Obesity in this country is now being called a true epidemic that can lead to or worsen cancer risks, Type 2 diabetes, and lead to early death. Not to mention it can cause depression and puts an unhealthy strain on your joints that can cause bone and joint problems that lead to osteoarthritis. It also makes you more likely to suffer heart disease and stroke, digestive problems, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease and gallstones, gout, and breathing problems like sleep apnea, or even asthma. But what qualifies someone as obese? Not just overweight, obesity is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30, while overweight is defined as a BMI of 25. Body Mass Index is calculated using a person’s height and weight. You can check yours here. 

It’s estimated that our obesity rates have doubled worldwide since 1980 and are continuing to rise, despite public health efforts made so far.

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The worst part is, it’s not just adults suffering, but children and teens too. There were 42 million children under the age of 5 years old who were classified as obese or overweight in 2013, with 1.9 billion adults being obese the same year. While we could blame many different things, whether it be our junk food industry, easy access to fast food, rampant increase in disease that can lead to diabetes, previous health issues, genetics, food cravings or addictions, weight gain that can occur from prescription drugs, or an inactive lifestyle, the truth is that many things can lead to obesity. The key to solving our problem isn’t to place shame, judgement, or blame on anyone; instead, we just need to take action and all make changes, even those of us that don’t suffer.

To prevent developing from obesity for life, and to make a dramatic impact on our culture that lessens the demand for factors that can lead people to be overweight, here are some lifestyle tips all of us can put into practice:

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1. Eat Real Food

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One of the best things anyone can do for their health and to lessen the demand for junk and processed foods is to spend their dollars on real food, a.ka. plants. Real food is what the body needs, recognizes, and can use to fight disease naturally. Real foods are: vegetables, leafy greens, natural fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, herbs, and spices. If that doesn’t sound tasty to you, check out this entire weekly menu made from 100 percent whole foods. Eating whole foods prevents you from taking additives and emulsifiers that lead to weight gain, added sugars that lead to weight gain, unhealthy and processed fats, and toxic ingredients that are stored in fat cells by your body. It also changes the way your hormones function that control your weight and mood in return. Eating real food also means that you’re teaching your taste buds to crave real food again instead of addicting salt, sugars, and oils used in most processed and fast foods. Even if you’re not overweight or obese, eating real food is the most nutritious thing you can do for your body, and will impact the food industry to lessen the demand for junk food alternatives.

To help yourself enjoy real food more and get creative in the kitchen, check out these appliances that can enhance your healthy lifestyle, tips on how to transition to a whole foods lifestyle, and check out all of our raw vegan recipes that are naturally free of processed foods.

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2. Move

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We all need to be moving daily, and not just to our beds, the coffee pot, to work, and maybe take a walk around the block every now and then. We need daily exercise, whether that’s a quick 20 minute workout or a longer 1 hour session. It keeps our brains healthy, prevents bone and joint loss, burns calories, increases our metabolic rate and use of calories from our food as fuel, strengthens our muscles, and even helps our blood sugar work more efficiently. Even when you take a rest day during the week, try to stay active around your house and not remain sedentary all day. Stand while you work either at a kitchen counter, a tall table, or get yourself a standing desk if you work at home. If you’re at the office all day, do your best to visit your co-workers in between assignments, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and be a bit more eager to walk to the copy machine, fax machine, and even the bathroom if you need to! Moving daily doesn’t just burn calories; it teaches your body’s metabolism to work at a higher rate around the clock and prevents your blood sugar levels from getting out of balance. Sitting all day actually increases insulin in your body leading your blood sugar to rise, which stores fat more easily and makes you crave more food (usually sugar and fat) even if you just ate. See … those desk cravings aren’t our imagination — they’re physiological. 

3. Eat at Home

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You don’t have to cook every meal, but do your best to eat at home when you can. Why? Because eating at home means you’re eating the real food you bought (from above) and it means you’re not consuming salts and oils that most all restaurant dishes contain. If you don’t like to cook, make simple healthy meals like overnight oats, smoothies, raw energy bites you make in a food processor in under 5 minutes, throw a macro-bowl or salad together, eat fresh fruit as snacks, make chia pudding for snacks, make raw recipes, or just whip up a quick soup in a blender and heat in a pot on the stove. Check out these 5 simple recipes that everyone can make that are hassle-free and easy go-to meals. Even restaurants that may cater to raw and vegan food may still use added oils, salts and sugars, so be sure you know what’s in your dish before you just pick anything off the menu. The best part about cooking at home is it also changes your relationship with food and teaches you how to take charge of your health.

4. Ditch the Toxic Lifestyle

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Alcohol, smoking, prescription drugs filled with chemicals, household products filled with chemicals that affect your endocrine system and your weight, and being exposed to toxins through processed foods are all ways we allow toxins in our life. While some people think these are nothing to worry about, substantial research shows they lead to weight gain and can even affect the way our brains work and our weight changes. If you smoke and drink alcohol on a regular basis, do your best to quit, or just have an occasional glass of wine every now and then. Ditch the household chemicals and try natural brands that are free of harmful ingredients. If you’re on medications, talk to your doctor about other options, see a certified Naturopathic Physician for chemical-free alternatives, or do your best to wean yourself off of them or take them only when necessary.

5. Eat Regular Meals

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Eating regular (whole food-based) meals takes care of a major factor when it comes to your weight and health: your blood sugar. Insulin is our fat-storing hormone that when stops functioning properly, can lead to Type 2 diabetes and possible weight gain. What happens is that the regulating hormone that’s meant to use our food to supply us with energy, instead doesn’t reach our cells and we end up with excess sugars and fats in our bloodstream that lead to weight gain. Start a habit of having something with some protein in the morning to kickstart your metabolism and crush hunger. This also stabilizes your blood sugar and prevents insulin spikes and sugars that happen with refined carbs like toast and bagels. Good options include: a protein smoothie, a tofu scramble, some oatmeal with chia seeds and hemp seeds or coconut flour, sprouted grain toast (high in protein) with fruit and nut butter, some quinoa porridge with nuts and seeds, or even just a banana with a couple tablespoons of almond butter or peanut butter. Anything made from real food that contains protein is a great option.

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Also, don’t fear big lunches because they help keep your blood sugar stable and prevent you from overeating and craving junk at night; just be mindful of when you’re full and stop eating when you feel satisfied. Eating a good-sized lunch will also help you think more clearly through the day, so don’t try to breeze by on coffee and snacks alone. Dr. Mark Hyman tells us that when we balance our insulin levels, we naturally control our weight without even having to do anything else besides eat real food and move. Try these meal ideas to help you balance your blood sugar that are made with whole, plant-based foods.

Again, while many things can factor into obesity, these five health changes are lifestyle choices we can all make on a daily basis to lose or manage our weight, risk of disease, and prevent obesity as much as possible. If you know someone suffering from obesity, do whatever you can to share your healthy lifestyle with them in a caring way. Shame, blame, judgement and ignoring the issue gets us nowhere. What does? Action, compassion and awareness, and making daily choices that lead up to lifelong changes.

Lead Image Source: Thai Peanut Quinoa Salad