Your favorite pair of pants once zipped easily, but lately you can barely get them over your hips. Sound familiar? Most adults experience the dreaded "weight creep," where the numbers on the scale gradually increase -- and before you know it, you're 10 pounds heavier. But it’s not inevitable. Simply by making a few gradual lifestyle changes, experts say, you can stop gaining weight and even drop some pounds.
There are several reasons most adults gradually gain weight.
First, as you get older, your body changes. Your body slows down with each passing decade. And that’s not all.
"The effect of aging also slowly changes your body composition, decreasing the amount of calorie-burning muscle and replacing it with fat," says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD.
Further, most adults become much less active as they get older but continue to eat as much as they did in their 20s. The combination of aging, less exercise, and a healthy appetite are the reasons so many of us eventually experience "weight creep."
Add Muscle to Stop Gaining Weight
"Muscle is metabolically active, and to minimize naturally occurring muscle loss, you need to be physically active every day, including resistance training two to three times a week," says exercise physiologist Felicia Stoler, RD,host of TLC's Honey We’re Killing the Kids. "By being active, you can enjoy more calories without gaining weight -- if you choose your calories wisely."
And change up your fitness routine every six to eight weeks to keep your body from getting too accustomed to your workout.
"It has to be challenging; otherwise, it won’t work," says Ward.
Stop Gaining Weight by Eliminating Bad Habits
Some of the common mistakes people make that lead to weight gain include:
- Not making time for physical activity
- Mindless eating in front of the TV after dinner
- Drinking too much alcohol or sweetened drinks like specialty coffees
- Skipping breakfast
- Eating irregular meals
- Finishing kids' meals
- Reaching for second helpings
- Eating too many simple carbs (like sugar and white bread) and not enough protein
The older you get, the more diligent you have to be, says Ward, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids.
Figure out where your own problem areas are, and find solutions to control calories and fit in more fitness. If you're a sweet eater, no problem -- just work a small portion of sweets into your diet. Ward recommends stocking the freezer with 100-calorie frozen treats to keep calories and portions in check.
Eating healthy does not mean following a super-restrictive diet. But you do have to watch what you put into your mouth.
For example, a diet high in simple carbs creates a vicious cycle. The more you eat, the more you want -- because these foods aren't as satisfying as foods with protein and fiber. That handful of chips with your sandwich here and half a cookie there adds up. And adults have very little room for those extra calories.
"Flip around the idea that you need to cut calories to maintain weight and instead, think about what you need to eat to lose weight," suggests Ward. Choose whole-grain carbs, fruits and vegetables, and always include lean or low-fat protein with meals and snacks. You'll feel fuller and be less likely to pick between meals.
Experts recommend eating regular meals, paring down portions of high-fat and high-calorie foods, and never skipping breakfast.
"Gone are the days when you can skip breakfast and eat a 16-ounce steak and maintain your weight," says Stoler.
Stop Gaining Weight by Making Small Changes
Yet you don't have to go to great lengths to stop gaining weight. You can avoid adding extra pounds by making some simple changes to your lifestyle.
To avoid weight gain, experts recommend adding 2,000 steps a day to your routine, doing strength training two to three times a week, and shaving 100 calories from your diet each day.
Here are some simple ways to shave 100 calories a day:
- Eat two fewer cookies.
- Quench your thirst with sparkling water or a diet soft drink instead of sweetened beverages.
- Leave a few bites of food on your plate.
- Hold the mayonnaise or cheese on your sandwich. Replace it with mustard, lettuce and tomato.
- Switch from whole to fat-free milk.
- Use half your usual amount of salad dressing, and choose vinaigrette instead of creamy dressing.
- Use nonstick cooking spray instead of butter, margarine, or oil for pan-frying.
- Substitute low-fat or fat-free yogurt for sour cream in recipes.
- Control snack portions by putting your snacks in a baggie or on a plate instead of eating out of the bag,
- Drink 100% fruit juice instead of juice with added sugar.
- Choose light beer or wine instead of frozen or fruit-based cocktails.
- Order a cup of broth-based soup instead of a bowl.
- Pass on supersized menu options.
- Hold the croutons on your salad.
- Have a healthy appetizer and salad instead of an entrée when eating out.
- Top your pasta with vegetable sauce instead of cream sauce (and be sure to control portions.)
- Hold the butter on steamed vegetables. Flavor them with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
- Limit meat portions to 3-4 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards).
If you want to lose weight, begin by shaving 500 calories a day via diet and exercise. That should help you lose about a pound a week. Keep in mind that one pound of fat – not muscle or water weight -- is equal to 3,500 calories.