Diet Strategies & Tips

Your Money or Your Weight Loss

Monday, July 7, 2008 - 4:58pm

By Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD

Many years ago, my mother was desperate for me to pull up my socks and get better grades in school. One night, prompted by a couple of glasses of wine and my mediocre midterm results, she offered me $500 if I got all As in my final year of high school. Ever the business woman, I prompted her to offer $1000 for all A+. Spurred on by financial incentive, I managed very high As, and bargained her out of $750.

For most of us, money is a pretty good motivator. While not all of us are Gordon Gekkos from Wall Street, chanting “Greed is good” as we swindle others out of their dough, we are probably more likely to do something if there’s a pot of money at the end of it (or if by not doing it, we know we’re going to lose some cash).

A study published in September 2007 showed that people could be motivated by money to lose weight. Researchers compared three groups: Group 1 was offered no money; Group 2 was offered a modest amount of money, and Group 3 was offered the most money. Not surprisingly, the people offered the most money lost the most weight. This confirms the results of other studies that show people are more likely to do things like quit smoking if offered financial incentives.

But just how effective is a cash reward? The results of the weight loss study in September were pretty modest, and the biggest effect was in the short term. Three months into the study, Group 1 participants with no financial incentive lost 2 pounds, those in the so-so payback Group 2 lost approximately 3 pounds, and those in the best paid Group 3 lost 4.7 pounds. But after 6 months, when the financial gains were equalized, weight losses were similar across groups. In other words, not much of a difference in the long haul.

Indeed, some might consider saving their cash. A systematic review of the research on cash motivation for weight loss found that in all the studies examined, there was no significant effect of financial incentives on weight loss or maintenance at 12 months and 18 months. Nor was there much of an effect for group versus individual rewards, behaviour based rewards, or rewards handed out by various types of people (e.g. psychologists, employers). In other words, great idea for 3 months, but for long term weight loss and healthy weight maintenance, the wallet only goes so far.

Another recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetics Association suggested that money might only motivate certain things. In this study, researchers tried to combat the problem of people’s poor recall in accurately measuring eating habits, a problem that constantly plagues nutrition studies. (People are not very good at precise recollection of their food intake, just like they’re not very good at eyeballing straight lines when cutting.) In the study, participants were paid to accurately recall their diets -- in other words, to remember precisely what and how much they were eating. The researchers checked the participants’ saliva to see whether they were telling the truth. The smoking studies also found that although there was an effect of money among the people who quit smoking, only a small group actually did quit. In the case of the food reporters and non-quitters, cash made no difference at all!

So what works? Well, money does seem to work for a brief time. But if you’re looking for tricks to stay at a healthy weight for life, you might want to have more than a fistful of dollars.

Finkelstein EA, Linnan LA, Tate DF, Birken BE. A pilot study testing the effect of different levels of financial incentives on weight loss among overweight employees. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 49 no. 9 (Sept 2007): 981-989.

 Hendrickson S, Mattes R. Financial incentive for diet recall accuracy does not affect reported energy intake or number of underreporters in a sample of overweight females. Journal of the American Dietetics Association 107 no. 1 (January 2007): 118-121.
Paul-Ebhohimhen V, Avenell A. Systematic review of the use of financial incentives in treatments for obesity and overweight. Obesity Reviews (October 23 2007).   

Volpp KG, Gurmankin Levy A, Asch DA, Berlin JA, Murphy JJ, Gomez A, Sox H, Zhu J, Lerman C. A randomized controlled trial of financial incentives for smoking cessation. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers Prevention 15 no.1 (January 2006): 12-18.

How to Curb Hunger

Monday, January 14, 2008 - 12:52pm

By Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD

Hunger is one of the most basic human drives. Propelled by intense hunger, people in a starvation situation will eat nearly anything. In our current state of societal abundance, most of us never experience true hunger. As a result, we're often out of sync with our bodies' natural regulation of hunger, appetite, and satiety.

The difference between hunger, appetite, and satiety

These three words signify different things. Appetite isn't exactly hunger, but rather a general appreciation for and interest in eating. Related to appetite are cravings -- strongly felt desires for a particular food. Hunger is a physical sensation characterized by things like headache, shakiness, decreased concentration, and a sensation of empty or growling stomach (aka borborygmus). Satiety is the feeling of fullness and the desire to stop eating. Appetite, hunger and satiety are governed by both the mechanical state of the digestive system (in other words, whether there's stuff in there) as well as hormones such as insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and cholecystokin (or CCK). The body can sense things like whether the stomach is distended or the intestines are stimulated to start shuttling things through the pipes. It also has complex feedback loops for hormones -- when one goes up, another might go down, and a third might respond to the first two to tell the body it's lunchtime.

The several factors that affect hunger, appetite, and eating

These hormones affect and are affected by physical feelings of hunger as well as thoughts and behaviors. So, for example, you can feel hungry after not eating for six hours. Or you can suddenly be inspired to eat dessert even after a full meal when you've actually consumed enough food to satisfy your body's needs. Our experience of appetite and eating is also affected by our cultural and personal habits. In some places, it's considered gauche to eat on the street whereas in North America it's not uncommon to see someone noshing while walking down the sidewalk. Some cultures feel that it's uncouth and greedy to eat to fullness; in other societies, nobody escapes a dinner party without eating till they nearly burst.

The source of problems with appetite and hunger

People who struggle with their weight typically have problems managing appetite and hunger, and responding to satiety signals . They are extra-sensitive to appetite and hunger cues, and almost oblivious to feelings of fullness. They may be easily stimulated by external influences such as the sight of food, and have frequent cravings.

Identifying and managing hunger and satiety

To achieve and stay at a healthy weight, here are some tips to manage the munchies.

Hunger is increased by:

  • Not eating regularly; the body will tend to self-regulate by overeating if it goes without food for too long.
  • Eating a diet high in sugars and starches. This makes blood sugar fluctuate, which leads to cravings and problems managing eating behavior.
  • Eating a diet low in fiber.
  • Eating a diet that is too low in fat and/or protein.
  • Stress, so be vigilant about not reaching for the ice cream when you're tense.
  • Caffeine intake -- a coffee will temporarily suppress appetite, but it may come back with a vengeance once the effects wear off.
  • Being around food stimuli. If there are cookies in the office lunchroom, or chips in your pantry, get away from them. When it comes to food, out of sight is often out of mind.

Satiety is increased by:

  • Eating regularly; every 2-3 hours is ideal.
  • Eating a diet with enough protein, fat, and/or fiber -- in other words, a "cave(wo)man" diet based around meat, poultry, fish and seafood, nuts and seeds, and lots of fruit and vegetables.
  • Eating foods that are high volume but low in calories (most vegetables fall into this category).
  • Drinking plenty of water (i.e., soup has also been shown to help people feel fuller).
  • Eating slowly and allowing the body time to respond to the presence of food.
  • Eating mindfully and being aware of what you're consuming -- mindless eating while distracted by another activity will often lead to eating more than you realize.
  • Controlling portion sizes . People will often eat all of what they're served, regardless of the size of the plate, so use smaller plates if you are cutting calories.

And by the way, it's a myth that cravings are the body's way of telling you what you need in your diet. Nobody needs a 3pm candy bar or a late-night chicken wing run.

For further information on avoiding the munchies see the following article from TheDietChannel: Beat The Munchies! Strategies to Avoid Tempting Food.

Kick the New Year Right With These 10 Diet Tips

Monday, January 14, 2008 - 12:06pm

By Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD, CDN and Willow Jarosh, MS, RD, CDN

This year we moved in a good direction with weight loss advice! Instead of seeing a surge of fad diets, the trend shifted more toward strategies for healthy, long-term weight loss. Here are some of the top weight-loss strategies of the year.

Use the "hunger scale" and not the bathroom scale for dieting

We're all well-acquainted with the bathroom scale, but using the Hunger Scale can increase energy, stabilize mood, AND help you eat less. Imagine hunger on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being so hungry you feel light-headed and 10 being so stuffed you need to unbutton your pants. Around a 2 or 3 is hungry, a 7 is full but not stuffed. Snack when you're at a 2 or 3, to prevent arriving at meals famished. Never go below a 2 or above a 7, and you'll likely see your energy rise and the number on that other scale fall!

1,2,3, Snack rules for eating healthily

Snacking the right way is great for your health and your waistline. Pack nutrition and satisfaction into snacks to decrease hunger at meals and maximize nutrition. Use the 1,2,3 rule to maximize the positive impact snacking has on your weight:

  • Eat one calcium-rich snack each day - aim for at least 300mg of calcium and around 150 calories.
  • Plan two snacks each day - knowing that you have a healthful snack available between meals helps you stop eating before you're stuffed at a meal and makes it more likely that you grab something healthful.
  • Don't go more than three to four hours without eating - eating at regular intervals keeps blood sugar stable, energy up, and the likelihood of overeating at your next meal down.

Visualize a perfect plate

Imagine your plate divided in two. Fill one half with vegetables (cooked vegetables, salad, vegetable soup). Divide the remaining half into two equal sections. Fill one with lean protein (fish, skinless poultry, beans, tofu, or lean beef) and the other with a healthy starch (whole grains, whole grain products, potatoes, peas, beans.) Designate a sliver of the plate to a source of healthy fat (oils, nuts, avocado, etc.)

Start the New Year by removing goodies from the house

The holidays leave goodies lying around and now it's time to get rid of them. It is important to stock up on healthy foods and keep "trigger foods" out of the house. Trigger foods (those that are difficult to eat in moderation) are different for everyone - for some it's a bag of chips and for others it's a jar of peanut butter or chocolate. Identify what these foods are for you and keep them out of the house or only buy small portions.

Downsize your eating utensils for your New Year plan

A recent study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people who used larger bowls ate 31% more ice cream, and those who used larger scoops ate almost 15% more, than those with smaller bowls and scoops. Over half of Americans say they clean their matter how much food is served. Smaller dishes look full with less food, helping our minds believe what our eyes see - a plate heaped with lots of food. Scaled-down utensils make us eat more slowly, meaning there is less chance of ending a meal feeling stuffed.

Re-arrange your refrigerator and put healthy foods within your reach

Whether you're bored or ravenously hungry, we tend to reach for the first thing we see. Make it a point to put healthful foods front and center. Keep yogurt, baby carrots, leftover roasted veggies, hummus, edamame, and string cheese on front, eye-level shelves. Instead of produce going bad before it gets eaten, maybe that leftover piece of cheesecake will get left in the back of the fridge!

New Year Diet: Don't use exercise to compensate for calories

Avoid using exercise to punish yourself for eating too much or to justify the extra slice (or two) of pizza you are planning on eating. This mentality will set you up to hate exercise no matter what the activity. Instead, focus on the positive effects of exercise like improved sleep, increased energy, and more "you time." Activity should be something you continue throughout life, not just when you are trying to lose weight.

Set a practical goal: 10% for your New Year weight loss

By focusing on changing lifestyle and eating habits, as opposed to a quick fix, you will be much more likely to keep weight off. Research shows that starting with a weight loss of 10% of your current body weight sets you up for long-term success. Once you have reached this goal, maintain that weight for 6 months, then you can try for more. It may seem like a slow approach, but experts agree that the body actually needs time to adjust to a new weight before it will allow you to take off more. If you lose 20% of your body weight in 2 years and keep it off forever (34 pounds total for someone starting at 170 pounds) that's some serious success.

Healthy habits will lead to weigh loss

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight by eating well and exercising decreases your risk for diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke. But sometimes it is easy to forget about health when those extra pounds are on your mind. If you make developing healthy habits your primary goal, it's likely that this will also result in weight loss. Furthermore, even thin people increase their risks for heart disease if they don't exercise and eat well.

Be more active in the New Year

We're not talking about hitting the gym seven days a week. A major difference between people who carry extra pounds and those who stay lean is movement throughout the day. A study done by scientists at the Mayo Clinic found that lean people tended to sit less than heavier people - a difference that used around 350 more calories each day! Actions as simple as standing up at your desk, walking around the office, or stretching every hour really add up.

10 Tips for Preventing Holiday Weight Gain

Thursday, December 27, 2007 - 2:29pm

By Erica Lesperance, RD, LD

The holidays are here, which means we are enjoying the favorite seasonal dishes and desserts that we have been looking forward to all year. Feasting on delightful delicacies is a mainstay of any celebration, and it seems the bigger the celebration, the greater the feast. With Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year's all occurring within a span of just 41 days, many of us end up at party after party, celebrating the holiday season and packing on the pounds. Many reports claim that the average person gains 5-10 pounds during the holiday season. A more recent study reported by the National Institutes of Health suggests that Americans may gain only about a pound during the holiday season, "but this extra weight accumulates through the years and may be a major contributor to obesity later in life." It is much more difficult to lose weight than to gain, so if you put on even a pound or two on during the holidays, it is likely you will not lose it. Making a plan now can help you enjoy the season without expanding your waistline. Follow these 10 tips to keep yourself from becoming another holiday weight gain statistic.

Eat regular meals and snacks during the holidays

You may be tempted to "save up" before you head out to a holiday party so you can eat more when you're there. While this approach seems logical, skipping meals before or after a party will not do you any favors. It slows down your metabolism, and if you arrive at a party famished, you will likely make poor choices on what and how much to eat.

Get out of the kitchen to avoid overeating

Ahy torture yourself? Once you have filled your plate, move to another room and engage in conversation or another activity that will take your mind off of food. If you have to be in the kitchen for cleanup, chew a piece of gum to keep you from nibbling on leftovers. You can easily add an extra 200-300 calories with just a few nibbles!

Make healthy contributions to the holiday menu

Not everything at a holiday meal has to be dripping with butter, cheese, or chocolate to be appealing. Many will welcome a fresh vegetable dish or a mixed green salad. Or, take a more traditional holiday dish and modify it to reduce calories, fat, and/or sugar. Chances are nobody will even notice!

Step up the exercise to offset the extra calories

The holidays are a busy time, but challenge yourself to find an extra 30 minutes in your day for physical activity. By burning 300 calories per day beyond what you normally burn, you will offset some of the extra calories you will inevitably take in. You may also consider starting a new holiday tradition that includes activity and does not revolve around food, such as ice skating or sledding. If you plan to head out to see Christmas lights, bundle up and walk from house to house rather than riding in the car.

Focus on quality of food, not quantity of food

You don't have to eat some of everything. Peruse the buffet table and choose 3-5 dishes that are the most appealing. Take smaller portions of them since they are likely rich and more calorie-laden than the foods you are used to. Enjoy your favorites and skip the rest.

Don't go back for second helpings

Whether you're at a buffet table or an appetizer table, fill your plate once and do not go back.

Get to the back of the buffet line - reduces the temptation of wanting seconds

If you are first in line to get your food, you will be done eating before the rest of the crowd. As you sit there with your empty plate, you might be very tempted to head back for seconds so you can share in the camaraderie of eating together. If you wait until most others have taken their food, you will be the one still eating while others are sitting with clean plates or going back for seconds.

Make healthy or non-food gifts

Do you really need to make cookies, candies, chocolates, and caramel corn to give as gifts? You will end up licking the bowls, tasting the finished product (probably more than once, for safe measure), and maybe even saving some of each treat for yourself since you worked so hard on them. Most people receiving these gifts are also concerned about holiday weight gain, so they may be very thankful if you spare them the receipt of another batch of gluttonous treats. If food gifts are a must, then try making something healthy like granola, whole wheat bread, home-canned fruits or vegetables, or jam. You can also make non-food gifts such as candles, incense, and Christmas ornaments. Just take a trip to your local craft store and you will find endless possibilities.

Plan ahead to avoid temptations

If you work in an office, be prepared for the deluge of treats that your colleagues will bring in to share. Bring your own healthy snacks to work so you don't find yourself diving into a plate of fudge when your afternoon hunger kicks in.

Remember that drinks do count towards your calorie intake

Be conscious of how many calories you take in from hot toddies, holiday punches, or other drinks that contain sugar or alcohol. While these drinks add significantly to your calorie intake, they may not curb your appetite for food. If you want to enjoy a little more food, save the calories from the drinks and choose water instead.

Celebrate sensibly and avoid putting on weight

The holidays are a time to enjoy the company of good friends, and yes, good food. So go ahead and enjoy those treats that you only get this time of year, but do it sensibly. Eat only the foods you love, and don't waste calories on treats that are not as good as they look. Keeping the above tips in mind will help you enjoy all the holidays have to offer--without the guilt.

For further tips on eating sensibly during the holidays to avoid weight gain see the following article from TheDietChannel: 10 Ways to Prevent Thanksgiving Weight Gain, Holiday Parties: How to control eating?, Savvy Eating at Holiday Parties, Holiday Eating: How To Avoid Gaining Weight during the Holidays and 10 High Calorie Holiday Foods to Watch Out For.

10 High Calorie Holiday Foods to Watch Out For

Wednesday, December 12, 2007 - 11:36am

By Erica Lesperance, RD, LD

Traditional holiday recipes were originally made from the most delicious ingredients as a way to celebrate the special holiday season. These ingredients include butter, heavy cream, nuts, meats, and preserves. The creation of the recipes predated the American obesity epidemic, but today people are more aware of the sometimes shocking calorie and fat content of these dishes. Some people choose to ignore this information and deal with the consequences of their consumption after the first of the year. However, pounds gained during the holiday season are often never lost, so it is worth being conscious of the following high-calorie holiday dishes so you can practice some waistline damage control.

10 high-calorie holiday foods

1.   Turkey- Dark Meat and Skin - moist due to fat content

The moist texture of a turkey's dark meat and the intense flavor of its skin are due to the high fat content in both. Just 4 ounces of dark meat turkey with some skin provides 250 calories and 13 grams of fat, while 4 ounces of white meat without skin only has 150 calories and 1 gram of fat.

2.   Mashed potatoes can be loaded with fat

Despite the claims of low-carb dieters everywhere, potatoes are not the enemy. Standing alone, potatoes are actually a low calorie, fat-free food. However, traditional holiday mashed potato recipes call for generous amounts of butter, cream, and sometimes even cheese. Loaded up with these heavy ingredients, mashed potatoes can reach a whopping 470 calories per 1-cup serving.

3.   Gravy made with fat drippings increases your calorie intake

As if the mashed potatoes and turkey didn't do enough damage, we often like to top it all with gravy made from the bird's fat drippings. Pour ¾ cup of gravy over your plate, and you'll add 375 calories.

4.   Candied sweet potatoes equal a high-calorie sweet

Sweet potatoes are an extremely nutritious vegetable that needs very little interference to make it taste heavenly. But the tradition of candying sweet potatoes, which means adding brown sugar and butter, turns this nutritious treat into a high-calorie sweet. And when we top it with marshmallows, we increase the calories to an incredible 400 calories from just a ¾ cup serving!

5.   Stuffing - absorbs the fat

Traditionally, stuffing is cooked inside the turkey where it absorbs much of the fat from the bird. Whether made from corn bread or white bread, it often contains high-fat ingredients such as butter, sausage, and nuts, averaging about 340 calories per 1 cup serving.

6.   3 potato latkes can be as much as 400 calories!

A traditional Hanukkah dish, potato latkes are patties of shredded potato held together with matzo and egg that is fried in a generous amount of oil. They are often served with applesauce and/or sour cream. Three latkes with 1 tablespoon of sour cream on each pack over 400 calories.

7.   Eggnog - not good for weight nor your arteries

This rich and creamy holiday drink is not for the weak of heart. At 350 calories and 19 grams of fat (11 of which are saturated) per 8-ounce serving, over-consumption of this holiday treat packs on pounds and clogs arteries.

8.   Prime Rib - the prime means fat!

While ham is a more traditional choice for a holiday dinner, those opting for something more upscale may choose prime rib. Unfortunately, this cut of meat is called "prime" because it contains 35-45% fat, which is the highest of all cuts. A 4-ounce serving of prime rib contains about 425 calories. But let's face it - nobody eats 4 ounces of this succulent cut of meat. A more common serving size is at least 8 ounces, which delivers a hefty 850 calories.

9.   Peanut brittle in moderation to avoid weight gain

While peanuts contain good fat, they are high in calories and should be consumed in moderation. Add butter and corn syrup (sugar) to peanuts and you have peanut brittle, which packs 485 calories into a 3.5 ounce serving.

10.   Pecan pie - a generous serving can be 800 calories!

Same story as the peanut brittle with the addition of a flaky, buttery crust. A generous serving of pecan pie can top out at 800 calories!

Minimizing the holiday food damage

Indulging in even moderate quantities of these high-calorie foods regularly throughout the holiday season can wreak havoc on your waistline. Of course it is possible to purchase or prepare healthier versions of the above foods, but you may not be involved in their preparation. Even if your host doesn't take any calorie-cutting measures, just being aware of the dishes that are highest in fat and calories will help you make better choices and eat smaller quantities.

Four tips to keeping calorie intake down at the holiday table

To make sure you do not go overboard, first pick your favorites and skip anything that does not look amazing. There are always too many options-you do not have to eat one of everything.

Second, take smaller portions than you are used to since these are rich foods and it will certainly not take much to fill you up.

Third, limit yourself to one helping. If you are tempted to go back for more, wait 20 minutes, by which time you will probably feel too full.

Finally, eat slowly and savor every bite. The holidays are a time of feasting and celebrating, and you should be able to enjoy some special treats with your friends and family. Just enjoy them mindfully.

For further tips on eating sensibly during the holidays to avoid weight gain see the following article from TheDietChannel: 10 Tips for Preventing Holiday Weight Gain, 10 Ways to Prevent Thanksgiving Weight Gain, Holiday Parties: How to control eating?, Savvy Eating at Holiday Parties and Holiday Eating: How To Avoid Gaining Weight during the Holidays.

10 Ways to Prevent Thanksgiving Day Weight Gain

Friday, November 16, 2007 - 1:18pm

By Karen Crawford, MS, RD, CSP

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on all things for which we are thankful. You may be thankful for your family, your friends, your health, your happiness, your ability to fit into your favorite jeans. Oh wait, that reminds me, this is the biggest calorie fest of the year! But can you really do that much damage in one day? In one day, probably not, but it can lead to a spiraling effect of uncontrolled eating from now until the New Years. But how about in a month? Oh yes; however, do not panic. There are steps you can take that will allow you to enjoy the holiday and still keep your waist line in check. The 10 tips listed below are designed to steer you away from the "Who cares, it's the holidays" mentality and the "I'll just go on a diet after the New Year" mantra.

1.   Don't skip breakfast and avoid overeating at Thanksgiving

Eat breakfast and do not attempt to fast going into this meal, or you will overeat for sure.

2.   Plan what you eat before and after Thanksgiving to avoid weight gain  

Lighten up on your calorie intake a couple of days before and after. Your weekly average intake is more important than one day's intake, and you can balance it out if you are careful.

3.   Small plate = smaller portions = reduced calorie intake

Use a small plate: This keeps your portions in check. Sure, you can still pile high but that tends to get stares from other guests.

4.   Don't deprive yourself of food, just reduce the amount you eat over Thanksgiving

Go ahead and get a dab of everything that you want to try; this will keep you from feeling deprived later.

5.     Make wise food choices so you enjoy Thanksgiving

Do, however, choose between the bread and dessert. One or the other, your choice.

6.   Eating slowly avoids overeating

Eat slowly and take a drink of something calorie-free in between bites. This will allow you time to tap into your body's fullness factor before you have overdone it.

7.   Thanksgiving weight gains as a result of second helpings

No seconds! This is a one-stop shop, not all you can eat!

8.   During Thanksgiving keep moving around to burn up those calories!

Resist the urge to plop on the couch afterwards. Move around, help do dishes, or take a walk. This will aid the digestion process and burn a few extra calories.

9.   Remove the temptation of eating Thanksgiving leftovers - offer to your guests

If you are the host, divvy up the leftovers among the guests. You do not want to repeat this oh-so-good (but calorie-laden) fest any time soon. (Next stop: holiday parties.)

10.   Drink water

Drink plenty of water, follow these tips, and avoid the scale for a couple of days afterwards and you will once again be thankful.

Enjoy the great food, your friends, and your family--it only comes once a year!

For further tips on eating sensibly during the holidays to avoid weight gain see the following article from TheDietChannel: Holiday Parties: How to control eating?, Savvy Eating at Holiday Parties, Holiday Eating: How To Avoid Gaining Weight during the Holidays, 10 High Calorie Holiday Foods to Watch Out For and 10 Tips for Preventing Holiday Weight Gain.

Weight Loss Hypnosis: Diet Dream Come True?

Thursday, November 8, 2007 - 11:47pm

By Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD, CDN and Willow Jarosh, MS, RD, CDN

The word hypnosis often evokes images of a be-spectacled man holding a swinging pocket watch or unknowing volunteers clucking like chickens on a stage, but hypnosis involves neither swinging watches nor chickens.  Hypnosis as a tool for weight loss is not a new concept, however it has received more attention of late.  In 2004, Dateline chronicled the progress of six people trying six different methods for losing weight.  One subject followed a program of dietary changes along with regular hypnotherapy sessions and lost 35 pounds in ten months.  Googling “weight loss hypnosis” will result in two million listings that define the topic or sell products designed to facilitate weight loss through hypnosis.  But one man’s success and a multitude of websites touting easy weight loss hardly provide you the ground upon which to make an educated decision about hypnosis for weight loss. Here are the facts.  

How hypnosis works

Hypnosis dates back to the 1700s and is defined by most reliable sources as an induced trance state, characterized by intense relaxation and increased susceptibility to suggestion. This means that the hypnotherapist will guide you into a deeply relaxed, open state and then introduce you to concepts that will aid in your weight loss process.  For example, someone who has an affinity for sweets might undergo hypnosis in which the hypnotherapist suggests that the person now has a strong desire to eat fruits and vegetables.  Hypnosis sessions can also involve suggestions to the patient that cause certain environmental cues (i.e., colors, sounds, smells, etc.) to trigger an intense focus on exercise and diet goals.  Studies on the effect of hypnosis (though some of the methodology is questionable) indicate that it can help people lose weight when combined with diet and exercise. 

Safety and hypnosis

While hypnosis is generally safe, the purpose is to create a highly impressionable state.  It is important to choose someone with whom you feel comfortable and who is a credentialed health care provider with experience in hypnosis.  The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and the American Board of Psychological Hypnosis are just a few professional organizations that offer training in hypnosis for health professionals.  Although there are plenty of weight loss hypnosis CDs available on the Internet, it might be best to stick with a real person – at least at first.  One of the benefits that both studies and personal stories have suggested is the benefit of follow-up and maintenance sessions.

Is weigth loss hypnosis for you?

If you are willing to eat right, exercise, and commit to multiple sessions (that may continue even after your goal weight is achieved), then weight loss hypnosis may be something worth trying.  Choosing a provider carefully and entering with an open mind improves the likelihood of having a positive experience.  According to the Encyclopedia of Psychology, about 70% of the population is able to be hypnotized and those who believe that it will work are usually more susceptible.

Best diet is still a healthy diet and exercise plan, but hypnosis may help too

There is no replacement for watching calories, exercising, and making healthful food choices when working towards weight loss goals.  However, although hypnosis is not a replacement for these things, it might enhance their positive effects. 

Allison, D. B., & Faith, M. S. (1996). Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy for obesity: A meta-analytic reappraisal. Joumal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 513 -516.

Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 2001.

The Weekend Diet Plan

Friday, October 26, 2007 - 3:21pm

By Donna Feldman, MS, RD

I used to work with a woman who had a pretty drastic diet strategy: She ate nothing all week and pigged out all weekend. Her weekend was one long food binge. It's not surprising that she never seemed to lose any weight. If your diet sounds like this, don't despair. There are plenty of tricks to help you avoid turning your weekend into a diet disaster.

Keep active all week - even weekends

If you faithfully hit the treadmill every weekday, you might see your weekend as a break from a boring routine. However, that should not translate to a break from exercise. For plenty of people, weekends are the time to get active. Hiking, biking, competitive sports, dancing, skiing, and many other activities are all fun choices for the weekend, when you have more time to spend on them. Social groups and clubs organized around such activities are everywhere. Whatever you do, do not spend weekends sitting on the couch.

Get enough sleep to avoid weekend overeating

Sleeping too little all week might contribute to weekend overeating. Recent research hints that sleep deprivation might cause metabolic changes that drive overeating. Study subjects who were sleep-deprived showed impaired appetite control and increased hunger.1 Glucose metabolism was also impaired, but everything returned to normal once the subjects caught up on sleep.2

Weekends: You deserve to splurge, but remain sensible

You might think of the weekend as the time to reward yourself for dieting all week. Balance treats with dieting common sense. Do not go into the weekend vowing to stick to a very restrictive diet. Plan to enjoy some special foods. Do not waste your calories on the same old burgers, fries, pizza, and chips. If you are meeting someone for coffee and dessert, order a low-fat latte and a great pastry. If you plan on dining out, eat smart early in the day, sticking to high-protein/high-fiber meals, like yogurt and fruit or salad with grilled chicken. When you learn to make these kinds of calorie trade-offs, you won't "have a case of the Monays," feeling guilty and bloated.

Avoid boredom and mindless eating at the weekend

Boredom and loneliness are two of the worst diet wreckers. If you have lots of time on your hands, you'll be set up to graze your way to calorie overload unless you have a plan. You can (and should) get out and enjoy activities by yourself like walking, biking, swimming, rollerblading, or a workout at the gym. Catch that yoga or pilates class you always meant to attend. Reward yourself with a massage or a soak in the Jacuzzi instead of a plate of cookies. Stock your kitchen and frigerator with non-guilt splurges like imported mineral water, interesting herbal teas and plenty of ready-to-grab veggies and fruit. If you crave ice cream, go out for a small single serving of fabulous gelato or hand-made ice cream instead of digging into that half gallon of cheap ice cream in your freezer.

Conclusion: weekends can still be fun whilst watching your weight

Weekends should be fun and relaxing. If you are watching your calories for weight control, ease up a little on weekends. Make it a habit to enjoy really special treats in small portions. Balance the treats with activities that burn calories. Trust me, you'll feel a whole lot better come Monday morning.

  1. Impact of sleep and sleep loss on metabolic function. Van Cauter, et al. Horm Res 2007;67 Suppl 1:2-9

Portion Control, the Diet Plate, and New Tools in the Weight-Loss Battle

Friday, September 21, 2007 - 10:56am

By Katie Clark, MPH, RD

"I know what to eat...I just eat too much of it." Is portion control a problem for you? If so, you might consider using one of the many diet plate-based approaches to getting your portions straight. Here's a look at some of the plates out there and how they stack up.

Too much of a good thing is not a good thing

The use of a specialized plate in portion control management is not a new concept. The journal Western Medicine as far back as 1963 published an article called "A Diet Plate in the Control of Obesity."

More recently, a 2007 article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine studied the use of a portion-controlled plate for weight loss in 130 people with type 2 diabetes in Canada. The authors found that the group who used the plate lost 1.75% of their body weight as compared to 0.05% weight loss in the non-plate using group. The plate-using people were also able to reduce their use of medication for diabetes control, leading the authors to conclude that portion-controlled plates are just as effective as expensive weight-loss drugs.

The Diet Plate® used in the study is an attractively-designed plastic plate with painted-on guidelines for serving sizes and measurements of types of foods to be included in a well-balanced meal for weight loss.

A plate for every palate

There are a number of commercial diet plate options for people looking to use this portion-control approach. The most ubiquitous seems to be The Diet Plate®, a British-based company offering a number of plates and cereal bowls for everyday use. Their plates were utilized and validated in the Canadian study published in the 2007 Archives of Internal Medicine article. The company seems to be riding high after the recent study results and their website offers a "complete weight management system" for $64, female and male plates for $35 each, breakfast bowls for $29 or a "family pack" for $99. While some might balk at such high prices for plastic plates, if you use it every day and if it works for weight loss, it might be no more expensive than many other weight loss aids.

The New American plate

The American Cancer Research Institute has designed "The New American Plate," a plan that they say "is a fresh way of looking at what you eat every day." The New American Plate has a simple, straightforward graphically-depicted message: Reduce the amount of animal protein and increase your fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans on your daily plate.

The group also sells a cookbook with well-balanced recipes, as well as posters, placemats, and other educational tools for healthcare professionals and interested parties looking to shift the face of their plate. Visit the American Cancer Research Institute's website to order a free "Portion Size Finder" and to purchase other items.

Rate your plate game on the Internet

If online games are more up your alley, The University of Connecticut's "Team Nutrition" program has an interactive "Rate Your Plate" game on their website. Players select foods from their typical plates and then their nutritional adequacy is rated against the Food Guide Pyramid, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the food label, or a full nutrient analysis. While the game has not been updated to reflect the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and uses the old Food Guide Pyramid instead of the new MyPyramid as a reference, it still is a useful activity, as it gives you an idea about the appropriateness of your current meals.

Other rules of thumb for portion control (serving sizes)

Once you know what to eat, it is important to also understand how much of that food you should eat . If you have ever visited a registered dietitian, then you are probably familiar with some of the common household comparisons for appropriate serving sizes of foods. Some good rules of thumb for recommended serving sizes include the following:

  • Cheese servings should be as big as a dice or a single domino.
  • Starches such as potatoes, pasta, and rice should take up no more space than the clenched fist of your hand or a tennis ball.
  • Meat should be about the size of a deck of cards, a computer mouse, or the palm of your hand.

As people grow evermore distrustful of fad diets and more knowledgeable about well-balanced nutrition plans, portion-control products will probably continue to flood the weight-loss market. Whether you choose to use a plate, a poster, or a pack of cards as your reference point, remember that how much you eat is just as important as what you eat.

  1. A diet plate in the control of obesity. Grossman AM. West Med Med J West. 1963 Aug; 4:273-4.
  2. Portion Control Plate for Weight Loss in Obese Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Pedersen, MD, et al. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1277-1283.
  3. The Diet Plate® US products, available at:
  4. The American Cancer Research Institute's "The New American Plate", available at:
  5. Rate Your Plate game. Developed by the University of Connecticut, available at:

100 Calories Less to a Thin Waist

Friday, September 14, 2007 - 11:26am

By Dena McDowell, MS, RD

Obesity is at an all-time high with more than 66 percent of Americans considered to be overweight. According to the USDA and the National Institutes of Health's combined research 133.6 million Americans are considered to be overweight. Of those, 63.6 million are considered to be obese. The health ramifications of carrying extra weight are huge and include a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, and certain forms of cancer. The economic costs of treating this epidemic are also steep. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, from 2001-2004 Americans incurred 117 billion dollars each year in diagnosing and treating illness related to being overweight. To stop this unhealthy health trend, one must reduce calorie intake and begin an exercise program to promote a healthy weight loss .

How many calories in a pound?

One pound of body fat equals 3500 calories . In order to lose one pound one must reduce calorie intake by 3500 calories. A reduction of 500 calories a day should result in one pound loss per week. Exercise can play a role in weight loss by expending more calories and increasing metabolic rate. If losing a pound per week is the goal, it may be easier to eat 250 less calories in a day coupled with 250 calories burned through exercise.

A thin waist through exercise

According to the American Hearth Association and the USDA's Healthy People 2010 report, physical activity should be part of a healthy lifestyle and as a means to acheive that slim waistline. It is recommended that Americans aim to get in one hour of exercise each day. This time can be broken into smaller amounts throughout the day. Below is a chart with calories expended by common activities. Calories per activity burned is dependent on body weight of the person doing the activity .

Activity (1 hour)

100 pound person

150 pound person

200 pound person

Biking 6 mph




Biking 12 mph




Running 5.5 mph




Running 7 mph




Running 10 mph




Swimming 25 yd/min




Swimming 50 yd/min




Tennis singles




Walking 2 mph




Walking 3 mph




Walking 4.5 mph




Simple ways to decrease calorie intake

To promote weight loss, one must analyze one's dietary habits. Something as simple as drinking one less soda a day may help shed the extra pounds. An average regular soda has 150 calories per 12-ounce can. Drinking one less a day reduces calorie intake by 54,750 calories a year. This results in a 15.64 weight loss in one year if all other variables remain unchanged. Choose flavored water, plain water, or diet sodas more often to reduce calorie intake.

Other simple ideas include filling half your plate with vegetables to reduce your total calorie intake by half in a meal, or you could aim to increase fiber into the diet as a way to decrease calories consumed and help the body feel full faster. When eating in a restaurant split entrée portions in half. Either share the portion or take half home. Many restaurants do not practice portion control, and average portions are three to four times the recommended amount! If enjoying a meal out, either skip the dessert or choose to share with a friend. Eating five to six small meals will also help regulate your metabolism and help shed extra pounds. This trick may sound counterintuitive but skipping meals or not eating at regular patterned meal times can result in overeating because of increased hunger.

If snacking is a problem, aim to increase fruit and vegetable intake to curb calorie intake while increasing fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Identifying the reasons for eating may also add insight to problems with overeating. If you are someone who eats more when emotions rise be aware that the food choices do not change the outcome of the situation.

Making the most of your daily dalorie intake

When trying to curb calories it is important to be persistent in your plan. Oftentimes people will lose weight quickly at first, then suddenly plateau which becomes frustrating and may lead to failure. It may be helpful to journal your daily intake of food, amount of food consumed, and emotions related to eating to identify problem areas. Perseverance pays off in the long run. Weight loss is a tough challenge. Make it fun by trying new recipes, exercising with a friend, or setting up a non-food reward system. The longer you keep the pounds off, the more likely you are to have weight-loss success in the future.