En español l You've dieted and exercised, and you still can't lose those last few pounds. As it turns out, other factors — from toxins in your home to your cellphone habits — could be sabotaging your efforts. Read on for some surprising ways to increase your chance at success.
1. Avoid environmental toxins
If you store your leftovers in plastic, keep old receipts lying around or think nothing of eating an unwashed grape or two, you could be exposing yourself to chemicals that impede weight loss. "These substances slow your metabolism and increase appetite or alter hormones such as estrogen in the body to cause weight gain," says Scott Isaacs, M.D., an endocrinologist and author of Beat Overeating Now!
What you can do: A new study in JAMA shows that repeated exposure to thermal cash register receipts is a significant source of the chemical BPA, so toss old ones. Plus, cut down on BPA by storing food (especially when it's still hot) in glass containers. And wash your hands frequently when you're at work; toxic compounds known as PBDEs are often found in office furniture and carpeting. To avoid pesticides in your food, thoroughly wash produce, and when possible, buy organic — especially "dirty" fruit such as apples, berries and peaches.
2. Chill out
Good news: There's a type of fat in your body that raises your metabolism. It's called brown fat, and it keeps organs warm by burning calories. Bad news: Obese people tend to have less of it. (You also lose this lean-making tissue with age.) One possible reason? People are too comfortable — thanks to modern-day heating and cooling systems — to stimulate brown fat activity. "We now live in a perennial spring," says Francesco Celi, M.D., chair of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
What you can do: Turn down the thermostat. Chilly temperatures cause muscle to produce a hormone called irisin, which stimulates the activity and growth of brown fat, according to new research coauthored by Celi. You don't need to turn your air-conditioning on full blast or switch off your heat in January, but lowering your thermostat from 75 to 68 degrees stimulates brown fat and increases calorie burn by 100 calories a day, Celi's research finds.
3. Check your medications
Weight gain can be a side effect of prescription drugs, says Lawrence J. Cheskin, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore. For instance, some diabetes meds, such as insulin and sulfonylureas, may increase your appetite, making weight control — key in managing the disease — even more challenging. Antidepressants such as amitriptyline and mirtazapine (brand names Elavil and Remeron) are associated with weight gain, too. In fact, people taking some psychiatric drugs are up to three times more likely than others to be obese.
What you can do: Check to see whether weight gain is a side effect of your medication, and if it is, ask your doctor whether it makes sense to alter your dose or switch drugs. You may be able to substitute an alternate diabetes drug such as metformin, which is linked to weight loss. Similarly, the antidepressants fluvoxamine, desipramine and trazodone (brand names Luvox, Norpramin and Desyrel, respectively) are not associated with weight gain, a 2010 study reported. Word of caution: Always talk with your doctor before you stop taking a medication.
4. Work your cellphone
People who use their cellphones frequently (up to five hours a day) are less likely to be physically fit, a 2013 study found. Why would you want to go to the gym or take a walk when you're lying on the couch using your phone to play games, surf the Web or text friends?
What you can do: Your cellphone can actually raise your activity level, as long as you use it to connect with friends to go for a walk in your local park or meet for a tennis game. Try apps such as Fitocracy (fitocracy.com) or Daily Mile (dailymile.com), which tap into your social networks to get you moving.
5. Rethink the kitchen
Organizing your kitchen is about more than just deciding where the pans go. Kitchens have become destinations, says Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. "No one hangs out in their kitchen and doesn't eat," he says. We're also three times more likely to eat what we see first, so unpack your groceries strategically. "People who keep sugary cereals or soda — diet or regular — visible weigh 12 and 22 pounds more, respectively, than the neighbor who doesn't," says Wansink.
What you can do: Make the kitchen less of a gathering place by removing comfortable chairs and the television, Wansink advises. Plus, he suggests stashing soda in the back of the refrigerator (behind the almond milk) and storing cereals, cookies and other unhealthy treats in a dark cabinet that's inconvenient to reach. Using 9.5-inch salad plates, as opposed to larger dinner plates, can help you eat 22 percent less, Wansink adds. And opt for red plates. They signal "stop" to your brain and, according to a recent study in the journal Appetite, decreased people's consumption of chocolate chips and popcorn, compared with the amount eaten on blue or white plates. Finally, break out the Miles Davis tunes. Another study in Appetite showed that listening to jazz makes food taste better. Truly enjoying your food means you'll be satisfied sooner and, yes, possibly even eat less.
6. Follow a budget
Women who have trouble paying their bills are more likely to be obese, a new study in Economics & Human Biology concludes. (Men, interestingly, aren't affected this way.) "If you're suffering financial hardship, you might rely more on low-cost — but high-fat — fast foods," says study coauthor Susan Averett, a professor of economics at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.
What you can do: It's never too late to develop a budget and stick to it. "This may help women both manage their finances better and lower their BMI," says Averett. She suggests the program StickK (stickK.com), which helps you set and commit to a goal.
7. Zap nighttime light
Do you sleep with your iPad next to your bed and check emails in the middle of the night? That constant exposure to light may be a contributing factor to disease and obesity, a recent study in the journal BioEssays finds. "Our body clock tells our organs and hormones what to do and when — and this is primarily controlled by the light," says José Ordovás, director of Tufts University's Nutrition and Genomics Laboratory in Boston. "Nighttime light disrupts the normal regulation of sleep, appetite and stress."
What you can do: People who get enough sleep and who maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule are thinner. Because blue light (the kind emitted by electronics) decreases your body's production of sleep-promoting melatonin, switch off your devices at least a half-hour before bedtime, and move blinking light sources out of your room.