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Scientifically proven ways to lose weight and improve health

Scientifically proven ways to lose weight

It's no secret the United States has an obesity problem. More than 93 million Americans are obese and millions more are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But a recent study from the Cleveland Clinic shows few people are actually doing anything about it.

Researchers found that three-quarters of those they surveyed are concerned about their weight and 65 percent are worried about getting heart disease due to extra pounds. Yet, less than half actually tried to make any dietary changes to lose weight.

The findings also revealed that many Americans don't fully understand the relationship between extra weight and their overall health. Nearly 1 in 5 of those surveyed said they believe their diet has nothing to do with their heart health and more than half didn't know that obesity is linked to high "bad" cholesterol levels. Two-thirds said they didn't know being obese could lead to a stroke.

"Most Americans understand abstractly that being overweight or obese is not good for your health, but it seems we are not grasping that the leading causes of death and disability — stroke, cancer, coronary artery disease — are all adversely affected by increased weight," Steven Nissen, M.D., chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, said in a statement. "We need to do a better job of educating patients and the public about the major consequences of carrying excess weight and the benefits of losing weight.

He notes that a person only needs to lose 5 percent body weight to start seeing important health benefits.

So what's the best way to shed those extra pounds?

Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian at NYU Langone Health, says while physical activity is important, it all starts with what we put on our plates.

"As much as I love exercise, diet is everything. It's not only how much you eat but it's the quality of food you eat that makes a difference," Heller told "CBS This Morning."

Dietary guidelines

The United States Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines for Americans emphasize a healthy eating plan that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as lean meats, fish, and beans.

Specifically, the USDA says most adults should be getting 3 to 5 servings of vegetables and 2 to 4 servings of fruit per day. Or put more simply, half your plate should be filled with produce.

Trans fats, sodium, and added sugar should be limited.

Mediterranean diet

While there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone, one eating plan that has been shown again and again to have scientifically proven health benefits is the Mediterranean diet. This heart-healthy diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, along with healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and avocados.

A number of studies have shown the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease and may have numerous other health benefits, including reduction of LDL, or "bad," cholesterol, as well as a decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and cancer. One study published in British Journal of Nutrition even found following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 25 percent lower chance of death from any cause.

DASH diet

The  DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is another option to consider. The eating plan was originally designed to help manage blood pressure, but experts say it has many overall health benefits. The diet emphasizes healthy food sources, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, skinless poultry and fish, and nuts and legumes. It also limits red meat, salt, and sweets.

The DASH diet has been shown to help lower blood pressure, and research suggests it may also reduce the risk of diabetes and help fight depression.

Healthy eating habits

Experts recommend staying away from fad diets for weight loss, such as "detox" diets and the currently trendy ketogenic, or keto diet, as they are not sustainable in the long run.

In addition to following a healthy diet, scientific research has found certain habits may make it easier to shed extra pounds.

A 2018 study published in the journal BMJ Open that tracked the eating habits of nearly 60,000 people found that eating more slowly, avoiding snacks after dinner, and not eating within two hours before going to bed were all linked to weight loss.

"I like the idea of closing the kitchen after dinner," Heller said.

To stay on track, she also recommends seeing a registered dietitian, who can help individualize a healthy eating plan that's going to work for you. She advises checking with your insurance to see if it's covered. A dietitian may also work with you on a sliding cost scale.

Finally, Heller emphasizes the importance of planning ahead.

"Sit down with your family and plan what you're going to eat during the week," she said. "That's going to help with food waste, save money, and get your kids and family involved in the shopping and prep."