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Ever notice how weight tends to creep on at certain times? Here’s how to push through these vulnerable periods and come out healthier Despit...




Ever notice how weight tends to creep on at certain times? Here’s how to push through these vulnerable periods and come out healthier

Despite what you may hear, people aren’t designed to stay their exact same weight their entire adult lives. “Our bodies are changing all the time in relation to our environment,” says Lindo Bacon, a researcher and the author of Body Respect. “There are many things that factor into a changing weight over time, including a new environment or aging.”

And while it may not feel great—we are conditioned to believe that thinner is better—don’t let it stress you out. Remember that you don’t have to be a certain weight to eat a nutritious diet and get the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate activity. “We can all adopt good health behaviors, regardless of what size we’re at,” says Bacon. Here’s how to make it through five stages when weight problems often develop.


The theory goes that once you head off to college, midnight pizza-heavy study sessions, too many beers, and free rein at the buffet at the dining hall pack on pounds (known as the “freshman 15”). But—deep breath—it ’s probably not 15 pounds. A meta-analysis of 22 studies published in the journal BMC Obesity found that about 60 percent of students gained an average of 7.5 pounds during their freshman year.

It’s a trend experts see in both men and women. “Weight tends to naturally trend up after high school, and I see this especially pronounced in men,” says Benjamin O’Donnell, an endocrinologist specializing in weight management at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Men may be active in sports in high school, and when they get to college, they’re not on a team anymore but “they don’t stop eating like a football player,” he says.

Of course, the same happens to women too; they’re no longer on the field-hockey team but they’re eating as if they’re doing suicide sprints every day. Young students may find that this is the first time  in their life when they have food freedom, says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian in New York City. “Your normal eating habits become flipped, and you’re dealing with the influence of new friends, a new schedule, stress, and a new living situation.”

The best way to avoid bulking up in college is to not focus on weight gain but instead focus on developing healthy new habits. It’s unlikely that downing beer and pizza and staying up until 3 a.m. is living your best life, even if it feels fun at the time.

Everything may be new, but now’s the time to develop stress-reduction strategies and get adequate sleep to buffer late-night binges. If you do find yourself face-to-face with midnight nachos, assemble a small plate of them so you don’t mindlessly devour the order. Another suggestion for snack attacks: “Keep in-shell pistachios in your dorm room,” she says. “The nuts require legwork to crack open, so you can’t inhale them quickly.” 


Going from college to career often means taking a desk job and enduring something of a commute. So it’s probably no wonder that young adults add about a pound or two per year, per 2013 data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In an effort to control this creeping weight gain—or strive for a certain body ideal—you may respond by trying to go on a diet. For all your good intentions, the strategy can backfire, leaving you with more fat than you had before. (We’re not talking about attempts to eat healthy and balanced but, rather, active efforts to restrict what you’re eating.) In fact, adults who had a history of dieting were more likely to have gained weight over a 10-year period compared with those who ate regularly, according to a 2018 study in the journal Eating Behaviors.

When you shortchange your body of calories (energy), it stimulates physiological mechanisms that amplify hunger and add body fat; psychologically speaking, drastic diets also make you hyper-focus on food, increasing the likelihood of a binge, says Bacon. This is often what leads to regaining more weight than you had lost.

What you can do: “It’s important for people to know that dieting doesn’t get them what it promises,” says Bacon. “If you want to get to a weight that ’s healthy for you, the idea isn’t to try to control or fight your body but trust it.”

Tuning in to your body through things like intuitive eating (in which you honor your hunger and cravings without relying on restriction) puts your body back in the driver’s seat.

Next, ask yourself how you can fit exercise into your workday. Could you do 15 minutes of a streaming workout at home? Is there an office park you can walk around at lunch? Getting regular exercise not only makes it easier to keep weight steady but also lowers your risk of many serious health problems.


Did you come back from your honeymoon feeling a little puffy? It’s not just you: The transition into married life leads to weight gain in men and women, according to a 2012 study review from researchers at the City University of New York. (Interestingly, the transition out of marriage leads to weight loss, the CUNY researchers found.) One Finnish study they looked at, for example, found that both men and women who transitioned into marriage almost doubled their risk of substantial weight gain compared with consistently married people. The CUNY experts theorized that couples may be eating more together, moving less, and not worrying so much about their looks once they become locked in.

In some cases, they’re just putting back the weight that they crash dieted off before walking down the aisle. (“Sweating for the wedding” is a thing, after all.) Problem is, the extreme methods people try to get slim fast to fit into their wedding dress or tux are unsustainable. “If you dieted to the extreme, that weight will come back on after the wedding, since it’s an unrealistic vision for where your body should have been,” says Beckerman. “Your body is fighting to go back to a weight more in line with its genetic set point.”

First off, don’t crash diet before the wedding. It w ill leave you v ulnerable to binge eating and developing a negative relationship with food. Once you’re hitched, if you’re a healthy eater and your mate isn’t, “don’t feel trapped in your partner’s eating habits just because you’re a duo,” Beckerman says. Take turns cooking and you may just convert your spouse to loving grain bowls and grilled fish. Focusing on your relationship can pay off too. Research shows that couples in happier, more supportive marriages stay at a healthier weight from the newlywed period into midlife.


It’s not OK to expect a woman postpartum to “snap back ” to her former body. The things you did to maintain the weight you were at B.K. (that’s before kids) likely aren’t your priorities anymore now that there’s a little one to care for. “After having a baby, your routine has been flipped on its head,” says Beckerman.

Although there’s no reason to feel pressure to regain your old shape, some women put healthy eating habits on the back burner for years after starting their family, which can lead to problems down the road. One study on women who entered pregnancy with a normal BMI discovered that one third became overweight or obese a year postpartum, per the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. This of course has health implications, as excess weight can put a woman at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

So what’s a healthy way to address those new-mom pounds? Six months postpartum, think about how you can start to shift your habits—and it doesn’t have to be an entire overhaul. Rather than focusing only on diet and exercise, put your efforts (and any limited free time) toward sleep. “Sleep deprivation can alter hormones responsible for hunger and fullness cues,” says Beckerman.

In addition, give yourself grace during this very stressful period. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” she adds. “If you can relieve the pressure to be perfect and that thinner is better, you can really shift your thinking toward how certain foods will make you feel instead of how they will make you look.” To make healthier eating easier on yourself, consider signing up for a meal-kit delivery service that sends preprepped ingredients with recipes to make it simpler to throw together a balanced dinner.

Try thinking of every meal as an opportunity to make a healthy choice. Go with lean protein, whole grains, and at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables a day. But don’t beat yourself up if you have an off meal. So you ate three cookies for lunch while standing over the sink! No one is perfect. Dinner will provide another chance to eat right. 


You may be hesitant to give up cigarettes because you’re wor r ied you w i l l put on pou nd s a f ter quitting. “When you quit smoking , you can expect some amount of weight gain because nicotine suppresses appetite,” says O’Donnell. Some people gain 10 to 20 pounds, he adds. Ex-smokers may feel hungrier and also find that they’re scarfing down snacks because they’re so accustomed to holding something in their hands.

O’Donnell recommends that recent quitters find a no- calorie substitute, such as sugar-free chewing gum or naturally f lavored carbonated water, that keeps their mouth busy and fills the void left by cigarettes. It’s also a good idea to have healthy snacks on hand, so you’re reaching for carrots and hummus or an apple instead of a big bag of chips. A nd even if the sca le does tick up, rest assured that you will be healthier in the long run—even if you’re heavier. While the risk of type 2 diabetes rose in the short term among recent quitters who gained weight, their hearts were still healthier for it. Even people who gained more than 20 pounds lowered their odds of dying from cardiovascular disease by 67 percent compared with ongoing smokers, according to a 2018 study in The New England Journal of Medicine.

As O’Donnell says, “Remind yourself that you’re doing something positive for your health.”