We are pumped to share one of our favorite stories from Prevention here on FitSugar!
By Diana Kelly, Prevention
You might blame your weight gain on your lack of motivation, wavering willpower, and a few too many bad food decisions. Don't get us wrong — those things matter. But there's another culprit you should also consider: your neighborhood. Whether you make your home in the suburbs, a city, or a rural area, where you live can make it easier — or much harder — to put your weight-loss goals into action.
Maybe a lack of sidewalks and bike paths leaves you scratching your head over where to work out. Perhaps your area is short on grocery stores but packed with fast-food chains, or your neighbor’s car alarm keeps you up all night, derailing your early-morning jog. Tally up a few of these instances, and you could have a hometown problem that’s interfering with even the best weight-loss intentions.
"In my experience, it makes a huge difference where you live. Everyone can find a way to overcome their circumstances, but people who live in the suburbs where there aren’t sidewalks and are dependent on their cars have a very difficult time getting exercise in. And in my practice, I find that they are more likely to be overweight," Katherine Tallmadge, RD, author of Diet Simple: 195 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations.
Here are the biggest neighborhood pitfalls that contribute to belly bulge — and how, short of moving homes, you can make fixes to start dropping pounds again. (See our list of the Eight Best US Cities for Weight Loss to see how your hometown can help you get fit!)
Find out why your neighborhood is the reason for your weight gain after the break!
Problem: No Sidewalks
Having to drive somewhere in order to walk safely adds a level of difficulty that even the most motivated exercisers can find derailing. “Even if my clients are very conscientious, they find it very difficult to get all of the recommended activity in for the day when they have to rely on a car to get everywhere,” says Tallmadge. "Hitting 10,000 steps in a gym in one fell swoop is very challenging. And if you don’t live in a situation where walking is easy, then your good intentions don’t last."
People who live farther away from parks and green spaces are more likely to be heavy, according to a Danish study published last year. The self-reported study found that people living more than a half mile from green spaces had higher odds of being obese than those living less than a quarter of a mile.
How to Fix It: If you want to get some fresh air, run or walk around a local school track or do laps around the school’s perimeter. Find a park and work in a few miles any way you can there, says Leslie Bonci, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the author of Run Your Butt Off (Rodale). Or find a way to get exercise near your work if it's in a safer area.
Problem: Fast-Food Restaurants Are Everywhere
You're on your way to the grocery store or farmers market, knowing you'll pass five fast-food restaurants before you even get there. Suddenly, steering into a drive-through seems like a much better idea — but rely too often on that number one with fries, and your health will suffer. A greater availability of fast-food outlets within a 1.5-mile radius of home was linked to higher BMI and obesity rates, according to new research published in the journal Obesity. The study of 60,775 postmenopausal women who took part in the Women’s Health Initiative also discovered that women who lived in areas with the greatest availability of grocery stores and supermarkets had lower BMIs, lower rates of obesity, and lower rates of diastolic blood pressure than women who lived in areas with the least accessibility to fresh food.
How to Fix It: While you may not be able to stop a fast-food restaurant from opening, and you can try to take the long way home to avoid temptation, rest assured that the occasional (and we do mean occasional) fast-food fix won’t completely undo your healthy eating plan. "Even if you do eat at a fast-food restaurant, there are a lot of things you can do to help out your choices. It’s the add-ons with the entrées that are often the problem," says Bonci. She recommends avoiding the sugary sodas and desserts like apple pies and fried sides. Comparison shop fast-food restaurant menus like you do with food labels to find the healthiest options. Then make a list of the "safe" items at each place you like to go to, and tell yourself you'll choose from among those each time you walk through the door.
Problem: Fresh Produce Is Hard to Find
Maybe your closest grocery store only stocks a handful of fresh produce items, and you're bored with making salads containing the same four ingredients. Or maybe what's on the shelves is always bruised and overripe — and there's no way you can take an extra hour in the middle of the week to drive to a better market. Either way, a lack of quality fruits and veggies is enough to wilt anyone's healthy intentions.
How to Fix It: If you think your local grocer isn’t carrying a good variety of fresh produce or you want more organic options, have a conversation with the manager. Most likely, they'll want to hear your input in order to keep your business. Another way to get proactive: participate in a community garden in your neighborhood or look into starting one. "Community gardens are great because you’re getting physical activity while you garden and you’re planting something that can bring local produce to everyone’s plates for a very low price point," says Bonci. You can also explore community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs that partner with local organic farmers in your area. Or save money on organic food by buying it in bulk from a place like Costco, Sam’s Club, or even a Walmart and dividing it up between neighbors. (Keep our Healthy Food Awards Shopping List handy to make the best.)