The Global Healthy Weight Registry: What it Takes to Have a Healthy Weight
When it comes to our attempts at weight loss, restrictive diets and extreme exercise programs are very difficult to maintain. It would be advantageous to anyone trying to lose and maintain their weight to be able to accomplish this in as simple and non-stressful a way as possible.
We probably all know someone who seems to be able to eat anything they want and does not appear to exercise, yet they look and feel great. They’re not on any reality TV show, are they? No, all the reality TV shows are based on being unhealthy. I can’t think of one reality show that follows a healthy and fit person around. Fortunately, some people had the obvious idea that maybe there was something the rest of us could learn about weight control by observing and recording what these slim and fit people do that the rest of us don’t.
Cornell Food and Brand Lab researchers developed an online Global Healthy Weight Registry, formerly called Slim by Design, designed for the purposes of studying the characteristics and behaviors of people who are at a healthy weight and do not struggle with weight problems.
Adults of healthy weight were invited to sign up for the registry and then to answer questions about their diet, exercise and daily routines with the hope that understanding these people will be helpful for those who struggle with their weight as well as providing useful information in the area of obesity research.
To be eligible for the GHWR, you must have a self-reported body mass index of between 17 and 29.9 and never have received psychological consultation for weight or eating problems. All participants were asked open-ended questions about their dining and exercise habits, health behavior and weight control strategies.
An open-ended question is one that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, or with a specific piece of information. This gives the person answering the question the freedom to give the information that they feel to be most appropriate. (Sometimes, I wish our legal system was designed this way and our political system was not designed this way.)
What Healthy People Do
Currently there are more than 168 registry members that are approximately 72 percent female, with an average age of 39 years, and an average BMI of 21.7. The majority of the BMIs were between 18.5 and 25.
Typically, participants had become aware of their weight at the age of 11 to 14 years. Almost one third reported they exercised zero to two times a week, whereas 23 percent of the participants exercised six or seven times a week. Forty-four percent of the participants reported that they were never on a diet.
Eating breakfast was reported by almost all of the participants, and 71 percent of participants reported eating vegetables or salad in connection with lunch or dinner. Many participants did not monitor their weight regularly, while 27 percent said they only weighed themselves infrequently or yearly.
The most common strategy used to resist overeating was never to bring trigger foods into the house. As far as an experience that motivated participants to avoid excess weight, 11 percent responded having an obese family member.
The Mindlessly Slim
Ninety-three of these people were identified with the designation of “mindlessly slim,” which is defined as participants who monitored their weight infrequently or only on a yearly basis, or who responded as never being on a diet. The eating behavior and weight control behaviors of mindlessly slim people were compared to the rest of the group. They found that the MS were more commonly male and had a lower BMI, but there was no age difference. MS people actually exercised less frequently overall.
Food intake during breakfast, lunch or dinner was not significantly different between MS people and the others, but there were significant differences in eating behaviors.
When they were asked “What are things you regularly do that help you to stay slim,” MS people were more likely to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, only eat when hungry, and have quality home-cooked food. However, when asked how they resist overeating, they said, purchasing unhealthy foods but keeping them out of sight, or discarding them were less common for the MS because they never brought them home in the first place. Also, MS people only became aware of their weight at older age, and they were less likely to feel guilty after overeating.
Overall, the healthy and slim participants shared common routine behaviors such as eating breakfast, exercising five or more times a week and weighing themselves at least weekly. Although the majority never or rarely dieted, 92 percent reported being conscious of what they ate. As part of their habits that lead to weight control, 44 percent reported at least one non-restrictive strategy such as listening to inner cues, cooking at home, and eating high-quality, non-processed foods.
According to Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Food and Brand Lab, “Most slim people don’t employ restrictive diets or intense health regimes to stay at a healthy weight. Instead, they practice easy habits like not skipping breakfast, and listening to inner cues. If you struggle with weight, try adding these simple practices to your routine, you may be surprised how easy it is to be healthy!”
By Dr. J, a maxillofacial surgeon living in Florida. Dr. J has travelled to Haiti to treat indigent patients and has taught as an associate professor at a Florida dental college. In his spare time Dr. J is a dedicated runner as well as a pilot who flies his Piper Cherokee Arrow throughout Florida. He has a black belt in karate. Dr. J has written for CalorieLab since 2007.