by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, for SHAPE.com
A lot of my clients realize they've gained weight when their jeans get a little too tight, or they see a picture of themselves and think, "uh oh." But according to a new study from the University of Washington, most Americans don't actually know whether they're gaining or losing.
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In a large public health survey, people were asked about their year-to-year weight changes, and they didn't do a very good job at assessing the truth. Most said they had lost weight , but obesity rates actually increased. Researchers say if they had relied on the self-reported data they would have undercounted over four million obese adults.
Interestingly, of those who did report gaining weight unintentionally, they tended to fall into one of the following groups:
Men and women under 40
Those who identify as black, Native American, or Hispanic
Current and former smokers
People who eat less than five servings of fruits and veggies each day
Those reported not engaging in any physical activity
People with diagnosed chronic diseases, poor mental health, and too little sleep
Those without health care coverage
So what does all of this mean? We need to do a better job helping people to be aware of what's going on with their bodies, because unnoticed weight gain can lead to unwanted health risks. And you may not be aware of how your body is changing until there's a problem. But before you start jumping on the scale daily, keep in mind that weight fluctuations are normal. For example, two cups (16 oz) of water retention equals one pound on the scale, yet you could be losing body fat at the same time that you're retaining water. And the truth is, tracking your health is more important than tracking your weight.
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Check out two of my previous posts for tips about what to focus on (hint: the same strategies you should use to maintain a healthy weight will also help you reach that weight):