Most obese Americans are plagued by a plethora of unhealthy behaviors. Eating too much, eating too often, sitting on their ass too much, not getting enough exercise, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, eating highly fatty and/or caloric foods, eating out too often – the list goes on and on. So when it comes time to modify behaviors in order to shed a few pounds, it can be difficult to know where to start and changing everything seems overwhelming.
So where does one begin?
According to a new study from Northwestern University, the easiest behaviors to change simultaneously are getting off your ass and eating more fruits and vegetables.
Bonnie Spring recruited 204 adults who could use a behavior overhaul and paid them cash money to make some changes. One group ate more fruits and vegetables and exercised more; another decreased fat intake and sat around less often; the third ate less fat and increased their physical activity; and the final group ate more fruits and vegetables while decreasing their sedentary leisure. In each group, participants were given marks to hit. If they were achieved in a three-week treatment period, they earned up to $175.
How did the researchers know that the self-reporting was accurate and not just a lie to earn money? The participants also submitted grocery receipts, urine samples and accelerometer data from the device they carried around to input their data. These three indicators didn’t prove anything, though. The participants just thought they did. The researchers threw it all in the garabage.
After the three-week trial, participants were asked to continue reporting on their lifestyle change behaviors for another six months for some more money. However, their rewards were not tied to their behaviors. They could go back to their fat ass ways if they chose, just so long as they reported their data.
The results showed that most people kept up with their lifestyle alterations to some degree. The changes that stuck the most were eating more fruits and vegetables while decreasing sedentary leisure. The fruit and veggie intake went from 1.2 servings before the intervention to 5.5 during, and then leveled off at 2.9 after it stopped mattering. Sure, it’s still not enough, but it’s an improvement.
Similarly, the amount of sedentary leisure time spent went from 219.2 minutes to 89.3 to 125.7. That’s a pretty major improvement. Maybe they discovered just how much they could get done and accomplish if they didn’t spend all their time watching the television.
Although, the study doesn’t really define what sedentary leisure includes. What about reading a book, playing cards or practicing a musical instrument? Those are all worthwhile endeavors, but are they completely sedentary? I’d be interested in seeing what the participants did with their extra hour and a half of not sitting around every day.
As for the typical diet plan – exercising at least an hour per day while minimizing fat intake, even though processed carbs are more of a problem – it was the hardest for people to maintain after the initial three-week trial.
But I pet it paid off the most. It’d be interesting to see how the weights of each of the four groups were affected as well. Perhaps that will come in the future.