Obesity has been a growing epidemic in the United States. This problem has permeated schools, with educators and students alike facing harmful weight gain without accessible resources to combat it. A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reveals that early childhood education teachers saw a 71 percent to 90 percent prevalence of overweight and obesity.

While many factors can impact weight gain, the study found that individual lifestyle behaviors are where change can be implemented immediately. With teachers dedicating more time to their work and living otherwise sedentary lifestyles, there’s a need for better ways to reverse weight gain.

Obesity vs overweight

Misconceptions often litter the conversation on weight. As such, it's essential to discuss the difference between overweight and obese people. The distinction is important because these conditions don’t have the same impact on your health. Body mass index (BMI) is the main line separating the two. This is determined by measuring your weight in relation to your height.

The BMI system has some limitations because it does not consider body fat and muscle. To be classified as overweight, you need to consider how much of this is healthy muscle and what is excess fat. Despite arguments to override BMI with newer measurement tools, it is still a good base point for reference.

A BMI ranging from 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and pre-obesity. Anything above is classified as obese. Once you are within the obesity range, this is regarded as a chronic disease by the World Health Organization (WHO) and must be addressed swiftly to prevent severe health risks. It’s important to note that obesity is also differentiated by being an abnormal physiological process. Because it is considered a disease, healthcare providers focus on therapy and medical intervention.

Thankfully, it’s possible to get your body healthy with mindful lifestyle choices.

Sustainable weight management habits

For teachers, the best way to combat obesity, whether preventing it or trying to tackle it, is to adopt healthy weight management habits that you can realistically sustain.

Prioritize self-care

Countless findings point to burnout, stress, and fatigue as prime factors affecting teachers and their health. These are the very same markers that can contribute to unhealthy weight gain.

Take time to practice self-care through meditation, positive affirmations, sleep, and relaxing hobbies. These teacher self-care strategies can bring the joy back in teaching as you make yourself a priority. A narrative review of mindfulness from the University of Torino also finds that self-help strategies are promising therapeutic options for obesity treatment. These active actions help target mood disorders that influence your relationship with food, motivation, and mood.

Practice the 12-3-30 workout

Teachers have packed schedules, even when they are off the clock. Making lesson plans, grading papers, and handling other school-related paperwork can tax the mind and take up plenty of free time.

A sustainable way to keep yourself active is to practice the 12-3-30 workout. This entails performing a treadmill workout at a 12 percent incline at three miles per hour for 30 minutes. Elementary school music teacher Alexis Garcia was interviewed by Today after doing this consistently for a year; with the exercise, she found that her weight dropped, her sleep improved, and her risk of heart disease got lower as her triglycerides normalized.

Limit processed food and beverages

The biggest offenders when it comes to obesity are processed food and beverages. There is still plenty of delicious food and drink that you can consume without putting yourself at risk. Fruits, whole grains, nuts, avocados, cottage cheese, yogurt, and lean proteins are still available to you.

When you eat better food, you don’t feel deprived. You get the nutrients you need and feel satiated more easily. This also helps you manage digestive disorders and illnesses like gastroenteritis, frequently associated with teacher burnout. Your physical and mental health are deeply intertwined, and studies note that teachers without health safeguards are more prone to experiencing somatic symptoms.

Use smaller dishes

When you feel tempted to fill your plate, it’s much harder to control your portions. When you’re still developing your discipline in this arena, it helps to make changes using the actual items you eat from. Choose smaller dishes to eat on, and make sure you don’t go for seconds when you're eating in the faculty break room.

An excellent way to know what serving size is right for you is to read the labels. Some apps also tell you what ingredients are used in foods that don’t have a label. From here, you compute how many calories you need for your age, height, metabolism, gender, and activity levels. The biggest hurdle is resisting the temptation to make a heaping mountain on the plate, but this method is still a helpful way to get into the portioning habit.