There Is A Reason You Can’t Lose Weight

When a medical doctor sits across from an overweight person they are frequently dismayed by their patient’s blood work, their triglycerides, their fasting glucose numbers, their elevated insulin, the doctor doesn’t understand why, despite repeated conversations, their patients is coming back year after year, only heavier. When I sit across from an overweight person, what dismays me more is that a smart, capable, determined person has been tricked into thinking less of themselves—by their own brain.

Source: http://independentfemme.com

I’m a doctor of brain and cognitive science. More than that I’m a formerly obese person. And nothing makes me madder than the myth that people are overweight because they’re lazy, or lack willpower.  When I was overweight I wanted desperately to get thin. And I can honestly say that the only thing I worked harder at was getting my PhD. Trying to control my eating took an enormous amount of my energy and resources. I threw myself into each new diet attempt, convinced that THIS time it was going to work.  I wish I’d known then what I know now: that only 1% of people actively trying to lose weight hit their goal and maintain it. 1%.  Would you start college if you only had a 1% chance of finishing? And yet millions of Americans are making just such a proposition over and over and over again, year after year, and no one thinks it’s weird.  Well, I thought it was weird. So after I got thin I turned all my academic attention to figuring out what I had done this last time that was different than anything I had ever tried before. The difference was: brain science.

The fact is that a brain hijacked by a diet high in sugar and flour blocks weight loss. It does this in three ways.

First, sugar and flour raise baseline insulin levels far past what our bodies were designed to handle. The elevated insulin not only sets us up for diabetes, but it turns out its blocking the brain from recognizing a critical hormone: leptin. Leptin is the hormone that signals to the brain that you are full and need to get moving. Without it we sit on the couch and eat and never feel full.

Second, after eating the average American amount of sugar for just three weeks, 22 teaspoons, the brain’s pleasure receptors do something called “down-regulating.” Essentially, to cope with the excessive stimulation, the brain takes some of its receptors offline. Meaning, to feel the same amount of pleasure next time, you’ll need to eat more sugar. The brain responds by turning off more receptors. And soon you have exactly the same cycle that the brain moves through to cope with drugs or alcohol. In fact the brains of obese people are frequently more down-regulated than the brains of those addicted to cocaine.  So they aren’t eating to feel good, they’re eating to try to feel normal.

Source: @Alamy stock photo

Third, willpower isn’t a dimension of your personality, something some people are born with and others simply lack. Willpower is a cognitive function and we all have about the same amount, fifteen minutes, give or take. And every day activities, like focusing at work, and keeping your patience in carpool, all deplete it. Meaning any successful diet MUST expect that your willpower will fail AT LEAST once a day and work anyway.

For the last two years I’ve been working with people around the world, helping them lose weight, but, more importantly, helping them keep it off for life. And the best part, beyond hearing that they’re off their statins and their cholesterol drugs, is hearing how their self-perception has healed.  Because when your brain overrides your best intentions time and time again you start to believe the worst about yourself. But it’s not true. Once the brain heals making those choices you want to be making becomes effortless. And your intentions and actions come into alignment.

From there you can do anything.

Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D., is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester and an expert in the psychology of eating. She is President of the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to sharing the psychology and neuroscience of sustainable weight loss and helping people live Happy, Thin, and Free.

Interview with Author, Coach & Runner Jason Karp, PhD

Here is a recent Q&A session that I had the pleasure of having with author, coach and runner, Jason Karp, PhD regarding his upcoming book, Run Your Fat Off. I have also read Jason’s previous work, The Inner Runner, which was excellent.

1) Why is running the best method to lose weight?

Because running burns more calories than any other exercise, it is weight-bearing, and it demands a great need for energy production. It is also a very sustainable strategy because running becomes a part of a person’s life. It is not a short-term fix, like so many other diet programs.

cover
Source: Jason Karp, PhD

2) What inspired you to write the book?

A couple of things: 1) I know how powerful running is as a calorie burner and long-term weight loss strategy and 2) I got sick and tired of all of the diet/weight loss propaganda by people who have little understanding of what they’re talking about. Most weight loss books are short-term fixes to a long-term problem and don’t tell people the truth about sustained weight loss.

3) What’s the secret to weight loss?

You have to read the book to find out, but to give you a hint, it is about calories consumed vs. calories burned more than any other factor, and the directing of the calories consumed into energy storage for future workouts rather than fat storage. The trick is learning how to become the director of your own calorie movie, telling those calories where to go and what to do.

4) Which is better for weight loss – long, slow cardio or short fast interval workouts?

It depends. It’s all about the calories, so it’s really a matter of math. 2 hours of long, slow running may burn more calories than 20 minutes of high-intensity running. You would have to calculate the total number of calories burned during the workout, which you can do by knowing a few numbers. I go through all the calculations in the book to answer the question.

5) But don’t high-intensity workouts cause you to burn more calories after the workout is over?

This is a big misunderstanding in the fitness industry. Although it is true that the longer and/or harder the workout, the more calories we burn afterward while our body recovers (because recovery is an aerobic, energy-using process), the number of extra calories burned is highly over-exaggerated by people in the fitness industry. It is the number of calories burned during the workout that matter more. The book discusses this myth, as well as many others.

You can purchase, Run Your Fat Off, (Reader’s Digest, 2017) by Jason Karp, PhD on Amazon.

8 Tips for Maintaining Weight Loss Based on a 20-Year National Study

To learn more about the science of weight loss, researchers founded the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) as a long-term study project back in 1994. There are currently more than ten thousand people who have joined in the project. Researchers compiled self-report data from subjects who have successfully maintained weight loss and the finding were published in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners.

The results from of the data showed that 90 percent of NWCR participants were still maintaining at least 10 percent weight loss 10 years after losing weight. These people had various ways to achieve that, but they also used eight common strategies, including:

  1. They eat a low-fat, low-calorie diet primarily prepared at home. On average, they consumed 1,306 calories per day, with only 24.3 percent of calories from fat.
  2. They eat breakfast. Studies have shown that regular breakfast is associated with low BMI.
  3. They have diet rules for weekdays, weekends, and holidays. Their food intake is very consistent from day-to-day.
  4. They exercise about 1-hour a day. About 75 percent of people expended at least 1000 calories/week in physical activity. Walking is the most common exercise used.
  5. They regularly drink low-calorie or no-calorie beverages, especially water. Only 10 percent of people drink sugar-sweetened beverages.
  6. They weigh themselves on a regular basis. Regular self-weighing may serve as an early alarm for weight regain.
  7. They spend limited time on watching TV. Most of them watch TV fewer than 10 hours a week.
  8. They sleep 7 or more hours a night. Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 7 hours are more likely to be obese.
HOW IMPORTANT IS BREAKFAST
Image Credit: http://backtoedenwithliz.com

We know from research and our personal experiences that there are no “one size fits all” strategies for successful weight loss maintenance but these eight behavioral tips can be used as tools to develop a customized approach to maintain a healthy weight.

Reference

Raphaelidis L. (2016). Maintaining Weight Loss: Lessons from the National Weight Control Registry. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 12: 286-287. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nurpra.2016.01.009

Resource

The National Weight Control Registry, Providence (RI).

 

The A to Z Weight Loss Study: The Battle of the Diets

This is a great video on a 12-month randomized study that was done at Stanford University by Christopher Gardner, PhD, Abby King, PhD and colleagues on some of the popular diet books that out there. If you have tried (or are thinking about trying) either the Atkins, Zone or Dean Ornish Diet at some point I would highly recommend watching the video and reading the white paper seen in JAMA. The amount of weight loss during the study was a modest 2% to 5% from baseline. Those subjects who followed the Atkins diet did have more weight loss than the other three groups. For the complete results published in the JAMA paper click here.

Reference

The A to Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Study. JAMA, 297(9): 969-977, 2007.

10 Reasons Why You Should Do More Strength Training and Cardio

300px-Diagram_of_the_human_heart_(cropped)_svgI have been looking back on some of my recent strength training sessions as well as the interval training I have been doing on the cardio side. We have a tendency, with exercise, to judge if it’s working by what the bathroom scale currently reads. But that should not be the case; weight loss does not always depict the full story. With each bout of exercise, we are improving various physiological and psychological aspects of our body that are not visible to the naked eye. For example:

Strength Training:

  • Building muscle mass can increase metabolism by 15% – so if you’re looking to rev up that slow metabolism and become or stay functional as you age – you need to be strength training at least a few times each week.
  • Prevents Sarcopenia – which is the loss of muscle mass as you age – you can lose up to 10% or more of your muscle per decade after age 50.
  • Plays a role in disease prevention – like type 2 diabetes for example.
  • Improves the way your body moves resulting in better balance and less falls as you age (you can reduce your risk for falling by 40%).
  • Preserves the loss of muscle during weight loss (Donnelly et al., 2003)
  • Will offset bone loss as you age – women can expect to lose 1% of their bone mass after age 35 (and this increases following menopause) – see Strong Women, Strong Bones

Cardiovascular Exercise:

  • Aerobic exercise will improve your mood by decreasing stress and anxiety levels – read The Inner Runner by Jason Karp, Phd and Exercise for Mood and Anxiety by Michael Otto, Phd and Jasper Smits, PhD
  • Regular cardio exercise like jogging, hiking, jump roping etc will “load” your bones in your lower extremity and make them stronger.
  • Makes your heart stronger, lowers your resting heart rate and enables your body to deliver oxygen more efficiently to your working muscles.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine states that higher levels of cardiovascular fitness are associated with approximately a 50% reduction in disease risk.

Reference:

Donnelly, J.E., Jakicic, J.M., Pronk, N., Smith, B.K., Kirk, E.P., Jacobsen, D.J., Washburn, R. “Is Resistance Training Effective for Weight Management?” Evidence-Based Preventive Medicine. 2003; 1(1): 21-29.

Enough with the Statement that Exercise Does not Help with Weight Loss

A few times a year we see some news publication or media outlet come out with a bold statement that aerobic exercise in one form or another is useless when it comes to weight loss. First off, even if you never lost weight with regular exercise, the (many) positive outcomes associated with regular exercise, still far out way not exercising at all and yes, even if weight loss never occurs.

EDITH
Photo credit: http://www.bodyrock.tv

A recent issue of TIME (July, 2016) looked at the “new” reasons to exercise which I like because it takes the focus off weight loss. In the article, author, Alexandra Sifferlin, shows the research and hits on the following point:

  • Exercise improves memory.
  • Exercise increases energy – a study out of the University of Georgia, saw “a 166% increase in self-reported energy in men who exercised on bikes for 20 minutes.”
  • Exercise may keep depression at bay.
  • Exercise can curb food cravings.
  • Exercise can reduce the risk of serious cancers – data from the National Cancer Institute showed individuals who are more active than their sedentary counterparts had a “20% lower risk of certain serious cancers.”
  • Exercise has mind-body benefits.

Let’s face it, many of us know that we can run a few miles a day for weeks and even months at a time and sometimes by the end, lose minimal or no weight at all. We may think all the hard work and time commitment was a big waste of our time.  If you start thinking out of the box and focus on the additional benefits of exercise rather than a primary outcome all the time (i.e. weight loss) you’ll be better off in the long run.

Professor Herman Pontzer of City University of New York (CUNY), stated: “Exercise is really important for your health. That’s the first thing I mention to anyone asking about the implications of … exercise. There is tons of evidence that exercise is important for keeping our bodies and minds healthy, and this work does nothing to change that message. What our work adds is that we also need to focus on diet, particularly when it comes to managing our weight and preventing or reversing unhealthy weight gain.”

Dr. Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England has stated: “Being physically active is good for your physical and mental health and also helps to maintain a healthy weight. However, the evidence shows the most effective way of losing weight is to reduce calorie intake through a healthy balanced diet.”

Oh and by the way researcher Rena Wing, PhD, from Brown University and her colleagues at the National Weight Control Registry have followed a large group of subjects (>10,000) who have lost a significant amount of weight, and more importantly, have kept it off for many years. Registry members have lost an average of 66 pounds and have kept it off for 5.5 years. One of their secrets is exercising (walking) for an hour a day!

References

Exercise alone won’t cause weight loss, study shows, The Guardian, January 2016.

The new reasons to exercise, Alexandra Sifferlin, Time Magazine, July, 2016.

Sleep Deprivation Could Be Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Efforts

unnamed-2

Not catching enough zzz’s at night? Sleep deprivation could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts! A recent study published in the Journal Sleep found that those who get 4-5 hours of sleep a night consume significantly more calories and gained more weight than individuals getting at least 8 hours of sleep.

Tips for a Great Nights’ Sleep”

1.       Stick to a similar routine, this will allow your body to get on a regular sleep / wake cycle.

2.       Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening and limit yourself to 1 or 2 cups a day.

3.       Set an electronic curfew and turn off all screens at least 1 hour before bed.

4.       Avoid a high sugar diet, this causes spikes and drops in blood sugar and ultimately energy levels.

5.       Staying active and getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days.

6.       Try meditating for 15 minutes before bed; clearing your mind can help you get to sleep faster and help you sleep better.

Set yourself up for success by following these tips to feel better rested and boost your weight loss efforts!

unnamed-1Amanda is a registered dietitian with a Masters in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. As a dietitian at Selvera, she works one on one with clients developing personalized weight management plans that address nutrition, activity and lifestyle.

Exercise is Important but Diet is the Still Key to Long-Term Weight Maintenance

Exercise may not be as important a solution to weight loss as we’d thought, a new report states. According to a recently published article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, physical activity does not significantly help fight obesity. Though the report acknowledges that physical activity does help prevent the onset of diseases like dementia and heart disease, it argues that being active does not play a large role in helping overweight or obese individuals lose weight. What does make a significant difference in weight loss, they say? Monitoring what you eat.

Though watching what you eat may seem an intuitive word of advice, the Journal’s argument about physical activity runs counter to the somewhat unspoken, yet prevalent, notion that physical activity can counteract the effects of poor eating habits, which include eating highly processed foods and consuming calories that exceed daily recommendations.

FitClickImage3
Photo Credit http://fitclick.com

In other words, no matter how many sit-ups we do, nutrition still matters; for example, research finds that an individual’s risk for developing diabetes increases 11-fold for every 150 additional sugar calories consumed as compared to fat calories.

In light of this, experts believe that mobile phone diet tracking apps will not only continue to increase in popularity (mobile diet apps have outpaced predicated growth since 2010), but will be an increasingly effective way of helping individuals use nutrition as a primary means of losing weight.

Already 66% of Americans say they would use a mobile app to manage their health, according to a recent “Pulse of Online Health” Survey.

Calorie counting via traditional food labels can be done, but given that meals now often occur on the go, a calorie counter app’s preloaded database of foods and its ability to keep a running tally of consumed calories offer users a distinct advantage.

FitClickImage2
Photo Credit: http://Fitclick.com

James Mrowka, President and Co-Founder of FitClick, believes that the more streamlined, simplified, and technologically advanced diet tracking apps become, the more the industry can expect user engagement to increase. “The key to weight loss and fighting obesity will be making diet tracking a highly accessible, integrated part of a user’s daily routine. When individuals have the right information at hand, such as the sugar, caloric, and fat content of what they’re eating, and when keeping track of this information on a daily basis is made easy, there’s far more incentive to stay in the weight loss game,” Mrowka stated.

FitClick has just released its innovative Talk-to-Track calorie-counting mobile app for iPhone and Android users that employs patent-pending voice-to-auto-tracking technology to allow users to audibly track their calories and other nutritional values for heightened ease of use. The Talk-to-Track app is the only diet app of its kind to offer this technology.

How Reducing Calories After Dinner Helps with Weight Loss

There are many different thoughts on how an individual can reduce their body weight in a safe, effective manner.  A good idea is to keep a food journal of what a person is eating over a three to five-day period.  Research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has shown that people who keep a journal lose more weight than those that do not keep some type of record.  Exercise and nutritional modification can also help with weight loss.  Simply becoming more active throughout the day will also play a role in reaching a specific weight loss goal.  A great training and accountability tool that will help increase daily activity and steps is a pedometer.

First-Thing-You-See-Jrnl-Mrktng-Res2002-Wansink-Cartoon-746x1024
Credit: http://growingnaturals.com

We understand intuitively, that to lose weight, a negative deficit needs to occur.  More calories need to be expended than consumed over time in order to eventually lose weight.  With all this insight we still have high levels of obesity and many people still have trouble changing their body composition.

Let’s say that you exercise regularly and you “think” your diet is pretty good, but you just can’t lose weight.  Make sure to keep up the exercise, especially, strength training at least 2-3 times each week.  Keep that pedometer on you and continue to work towards getting your 10,000 steps a day but make one change with how you’re eating.

Get plenty of protein with each meal, never skip a meal and finally, the one change, avoid all calories after dinner – for a week – and see how you look and feel after seven days.  The average person easily eats a few hundred calories watching a little late night TV.  Reducing any extra late-night calories, collectively over the course of a week, is a surefire way to help reduce body weight.  I know, it sounds simple, but it works.  Your goal should be to consume the majority of your calories with a bigger meal in the morning, a high protein lunch, and the smallest amount of calories coming at dinner.

A study published in the journal Diabetologia confirms that, when people with type 2 diabetes ate a large breakfast and lunch and no dinner, compared with those eating six small meals with the same calories, lost body fat and improved insulin sensitivity.  The majority of people are pretty good during the day with what they are eating.  It’s when they get home after a long day, have dinner, and then a few hours later you’re bored or stressed out and start to mindlessly eat whatever favorite comfort food is available.  If you can put together a few good nights where you’re not eating any additional calories in the evening, after dinner, you may experience some unexpected weight loss.  Here are a few good tips to follow to help you be more successful.

Suggested Reading

Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink, PhD (Bantam, 2006).