Research has shown that some habits, like watching TV, as well as eating certain foods – even in moderation – can cause a person’s weight to creep up over time. Eliminating these habits and foods can help a person avoid the dreaded ‘weight creep’ that many people experience, where they seem to have gained weight “for no apparent reason”.

We see the effects around us everyday – people are getting fatter and fatter every generation. Many are obese, but some just notice that they are gaining a few pounds every year, even though they are doing everything they think is necessary to maintain their weight. This can be incredibly frustrating, and can result in radical changes in diet and lifestyle that may be counterproductive, like crash dieting and severe calorie restriction or pushing the body too hard in the gym. Luckily, research has shown that it may not take a radical change to eliminate the slow, seemingly unstoppable packing-on of pounds.

Habits That Increase Weight

A study done at Harvard university that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that tiny changes in diet and lifestyle habits can make a big impact on weight over time. The study focused on specific lifestyle choices, like foods eaten, activity levels and sleep habits, that slowly packed on the pounds. They analyzed data on over 120,000 U.S. men and women that tracked changes in lifestyle factors and weight every four years over a 20-year period. All study participants were normal weight and healthy when they started. Over time, they gained an average of 3.35 pounds during each 4-year period for a total average weight gain of 16.8 pounds at the end of the 20-year study.

Dietary choices had the biggest impact, but several lifestyle habits also led to a slow, but steady increase in weight. For example, watching just one-hour of TV per day added 0.31 pounds every 4 years, for a total weight gain of almost 2 pounds over 20 years. Now two pounds may not sound like much, but over time, this could lead to that spare tire that you just can’t seem to get rid of.

Sleep also played a role. People in the study who got between six and eight hours of sleep were less likely to gain weight over time. However, people who got less than six hours or more than eight hours tended to gain weight. And not surprisingly, when people increased their physical activity, they tended to gain less weight.

The Myth of Moderation

The study also showed that the idea a person can consume certain foods in “moderation” and not suffer the consequences simply isn’t true. It turns out that certain foods, even if consumed in “moderation” will likely lead to weight gain over time.

For example, eating potato chips regularly led to a 1.69 lb weight gain every four years and eating potatoes increased weight by 1.28 pounds in the same time-frame. Other foods that increased weight when consumed regularly included sugar-sweetened beverages – like soda, energy drinks and coffee-drinks (1.0 lbs every four years), as well as unprocessed red meat and processed meats (almost 1.0 lbs each every four years).

All-in-all, this study indicates that even “moderate” consumption of these foods leads to weight gain – about 17-pounds in 20 years. This weight gain happens slowly, insidiously, seemingly behind-the-scenes. In actuality, it is happening in plain sight; it seems our vision (i.e., what we view as good vs. okay foods) is impaired.