Are you someone that counts and monitors every calorie in an attempt to lose weight? Do you avoid fat for fear of getting fatter? I'm here to enlighten you ... that thought process is archaic and does not work if your goal is weight loss. In reality, who can live like that and enjoy life?

A new study published in the June 23, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that certain foods and lifestyle behaviors lead to the middle-age belly bulge. This four-year study involved 120,877 well-educated men and women who were healthy and not obese at the start of the study. On average, the participants gained 1 pound every year, however, some gained much more, about 4 pounds in one year, while a few managed to stay the same or even lose weight.

According to the study, the factors that influenced weight gain or weight loss included:

• Increase physical activity. People who increased their physical activity gained less weight than non-exercisers. However, if you are fairly active and fail to pay attention to your diet, you will still gain weight. Bottom line, even if you exercise, you cannot ignore your diet and continue to eat or drink whatever you want and expect to lose weight! Finally in the research, what I've been teaching for the last 20-plus years: For the best fat loss results interval and resistance training are the winners for fat loss versus endless hours of aerobic exercise.

• Highly processed foods do not satisfy hunger. Eating refined, processed food actually increases your appetite, which equals added pounds, elevated blood sugars and a nice spare tire or muffin top.

• Get your sleep! People who slept six hours a night or eight hours gain the most weight.

• Limit television time. Increased TV-watching led to an average weight gain of one-third of a pound for every hour of TV watching per day.

• Monitor your food choices. It's no surprise that these foods were linked to the most weight gain: French fries, processed meats, potato chips, sweets and desserts, potatoes, refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, fried foods, unprocessed red meat and 100-percent fruit juice.

• Include more vegetables, leafy greens, fruits and nuts. The participants who lost the most weight consumed at least three servings of dark leafy greens or vegetables everyday.

• Contrary to conventional advice and what most people believe, eating fat does not make you fat. Weight loss was greatest among people who ate more healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, wild salmon, olive oil and coconut oil).

• Limit alcohol intake. Just one drink a day caused a .41-pound increase in weight. No significant effect was found among those who had one glass of wine a day, but increases in other forms of alcohol packed on the pounds.

Researchers found that the kinds of foods people ate had a larger effect overall than changes in physical activity.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in an interview, "This study shows that conventional wisdom - to eat everything in moderation, eat fewer calories and avoid fatty foods - IS NOT the best approach.

"And, what you eat makes quite a difference. Just counting calories won't matter much unless you look at the kinds of calories you're eating. The notion that it's OK to eat everything in moderation is just an excuse to eat whatever you want."

I love how this study shows that small changes applied for diet and nutrition, healthy lifestyle modifications and exercise will result in profound changes in body weight.

It's the same concept I wrote about in my book, implement two healthy changes each week, and every week thereafter you add two more healthy habits.

This is something anyone can do if they really want to avoid or reverse disease, lose weight, and look and feel their best ever.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens is a nutritionist, fitness expert and weight loss coach with more than 20 years of experience. Reach her at

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