I've been doing a lot of thinking about gardening and weight loss. See, I am trying to 'lose' weight, and I love to garden, so this is a concept I hope works. I believe there are a lot of reasons that support this idea.
1. Gardening is HARD work.
If you are doing it right, you are getting a LOT of exercise when you work in the garden. Digging, lifting, hauling, even weeding burn a lot of calories. Even sitting on a mat and poking seeds in the ground burns more calories than sitting on the couch with a remote in your hand. If you do a search for gardening on most calorie burn charts, you will see that most jobs in the yard consistently turn up high numbers. You also use muscles you've never used before. Anyone that rakes leaves for an entire day knows that you wake up the next day and you can't lift your arms over your head. Gardening also requires a lot of time and effort. Weeds don't quit, so you can't just put in 3 hours one day and you are good for the summer. More often, you have to go out again and again to perform more tasks. Hence repeated exercise and effective exercise.
2. Gardening encourages healthy eating habits.
It stands to reason that if you are growing healthy, organic, beautiful produce, you will want to eat it. And if you are eating healthy, organic, beautiful produce, you will be eating much less of that other unhealthy junk. Fruits and vegetables that are grown without pesticides have to produce their own to fend off plants and disease. These natural pesticides are called polyphenols, or antioxidants. Research has shown that organic produce has way more of these healthy antioxidants. Plus, any food that you grow has got to be way better for you than foods made with synthetic additives. Fruits and vegetables are very low in calories; you can basically eat as many of them as you want, and still lose weight! As of now, I have lost 5 lbs in the last two weeks from just substituting fruits and veggies in for some of the other junk I was eating. As a bonus, if you garden with kids, you are teaching them healthy eating habits for life. Kids are much more likely to eat vegetables that they have helped to grow. People that grow and eat their own food, have much more invested in the process. Imagine having beautiful veggies to share and a smaller waistline to boot!
3. Gardening Reduces Stress
I know of no better therapy than thrusting your hands into the dirt. I personally don't wear gloves...maybe that is bad...but I like feeling connected to the earth. Gardening reduces blood pressure (just my opinion), steadies my nerves, and reduces anxieties. I can totally lose myself while weeding. Many people believe that stress is directly connected to belly fat and gaining weight. So, if you get zen in the garden, maybe you will have a smaller belly. Calm, happy people are less likely to binge on junk food or eat for comfort. And again, if you are in the garden, you are not on the couch eating potato chips.
4. Gardening Fosters Creative Cooking
This is somewhat related to healthy eating habits, but you can eat healthy without cooking. I am talking about food preparation, making meals together as a family if possible, taking the ingredients you have and making something wonderful. When you have a mounting pile of eggplant on your counter that are threatening to rot at any minute, you get out the cookbook and start finding new recipes. You are less likely to eat unhealthy things often, if you have to go to all the trouble of making them. Therefore, we invest our energy in cooking the low calorie, nutrient-filled produce we have. Cooking as a family also reduces stress and builds relationships. Cooking creates memories and traditions that children will remember throughout their life. Young adults that made many meals with their parents won't be as tempted to overeat on fast food or high-calorie microwave convenience meals.
I am learning these truths as I go along, hopefully passing them on to my kids. I believe strongly that the majority of the health problems that Americans face today: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, are caused by our horrible diets. We have become so dependent on processed synthetic foods that are cheap and fast, that we are eating ourselves to death. But many people believe we can reverse this by reverting to healthy, organic, natural foods. For some people this means vegetarian, for others not, but the point is where it came from and how it was raised and what was put in it. I am hoping that I can follow the above ideas and make myself and my family leaner and more food-conscious, if not health-conscious.
Well, we are leaving now for a walk/bike ride. When we get back, we will probably make pesto and plant a new blueberry bush. I hope that even if I haven't convinced you that gardening will help you lose weight, you will believe it is a good thing to do for your health. Good luck and happy gardening!
Some of my ideas were inspired by Michael Pollen's In Defense of Food, and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, plus many other articles, in addition to my own musings in the garden.