Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.
Surprise, surprise: My New Year's resolution is to get rid of that spare tire I acquired over the holidays. (I'm a sucker for eggnog.) I'm curious: Are there ways to lose weight that are better for the environment than others?
-Feeling Too Chunky To Print My Name
Don't despair, Chunky! If you're feeling about as round as the Earth right now, you're not alone: Losing weight regularly tops the list of most popular New Year's resolutions; not surprising, considering that over two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese.
Given the, ahem, enormity of the problem, it's important to note that the method of weight loss is somewhat moot. It's the losing weight part that matters, at least where the planet is concerned: Worldwide obesity is adding an estimated 1 billion extra metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere each year, thanks to higher fuel and food demands of the overweight.
Obesity is also derailing our green efforts here at home: As Mother Nature Network contributor Jim Motavalli pointed out last week, the extra pounds Americans have put on in the past 50 years have all but negated US automakers' gains in fuel efficiency over the same period.
Translation: We're getting fatter, we're making our cars heavier, and it's taking a heck of a lot more gas (read: carbon emissions) to push our portly patooties on over to the drive-thru.
Weight gain hasn't only increased oil dependency at the pump. Obesity has increased airline fuel costs, as well, to the tune of 350 million additional gallons (or 3.8 million tons of CO2) a year.
Those statistics were the best I could find, and they come from an American Journal of Preventive Medicine report published back in 2004. By 2015, weight-related transportation emissions will likely be even higher, since it's predicted that an astounding 75 percent of Americans will be overweight.
So, goal No. 1: Slim down. Goal No. 2: Do it in a way that is sustainable, sure! You'll want to first steer clear of high protein diets (livestock create nearly 20 percent of global GHG emissions), diet pills (they pollute tap water), and liposuction (all that medical waste; though there was one plastic surgeon who reportedly used lipo fat to power his car).
Then, check out these five eco-friendly weight loss tips, below. I've put the easiest ones first, so you'll be more motivated to give them a go.
Hit the hay an hour earlier. What does extra shut-eye have to do with being skinny? Look at the science: More than 24 studies link a healthy night's sleep with a healthy weight. In one recent study, dieters who slept for 8.5 hours a night lost 55 percent more body fat than their 5.5-hour-a-night counterparts. But by turning off the lights (and the TV, and the computer, and the iPhone) early, you'll be slimming electricity consumption, too -- by as much as 20 percent per household.
Give up the gym. Don't take this too literally if you live in a frigid winter climate where joining a gym is your only exercise option (most experts say you need to move to lose weight), but if you live in say, Southern California, why not swap that energy-eating treadmill for a date with Mother Nature? Hit the paths in a local park, go for a weekend hike with your family, or even better: Leave the car that you would have driven to the gym at home and try a bike commute instead.
Get cookin'. Restaurant portions are huge and fast food is laden with fat, calories and genetically modified corn, so it should come as no surprise that Americans' weight has steadily risen as we eat less and less of our calories at home. The slim solution? Make like Jamie Oliver and cook fresh food as often as you can. Organic is nice if you can afford it, though not necessary: You'll be doing your part by cutting down on packaging waste and energy-intensive processed food.
Frequent the farmers market. The next step is to support local, sustainable agriculture by shopping at your farmers market. With all those farm-fresh fruits and veggies, you will be eating healthier; but the real weight loss effect here has to do with food appreciation. Once you know the farmer who woke up at 2 a.m. to bring your eggs to market, it's not as easy to absentmindedly wolf down the resulting omelet as, say, a Taco Bell breakfast burrito. Mindful eating = mini-er you.
Swap the burger for beans. For the biggest impact on both your waistline and the planet, the answer is easy: Go vegetarian, or even better -- vegan. Vegetarians are typically up to 20 percent slimmer than meat eaters; vegans, even more so. And since animal agriculture accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, trains and planes worldwide, you really will be making a difference. So feel good about hugging those trees along with your skinny new self!