Weight gain is contagious? And snacking fights it?

How many people in mid-life can fit into their wedding clothes? Not too many, because predictably, most have exchanged muscle tissue for body fat and more pounds. Now, a report from Johns Hopkins University claims there are proven ways to limit and even reverse weight gain in both sexes.

Women, as they start into menopause along with decreased activity, develop what’s been labeled the ‘Menopot’. With lowered estrogen, testosterone begins to transfer fat from the hips and other areas to the belly. It’s not just a cosmetic problem, but one that can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

The Women’s Healthy Lifestyle Project studied 535 women between the ages 44 to 55 for five years. One group received dietary and exercise advice, such as brisk walking and bicycle riding. Another group was allowed to continue their usual routine. At the end of the study 55% in the lifestyle group were at or below their baseline weight, compared to 26% of those who had no supervision.

Another study, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, followed 18,000 premenopausal bicycle riding women for 16 years. Most women gained 20 lbs. during that time, but women who rode their bicycles more often and consistently gained less weight. The moral? As has been proven over and over, exercise and diet can work if the motivation to persevere is present.

But here is what’s not known about mid-life obesity. A social network can play a critical role in keeping weight under control. But it can also work against you.

The New England Journal of Medicine analyzed 12,067 people between 1971 and 2003. It found that weight gain was contagious, spreading from one person to another like an infection. For instance, researchers discovered that a person’s chance of becoming obese increased 57% if his or her friend became obese. This trend was also true for adult siblings. And if a spouse developed a weight problem, there was a 37% chance of the partner gaining weight.

So what’s the answer? It’s prudent to pay attention to what your friend, sibling or spouse is doing wrong. Then try not to emulate them.

Not much surprises me about obesity. But one case made me realize there’s always something new under the sun. I always believed one sure way to gain weight was to fall prey to snacking during meals. But according to a report in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, snacking can be made a part of efforts to lose weight.

This study involved overweight women enrolled in a weight reduction program. Researchers discovered that 97% of women snacked at least once a day and more than half snacked two to three times a day. But amazingly on average they succeeded in losing 9% of their body weight after six months.

It depended on when they snacked. Midmorning snackers lost 7% while the afternoon snackers lost 11%.

So what is the hidden secret about snacking? Researchers say there is an art to healthy snacking and it can provide a boost to successful weight loss.

For a start, you should not do mindless snacking. Instead, start the day with a game plan for meals and snacks so you eat every three hours. Psychologically, this will prevent depression as you know there’s a treat in a short time.

Ideally, snacks should contain protein and complex carbohydrates. So choose fruits, vegetables, whole-wheat grains, low fat dairy products and lean meat.

Remember, a snack is not a meal so portion control is vital. Keep each snack between 100 to 200 calories. A good choice is baby carrots, celery, low fat yogurt, low fat cheese and small whole grain crackers.

Fluids do not quench the hunger reflex so drink either water or a non-caloric beverage. And if you are on the run, have a pear in your briefcase or purse.

These suggestions may not get you back into your wedding clothes, but they are all a step in the right direction.

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