Weight loss and exercise are wonderful ways to prevent back pain, but did you also know that healthy movement could reduce existing back pain? It’s true. Researchers at Stanford University found that overweight people who increased the amount of time they spent moving by just 20 minutes daily reduced their risk of back pain by 32%. Weight loss has also been tied to a reduction in back pain. Shedding pounds through diet and exercise supports your back health in numerous ways. Here’s why, and later, how to lose weight in a healthy way.
1. Eating healthy, anti-inflammatory foods does a body good
Overweight people may eat diets full of fatty and sugary foods. These foods create inflammatory proteins that aggravate back pain. Conversely, eating powerful, healing foods such as cherries, salmon, and green tea fills your body with antioxidants that reduce inflammation and may reduce pain.
A study conducted at Michigan State University found that anthocyanins, the antioxidant that gives cherries their signature red color, may inhibit pain in essentially the same way as anti-inflammatory drugs. Other brightly colored fruits and vegetables contain similar natural compounds that fight pain. As a bonus, eating fruits and vegetables instead of processed, high-fat food can help people lose weight.
2. Exercised-induced weight loss builds muscle strength and reduces inflammation
Strengthening muscles in your abdomen and those surrounding your spine helps support your back and reduce pain. Without exercise, those same muscles weaken, leaving your spinal column to support the body’s weight alone. In overweight people, that task overwhelms the spine and often leads to back problems.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that overweight and obese men who exercised for one hour each week reduced their risk of back pain by 20%. Researchers attributed the reduction to exercise’s work in reducing inflammation often found in overweight people.
3. Weight loss reduces the risk of conditions that may lead to back pain
Carrying excess weight and living a sedentary lifestyle have been linked to many health conditions, such as osteoarthritis and herniated discs, both of which can lead to back pain. Losing weight and exercising promotes a healthy skeleton and can reduce back pain.
5 ways to lose weight, in a healthy and not-starving kind of way
Weight-loss efforts have the tendency to quickly morph from an initiative designed to help you feel better into one fueled by self-destructive behaviors like skipping meals and obsessively weighing yourself.
Successful ways to lose weight — meaning a person drops pounds and keeps them off while staying healthy — have one thing in common: they’re undertaken as a lifestyle shift.
Losing weight requires thinking about food differently, fundamentally changing habits and behaviors to support a slimmer body. Restricting calorie intake until you lose five pounds and then returning to your typical eating methods doesn’t work.
But here are five weight-loss strategies that do.
1. Eat every meal
Skipping meals makes people hungry. And when extreme hunger strikes, it’s very difficult to make good eating choices. You may eat a half a bag of chips while waiting for your lunch to cook or scarf down a candy bar because your blood sugar has dropped and you need food now!
Instead of skipping meals, eat plenty of food, and eat often. While many people find three meals a day plenty, some research has shown that eating more frequent, smaller meals may be effective for supporting weight-loss efforts.
Research conducted at the University of Eastern Finland found that adolescents who ate five meals a day were less likely to be obese, regardless of their genetic propensity toward accumulating extra weight. Eating breakfast was a particularly important meal for keeping a trim waistline, researchers added.
In the Finland study, participants ate three meals and two snacks. Making sure to eat the right kinds of food is key to making any weight-loss strategy work, whether you eat three times a day or five.
Fill your plate with vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains that are as minimally processed as possible. Eat healthy, unprocessed snacks like celery and peanut butter, almonds and raisins, or a piece of fruit.
Food is fuel, and eating regular meals is particularly important for diabetics, who must maintain even levels of blood sugar. It’s also important for those who may be suffering from fatigue along with pain because eating every few hours helps keep energy levels high and give the body the nourishment it needs to heal itself.
2. Seek support
Some people can lose weight on their own. Others may find it helpful to embark on their journey with the support of a group, like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. These groups help people by giving food guidelines. They also provide accountability to those who need a little extra push to stay on track with eating goals.
If you’re not sure how to eat healthy, those groups are wonderful resources to learn how to choose food. Jenny Craig sells packaged food for you to eat while Weight Watchers guides people through a point system, where you can eat whatever you want as long as you stay within the required number of points.
These programs provide professional support as well as the opportunity to connect with others working to lose weight, but they can be costly. If you’d like to find encouragement without the high price tag, consider joining a weight loss support group like those on Meetup.com.
And if you need help learning how to eat healthy, consider ascribing to a diet style, like the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats like those in fish and nuts. Mediterranean diet cookbooks are readily available and a wonderful starting point for those embarking on a weight loss journey. Try The Mediterranean Diet for Beginners, which comes with 40 recipes and a weeklong diet plan to take the guesswork out of eating healthy.
3. Eat family meals
Busy schedules prevent many families from eating together, but research has found gathering around the dinner table may help you lose weight.
Research published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that family meals—even one or two each week—helped protect against rising levels of adolescent obesity. Researchers say:
“Coming together for meals may provide opportunities for emotional connections among family members, the food is more likely to be healthful, and adolescents may be exposed to parental modeling of healthful eating behaviors.”
4. Plan ahead to lose weight
Changing habits is never easy, but good planning helps create the inertia needed to shift diet choices.
Each week, perhaps on a Saturday or Sunday, plan ahead what you’ll eat for the following week. Find a few healthy recipes, whether on a food blog or from a cookbook, and buy all the necessary ingredients so you have them on hand.
Knowing what to eat takes the guesswork and thinking out of meal planning. The question of “What should I eat?” never seems to go away, partially because once it’s solved for one meal, it’s already time to figure out the next.
Most people have go-to meals, ones they make without even thinking. The idea is to create a new set of healthy, nutritious go-to meals through planning. Without planning ahead, lunchtime will come around, you’ll wonder what to eat, and end up eating an unhealthy go-to meal. Then you won’t meet your weight-loss goals, get mad at yourself, and develop the misconception that you’re not capable of losing weight.
It’s just not true! You can lose weight. It just requires good planning. Another part of planning ahead is deciding how you’ll handle those times you’re busy and don’t have time or the desire to cook.
Maybe you know you’ll be busy on Tuesday night, so on Monday, you make a big batch of soup, or pre-cut vegetables for a salad or quick stir-fry. Cooking in batches is a wonderful way to reduce the amount of time and energy spent cooking.
Many people with chronic pain might find it hard to chop vegetables or cook due to issues with joint pain or fatigue. In that case, you may plan ahead by buying pre-chopped vegetables. Or, ask a friend or family member to help you with cutting.
Achieve your desired weight loss by knowing what speed bumps you’ll face and plan ways to get around them. The obstacles will never go away, but you can develop ways to succeed despite them.
5. Indulge strategically
If you love chocolate, or cake, or ice cream, designate a cheat day where you can enjoy your favorites. You might also designate meals where you enjoy any fried or unhealthy food you want.
Losing weight is more about the choices you make over time, and not those made on any one given day. Taking the opportunity to enjoy delicious, but not-as-healthy foods makes eating healthy a true, sustainable lifestyle. It’s better to cheat once a week than to avoid cookies for months and binge by eating a whole box.
By looking to make lifestyle shifts, instead of depriving yourself on a restrictive diet, your plan to lose weight transforms from a torturous endeavor into a wonderful adventure. One characterized by learning about health and making choices every day to become a healthier, slimmer, more vibrant you.
What is your best tip to lose weight for reducing and preventing back pain? Ready to talk to a doctor about treating your back pain. Find one in your area here.