirin, and steroid injections can temporarily soothe arthritis pain and inflammation. But an easier and safer way to manage symptoms is to be more active as bones and cartilage need the stimulation of regular movement to stay healthy and pain free. More »

Can you be overweight and still be fit?

 Image: © FredFroese/Getty Images The idea that someone can be "fat and fit" — that is, overweight but still healthy — has been around for some time. But don't be fooled. "The latest science is quite clear that excess weight can carry considerable health risks, including a higher risk for heart attack and stroke," says Dr. Jorge Plutzky, director of preventive cardiology at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. "While there is no one-size-fits-all number when it comes to a person's ideal weight, men should not ignore significant weight gain and the implications it has for their future health." (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 »