Do you remember your parents talking about their diet and exercise habits as much as we do today?
Sure, they had the grapefruit and Scarsdale diets, Jazzercise and the ThighMaster. But an obsession with how to get thin and fit did not seem to invade nearly every waking minute as it does today.
A recent study found that even though today we spend more time and money focusing on how to lose weight than our parents did, we weigh more than they did at the same age.
According to an article in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, researchers looked at the diets and activities of several thousand people between the 1980s and today and grouped them by their exercise, food intake, age and BMI. They discovered that a person who today takes in the same number of calories and exercises the same amount as a person did in the late 1980s would have a BMI close to 2.3 points higher.
However, Dr. Mark Jabro, an internist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, does not think we should throw up our collective arms and give up on the idea that we can reach and maintain a healthy weight today.
“It's difficult to look at data that is self-reported because people are not always accurate about what they are eating and the amount of exercise they are getting,” says Dr. Jabro. “I would hate to think that studies like this make people feel helpless about improving their wellness, and make them think that diet and exercise don’t work — because they do.”
Looking to the past for modern-day solutions
Although Dr. Jabro agrees that people are heavier today than in earlier decades, he believes the reasons are quite obvious and the solutions simple: We eat more processed foods now than we ever have before, and our careers generally call for us to be more sedentary than in past generations.
“We live in a food-toxic environment with additives like salt, fat and sugar being added to many of our packaged foods,” says Dr. Jabro. “Food scientists have become skilled at creating more densely caloric foods that are highly processed and practically addictive.”
Dr. Jabro believes that if we got back to the art of cooking meals made from scratch, we could more closely match the wellness of our parents. He suggests we change our current diets to include more of these “made by nature” foods:
- Fruits and vegetables
- High-fiber foods such as beans and whole grains
- Healthier fats, including avocados, salmon, olive oil and nuts
- Lean proteins such as skinless chicken, low-fat dairy products and eggs
He also encourages us to move more. Changes in the American economy over the past several decades have resulted in an adult workforce that is largely sedentary. He recommends that we exercise at least 30 minutes, five times per week, and find ways to get up and move during our working hours.
“Pay attention to what you are eating, exercise regularly and you can reach and maintain a healthy weight just as our parents did in the past.”