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Being surrounded by the smell of fattening foods could help fight cravings

Researchers discovered exactly how long consumers should be taking a whiff of their favorite foods

With the start of the new year, many consumers take the time to rededicate themselves to following a health diet. However well-intentioned these plans are, there’s always the temptation to swap a salad for a cheeseburger.

To help combat fattening food cravings, researchers from the University of South Florida recently conducted a study that found that surrounding yourself with the smells of fattening foods for at least two minutes is a great way for consumers to steer clear of the extra calories.

“Ambient scent can be a powerful tool to resist cravings for indulgent foods,” said lead researcher Dipayan Biswas, PhD. “In fact, subtle sensory stimuli like scents can be more effective in influencing children’s and adults’ food choices than restrictive policies.”

Every minute counts

Biswas and his team set out to discover how scent would effectively curb cravings, and they learned that the amount of time consumers are exposed to the smells is what matters most.

The researchers conducted the first part of their experiment in a middle school cafeteria, where they injected scents of either pizza or apples through nebulizers that couldn’t be directly seen. The scents were filtered on alternating days, and the researchers took note of the students’ subsequent purchasing options depending on what scent was in the air.

On days when the apple scent permeated the cafeteria, students were more likely to purchase unhealthy food and drinks, whereas on days when they smelled the pizza, they made healthier lunch choices.

The researchers then replicated the study in a lab setting, switching the scents to filter either cookies or strawberries. After participants were exposed to the smells, they were asked which food they’d prefer: cookies or strawberries.

Similar to their cafeteria test, the smell of the cookies helped participants make healthier choices, and the time they spent surrounded by the smell of the cookies mattered.

When participants had inhaled the cookie smell for two minutes or more, they were more likely to make healthier choices. When they spent less than 30 seconds with the cookie scent, they were more likely to choose the cookie. The researchers believe this works because the scent is tricking the brain into being satisfied by the food without the participants ever having to consume it.

Fighting cravings

Biswas and his team join several other researchers of late who have looked into the best ways for consumers to fight their food cravings.

A study at the end of last year looked at nearly 30 scientific studies to produce a comprehensive list of effective ways to kick cravings.

Researchers found that losing weight can decrease cravings, while frequent exercise can increase cravings. Moreover, cutting out foods from your diet was found to work better than portion control, while certain prescription drugs were also found to help fight cravings.

Additionally, a separate study found that withdrawal from junk food is similar to what addicts experience when they stop using drugs.

For those whose diets consisted primarily of junk food, the symptoms were particularly strong, and many reported feeling fatigued, sad, and irritable. However, if consumers can get past the first five days, the symptoms reportedly decreased.

With the start of the new year, many consumers take the time to rededicate themselves to following a health diet. However well-intentioned these plans are,...

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Survey finds most consumers who take vitamins don’t need them

Only 24 percent of consumers who take supplements have a nutritional deficiency

If you take a vitamin supplement, stop and ask yourself if you really need it. Chances are you don’t.

When the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) hired The Harris Poll to survey consumers, researchers found that more than four out of five people take vitamins or a dietary supplement. However, the organization says just 24 percent of those consumers have a nutritional deficiency.

Dr. Mike Vardshavski, an osteopathic family physician, says most people don’t have a health condition that requires them to take vitamins. Those people, he says, are wasting money and could even be harming their health.

"Numerous investigations show the alleged benefits are unproven and in the worst cases, vitamins and supplements can be harmful," Varshavski said. "In particular, I advise patients that this industry is highly unregulated, so it's important to research manufacturers to ensure their products actually contain the nutritional supplements advertised."

Independent analysis

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responsibility for regulating supplements, but it uses a different set of rules than used for drug regulation. Dr. Tod Cooperman, founder of an independent testing lab called ConsumerLab, addressed a recent NIH symposium and outlined the results of the latest supplement analysis.

“One out of every five supplements we tested has been found to be of poor quality,” Cooperman said. “Herbals had the highest failure rate at 39 percent. Twenty percent of vitamins and minerals also failed.”

The survey asked consumers how they decided which vitamins or supplements to take. Just over half said they got a recommendation from a doctor, which would seem to be the safest source. Thirty-nine percent said they did their own research and 22 percent said they got advice from a friend or family member.

Be skeptical of gummy vitamins

"Obviously, there is a great need for real education on this topic, even among health care professionals," said Varshavski. "Consumers are also cautioned to avoid trends, such as vaping supplements, until the research is conclusive, and to be skeptical of gummy vitamins—which are basically sugar tablets."

The AOA has called for legislation requiring dietary supplements to undergo pre-market safety and efficacy evaluation by the FDA, just as drugs do. The organization also says the FDA should monitor all products marketed for human consumption, including nutritional supplements.

If you think you really need to take a supplement, Varshavski recommends choosing one that carries a certification or approval from a trusted, independent organization. That won’t guarantee the product will be effective, only that it contains the correct ingredients and in the correct amounts.

If you take a vitamin supplement, stop and ask yourself if you really need it. Chances are you don’t.When the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) hi...

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Showing calorie content information alters which foods we choose to eat

Menus that show pictures and calorie counts were proven to affect consumers’ orders

Adding calorie counts to menus has been a popular point of discussion recently. While some believe it’s key to pushing consumers to make healthier food choices, others are convinced the act is pointless.

Though researchers have spoken out on both sides of the argument, a group of researchers from Dartmouth College recently found that restaurants that have both pictures of food and calorie counts are more likely to sway consumers’ ordering habits.

“Our findings suggest that calorie-labeling may alter responses in the brain’s reward system when considering food options,” said researcher Andrea Courtney. “Moreover, we believe that nutritional interventions are likely to be more successful if they take into account the motivation of the consumer, including whether or not they diet.”

The brain’s role

The researchers had 42 undergraduates participate in the study, with students looking at nearly 200 images of food both with calorie counts and without.

The group was split almost evenly between those who dieted and those who didn’t, as the researchers believed the two groups would make different food choices. Everyone was shown the same images, and most of them included fast food items.

While hooked up to an fMRI machine, the participants were asked to rate how much they wanted to eat the food on a scale from one to four, and then how likely they’d be to choose the food items in the dining hall on the same scale.

The researchers found that both dieters and non-dieters were affected by the combination of food pictures and calorie counts. After seeing both, the participants were less likely to choose the unhealthy items.  

However, when the calorie counts came off the food pictures, the results were a bit different. Those who dieted regularly were more likely to continue to avoid fattier foods, whereas the non-dieters didn’t have the same response.

The researchers saw these results as positive, as they further prove that consumers who are looking for healthier options will continue to seek them out when calorie counts aren’t available. However, when calorie counts are present, they help guide consumers’ choices.

“In order to motivate people to make healthier food choices, policy changes are needed that incorporate not only nutritional information, including calorie content, but also a public education component, which reinforces the long-term benefits of a healthy diet,” said researcher Kristina Rapuano.

Posting calorie counts

Earlier this year, chain restaurants with at least 20 stores were required to start providing customers with calorie information as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Though experts went back and forth on the pros and cons of this venture, the goal was to have consumers making healthier choices when they eat out.

Later in the year, researchers explored the effects of having calorie counts on menus and found that consumers were more likely to order something with fewer calories when the calorie information was in a prominent place.

“What this paper shows is that a trivially simple intervention could increase the power of calorie information on menus,” said researcher Steven Dallas. “The calorie labeling policy should not necessarily be deemed a failure, and could in fact become a powerful tool in combating the obesity epidemic.”

Adding calorie counts to menus has been a popular point of discussion recently. While some believe it’s key to pushing consumers to make healthier food cho...

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MyNicNaxs recalls various dietary supplements

The products contain active pharmaceutical ingredients not declared on the label

MyNicNaxs of Deltona, Fla., is recalling all lots of various dietary supplements that were distributed nationwide.

The products contain active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) Sildenafil, Sibutramine, Diclofenac and/or Phenolphthalein not declared on the label.

The presence of these APIs render the products unapproved drugs for which safety and efficacy have not been established.

The following products, sold from January 2013, to December 2017, though the company website http://www.mynicnaxs.com, are being recalled:

Product DescriptionAPI Found in FDA Lab Results
Platinum Maximum Strength Blue Pill Version; 
30 capsules; 500mg each
Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
Platinum Maximum Strength Blue Pill Version; 
30 capsules; 500mg each
Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
Slimming Plus Advanced Weight Loss; 30 
capsules; 500mg each
Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
African Viagra - sexual performance
enhancement product; 4500mg x 2
GINSENG - sexual performance enhancement 
product; 300mg/tablet x 10 tablets
African Superman - sexual performance 
enhancement product; 2900mg x 8 tablets per 
blister pack
Old Chinese - sexual performance enhancement 
product; 19800mg x 10 capsules
Lean Extreme Max; 30 capsules; 400mg eachSibutramine
X-treme Beauty Slim; 30 capsules; 350mg eachSibutramine
African Superman - Top-Class Permanence 
Tablet; 2900mg x 8 tablets
Slim Evolution - 100% Natural Ingredients; 30 
capsules; 350mg each
Meizitang Strong Version capsules packed in a
non-flexible clear bottle with a green screw-on
Magic Slim capsules packed in a non-flexible
white bottle with a white screw-on top
Slim Xtreme capsules packed in a non-flexible
white bottle with a white screw-on top
Meizi Evolution capsules were packed in a non-
flexible clear bottle with a blue screw-on top
SlimEasy Herbs capsules packed in blister
packaging and placed in a white box with black 
Hokkaido - capsules packed in blister packaging
in pink box with black labeling
Super Fat Burning Bomb capsules in blister
packs, packaged in a red box with black labeling
Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
FRUTA Bio blister packs, packaged in a
yellow/green box with green labeling
Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
JIANFEIJINDAN Activity Girl - blister packs,
packaged in a white/pink box with pink labeling
Reduce Weight FRUTA PLANTA blister packs,
packaged in a yellow/green box with green 
Fat Loss Slimming Beauty – 30 capsules in
blister packs packaged in yellow/black box -500
Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
Fruta Planta -blister packs packaged in
yellow/green box with green labeling
Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
Botanical Slimming - 100% Natural Soft gel; 30 soft gels; 650mg each packaged in a green bag with yellow and white lettering
Slim Body - Dietary Supplement;100% Herbal Slimming Formula; 30 capsules; 6x5x300mg blister packs, packaged in blue and red box

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them and discontinue use of the products immediately.

Consumers with questions may contact Mike Banner at (407) 791-3597 or Chevonne Torres ate (386) 337-8142, Monday – Friday, 9:00am – 5:00 pm, (ET).

MyNicNaxs of Deltona, Fla., is recalling all lots of various dietary supplements that were distributed nationwide.The products contain active pharmaceu...

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Why the alternate-day fasting diet might not be right for you

Researchers say the diet does not guarantee better results and may be harder to follow

If you’re a consumer who struggles with obesity or being overweight, then one of the first suggestions you’re likely to hear is that you should restrict the number of calories you consume each day. However, this can be a major test of willpower for some, and different fad diets have tried to come up with ways that allow consumers to lose weight while letting them eat what they want.

One of the newest strategies is called alternate-day fasting, where consumers are encouraged to eat whatever they want on one day and follow it up with a day of fasting where they only consume up to 25% of their usual calorie intake. This approach has increased in popularity and has even made its way into several diet books, with proponents calling it a superior way to lose weight. But does it work?

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago set out to answer that question and found that the diet might not be all it’s cracked up to be. After conducting a one-year randomized clinical trial, they found that participants who followed an alternate-day fasting diet did not experience any additional weight loss when compared to those who dieted normally.

"The results of this randomized clinical trial demonstrated that alternate-day fasting did not produce superior adherence, weight loss, weight maintenance or improvements in risk indicators for cardiovascular disease compared with daily calorie restriction," the researchers said.

Trouble sticking to the diet

The study included 100 obese participants between the ages of 18 and 64 that were assigned to one of three groups for one year. One group followed an alternate-day fasting diet where participants consumed only 25% of their calorie needs on “fast” days and 125% of calorie needs on “feast” days; one group restricted their calorie intake to 75% of their caloric needs every day; and one group was given no intervention.

At the beginning of the experiment, the researchers expected that those following an alternate-day fasting diet would be able to adhere to their diet more easily, achieve greater weight loss, and reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease. However, the end results showed that these participants had the most trouble following their diet plan.

“Participants in the alternate-day fasting group ate more than prescribed on fast days, and less than prescribed on feast days, while those in the daily calorie restriction group generally met their prescribed energy goals,” the researchers said.

Not “superior”

In addition to not losing any more weight than participants in the calorie restriction group, the researchers found that those in the alternate-day fasting group were more likely to drop out of the study.

“Alternate-day fasting has been promoted as a potentially superior alternative to daily calorie restriction under the assumption that it is easier to restrict calories every other day. However, our data from food records. . . indicate that this assumption is not the case. Rather, it appears as though many participants in the alternate-day fasting group converted their diet into de facto calorie restriction as the trial progressed,” the researchers said.

“Moreover, the dropout rate in the alternate-day fasting group (38%) was higher than that in the daily calorie restriction group (29%) and the control group (26%). It was also shown that more participants in the alternate-day fasting group withdrew owing to dissatisfaction with diet compared with those in the daily calorie restriction group. Taken together, these findings suggest that alternate-day fasting may be less sustainable in the long term, compared with daily calorie restriction, for most obese individuals.”

The researchers point out that some individuals may still prefer alternate-day fasting over more conventional dieting techniques, but their study does put into question whether or not this new technique truly is “superior.”

The full study has been published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

If you’re a consumer who struggles with obesity or being overweight, then one of the first suggestions you’re likely to hear is that you should restrict th...

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Researchers develop a way for consumers to burn excess fat

The solution would take place at the cellular level, but more research is needed

Consumers looking to lose weight may have spent countless hours in a sweltering gym trying to burn away excess fat. But is there an easier way to melt away the pounds that isn’t so labor-intensive and time consuming?

Perhaps not yet, but scientists at the University of Bonn believe that they have a potential answer. Dr. Alexander Pfeifer and his fellow researchers have been researching how to burn away fat for years, and a recent study using mice shows that making changes at the cellular level could make it possible.

The process involves converting unwanted white fat cells into brown slimming cells that consume energy. The difference between the cells is that the latter is packed with much more mitochondria, the so-called “power stations” of the cell. These extra reserves of mitochondria take white fat cells and use them to produce thermal energy, effectively burning them away.

During the study, the researchers converted white fat cells into brown slimming cells in mice and found that the subjects lost a significant amount of weight after the process was completed. Additionally, they found that combining this process with certain active ingredients reduced the number of white fat cells and increased the number of brown slimming cells, which accelerated the fat burning process. This gives some hope that this kind of therapy could be used to combat obesity and obesity-related health conditions, such as joint problems, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Problems to work out

While the findings are encouraging, Pfeifer and his team say that there are some complications that need to be worked out with the process, specifically when used with obese subjects.

Currently, the use of the certain active ingredients kicks fat burning into overdrive, but certain types of fat have proven to be more resistant due to inflammation. Specifically, the researchers noted that subcutaneous fat – the kind found closest to the surface of the skin – was affected normally by the therapy, but deeper-lying abdominal fat was more problematic.

The researchers found that subjects with this deeper-lying fat had much more inflammation than those who didn’t, and that inflammation effectively shuts down and blocks the pathways that the therapy uses to turn white fat cells into brown fat cells. Additionally, the risk of this kind of inflammation is already high because it promotes cardiovascular diseases, which makes the problem twice as bad, the researchers said.

While a concrete solution has not yet materialized, researcher and lead author Abhishek Sanyal believes that halting the abdominal fat’s inflammatory response while simultaneously administering the therapy’s active ingredients could be a good starting point for tests.

The full study has been published in Cell Reports.

Consumers looking to lose weight may have spent countless hours in a sweltering gym trying to burn away excess fat. But is there an easier way to melt away...

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Are artificial sweeteners or natural, calorie-free sweeteners better for losing weight?

Daily calorie intake is the same either way in the short-term, researchers say

Consumers who want to lose weight or just control their blood sugar may often be plagued by decisions on what they should be eating or drinking at any given time. When it comes to certain beverages, the decision becomes even trickier.

Some people believe that indulging in a beverage with artificial sweeteners can help reduce appetite and keep them from overeating at their next meal. Others say that choosing a drink with natural or non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) is better because it cuts down on overall sugar consumption.

So, which option is actually better for you? One study suggests that arguing for one over the other is a moot point in the short-term. Researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore tested four beverages and found that daily energy intake, glucose levels, and insulin levels the blood was the same no matter what. The reason: what calories we avoid by drinking certain beverages is made up by the foods we eat throughout the day.

Energy intake is initially the same

The researchers set out to test four different kinds of beverages for their short-term study: one containing sucrose (sugar), one containing aspartame (an NNS), one made with a plant-derived NNS (Stevia), and one made with monk fruit (Mogroside V).

Thirty healthy male participants were asked to randomly consume one of the four beverages on each day of the trial period, while adhering to a similar daily schedule; each person woke each day and ate a standardized breakfast, drank one test beverage at mid-morning, and ate a lunchtime meal where they were asked to eat until comfortably full and write out a food diary.

After each round, the researchers recorded participants’ blood glucose and insulin levels. Lead author Siew Ling Tey said that the results were “surprising” because the amount of total daily energy intake was the same across all four beverages, meaning that participants consumed the same number of calories regardless of what they drank.

Short-term vs. long-term weight loss

Tey attributes this to participants reducing or increasing meal intake depending on the beverage they consumed earlier. Those that drank the sucrose-sweetened drink tended to reduce the amount of food they ate at lunch, while those who drank an NNS-sweetened beverage tended to eat more at meals.

“The energy ‘saved’ from replacing sugar with non-nutritive sweetener was fully compensated for at subsequent meals in the current study, hence no difference in total daily energy intake was found between the four treatments,” said Tey.

However, the researchers point out that longer-term studies have found that using NNS sweeteners for significant periods of time eventually reduces overall energy intake and body weight. The takeaway, then, may be that quick weight loss is not decided by the type of sweetened beverage we consume, but it should be a consideration when making a long-term diet plan.

The full study has been published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Consumers who want to lose weight or just control their blood sugar may often be plagued by decisions on what they should be eating or drinking at any give...

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High-protein diet doesn't help prevent type 2 diabetes, study finds

Obese postmenopausal women got more benefit from a diet that included more moderate amounts of protein

A lot of people go out of their way to eat extra protein. Dieters, in particular, think that eating more protein helps them stave off hunger and prevent the loss of muscle tissue that often comes with weight loss.

But is this really a good idea? In a study of 34 postmenopausal women with obesity, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that eating too much protein eliminates an important health benefit of weight loss -- improvement in insulin sensitivity, which is critical to lowering diabetes risk.

"We found that women who lost weight eating a high-protein diet didn't experience any improvements in insulin sensitivity," said principal investigator Bettina Mittendorfer, PhD, a professor of medicine. "However, women who lost weight while eating less protein were significantly more sensitive to insulin at the conclusion of the study. That's important because in many overweight and obese people, insulin does not effectively control blood-sugar levels, and eventually the result is type 2 diabetes."

A good marker

In fact, the researchers say, insulin sensitivity is a good marker of metabolic health, one that typically improves with weight loss. In their study, the women who lost weight while consuming less protein experienced a 25 to 30 percent improvement in their sensitivity to insulin.

Many dieters think that consuming extra protein can help preserve lean tissue -- muscle, in other words -- allowing them to lose fat without losing muscle. But Mittendorfer's findings don't support that belief.

"When you lose weight, about two-thirds of it tends to be fat tissue, and the other third is lean tissue," Mittendorfer said. "The women who ate more protein did tend to lose a little bit less lean tissue, but the total difference was only about a pound. We question whether there's a significant clinical benefit to such a small difference."

While the difference in muscle mass loss was slight, the same wasn't true of metabolism. The women who ate the recommended amount of protein saw big benefits in metabolism, led by a 25 to 30 percent improvement in their insulin sensitivity. That can lower the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The women on the high-protein diet, meanwhile, did not experience those improvements.

"Very big effects"

"Changing the protein content has very big effects," Mittendorfer said. "It's not that the metabolic benefits of weight loss were diminished -- they were completely abolished in women who consumed high-protein diets, even though they lost the same, substantial amounts of weight as women who ate the diet that was lower in protein."

The study included 34 obese women 50 to 65 years old. Although all were obese, none had diabetes at the time of the study. They were placed in three groups for the 28-week study -- a control group, a group that ate the recommended date allowance of protein, and a third group that ate more protein.

It's still not clear why insulin sensitivity didn't improve in the high-protein group, and Mittendorfer said it's not known whether the same results would occur in men or in women already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She plans to continue researching the subject.

The findings became available Oct. 11 in the journal Cell Reports.

A lot of people go out of their way to eat extra protein. Dieters, in particular, think that eating more protein helps them stave off hunger and prevent th...

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Why your diet usually fails

Nutrition author says eating healthy food is key to battling obesity

There all kinds of diets and weight loss programs, and while some undoubtedly achieve results for some people, it's also clear that the majority of people who start a diet soon give up.

Nutrition author Phoenix Gilman says the main reason diets fail is carbohydrate craving, leading to an overwhelming appetite.

"Millions of people still tragically believe in the low fat myth,” she said. “That alone has perpetuated our obesity epidemic, among numerous other diseases.”

Gilman says the simple answer to losing or controlling weight is learning what is healthy to eat and consuming reasonable portions of it. She says it's also important to understand the role of chemicals produced by the brain.

Gilman works with individual clients to help them lose weight, specializing in women over 40.

"As a woman myself, and one who's 57, this is a major turning point for women who are now looking in the mirror and asking, 'What happened?' Most have devoted their life to husbands, careers and raising children. Their health wasn't often a priority,” she said.

Laundry list of problems

Gilman attributes a laundry list of problems to poor nutrition -- from obesity, diabetes, and addictions, to depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Highly processed foods, she maintains, adjust brain chemicals that often send people running to the refrigerator.

Academic researchers have been onto this for some time. Back in 2007, researchers at UCLA conducted a study that concluded diets lead to temporary weight loss, at best.

"You can initially lose 5% to 10% of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back," Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study, said at the time. "We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more.”

It's true, Mann said, that a small minority of dieters were able to sustain their weight loss. It is also true, she said, that the majority regained all their weight.

Mann went so far as to contend that most dieters would have been better off not even trying to lose weight.

Gilman obviously disagrees, with the caveat that sensible portions of healthy, nutritious food is one diet that can work.

There all kinds of diets and weight loss programs, and while some undoubtedly achieve results for some people, it's also clear that the majority of people...

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Additional research shows that overeating leads to more eating

High-fat diets can be especially bad for gut-to-brain communication, researchers say

Last month, we reported on a study which showed that overeating leads to even more eating. The premise of the research was that eating too much in one sitting suppresses a hormone that tells your brain that you’re full.

Now, a new study conducted by the University of Georgia, Binghamton University, and Pennsylvania State University have reached similar conclusions. Researchers found that foods that are high in fat disturb neural messages to the brain that allow you to feel full. However, they believe that manipulating microbes in the stomach may reverse the effect.

Stifled communication

The study involved examining the “gut-to-brain” neural pathways in mice, who were sustained on a high-fat diet. The researchers found that regions of the brain responsible for processing feeding behavior became inflamed when high amounts of fat were introduced.

In order to determine the cause, they began examining microbiota in the stomach to see if the diet influenced composition. After finding a connection, lead researcher Dr. Claire de La Serre and her colleagues began injecting mice with low doses of a spectrum antibiotic that was able to reverse the negative effects.

Potential impact

There is potential for the impact of this study to be great. It precisely demonstrates to what extent stomach microbiota are affected by a high-fat diet. Information gleaned from the research could allow the medical community to come up with new therapies and medications that counter trends in overeating and obesity, two major health concerns.

One additional study has already made some progress by showing that eating certain types of foods can benefit microbiota composition in the stomach. Researchers found that eating blueberries, which have high levels of anthocyanin, can help lessen inflammation and lead to more stable blood sugar levels. Additional research into other bioactive foods will almost certainly follow.

Research conducted by De la Serre et al is scheduled to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), which takes place from July 12-16.  

Last month, we reported on a study which showed that overeating leads to even more eating. The premise of the research was that eating too much in one sitt...

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The reason why your diet may not be working out

Focus on the foods you enjoy when making your plan, researchers say

What is the most important aspect of making a successful diet plan? Many people might say that it has to do with avoiding unhealthy foods and substituting them with well-known, healthy options. However, new research shows that this line of thinking may actually lead to failure more often than not.

Instead, researchers from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business say that consumers should focus on adding healthy foods that they actually enjoy to their diet.

“Our research shows that instead of creating rules to avoid one’s favorite treats, dieters should focus on eating healthy foods that they enjoy. . . Dieters who restrict themselves from consuming foods they love most may be setting themselves up for future failure,” said Dr. Meredith David, assistant professor at Baylor and lead author of a study on the subject.

Approach dieting differently

The study analyzed data on 542 participants who answered questions related to creating a successful diet plan. The focus of the study was to gauge participants’ level of self-control and see how that affected their choices.

When asked about diet rules that they would create, a majority of respondents said that they would add in provisions that restricted or avoided certain foods. This was especially the case amongst individuals who were considered to have low levels of self-control and low levels of success with dieting.

Additionally, low self-control individuals were more likely to think of foods that they really enjoyed when listing unhealthy foods that they should avoid. On the other hand, high self-control individuals were more likely to list foods that they liked, but ones that they could reasonably give up.

Low self-control participants were also most likely to think of foods they didn’t like when trying to create a list of healthy foods that they should eat, like Brussels sprouts. High self-control individuals were more likely to think of healthy foods that they also enjoyed eating, such as fruits like strawberries.

Focus on foods you enjoy

These findings show that consumers who have low self-control may be approaching dieting in the wrong way.

“In coming up with plans to enhance one’s health and well-being, low self-control individuals tend to set themselves up for a harder pathway to success by focusing on avoiding the very goods they find most tempting. . . Our data reveals that individuals who are generally more successful at reaching their goals tend to develop more motivating plans regarding the inclusion of healthy, well-liked items and the exclusion of unhealthy items that are not one’s favorites,” said David.

The researchers believe that more success could be achieved by dieters if they adopt plans that focus more on foods that they enjoy instead of focusing on what they will be missing out on.

“The next time you decide to go on a diet or seek to improve your health by altering your food consumption, opt for strategies that focus on including healthy foods in your diet, and focus specifically on those healthy foods that you really enjoy eating,” said David.

The full study has been published in the journal Psychology & Marketing.

What is the most important aspect of making a successful diet plan? Many people might say that it has to do with avoiding unhealthy foods and substituting ...

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Portion control: is it the key to weight loss?

California researchers say this simple concept seems to work

Amid all the fad diets and weight control programs, there is one very simple way to lose weight: eat less.

Easier said than done, however. Over the years, the portion sizes consumers expect – and get – have gotten significantly larger. That might be fine for a portion of steamed broccoli, less fine for a portion of meatloaf.

When you look on a food nutrition label, it will tell you how many servings the product contains. But once on a plate, chances are the serving will look pretty small to some consumers who are accustomed to larger portions. Sticking to the serving size, however, could make it easier to lose or maintain weight.

Prepackaged portions

New research published in the scientific journal Obesity has confirmed what diet product companies have long known – when you package food in small, controllable portions, it is easier to lose weight.

“Participants who were prescribed twice-daily prepackaged meals lost about 8% of their initial weight, compared to participants in the control group – who could select their own diets – who only lost about 6%,” said lead researcher Cheryl Rock, of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

The real key, she says, is removing the guesswork involved in planning and preparing low-calorie meals.

It all sounds simple enough, but Martin Binks, a spokesperson for The Obesity Society, says it may be hard for someone who is overweight or obese to put it into practice. He notes that it is important to reduce the body's energy intake for weight loss, but a body accustomed to large amounts of energy will crave it when it's denied. Still, he notes this strategy is a step toward reducing obesity.

Encouraging trend

According to research published in Food Technologists magazine, consumers may be slowly moving away from giant-sized portions. Among the trends uncovered by the research, there was a conscious shift to smaller portion sizes reported by one-third of the consumers in the survey.

Many restaurants, however, still serve up huge portions – more than a human being should eat in a day, in some cases. The reason is competition. Restaurants know consumers can choose to dine out anywhere. They conclude that their chances are better of attracting consumers if they provide a generous spread – and in many cases, they are correct.

Food products that come in prepackaged portions are an easy way to both control portion size and keep track of calories. The downside is these meals often contain large amounts of sodium. A steady diet might expose you to excessive amounts of salt.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers a number of tips for controlling portions when cooking from scratch, including using smaller plates and cups and sticking to suggested serving sizes. If you're still hungry, eat more vegetables but skip dessert.

Amid all the fad diets and weight control programs, there is one very simple way to lose weight: eat less.Easier said than done, however. Over the year...

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Study: artificial sweeteners may have negative health effect for obese consumers

Researchers suggest some can interfere with glucose management

Artificial sweeteners have come a long way over the years, now closely mimicking natural sweeteners but without the calories.

The sweeteners are effective tools to help obese consumers reduce calorie consumption, but researchers at York University's Faculty of Health say that weight management may come at a price.

"Our study shows that individuals with obesity who consume artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame, may have worse glucose management than those who don't take sugar substitutes," Professor Jennifer Kuk, obesity researcher in the School of Kinesiology and Health Science, said in a release.

Artificial sweeteners lack caloric content because they are not digested by the body. If they can make food taste better without adding calories, it can help consumers manage their weight. But the York University study found that in some cases, bacteria in the stomach may be able to break down the artificial sweetener. When that happens, researchers say there can be negative effects on health.

No adverse effect from saccharin

Kuk said the research team didn't find this adverse effect in people consuming saccharin – an early artificial sweetener – or natural sugars. The findings, however, left them with more questions than answers.

"We will need to do future studies to determine whether any potentially negative health effects of artificial sweeteners outweigh the benefits for obesity reduction," Luk said.

This is hardly the first research to suggest there could be some downside to using food and beverage products containing artificial sweeteners. A 2008 study by psychologists at Purdue University found that compared with rats that ate yogurt sweetened with sugar, rats given yogurt sweetened with zero-calorie saccharin later consumed more calories, gained more weight, put on more body fat, and didn't make up for it by cutting back later.

Later that same year a Duke University study that focused on the artificial sweetener Splenda concluded the product contributes to obesity, destroys beneficial intestinal bacteria, and could even interfere with absorption of prescription drugs.

Pepsi dumps aspartame

Last year Pepsi announced it would remove aspartame from its beverages sold in the U.S., reacting to research that suggests the artificial sweetener – while not imparting calories – might creating sugar cravings among people who consume too much, thus negating the benefits of a no-calorie beverage.

Today, food manufacturers have many options when it comes to new sugar substitutes. The York researchers says more investigation should be carried out to determine if there are any health effects of using these sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners have come a long way over the years, now closely mimicking natural sweeteners but without the calories.The sweeteners are effecti...

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Eating healthy, not just lower calories, a challenge when eating out

The healthier choice isn't always obvious

Most restaurant meals are designed to be filling and satisfying. That, after all, is how restaurants fill tables.

For that reason, restaurant meals tend to be high in calories and filled with good-tasting ingredients that might not be all that healthy.

For those trying to eat a healthier diet, choosing a restaurant can be a frustrating process. The healthier choice might not be obvious at first glance.

For example, researchers at the University of South Carolina say the caloric content of fast casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera Bread is often higher than at fast food outlets like McDonald's and Burger King, even though the latter has a reputation for calorie-laden meals.

200 more calories

Their findings, written up in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, reports an average fast casual meal has 200 more calories than a typical fast food meal. When it comes to menus, the study found more high-calorie options at fast casual establishments than the fast food restaurants.

"We were surprised that there were higher calories at fast casual restaurants, but one of the main takeaways from the paper is that there are a lot of high-calorie options at both kinds of restaurants," said lead researcher Danielle Schoffman.

The South Carolina study reached much the same conclusion as one at Tufts University in January. That study, which focused on fast casual and independent restaurants, found 92% of the 364 measured restaurant meals from both categories had more calories than the recommended number for a single meal.

In a third of the restaurants, at least one meal on the menu packed more calories than a person should consume in a single 24-hour period.

What to do

If you are maintaining a healthy diet at home, is it possible to eat in a restaurant without packing on the pounds? Most nutritionists will tell you that one restaurant meal will not kill a diet, and a treat every once in a while might not be a bad thing.

It becomes a problem when restaurant meals are a staple of your weekly diet. For example, traveling for an extended period will require you to exercise some discretion and self-control.

For starters, choose restaurants that post calorie information on the menu, and use that information when choosing what to order. Some fast casual chains, like Applebees, highlight items on the menu that have fewer calories and less saturated fat.

Also, use common sense when selecting food. Weigh calories against nutritional content. Researcher Brie Turner-McGrievy says that sometimes the higher calorie meal is the better choice if it is more nutritious.

"A burger on a white bun may have fewer calories, but when you're talking about cancer prevention or other chronic diseases, you have to look beyond calories," Turner-McGrievy said. "We don't want the message to be, 'Go eat hamburgers and don't eat guacamole and beans and brown rice.' "

Most restaurant meals are designed to be filling and satisfying. That, after all, is how restaurants fill tables.For that reason, restaurant meals tend...

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Study finds why Biggest Loser contestants regain the weight

Significant weight loss found to slow rate at which the body burns calories

The NBC reality series “The Biggest Loser” has been an inspiration to many obese people. They have watched as contestants embraced a supervised, on-camera lifestyle transition to a healthy diet and exercise.

Even the contestants who didn't win went home happy, with slimmer, lighter bodies. But a team of U.S. researchers wondered what happened next? Did the feel-good story continue, off-camera? In most cases, it did not.

The researchers investigated 16 of the show's contestants, 14 of whom participated in the follow-up study. All but one gained back some of the weight. Four regained everything they lost, and then some.

The study found the 14 participants lost an average of about 128 pounds, regaining about 90 pounds over six years.

Looking for 'why?'

But that wasn't the point of the study – the researchers suspected they might find some regained weight, since that often happens to dieters. The real question they wanted to answer was “why.”

The “why” appears to center on changes to metabolism, which is kind of like your body's miles-per-gallon (MPG) rating. You want your body to have the MPG of a Hummer, not a Prius.

In their study, the researchers determined that the dramatic weight loss altered the body's metabolism, the rate at which it burns calories. As subjects dropped pounds, the body slowed the rate at which it burned calories. They call it metabolic adaptation.

Using before and after data for the contestants, the researchers found their resting metabolic rate (RMR) slowed in the years following the show.

The researchers said their study, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is probably the longest follow-up investigation of the changes in metabolic adaptation and body composition following weight loss and regain.

Suppressed RMR

“We found that despite substantial weight regain in the six years following participation in 'The Biggest Loser,' RMR remained suppressed at the same average level as at the end of the weight loss competition,” the authors wrote.

They found mean RMR after six years was about 500 calories a day lower than expected, based on the measured body composition changes and the increased age of the subjects. The contestants who lost the most weight, they said, also experienced the greatest slowdown in RMR at that time.

Those most successful in keeping the lost weight off after six years also experienced greater ongoing metabolic slowing.

“Metabolic adaptation persists over time and is likely a proportional, but incomplete, response to contemporaneous efforts to reduce body weight,” the study concludes.

The takeaway

The takeaway, however, is not that obese people should not try to lose weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle, far from it. Rather, it's an acknowledgment of the physical obstacles your body can throw up to maintaining the weight loss.

Despite their weight regain, the contestants were “quite successful” at long-term weight loss compared with other lifestyle interventions, the study found. The researchers also found that those who experienced the biggest metabolic change did not experience the greatest weight regain and those who were most successful in keeping the weight off had pretty much the same metabolic slowdown.

So the lesson, the researchers say, is “long-term weight loss requires vigilant combat against persistent metabolic adaptation that acts to proportionally counter ongoing efforts to reduce body weight.”

It should be noted that participants in “The Biggest Loser” all had close medical monitoring during the show. You should not undertake any sort of significant weight loss effort without consulting a doctor first.  

The NBC reality series “The Biggest Loser” has been an inspiration to many obese people. They have watched as contestants embraced a supervised, on-camera ...

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Research shows that maintaining weight loss gets easier over time

One study shows that the human body adapts to weight change after a year

Losing weight can be a difficult enough challenge as it is, but being able to maintain that weight loss over time can be even more daunting. It is often very difficult for the body to adapt to new lifestyle changes like increased exercise and dieting; however, new research shows that there is a measurable timeframe, after which the body will adjust and accept the changes.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen conducted a study on obesity and weight loss and found that if a person can lose weight and keep it off for a year, then the body will accept the change.

“This study shows that if an overweight person is able to maintain an initial weight loss – in this case for a year – the body will eventually ‘accept’ this new weight and thus not fight against it, as is otherwise normally the case when you are in a calorie-deficit state,” said Signe Sorensen Torekov, associate professor with the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research.

Adapting to change

But what exactly changes over the course of a year that allows the body to accept its new weight? Researchers concluded that the change is primarily hormonal, specifically with two appetite-inhibiting hormones called GLP-1 and PYY.

Normally, when someone first begins to lose weight, a hormone called ghrelin spikes up and causes hunger; it’s the body’s way of reacting to the changes. GLP-1 and PYY levels are usually pretty low at this point. However, after a year of maintaining this weight loss, researchers found that GLP-1 and PYY levels actually get higher and ghrelin stays at normal levels; this translates to a person not feeling as hungry anymore, which, in turn, makes it easier to keep weight off.

Obese people, in particular, have very low GLP-1 levels, but improvements can be made if they try to adhere to a healthier lifestyle.

“We know that obese people have low levels of the appetite inhibiting hormone GLP-1. The good thing is that now we are able to show you can actually increase the levels of this hormone as well as the appetite inhibiting hormone PYY by weight loss and that the levels are kept high (=increased appetite inhibition) when you maintain your weight loss for a year,” said Eva Winning Iepsen, first author of the study.

Encouraging news

This research comes as good news to consumers who may be struggling to maintain their weight loss. Although it may be difficult for some time, the study shows that there will come a point when things get easier.

“The interesting and uplifting news in this study is that if you are able to maintain your weight loss for a longer period of time, it seems as if you have ‘passed the critical point’, and after this point, it will actually become easier for you to maintain your weight loss than [it] was immediately after the initial weight loss. . . Thus, the body is no longer fighting against you, but actually with you, which is good news for anyone trying to lose weight,” says Torekov.

The full study has been published in the European Journal of Endocrinology

Losing weight can be a difficult enough challenge as it is, but being able to maintain that weight loss over time can be even more daunting. It is often ve...

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Dependence on bodybuilding supplements compared to eating disorder

Researchers say marketers target male insecurities

Illegal anabolic steroids are not the only way men have tried to get a bodybuilding advantage. Most men are now well aware of the hazards those drugs can carry and avoid them.

Instead, more men are turning to legal over-the-counter bodybuilding supplements and it's these products that health officials are worried about.

Research presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention warns that some users rely on these products so much that it should be considered an eating disorder.

Ubiquitous fixture

“These products have become an almost ubiquitous fixture in the pantries of young men across the country and can seemingly be purchased anywhere and everywhere -- from grocery stores to college book stores,” said Richard Achiro, of the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, Los Angeles, who presented the research.

Achiro says marketing efforts for these product target “underlying insecurities associated with masculinity.” He says they're presented as a solution to fill a void so many young men feel.

The study involved young men who purchased legal performance-enhancing supplements and worked out at a gym at least two times a week. They were questioned about supplement use, self-esteem, body image, eating habits and gender role conflicts.


The researchers said they were concerned when they learned more than 40% of the young men in the survey reported that their use of supplements had increased over time and 22% said they replaced regular meals with dietary supplements that are not intended to be meal replacements.

Most alarming, said Achiro, was that 29% expressed concern about their own use of supplements and 8% said their physician had told them to cut back on or stop using supplements due to actual or potential adverse health side effects.

A few of the participants had actually suffered negative health effects. About 3% said they had been hospitalized for kidney or liver problems that were related to the use of supplements.

“The most critical implication for these findings is to put risky/excessive legal supplement use on the map as an issue facing a significant number of men,” said Achiro.

Body issues not limited to women

Achiro says the results make clear that body-conscious issues aren't limited to young women. Why men are also effected isn't exactly clear, but he says evidence suggests it's a combination of factors, including body dissatisfaction and gender role conflicts.

“Body-conscious men who are driven by psychological factors to attain a level of physical or masculine ‘perfection’ are prone to use these supplements and drugs in a manner that is excessive and which was demonstrated in this study to be a variant of disordered eating,” said Achiro. “As legal supplements become increasingly prevalent around the globe, it is all the more important to assess and treat the psychological causes and effects of excessive use of these drugs and supplements.”

The bodybuilding community has not written off all supplements – just some. An essay on Bodybuilding.com warns users to avoid certain products, including ones that contain Vanadyl, which it says mimics insulin and is possibly harmful.

Illegal anabolic steroids are not the only way men have tried to get a bodybuilding advantage. Most men are now well aware of the hazards those drugs can c...

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Feds charge company used "fake news" websites to promote bogus weight-loss products

Sale Slash also allegedly sent millions of spam email and used phony celebrity endorsements

A company called Sale Slash has Oprah Winfrey and other big-name celebrities endorsing it and it uses "fake news" sites and spam emails to lure customers but the Federal Trade Commission says its weight-loss products are unproven and its claims outrageous.

“Sale Slash is a fraud trifecta,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The company made outlandish weight-loss claims for its diet pills using fake news sites, phony celebrity endorsements, and millions of unwanted spam emails.”

The FTC has obtained a court order temporarily halting the Glendale, California, company's operations.

The court order halts the defendants’ illegal conduct, freezes their assets, and appoints a temporary receiver over the corporate defendants. The Commission ultimately is seeking to recover money from the defendants that would be used to provide refunds to consumers who bought the defendants’ diet pills.

The FTC’s complaint charges that the defendants behind Sale Slash used affiliate marketers to send illegal spam emails and post banner ads online that led consumers to fake news sites designed to appear as if an independent consumer reporter, rather than a paid advertiser, had reviewed and endorsed the products.

The complaint alleges that these fake news sites made false weight-loss claims and used phony celebrity endorsements to promote the defendants’ diet pills.

Since 2012, the defendants allegedly have marketed and sold a variety of products nationwide, including supposed weight-loss supplements such as Premium Green Coffee, Pure Garcinia Cambogia, Premium White Kidney Bean Extract, Pure Forskolin Extract, and Pure Caralluma Fimbriata Extract.

A company called Sale Slash has Oprah Winfrey and other big-name celebrities endorsing it and it uses "fake news" sites and spam emails to lure customers b...

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Researchers: Eat the right food and lose weight

There's a new focus on the role glycemic load plays in weight gain

When consumers embrace a particular weight loss program, they may achieve results. But in other instances, try as they might, the pounds can be very slow to come off, if they come off at all.

In the latter case, it might not be a matter of how much a dieter is eating, but what the dieter is eating.

Changing those old eating habits – adding certain foods to the diet and avoiding others – can make it easier to win the battle of the bulge. At least that’s the conclusion of researchers at Tufts University.

At Tufts, the Friedman School Nutrition Science & Policy analyzed 3 previous studies that were based on more than 16 years of follow-up among 120,000 adults. That led researchers there to focus on the glycemic content, or load (GL) of particular foods.

The GL is determined by multiplying a food’s glycemic index, a measure of a food’s ability to create blood glucose, by the carbohydrate content. Foods with a high GL were more likely to make it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it.

Refined grains, starches and sugars

Food with a big GL include refined grains, starches and sugars. Researchers say these high GL foods can boost blood glucose and lead to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Until now, they say, the link to weight gain had not been firmly established.

“There is mounting scientific evidence that diets including less low-quality carbohydrates, such as white breads, potatoes, and sweets, and higher in protein-rich foods may be more efficient for weight loss,” said Jessica Smith, one of the authors. “We wanted to know how that might apply to preventing weight gain in the first place.”

If you are trying, without result, to lose weight you may be interested in the food Smith and her colleagues say you should eat and what you should avoid – or at least keep consumption to a minimum.

Less red meat, more yogurt

The study concluded that increasing the amount of red meat and processed meat are the food items most strongly associated with weight gain.

Conversely, increasing consumption of yogurt, seafood, skinless chicken and nuts are most strongly associated with weight loss. In fact, the more people ate these foods, the more weight they lost.

Interestingly, the researchers found that eating dairy products in general didn’t seem to have much effect one way or the other.

“The fat content of dairy products did not seem to be important for weight gain,” Smith said. “In fact, when people consumed more low-fat dairy products, they actually increased their consumption of carbs, which may promote weight gain. This suggests that people compensate, over years, for the lower calories in low-fat dairy by increasing their carb intake.”

What else is on your plate?

The combination of foods you consume also appears to be important. For example, avoiding foods with a high GL seemed to make fish, nuts and other food associated with weight loss even more effective.

Weight-neutral foods like eggs and cheese appear to contribute to weight gain when combined with high GL food but are associated with weight loss when eaten with low GL food.

The chief take-away from the study seems to be this: not all calories are created equal.

“Our study adds to growing new research that counting calories is not the most effective strategy for long-term weight management and prevention,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author. “Some foods help prevent weight gain, others make it worse. Most interestingly, the combination of foods seems to make a big difference.”

The Tufts researchers advise those trying to shed a few pounds to not only emphasize specific protein-rich foods like fish, nuts, and yogurt to prevent weight gain, but also focus on avoiding refined grains, starches, and sugars in order to maximize the benefits of these healthful protein-rich foods.

To further help consumers identify foods to eat and avoid, the Harvard Medical School recently published this list of 100 foods and their GL.

When consumers embrace a particular weight loss program, they may achieve results. But in other instances, try as they might, the pounds can be very slow t...

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Staying on your diet at Thanksgiving

Here are 10 ways to avoid putting on holiday pounds

If you've been on a weight control plan the last few weeks, good for you. But here's a warning – the holidays are dead ahead.

The problem starts with Thanksgiving Day. That's when the strongest willpower can run off the rails, leading to weight gain over the next few weeks as one party and family dinner follows another.

Kristen Kizer, a registered dietitian at Houston Methodist Hospital, says Thanksgiving can be especially dangerous for a dieter because it's a big, traditional feast. There are so many dishes associated with this traditional meal that it's hard not to load up your plate.

“Remind yourself how it feels to over-eat,” she said. “Remember there will always be leftovers, so you don’t need to overindulge in one sitting.”

Kizer has offered up 10 pieces of advice that can help everyone avoid getting the holidays off to an unhealthy start.

1. Get some exercise

There will be plenty of time in the afternoon and evening for sitting on the couch. Start the day with some exercise, whether its a 5k road race or a brisk walk. Burn some calories before sitting down to dinner.

2. Eat breakfast

You might be tempted to skip breakfast to save room for your Thanksgiving meal. Not a good idea, Kizer says. Eat a satisfying, healthy breakfast so you won't be overly hungry when they start passing around all those tempting delicacies.

3. Pass on the casserole

Every family has a couple of casseroles that are part of Thanksgiving tradition but there are good reasons to pass them on without taking a serving. Yes, you may love the green bean casserole but between the fried onion strings, condensed soup, and canned beans, it lacks nutritional value.

Kizer has a recipe to try instead; fresh steamed green beans with some low-fat cheese sprinkled on top or roasted green beans with a little olive oil and fresh garlic.

4. Nix the sugar

Come on, how sweet do the sweet potatoes have to be? Kizer says the Pilgrims didn't top them off with marshmallows and neither should you. A sweet potato is plenty sweet on its own.

5. Don't get stuffed on stuffing

How about giving the classic Thanksgiving side dish a makeover by adding more vegetables like celery, onions and carrots and eliminating fatty meat like sausage?

6. Add something healthy to the line-up

Tradition is one thing but that doesn't mean you can't branch out. Take advantage of some non-traditional fall foods like Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, or try a roasted starchy vegetable medley with baby red potatoes, carrots, onions and acorn squash.

7. Limit your carbs

For some reason Thanksgiving meals are heavy in carbohydrates. If you have stuffing, do you really need mashed potatoes too?

8. Add healthy desserts

No one is suggesting that you do away with the apple pie but consider a guilt-free dessert or two, providing something sweet but with fewer calories. Get creative with your recipes, using natural applesauce instead of oil or butter in your desserts. Kizer says this simple ingredient swap not only adds moisture and flavor to baked goods, but fiber and nutrients.

9. Alcohol or dessert

If you have a couple of drinks before sitting down to Thanksgiving diner, you've already consumed 200 calories or more before taking a bite. Then at the end of dinner, that slice of pecan pie has ended the meal with no telling how many calories – all empty.

Kizer suggests choosing one or the other. If you choose alcohol, pick a drink with lower calories, such as a wine spritzer instead of creamy holiday drinks that can easily pack 500 calories.

10. Portion control

No doubt all the food looks good but that doesn't mean you have to try it all and fill up every spot on your plate. Hosts can help but cutting back on the amount of food they prepare.

Remember, if you go overboard at Thanksgiving there may be no turning back. The end -of-the-year holidays all seem to involving eating and drinking, putting you back to square 1 in your weight management quest in January.

If you've been on a weight control plan the last few weeks, good for you. But here's a warning – the holidays are dead ahead....

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Family dinners can help keep kids trim

Good eating habits start in childhood and pay off later in life

The experts have been touting the significance of it for years. We are talking about the all important family dinner. It's a time to reconnect and talk about the day. It helps develop a sense of who we are as a family unit. Remember those?

Well, there is a new twist and yet another reason to pick up your fork and spoon or maybe put it down for a bit and listen. Having a family dinner especially during adolescence can help fight obesity. If kids are overweight in their teens they have a likelihood of being overweight as an adult.

There was a long-term study known as Project EAT (Eating and Activity among Teens) it examined weight-related variables among adolescents, including how much they ate, how much physical activity they did and their daily behaviors -- all of these influence weight control. The study is scheduled for publication in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota and Columbia University took a look at the data and what they found was that family meals had all the good stuff -- fruits, vegetables whole grains and calcium. They suggested that having those things in their diet can help teens lessen their chance of obesity as they become adults. Also parents eating healthy is a good role model and sets the tone of "eat this, not that."

10 years later

They followed up after 10 years and of the teens who said that they never ate family meals together, 60% were overweight and 29% were obese.

Researchers concluded that just having one or two family meals a week significantly reduced chances of being overweight or obese.

"It is important to identify modifiable factors in the home environment, such as family meals, that can protect against overweight/obesity through the transition to adulthood," said Minnesota researcher Jerica M. Berge.

You have probably heard the term an "emotional eater." Family meals may help fight that as sitting around the dinner table gives kids a chance to talk and deal with some of the issues they may be facing. The interaction and emotional connection becomes a release.

Some research in 2013 by Cornell University could be the second course for this study as it found that turning the TV off at dinner time while having dinner with the family and not turning it back on until everyone was finished was linked to a lower body mass.

"The positive socialization skills that family dinners tend to encourage possibly hold down the urge or need to overeat, a Cornell researcher said. 
"The ritual of where one eats and how long one eats seems to be the largest driver."

You might want to warm up the meatloaf and add a salad tonight.

The experts have been touting the significance of it for years. We are talking about the all important family dinner. It's a time to reconnect and talk abo...

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An apple a day could keep the pounds away

Granny Smith apples are especially high in "nondigestible compounds," study finds

You might not think of apples as being hard to digest and they're not. But it turns out that they contain a high percentage of nondigestible compounds that may be helpful in preventing disorders associated with obesity.

Scientists at Washington State University say their study finds that Granny Smith apples are particularly beneficial; they encourage the growth of friendly bacteria in the colon because of their high content of non-digestible compounds, including dietary fiber and polyphenols, and low content of available carbohydrates. 

“We know that, in general, apples are a good source of these nondigestible compounds but there are differences in varieties,” said food scientist Giuliana Noratto, the study’s lead researcher. “Results from this study will help consumers to discriminate between apple varieties that can aid in the fight against obesity.”

Despite being subjected to chewing, stomach acid and digestive enzymes, the nondigestible compounds remain intact when they reach the colon. Once there, they are fermented by bacteria in the colon, which benefits the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut.

The study showed that Granny Smith apples surpass Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Red Delicious in the amount of nondigestible compounds they contain.

“The nondigestible compounds in the Granny Smith apples actually changed the proportions of fecal bacteria from obese mice to be similar to that of lean mice,” Noratto said.

The discovery could help prevent some of the disorders associated with obesity such as low-grade, chronic inflammation that can lead to diabetes.

The balance of bacterial communities in the colon of obese people is disturbed. This results in microbial byproducts that lead to inflammation and influence metabolic disorders associated with obesity, Noratto said.

“What determines the balance of bacteria in our colon is the food we consume,” she said. Re-establishing a healthy balance of bacteria in the colon stabilizes metabolic processes that influence inflammation and the sensation of feeling satisfied, or satiety.

The study appears in October’s print edition of the journal Food Chemistry.

You might not think of apples as being hard to digest and they're not. But it turns out that they contain a high percentage of nondigestible compounds that...

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Nine fats that just might improve your health

But fats are loaded with calories and should be consumed in moderation

The diet world has been jolted recently by studies suggesting that eating fat is not such a bad thing after all. It might not lead to heart disease and it might not make you gain weight, researchers have argued.

But it all depends on what kind of fat you consume – and how much. Nutritionists have known for years that some kinds of fats are actually beneficial. Some are harmful.

Writing in the September issue of Food Technology magazine, Linda Milo Ohr makes the case for fatty acids and nutritional oils. They can improve memory function, help manage body weight, and contribute to heart health, eye and brain development, and even improved mood.

She singles out 9 fats that she says can enhance, not harm health.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with improved brain development, memory function, eye health, can reduce chances of dementia and depression. They are also widely well-known for their heart health benefits.

Pinolenic Acid

Pinolenic acid comes from pine nut oil, which in turn comes from a specific Korean pine tree. Ohr says clinical trials have shown that it can help suppress appetite and promote a feeling of fullness.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Conjugated linoleic acid also helps with weight management by helping reduce body fat and increase lean body mass. It's found in many meats and dairy products.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is a way to load up on omega-3 fatty acids as well as omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. They can be good for your heart and help reduce inflammation.

Hemp Oil

Hemp seed oil is another source of omega-6 and omega-3 linolenic essential fatty acids. It's also high in vitamin E.

Fish Oil

Fish oil is valued for its positive effect on cardiovascular, neurological, and cognitive health.

Canola Oil

“A study showed that a canola oil-enriched, low-glycemic-diet improved blood sugar control in type 2 diabetics, especially those with raised systolic blood pressure,” Ohr writes.

Soybean Oil

Extracted from the seed of the soybean, soybean oil is widely used as a healthy cooking oil.

Coconut Oil

Although not as much research has been done compared to olive or fish oil, coconut oil is believed to enhance energy, skin health, and dental health.

Fats that can be harmful

While adding these healthy fats to a nutritious diet might be a good thing, there are definitely fats that can have harmful effects, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic.

Saturated fat is fat that comes mainly from animal sources of food, such as red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Too much can raise total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Trans fat occurs naturally in some foods but most are manufactured from oils through a food processing method called partial hydrogenation. The Mayo Clinic cites studies showing that these partially hydrogenated trans fats can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This can also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

The diet world has been jolted recently by studies suggesting that eating fat is not such a bad thing after all. It might not lead to heart disease and it ...

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Feds okay weight-management drug Contrave

The drug exhibited dramatic results in clinical testing

Contrave (naltrexone hydrochloride and bupropion hydrochloride extended-release tablets) has won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as treatment option for chronic weight management.

The drug is approved -- along with a reduced-calorie diet and physical activity -- for use in adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater (obesity) or adults with a BMI of 27 or greater (overweight) who have at least one weight-related condition such as high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol (dyslipidemia).

BMI, which measures body fat based on an individual’s weight and height, is used to define the obesity and overweight categories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese.

“Obesity continues to be a major public health concern,” said Jean-Marc Guettier, M.D., director of the Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “When used as directed in combination with a healthy lifestyle that includes a reduced-calorie diet and exercise, Contrave provides another treatment option for chronic weight management for people who are obese or are overweight and have at least one weight-related health condition.”

Impressive test results

The effectiveness of Contrave was evaluated in multiple clinical trials that included approximately 4,500 obese and overweight patients with and without significant weight-related conditions treated for one year. All patients received lifestyle modification that consisted of a reduced- calorie diet and regular physical activity.

Results from a clinical trial that enrolled patients without diabetes showed that patients had an average weight loss of 4.1% over treatment with placebo (inactive pill) at one year. In this trial, 42% of patients treated with Contrave lost at least 5% of their body weight compared with 17% of patients treated with placebo.

In another clinical trial that enrolled patients with type 2 diabetes, patients had an average weight loss of 2% over treatment with placebo at one year. In this trial, 36% of patients treated with Contrave lost at least 5% of their body weight compared with 18% of patients treated with placebo.

Patients using Contrave at the maintenance dose should be evaluated after 12 weeks to determine if the treatment is working. If a patient has not lost at least 5% of baseline body weight, Contrave should be discontinued, as it is unlikely that the patient will achieve and sustain clinically meaningful weight loss with continued treatment.

Use with caution

Because it contains bupropion, Contrave has a boxed warning to alert health care professionals and patients to the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors associated with antidepressant drugs.

The warning also notes that serious neuropsychiatric events have been reported in patients taking bupropion for smoking cessation.

Contrave can cause seizures and must not be used in patients who have seizure disorders. The risk of seizure is dose-related. The drug should be discontinued and not restarted in patients who experience a seizure while being treated with Contrave.

Contrave can also raise blood pressure and heart rate and must not be used in patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure. Blood pressure and pulse should be measured prior to starting the drug and should be monitored at regular intervals, particularly among patients with controlled high blood pressure prior to treatment.

Other products containing bupropion should not be taken along with Contrave. The drug should not be used in patients who have eating disorders (bulimia or anorexia nervosa). Contrave should also not be taken by patients who are using opioids or treatments for opioid dependence, or who are experiencing acute opiate withdrawal.

Patients undergoing an abrupt discontinuation of alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates and antiepileptic drugs should not take Contrave. Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should not take Contrave.

The most common adverse reactions reported with Contrave include nausea, constipation, headache, vomiting, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, and diarrhea.

Post-marketing requirements

The FDA is requiring the following:

  • a cardiovascular outcomes trial to assess the cardiovascular risk associated with Contrave use;
  • two efficacy, safety, and clinical pharmacology studies in pediatric patients (one in patients 12 to 17 years of age, and one in patients 7 to 11 years of age);
  • a nonclinical (animal) juvenile toxicity study with a particular focus on growth and development as well as behavior, learning, and memory;
  • a study to evaluate the effect of Contrave on cardiac conduction;
  • clinical trials to evaluate dosing in patients with hepatic or renal impairment;
  • a clinical trial to evaluate the potential for interactions between Contrave and other drugs.

Contrave (naltrexone hydrochloride and bupropion hydrochloride extended-release tablets) has won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as tr...

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Dr. Oz' green coffee bean weight loss claims were baseless: FTC

Botched study didn't prove anything, feds charged

If you look long enough, you can find claims that just about anything you can think of will help you lose weight. Unfortunately, most of those claims don't hold water. And they certainly don't help you lose weight, even when they're made by Dr. Oz or some other celebrity.

One thing you can add to the not-much-help list is green coffee beans. the subject of a flawed study touted by Dr. Oz but later discredited. 

Now, a Texas-based company, Applied Food Sciences, Inc. (AFS), has settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it used the results of that flawed study to make baseless weight-loss claims about its green coffee extract to retailers, who then repeated those claims in marketing finished products to consumers.

The FTC complaint alleges the study was so hopelessly flawed that no reliable conclusions could be drawn from it. 

The settlement requires AFS to pay $3.5 million, and to have scientific substantiation for any future weight-loss claims it makes, including at least two adequate and well-controlled human clinical tests.

“Applied Food Sciences knew or should have known that this botched study didn’t prove anything,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “In publicizing the results, it helped fuel the green coffee phenomenon.”

Researchers in India

According to the FTC’s complaint, in 2010, Austin, Texas-based AFS paid researchers in India to conduct a clinical trial on overweight adults to test whether Green Coffee Antioxidant (GCA), a dietary supplement containing green coffee extract, reduced body weight and body fat.

The FTC charges that the study’s lead investigator repeatedly altered the weights and other key measurements of the subjects, changed the length of the trial, and misstated which subjects were taking the placebo or GCA during the trial.

When the lead investigator was unable to get the study published, the FTC says that AFS hired researchers Joe Vinson and Bryan Burnham at the University of Scranton to rewrite it. Despite receiving conflicting data, Vinson, Burnham, and AFS never verified the authenticity of the information used in the study, according to the complaint.

Despite the study’s flaws, AFS used it to falsely claim that GCA caused consumers to lose 17.7 pounds, 10.5 percent of body weight, and 16 percent of body fat with or without diet and exercise, in 22 weeks, the complaint alleges.

"Without diet or exercise"

Although AFS played no part in featuring its study on The Dr. Oz Show, it took advantage of the publicity afterwards by issuing a press release highlighting the show.

The release claimed that study subjects lost weight “without diet or exercise,” even though subjects in the study were instructed to restrict their diet and increase their exercise, the FTC contends.

The proposed order settling the FTC’s charges bars AFS from misrepresenting any aspect of a test or study related to the products it sells, and prohibits the company from providing anyone else with the means of falsely advertising, labeling, promoting, or using purported substantiation material in marketing their own products.

If you look long enough, you can find claims that just about anything you can think of will help you lose weight. Unfortunately, most of those claims don't...

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Study finds obese weight-loss counselors aren't as effective as their slimmer colleagues

Patients may be more receptive to counselors who practice what they preach

Some studies are more surprising than others. Falling into the not-too-surprising category is the finding by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that finds overweight counselors aren't as effective as their slimmer counterparts are getting obese patients to lose weight.

In other words, patients may be more receptive to those who "practice what they preach."

Study leader Sara Bleich, PhD, an associate professor with the Bloomberg School's Department of Health Policy and Management, put it a bit more academically:

"Our research shows that the personal weight of health professionals matters when assessing their perceived level of success in helping obese patients to lose weight," she said. "Health professionals who maintain a healthy weight feel more empowered to help their obese patients achieve their weight loss goals and reported being more successful at helping obese patients lose weight."

Study details

The researchers surveyed 500 non-physician health professionals specializing in nutrition, nursing, behavior/mental health, exercise and pharmacy between January 20 and February 5, 2014.

Professionals of all weights, the survey found, were equally confident in their ability to relay proper weight-loss advice and felt that patients were equally receptive to it. But 52 percent of those counselors of normal weight reported success in helping obese patients achieve clinically significant weight loss as compared to 29 percent of overweight counselors.

The study also found that most health professionals, regardless of their weight, do not feel successful in helping patients with weight loss until they are morbidly obese, which suggests missed opportunities for early intervention.

A 2012 study led by Bleich on the impact of physician BMI on obesity care found that size also matters when it comes to physician care of obese patients. It found that normal-weight physicians, as compared to overweight/obese physicians, were more likely to provide recommended obesity care to their patients and feel confident doing so.

"More research is needed to understand how to improve obesity care delivered by non-physician health professionals, and why these groups do not typically initiate weight management discussions until their patients are morbidly obese, regardless of their personal body weight," Bleich says. "Going forward, it will be important to increase the confidence, perception and skill set among all health professionals who work on this public health issue."

The findings were published online Sept. 4 in the journal Obesity.

Some studies are more surprising than others. Falling into the not-too-surprising category is the finding by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Sch...

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Train your brain to prefer healthy foods

Tufts researchers say it can be done

A brain scan study suggests it may be possible to train your brain to prefer healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods, reversing the addictive power of unhealthy food.

"We don't start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta," said Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine. "This conditioning happens over time in response to eating -- repeatedly! -- what is out there in the toxic food environment."

Scientists have long suspected that, once unhealthy food addiction circuits are established, they may be hard or impossible to reverse, subjecting people who have gained weight to a lifetime of unhealthy food cravings and temptation.

To find out whether the brain can be re-trained to support healthy food choices, Roberts and colleagues studied the reward system in 13 overweight and obese men and women, 8 of whom were participants in a new weight loss program designed by Tufts University researchers and 5 who were in a control group and were not enrolled in the program.

The study is published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes.

Both groups underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans at the beginning and end of a 6-month period. Among those who participated in the weight loss program, the brain scans revealed changes in areas of the brain reward center associated with learning and addiction. After 6 months, this area had increased sensitivity to healthy, lower-calorie foods, indicating an increased reward and enjoyment of healthier food cues. The area also showed decreased sensitivity to the unhealthy higher-calorie foods.

"The weight loss program is specifically designed to change how people react to different foods, and our study shows those who participated in it had an increased desire for healthier foods along with a decreased preference for unhealthy foods, the combined effects of which are probably critical for sustainable weight control," said co-author Sai Krupa Das, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Friedman School. "To the best of our knowledge this is the first demonstration of this important switch."

The authors hypothesize that several features of the weight loss program were important, including behavior change education and high-fiber, low glycemic menu plans.

"There is much more research to be done here, involving many more participants, long-term follow-up and investigating more areas of the brain," Roberts added. "But we are very encouraged that, the weight loss program appears to change what foods are tempting to people."

A brain scan study suggests it may be possible to train your brain to prefer healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods, reversing the a...

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Eating out -- anywhere -- leads to more calories, poorer nutrition

It's not just fast food that contributes to weight gain

Fast-food restaurants take a lot of blame for the U.S. obesity epidemic but a new study weighs in with the news that eating out -- period -- piles on the calories, sugar, saturated fat and sodium.

The study, appearing online in Public Health Nutrition, finds that on days when adults ate at a restaurant -- fast-food or full-service -- they consumed about 200 additional total daily calories.

"The United States is one of the most obese nations in the world, with more than one in three adult men and women in defined as obese," said Dr. Binh Nguyen of the American Cancer Society. "Just as obesity rates rise, there's been a marked increase in total energy consumption consumed away from home, with about one in four calories coming from fast food or full service restaurants in 2007. Our study confirms that adults' fast-food and full-service restaurant consumption was associated with higher daily total energy intake and poorer dietary indicators."

For the current study, Nguyen and Lisa M. Powell of the University of Illinois at Chicago used recent data from more than 12,000 respondents between the ages of 20 and 64 taking part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003 (NHANES). Participants were asked about visits to fast-food and full-service restaurants on two successive days.

The study found on days when eating at a fast-food restaurant, there was a net increase of total energy intake (194.49 kcal), saturated fat (3.48 g), sugar (3.95 g) and sodium (296.38 mg). Eating at a full-service restaurant was also associated with an energy intake (205.21 kcal), and with higher intake of saturated fat (2.52 g) and sodium (451.06 mg).

Individual characteristics moderated the impact of restaurant food consumption. Net energy intake was larger for black adults compared with their white and Hispanic counterparts and greater for middle-income v. high-income adults.

The researchers say the larger adverse effect they measured on energy intake for some lower socio-economic and minority populations has policy implications. They say efforts to improve diet and reduce energy intake from restaurant sources could actually help to reduce racial and socio-economic disparities in Americans' diets.

© Goran Bogicevic - Fotolia.comFast-food restaurants take a lot of blame for the U.S. obesity epidemic but a new study weighs in with the news tha...

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More bang for the buck from your weight loss plan

It's not the length of your workout, it's what you do during it

Consumers spend millions of dollars on gym memberships and weight loss programs but not everyone has something to show for it. If results come slowly or not at all it's easy to get discouraged and give up.

Very often people jump from one diet and exercise fad to the next in hopes it will pay off.

Paul Arciero, an exercise scientist at Skidmore College, thinks most people simply aren't maximizing their exercise effort. It's not that they aren't spending enough time and effort, he says. They haven't found the right combination.

In a report in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Arciero and his research team say it's the quality of the exercise that's important, not the quantity. They reached that conclusion based on the results of a study of adults between the ages of 36 and 57.


They argue that when it comes to a workout, a multi-dimensional exercise regimen provides the best results. That includes resistance exercise, interval sprint exercise, stretching – such as yoga or pilates -- and endurance exercise.

Resistance training is “carrying a load,” or lifting weights. It can be done with free weights or with machines at the gym. It is important because it builds and maintains muscles, promoting healthy metabolism.

Interval sprint exercise is a workout in which you mix a moderate walk with a more intense jog or sprint.

In 2012 researchers at the Researchers at the University of Colorado found sprint interval exercise burned more calories in a shorter period of time.

They have found that exercisers can burn as many as 200 extra calories in as little as 2.5 minutes of concentrated effort a day —- as long as they intersperse longer periods of easy recovery in a practice known as sprint interval training.


Endurance exercise are any activities that step up your breathing and heart rate for longer periods of time. Walking, jogging, swimming, raking, sweeping, dancing, and playing tennis are good examples.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends doing it gradually, starting with as little as 5 minutes at a time before working up to about 30 minutes a day.

Arciero says a workout routine employing all 4 exercises will produce better results that using just 1. The final ingredient, he adds, is the right diet.

Arciero suggests adding moderate amounts of protein to your diet throughout the day to decrease total and abdominal fat while increasing lean body mass.

“It’s very difficult to just lift weights, or only do the treadmill or the elliptical machine and be healthy,” Arciero said. ”Your exercise regimen needs to encompass as much of what makes you a fully integrated living person as possible.”

Consumers spend billions of dollars on gym memberships and weight loss programs but not everyone has something to show for it. If results come slowly or no...

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Study finds cause of obesity: too much food!

Seriously, RAND study finds easy access to inexpensive food of all kinds is driving obesity epidemic

Americans know more about nutrition than ever before. Despite the sluggish economy, most are well able to afford to buy fresh, healthful food. And, thanks to constantly evolving efficiencies in agriculture, marketing and transportation, there is plenty of food available in just about any form anytime we want it.

It's that last item that may hold the clue to the continuing epidemic of obesity in the U.S. and other Western nations, a new RAND study finds.

After all, it's not just one group that's the problem -- we're all getting fatter. Old, young, educated, not so educated, active, sedentary, rich, poor, black, white and brown, we've been getting fatter at about the same rate for the past 25 years. 

More food, more often

Since 1970, the average per capita consumption of calories of Americans has risen by about 20 percent, while at the same time there has been a sharp drop in the cost of food as a proportion of disposable income, according to a report published online by the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

"Not only has food been getting cheaper, but it is easier to acquire and easier to prepare," said Roland Sturm, lead author of the report and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "It's not just that we may be eating more high-calorie food, but we are eating more of all types of food."

Analyzing economic factors that contribute to obesity, Sturm and co-author Ruopeng An of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that weight gain was surprisingly similar across sociodemographic groups and geographic areas, rather than specific to some groups. The findings suggest that the cause of obesity is driven by environmental factors that affect all groups, not just a few.

The RAND researchers say that Americans now have the cheapest food in history, when measured as a fraction of disposal income. During the 1930s, American spent about one-quarter of their disposal income on food, dropping to one-fifth during the 1950s. Today, Americans spend about one-tenth of their disposable income on food.

"Not only has the cost of food dropped, but it has become even more available," An said. "So a smaller share of Americans' disposable income now buys many more calories."

Meanwhile, Sturm and An say that effective economic policies to curb obesity remain elusive.

Imposing taxes on foods with low-nutritional value could nudge behavior toward healthier diets, as might subsidies or discounts for healthier foods. But political and popular support for such approaches has been low.

"The high cost of healthy food may not be the problem as far as obesity is concerned, rather it is the excess availability and affordability of all types of food," Sturm said. "We need to consider strategies that replace calorie-dense foods with fruits and vegetables, rather than just add fruits and vegetables to the diet."

US obesity epidemic making all segments of the nation fatter, study findsThe nation's obesity epidemic is striking all groups of Americans, affecting tho...

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Are statin users developing a false sense of security?

Study finds they're consuming more fat and calories than 10 years ago

Statins are the drugs that many millions of us take to control cholesterol, in an effort to prevent heart disease, stroke and other serious health problems.

The drugs are amazingly effective but a new study says the people taking them may be developing a false sense of security -- sort of like drivers who think their airbags and anti-lock brakes make it OK to drive recklessly.

That's the suggestions of a new study from UCLA, which suggests that people who took statins in the 2009–10 year were consuming more calories and fat than those who used statins 10 years earlier. There was no similar increase in caloric and fat intake among non–stain users during that decade, researchers said.

In 1999–2000, statin users were consuming fewer calories and less fat than individuals who didn't take these medications, but that is no longer the case, the researchers said. Increases in body mass index — a measure of obesity that considers body weight and height — were greater for statin users than for non-users.

"We believe that this is the first major study to show that people on statins eat more calories and fat than people on those medications did a decade earlier," said the study's primary investigator, Takehiro Sugiyama, who led the research while a visiting scholar in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"Statins are used by about one-sixth of adults. We may need to reemphasize the importance of dietary modification for those who are taking these medications, now that obesity and diabetes are important problems in society."

Gluttony in the Time of Statins

"[E]ating more fat, especially saturated fat, will lead to higher cholesterol levels, which will undermine the effect of statins and may lead to unnecessary cost of medications," Sugiyama said. "Being overweight also increases the risk of diabetes and hypertension, which also are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

"Ethical considerations should be included in the discussion. We believe that when physicians prescribe statins, the goal is to decrease patients' cardiovascular risks that cannot be achieved without medications, not to empower them to put butter on steaks."

The study, subtitled "Gluttony in the Time of Statins?", is published online in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Internal Medicine


For the study, the researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to compare fat and caloric intake among statin users and non-users in 1999–2000 and 2009–10. They found that caloric intake among statin users had risen by 9.6 percent over that decade and that fat consumption had jumped by 14.4 percent. In contrast, caloric and fat intake by non–statin users did not change significantly during the 10-year period.

Statin-users ate roughly 180 kilogram calories less each day and 9 grams of fat less each day than non-users in 1999–2000. But as a result of increases over the decade, the researchers observed no difference in caloric and fat intake between statin users and non-users in 2009–10.

The differences may be explained by the fact that statin users simply don't feel the urgency to reduce their caloric and fat consumption or to lose weight the way statin users 10 years ago did, said Sugiyama, who is now a clinical fellow at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Japan. Also, doctors today may be more likely to prescribe statins for patients who eat and weigh more.

Statins are the drugs that many millions of us take to control cholesterol, in an effort to prevent heart disease, stroke and other serious health problems...

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Looking for the best weight-loss program? Here are some guidelines

Weight loss expert JJ Virgin helps you find the weight-loss plan that's best for you

Just about everybody wants to lose weight, it seems. And there's no shortage of advice about how to do it. But for those looking for a safe, effective and affordable plan, it can be difficult to work through all the competing claims.

ConsumerAffairs contributing editor and weight loss expert JJ Virgin cuts through the confusion with her new buyer's guide that outlines the different kinds of weight loss programs, their features and the types of consumers most likely to benefit from them. 

Perhaps the most important feature of any plan is the food, Virgin says: "Ask yourself: Realistically, could you eat the foods on this plan more or less for the rest of your life?"

Besides taste, consumers should consider the cost and availability of competing food plans, as well as the potential for allergic reactions and sugar and sodium content. 

Crucial factors

Then there's the matter of meal plans. "If you prefer home-cooked meals, packaged shakes and shakes aren't going to work for you; likewise, if a plan demands elaborate meals and you need convenience, you'll probably struggle with the plan," says Virgin, author of the New York Times best-seller "The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days."

Long-term sustainability is another crucial factor.

"Maintaining fat loss is just as important as losing it. Does a plan provide the tools and strategies you need to stay lean for the long haul?" Virgin says, noting that many plans will produce a dramatic short-term loss while doing little to help keep pounds off over time.

No single plan is best for everyone, Virgin notes, discussing the varying needs of busy adults, college students, seniors, new moms and former athletes, among others.

She rates well-known plans for each type of consumer. For example, Virgin finds that Nutrisystem is best for college students, busy adults and new moms but no so good for dieters with food sensitivities and those on a budget. 

See the weight-loss buyers guide here.

Just about everybody wants to lose weight, it seems. And there's no shortage of advice about how to do it. But for those looking for a safe, effective and ...

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Mediterranean-style diets are the most heart-healthy, study finds

Strictly low-fat diets may lower cholesterol but aren't shown to reduce cardiac deaths

Losing weight is one thing. Reducing the risk of coronary disease is another. And a study published in The American Journal of Medicine finds that when it comes to heart health, a whole diet approach, which focuses on increased intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, has more evidence for reducing cardiovascular risk than strategies that focus exclusively on reduced dietary fat.

This new study explains that while strictly low-fat diets have the ability to lower cholesterol, they are not as conclusive in reducing cardiac deaths. By analyzing major diet and heart disease studies conducted over the last several decades, investigators found that participants directed to adopt a whole diet approach instead of limiting fat intake had a greater reduction in cardiovascular death and non-fatal myocardial infarction.

Early investigations of the relationship between food and heart disease linked high levels of serum cholesterol to increased intake of saturated fat, and subsequently, an increased rate of coronary heart disease. This led to the American Heart Association's recommendation to limit fat intake to less than 30% of daily calories, saturated fat to 10%, and cholesterol to less than 300 mg per day.

"Nearly all clinical trials in the 1960s, 70s and 80s compared usual diets to those characterized by low total fat, low saturated fat, low dietary cholesterol, and increased polyunsaturated fats," says study co-author James E. Dalen, MD, MPH, Weil Foundation, and University of Arizona College of Medicine. "These diets did reduce cholesterol levels. However they did not reduce the incidence of myocardial infarction or coronary heart disease deaths."

Carefully analyzing studies and trials from 1957 to the present, investigators found that the whole diet approach, and specifically Mediterranean-style diets, are effective in preventing heart disease, even though they may not lower total serum or LDL cholesterol.

The Mediterranean-style diet is low in animal products and saturated fat, and encourages intake of monounsaturated fats found in nuts and olive oil. In particular, the diet emphasizes consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and fish.

Losing weight is one thing. Reducing the risk of coronary disease is another. And a study published in The American Journal of Medicine finds that when it ...

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Beware of lifetime gym memberships

The gym company's lifetime might be considerably shorter than your own

For all the undeniable health benefits of exercise and working out, we admit to taking a pretty dim view of long-term gym memberships. This is partly due to a flaw in human nature – rare indeed is the person with enough free time and willpower to visit the gym often enough to make the membership fees worthwhile (and if you have that much determination you probably don't need a gym membership to stay fit, anyway).

Furthermore, there's no way of knowing what the future will hold — that great deal on the gym down the street isn't so great when you have to move to a new state and are still stuck paying monthly membership fees. And a lifetime membership to a bankrupt gym is pretty much identical to no gym membership at all, except the latter option is free whereas the former can cost you a lot of money.

To pick an example at random: We recently heard complaints from two different people whose lifetime memberships to Bally Total Fitness proved useless after Bally closed. Lynn in Maryland kept an old out-of-state membership active just in case she needed it later, but by the time she did it proved useless:

“After having a lifetime membership that started back in the late 80's in Willow Grove, PA, and [paying] a small fortune for it, it was finally paid off and after moving to another state, I would receive a $5 yearly bill to keep it going.”

For several years, she paid that small annual fee without ever setting foot in the gym. Then what? “I just found out in December through a friend that Bally was sold ... I never got anything in the mail to me! I decided to go to the local LA Fitness and was told my membership had expired!”

Dismayed in Ohio

Consumers rate Bally Total Fitness

Glenn in Ohio was similarly dismayed when his local Bally was bought out by Red Fitness 24/7, which did not want to honor the old Bally lifetime memberships. “If you were paying $1 to $50 they want you to pay $79 plus 10% tax plus a $20.99 CIF so the new annual fee is $109. If you are between 50 and 100 they want $99 plus [tax and fees] so you will pay $130. They now have very upset members and will probably file a class action lawsuit for this also.”

If filed, such a class-action attempt would not be the first; in January 2012 some plaintiffs in northern Illinois filed suit (.pdf) against Bally and LA Fitness alleging violation of various state-level anti-fraud acts, specifically after Bally sold lifetime memberships to people just before selling the company to LA Fitness, which did not honor the old Bally contracts; instead, Bally lifetime membership holders were allegedly told their memberships were only valid at the nearest Bally some three hours away.

But that Illinois lawsuit wouldn't likely help people with complaints in Ohio, Maryland or Pennsylvania. Oddly enough, in December 2011, one month before the Illinois plantiffs filed that class action suit against Bally and LA Fitness, the Norristown Patch in Pennsylvania reported that, due to similar complaints from former Bally members, LA Fitness has henceforth decided to honor all former Bally membership agreements.

As of presstime, there exists a Facebook page dedicated to “Bally /LA Fitness Class Action Lawsuit.” But the most recent post, dated December 11, 2013, says this: “UPDATE: Page will be closing down soon” and includes more detail:

As you may recall, there were initially a number of different lawsuits against Bally’s Total Fitness and LA Fitness, including the federal action which we began in the Pennsylvania courts. A number of those lawsuits have been dismissed or withdrawn — including our case (Tobia, et al. v. Bally’s Total Fitness, et al). However, you are all still protected. You may choose to be included in one of the remaining lawsuits, and you always retain your right to proceed on your own, in your own lawsuit.

The remaining federal lawsuits, which we are aware of, are Grabianski v. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corporation, Case No. 12-C-284, pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and Piegaro v. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp., Case No. 3:12-cv-04595, pending in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. …. Neither case has been certified as a class action lawsuit. Likewise, the federal courts have not seen fit to consolidate the cases for handling in one single location.... If either of these cases ever becomes a class action, you may be automatically included among the Plaintiffs who were damaged by Bally’s misconduct.”

Remember: this refers specifically to former Bally locations bought by LA Fitness. Thus far we've not found attempts at actual class-action suits against Red Fitness 24/7 – though a brief search of Pissedconsumer.com netted other Ohio residents and former Bally members with complaints similat to Glenn's.

We tried calling the specific Red Fitness gym that Glenn complained about, to ask what if any policy they had regarding former Bally  members, but nobody answered the phone.

If something like this happens to you, what can you do? The first step should be to complain to your state's Attorney General. Many AGs have taken action against gyms in recent years and may do so again if they get enough complaints.

You can find the AG in your state by typing "[your state] Attorney General" in your favorite search engine and then locating the site's complaint-submission page. 

For all the undeniable health benefits from exercise and working out, we admit to taking a pretty dim view of long-term gym memberships. This is partly due...

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Top three risk factors for child obesity

Illinois study looks at 22 variables, finds top three risk factors

Most people think they know what causes kids to be overweight. They'll often name over-eating, fast food and lack of exercise as the primary villains.

But a new study from the University of Illinois, published in Childhood Obesity, looked at 22 variables and found three that emerged as the strongest predictors:

  1. inadequate sleep,
  2. a parental BMI that classifies the mom or dad as overweight or obese, and
  3. parental restriction of a child's eating in order to control his weight.

"What's exciting here is that these risk factors are malleable and provide a road map for developing interventions that can lead to a possible reduction in children's weight status," said Brent McBride, a U of I professor of human development and director of the university's Child Development Laboratory. "We should focus on convincing parents to improve their own health status, to change the food environment of the home so that healthy foods are readily available and unhealthy foods are not, and to encourage an early bedtime." 

The researchers reached their conclusions after compiling the results from an extensive survey distributed to 329 parent-child dyads recruited from child-care programs in east-central Illinois.

The survey yielded wide-ranging information on demographics, health histories of both child and parent, and pertinent feeding practices. Research assistants also did home visits with each participant, checking height and weight and taking further information about the parents' history. The data was then subjected to statistical analysis.

What to do

As a result of that analysis, McBride and U of I nutritional sciences graduate student Dipti A. Dev offer some recommendations for families.

Parents should recognize that their food preferences are being passed along to their children and that these tastes are established in the preschool years, Dev said.

"If you, as an adult, live in a food environment that allows you to maintain an elevated weight, remember that your child lives in that environment too. Similarly, if you are a sedentary adult, you may be passing on a preference for television watching and computer games instead of playing chasing games with your preschooler or playing in the park," she added.

Consider too that restricting your children's access to certain foods will only make them want those foods more, she said.

"If kids have never had a chance to eat potato chips regularly, they may overeat them when the food appears at a friend's picnic," McBride said.

Instead, work on changing the food environment in your home so that a wide variety of healthy choices such as fruits and vegetables are available while unhealthy options are not, he added.

"And remember that it takes a certain number of exposures to a food before a child will try it, let alone like it, so you have to offer it to them over and over and over again. And they have to see you eat it over and over," McBride noted.

Don't use food to comfort your children when they are hurt or disappointed, do allow your preschoolers to select their foods as bowls are passed at family-style meals (no pre-plating at the counter — it discourages self-regulation), and encourage all your children to be thoughtful about what they are eating, the researcher said.

Most people think they know what causes kids to be overweight. They'll often name over-eating, fast food and lack of exercise as the primary villains.But...

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Trying to lose weight? Take an avocado to lunch

Eating half an avocado at lunch may help fill you up and reduce your desire to snack

If you're trying to lose weight, you already know that healthy a healthy, low-fat, low-calorie lunch is a good start -- but it's what happens after lunch, namely snacking, that often caues problems.

Some potentially helpful advice comes from a studypublished in the November issue of Nutrition Journal. It found that adding half of a fresh avocado to lunch may have helped healthy, overweight people feel more satisfied and reduced their desire to eat following a meal. 

The study compared the effects of incorporating a fresh avocado into a lunch — either by replacing other foods or by simply adding it to the meal —  to the effects of eating a standard lunch to determine how avocado consumption would influence satiety, blood sugar and insulin response and subsequent food intake. The subjects were 26 healthy, overweight adults.

Researchers found that participants who added half of a fresh avocado to their lunch reported a significantly decreased desire to eat by 40 percent over a three-hour period, and by 28 percent over a five-hour period after the meal, compared to their desire to eat after a standard lunch without avocado. In addition, they reported increased feelings of satisfaction by 26 percent over the three hours following the meal.

"Satiety is an important factor in weight management, because people who feel satisfied are less likely to snack between meals," said Joan Sabaté, MD, DrPH, Chair of the Department of Nutrition who led the research team at Loma Linda University. "We also noted that though adding avocados increased participants' calorie and carbohydrate intake at lunch, there was no increase in blood sugar levels beyond what was observed after eating the standard lunch. This leads us to believe that avocados potential role in blood sugar management is worth further investigation."

While the findings were generally positive, more research is needed to determine whether the conclusions drawn from this study can be applied to the general public. However, the results do provide promising clues and a basis for future research to determine avocados' effect on satiety, glucose and insulin response.

"These research findings provide support for the emerging benefits of avocados," said Nikki Ford, PhD, Director of Nutrition at the Hass Avocado Board (HAB). "These results further complement our research efforts in weight management and diabetes as well as our continued work to explore the many benefits that fresh avocados have to offer when consumed in everyday healthy eating plans."

The study was funded by the Hass Avocado Board.

If you're trying to lose weight, you already know that healthy a healthy, low-fat, low-calorie lunch is a good start -- but it's what happens after lunch, ...

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Study finds health costs rise steadily as weight increases

"Fat and healthy?" The research doesn't support the idea

Need another reason to shed some pounds? Here's one: Researchers at Duke Medicine have found that medical costs rise steadily as the body mass index (BMI) goes up.

Even when the BMI is in the high normal range -- 19 or so -- medical costs were higher than they were for thinner people, the study published in the journal Obesity found. 

"Our findings suggest that excess fat is detrimental at any level," said lead author Truls Østbye, M.D., Ph.D., professor of community and family medicine at Duke and professor of health services and systems research at Duke-National University of Singapore.

BMI is a measurement of a person's weight adjusted for his or her height, and can be used to screen for possible weight-related health problems. A healthy or normal BMI is 19-24, while overweight is 25-29 and obese is 30 and above. For example, a 5-foot-6-inch person who weighs 117.5 pounds has a BMI of 19, while a person of the same height weighing 279 pounds has a BMI of 45.

You can calculate your BMI online

Fat and healthy?

The findings may give pause to those who, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, argue that it's possible to be both healthy and obese. 

Østbye said the study was motivated partly by research published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, using death data from several large population studies, which concluded that while higher degrees of obesity were associated with higher mortality rates, being overweight or even slightly obese was actually linked with lower mortality.

Since these findings questioned the general belief that high body mass leads to poor health outcomes, Østbye and his colleagues sought to better understand the rates of obesity-related disease, or morbidity, by measuring health care utilization and costs.

Using health insurance claims data for 17,703 Duke employees participating in annual health appraisals from 2001 to 2011, the researchers related costs of doctors' visits and use of prescription drugs to employees' BMIs.

Measuring costs related to doctors' visits and prescriptions, the researchers observed that the prevalence of obesity-related diseases increased gradually across all BMI levels. In addition to diabetes and hypertension -- the two diseases most commonly associated with being overweight or obese -- the rates of nearly a dozen other disease categories also grew with increases in BMI. Cardiovascular disease was associated with the largest dollar increase per unit increase in BMI.

The average annual health care costs for a person with a BMI of 19 was found to be $2,368; this grew to $4,880 for a person with a BMI of 45 or greater. Women in the study had higher overall medical costs across all BMI categories, but men saw a sharper increase in medical costs the higher their BMIs rose.

"The fact that we see the combined costs of pharmacy and medical more than double for people with BMIs of 45 compared with those of 19 suggests that interventions on weight are warranted," said Marissa Stroo, a co-investigator on the study.

Health care costs steadily increase with body mass IMAGE: Analyzing health care claims from Duke employees, Duk...

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Study: Overthinking food choices could lead to weight gain

Sometimes politeness can backfire

If our distant ancestors could see us now they’d be flabbergasted and frustrated by how we managed to take a biological process as simple and basic as eating and turn it into an overcomplicated overanalyzed mess.

Granted, our modern world does contain some culinary complications our ancestors never had to handle: their primary food-related health problems mostly involved malnutrition and famine, whereas ours center around too much access to too many temptingly fattening foods.

Even so, we confess to a bit of head-shaking when we read this press release from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, about another eating-habits research study. The press release had the headline “Political correctness could affect holiday weight gain.”

In the context of the article, it’s obvious that “political correctness” here actually means “being hyper-vigilant against the possibility of offending someone due to their weight.” Indeed, the actual research study doesn’t mention political correctness at all, but instead has the title Matching Choices to Avoid Offending Stigmatized Group Members.

The gist of the research seems to be that, when people are asked to select food both for themselves and for others, and are given a choice between healthy or unhealthy food options (wheat crackers or chocolate-chip cookies, respectively), those choices are likely to change based on whether the various people are overweight or of normal weight.

As the press release says:

… in similar, additional studies, participants told researchers they thought it would be offensive either to give an overweight person healthy food and then take unhealthy food for themselves or, conversely, to give an overweight person unhealthy food and then take healthy food for themselves.

"This suggests that if you are heading back to the buffet to cut a piece of pumpkin pie for your overweight uncle, you might also cut a larger piece than normal for yourself, so you don't hurt his feelings," [researcher Peggy] Liu said.

We must be doing buffets and dinner parties wrong; in buffet situations we only select food for children too young to do so themselves, and at parties we always let our guests pretty much choose what they want from whatever options we’ve made available. That said, we do indeed think it would be offensive if we not only abandoned this practice, but made a point of serving delicious cookies to our skinny guests and whole-wheat crackers to the plump ones.

Despite this, the study does make some potentially good points regarding how your own personal food choices could be affected by what others are eating—such as eating more pie than you intended so your uncle’s serving looks smaller. It might be hard to avoid overthinking such matters, because when you get right down to it, we’re evolutionarily hard-wired to have a bit of a Goldilocks fetish where food is concerned—especially fat, sugar and salt, which collectively bear the bulk of the blame for modern obesity problems.

Because our bodies need all of these things to survive and be healthy: eat too little, you can get sick or even die. Eat too much, and you can also get sick or even die. Only when everything’s Just Right do you feel just right too, and we’d tell you how to eat Just Right according to the latest nutritional scientific consensus, but new research will probably make our advice obsolete by next week, so we’ll keep eating according to our old rule: A little bit of everything, but not too much of anything. (Except maybe at a Thanksgiving feast.)

If our distant ancestors could see us now they’d be flabbergasted and frustrated by how we managed to take a biological process as simple and basic a...

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Does eating at your desk make you fat?

Another possible factor in modern obesity rates

News flash for weight-conscious office workers: eating at your desk makes you more likely to gain weight than leaving your desk for an official lunch break — though not for the reasons you might think.

According to an unspecified “survey” mentioned in the British Daily Mail tabloid, eating “al desko” (their pun, not ours) leads to increased weight gain, not just from the inactivity of sitting at your desk all day, but mainly because desk-eaters are more likely to, for example, wash down chocolate and potato chips with a Coke, in lieu of eating healthier, more nutritious food.

Psychologically, it appears, when people can’t take a break from their workday routine and get the chance to recharge their batteries (so to speak), it makes us more likely to “reward” ourselves in other way — like eating tasty but unhealthy junk food.

The survey focused exclusively on British workers and unhealthy British meals (where the average American is concerned, it doesn’t matter how many grams of fat are to be found in a carrot-chutney-with-Wensleydale sandwich from London’s Marks and Spencer) but people in both countries share similar pressures to juggle evermore-hectic work schedules.

Yet blaming office work for expanding waistlines might not tell the whole story. Last May, a Gallup-Healthways survey of American workers found that the jobs with the highest employee-obesity rates weren’t desk jobs, but the transportation, maintenance, repair and service industries, whereas the lowest obesity rates were to be found among doctors, teachers, business owners and other professionals. In other words: the lower the average educational level in a given field, the greater the risk of obesity among its workers.

The poverty connection

And in both America and Britain, there appears to be a strong correlation between obesity and poverty, since high-fat, high-calorie processed foods tend to be cheaper than healthier, less-fattening alternatives.

So: being an educated professional with a desk job might make you fat. Being an uneducated worker with a service or retail job might make you fat. Exposure to modern environmental pollutants might do the trick; after all, it’s not just modern people getting fatter, but modern animals, too.

Indeed, our own evolutionary history conspires to make us gain weight — though we all live in a modern technological society where food is abundantly available, we still have the bodies of cavemen hunter-gatherers wired to crave fat and sugar — which are very rare in wild plants and animals, but extremely common in modern processed food.

Since we’re not willing to drop out of modern society and live in some remote wilderness, what can we do to offset all these fat-making factors? There’s no simple, easy answer (if we had one, we could sell it and get rich), but we know of a good start: if you must eat at your desk every day, at least put down the junk food and replace it with some fruit.

News flash for weight-conscious office workers: eating at your desk makes you more likely to gain weight than leaving your desk for an official lunch break...

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Feast vs. famine: blame evolution for the obesity epidemic

Caveman bodies counterproductive in modern society

If you wonder why so many Americans (and other industrialized-world citizens) are getting fat these days, the answer is probably quite simple: human evolution is lagging behind human technology. We live in an industrially and technologically advanced world where food is abundant, yet still have the bodies of Cro-Magnon hunter gatherers living under constant threat of famine.

For example: last April the journal Obesity published a study about late-night snack cravings: namely, why are they so common? If you’re trying to lose weight—or just avoid gaining any—then eating before bedtime is the worst thing you can do, because your sleeping body takes those calories and converts them almost immediately into fat.

Obesity discovered evidence suggesting that our body’s circadian rhythms are naturally inclined to make us feel hungry at night.

Dr. Steven Shea, from the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at Oregon Health & Science University, wrote: “We found with this study that the internal circadian system also likely plays a role in today's obesity epidemic because it intensifies hunger at night …. it seems likely that the internal circadian system helps with efficient food storage. While this may have been valuable throughout evolution, nowadays it is likely to contribute to the national epidemic of obesity.”

Age of abundance 

Packing on some extra body fat tonight is a very good idea when you know you might not eat at all tomorrow—and until only a few generations ago, that was the human status quo. Only in an age of abundance, when people’s main calorie-related problem is “We eat too many of them,” does the urge to eat just before bed become fantastically counterproductive.

Of course, this was far from the only study suggesting our own evolutionary history is conspiring to expand our waistlines.

Last month, researchers at Yale suggested that eating low-calorie artificial sweeteners might paradoxically make you fatter than full-calorie sugar—because when your brain tells you “We’re seriously craving some sugar right now,” sugar is the only thing that will satisfy that craving. And, unfortunately, even if you personally are a genius, your brain still isn’t smart enough to figure out “Instead of generating fresh sugar cravings, maybe I should do something with the extra poundage bulging around my owner’s waistline.”

So when you get annoyed by those late-night snack cravings, just remember: it’s because your brain and body are trying to save you from starving to death. (Which does not make it any easier for us to fit into our old blue jeans, but—well, it’s the thought that counts, right?)  

If you wonder why so many Americans (and other industrialized-world citizens) are getting fat these days, the answer is probably quite simple: human evolut...

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How to avoid putting on pounds over the holidays

If you can survive Halloween, you've got a chance

The holidays can be a dangerous time for people trying to control their weight. There are parties with food and drink, celebratory dinners with family and friends and plenty of cookies, candy and pastries.

You can easily consume more sugar between October and January than you do the other nine months combined, unless you exercise a little self-control.

The temptation starts with Halloween. In case you haven't noticed stores putting out their Halloween displays around Labor Day. At the grocery store in early October you may be tempted to pick up several bags of Halloween candy.

Willpower needed

Unless you have exceptional willpower, that's a bad idea. Once a bag gets opened it's easy to start snacking, running through your candy stash well before October 31st. Halloween candy, it turns out, is a slippery slope that can propel you into the holidays on the wrong nutritional foot.

It can be even worse at work, with co-workers bringing in orange-colored candy, cake, donuts and cupcakes. Health experts Dian Griesel, Ph.D., and Tom Griesel, who've written books on nutrition and weight control, suggest bringing up your concerns at work, letting co-workers know you're trying to avoid temptation and extra weight gain. Gently suggest that they keep candy and other goodies out of your sight and reach.

But that doesn't mean you can't get into the spirit of things. The Griesels suggest brewing a pot of pumpkin-flavored coffee or tea to share or bringing in fruit or low-cal desserts.

On to Thanksgiving

Once you get past Halloween there's Thanksgiving to contend with, and food seems to play a bigger and bigger role in celebrations the closer you get to New Year's Day. Nutritionists at the Cleveland Clinic offer a number of tips that can allow you to enjoy yourself without packing on the pounds. Being aware of the high-calorie content of the food you are offered is a first step.

“Even though it’s hard to resist temptations all around you, there are simple steps you can take that can keep the extra holiday pounds off,” said Julia Renee Zumpano, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. 

Among the tips – never go to a holiday party hungry. You'll find it much harder to control yourself. In fact, during the holidays make it a point to eat balanced, nutritious meals each day. You'll be less hungry and less likely to give in to temptation.

Just a bite

A particular treat may look delicious and just because it's fattening, it doesn't mean you can't try it. But just take a bite and discard the rest. Most of us would think of that as wasteful but in this case, you're simply preserving your waistline.

When you sit down at a holiday dinner, eat more vegetables, fruit and salad and less turkey, ham, beef and stuffing. And by all means, skip the gravy and sauces.

Go easy on the alcohol. A glass of wine or beer contains about 100 calories. An ounce of distilled spirits, about the same. By substituting club soda for two holiday drinks you save about 200 calories.

Finally, don't forget to exercise, burning off some of those extra calories you will inevitably consume. Many people wait until January to resolve to get into shape. Don't wait, start now when it can do you some real good and before the damage is done.

According to the Mayo Clinic the typical holiday weight gain is probably less than five pounds, which doesn't sound like much. The problem is, that weight is almost never lost -- so it adds up to 50 pounds every ten years or so. Being mindful of your eating all year round – but especially during the holidays – is the best way to keep your weight at a healthy level.

The holidays can be a dangerous time for people trying to control their weight. There are parties with food and drink, celebratory dinners with family and ...

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Does pollution make you fat?

Reputable research studies suggest it does

Americans—along with everybody else in the industrialized world—have been growing fatter over the last couple of generations. But why? Dozens of different causes have been suggested: It’s because food is less expensive and more readily available than ever before in history, so we generally eat more than our ancestors did. Or it’s because of sedentary lifestyles—our televisions, computers, desk jobs, lengthy car commutes and all the other reasons people sit still for hours at a time, rather than move around and burn calories.

These factors surely contribute to our expanding waistlines. But might environmental pollution also be a culprit? Because it’s not just people getting fatter in the modern world—animals are, too. Our pets, our laboratory animals, even the unwanted feral rats infesting our cities are all bigger than they were in our grandparents’ day, and maybe some of this comes from chemical pollutants that imitate various “fat” hormones naturally produced by our bodies.

Unlikely though this might sound, over the past decade and more there’s been a wide variety of research studies which seem to support the theory. Over at ProPublica, reporter David Epstein collected and summarized a sample range of these reports in a thought-provoking investigative article titled “Do These Chemicals Make Me Look Fat?”

Pet obesity

To share just a couple of statistics: the National Pet Obesity Survey claims that over 50 percent of American cats and dogs are obese. Also, there exists a “National Pet Obesity Survey.”

Despite having pretty much the same diet and lifestyle as they ever did, American laboratory rats have grown steadily fatter over the last 30 years (which is several generations, for rats). This might, possibly, be blamed on other factors present in a laboratory environment (including exposure to antibiotics), except that feral rats studied in Baltimore have also grown fatter—without exposure to antibiotics or other factors present in a lab-rat lifestyle.

But today’s environments—whether natural, urban or laboratory—are all contaminated by trace amounts of various pollutants, including growth hormones fed to livestock, and toxic ingredients in widely used insecticides, fungicides and other anti-pest poisons. These pollutants, in turn, can affect people’s (or animal’s) bodily systems in a variety of ways, either mimicking or suppressing the functions of various hormones.

As obesity researcher Emily Dhurandhar said to ProPublica, “Obesity really is more complex than couch potatoes and gluttons.”

Americans—along with everybody else in the industrialized world—have been growing fatter over the last couple of generations. But why? Dozens o...

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Burger King unveils lower-calorie "Satisfries"

They're fried in a new batter that doesn't absorb as much oil

Face it, it's pretty hard to give up French fries. So Burger King is hoping its new lower-calorie fries will find a following.

The company says its new "Satisfries" have 70 fewer calories than a same-sized serving of their regular fries -- 270 compared to 340. The ingredients are the same -- potato, oil and batter.

The difference, Burger King says, is in the batter, which absorbs less oil and, therefore, less fat and fewer calories. 

This isn't really a new idea. For decades, food manufacturers have been producing lower-fat, lower-calorie versions of what are basically indulent foods -- ice cream, cookies and so forth.

It's a way of having your cake and eating it too, as the saying goes. BK is hoping to lure customers who want to cut back on calories and fat but don't want to give up the satisfaction of munching on a new crispy French fry.

Burger King isn't saying exactly what it did to the batter, in hopes of staying ahead of the competition for at least a few months.

The new fries have a different shape -- they're crinkle-cut, whereas Burger King's regular fries are straight-edged. The company says the shape has nothing to do with the caloric content; it's just intended to help customers and employees tell which kind of fry they're eating.

Face it, it's pretty hard to give up French fries. So Burger King is hoping its new lower-calorie fries will find a following....

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On a diet? Sugar might be better than low-calorie sweetener

Studies suggest artificial sweeteners won't satisfy sugar cravings

If you’re trying to lose weight or keep from gaining any, eating actual sugar might be better than making do with low-calorie artificial sweeteners.

So says Yale University professor Ivan de Araulo, in a press release published on Sept. 22. De Araulo was lead researcher of a study which seems to indicate that your brain is much harder to fool than your tongue—however sweet an artificial sugar-free might taste, it won’t satisfy your brain’s food-craving center as effectively as genuine sugar.

With all the “sugar makes you fat” and “beware diabetes” warning stories you see in the news, sometimes it’s easy to forget that there’s a valid biological reason humans evolved to crave sugar: it’s a concentrated source of food energy. Sugar isn’t inherently bad for your health; excessive amounts of sugar is.

Fewer calories

The logic behind using artificial sweeteners in lieu of sugar is that the fake stuff has fewer calories than sucrose or fructose; thus, the weight-conscious person can satisfy their craving for sweets while consuming far less calories.

The problem, as suggested by de Araulo’s study (among others),  is that artificial sweeteners might not satisfy that craving after all. As de Araulo wrote in his press release, “The study identified a specific physiological brain signal that is critical for determining choice between sugars and sweeteners. This signal regulates dopamine levels – a chemical necessary for reward signalling in the brain – and only arises when sugar is broken down into a form where it is usable as fuel for cells of the body to function.”

In other words: when you have a sugar craving, what eventually satisfies that craving is not the sensation of sweetness on your tongue, but the presence of dopamine in your brain. And, regardless of what sweet flavors stimulate your taste buds, your brain won’t generate that dopamine unless it gets some genuine sugar to work with.

Yale and de Araulo are far from the first researchers to suggest that low-calorie sweeteners might paradoxically result in weight gain caused by increased food cravings; as early as 2008, we noted that

“Psychologists at Purdue University's Ingestive Behavior Research Center reported that, compared with rats that ate yogurt sweetened with sugar, those given yogurt sweetened with zero-calorie saccharin later consumed more calories, gained more weight, put on more body fat, and didn't make up for it by cutting back later.

“Authors Susan Swithers, PhD, and Terry Davidson, PhD, theorize that by breaking the connection between a sweet sensation and high-calorie food, the use of saccharin changes the body’s ability to regulate intake.”

Five years later, de Araulo and his team made the similar observation that “humans frequently ingesting low-calorie sweet products in a state of hunger or exhaustion may be more likely to 'relapse' and choose high calorie alternatives in the future.”

The solution, according to de Araulo, might not be to cut out the use of artificial sweetener altogether, but to combine them with actual sugar in amounts sufficient to satisfy the brain’s craving for it. “The results suggest that a 'happy medium' could be a solution; combining sweeteners with minimal amounts of sugar so that energy metabolism doesn't drop, while caloric intake is kept to a minimum.”

Your brain is much harder to fool than your tongue...

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Why breakfast is important

Eating this meal may help you control your weight

“Three square meals a day,” the saying goes. But how many of us actually eat three meals a day? Specifically, how many of us eat breakfast every day?

In many households, mornings are a chaotic time. Kids have to get off to school and parents usually set off in different directions, sometimes facing long commutes to get to their jobs. Who has time for breakfast?

For decades nutritionists have called breakfast “the most important meal of the day” and that hasn't changed over the years.

Despite that, a recent survey conducted for the California Almond Board found 50% of women said they skip breakfast on busy mornings. Some said they don't eat because they just aren't hungry in the mornings.

Mood, weight, well-being

"Ditching breakfast can affect your mood, weight and well-being," said nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix, author of "Read It Before You Eat It." "Breakfast helps fill up our minds and bodies after we've gone without food for several hours while sleeping."

The American Diabetes Association has also weighed in on the issue of breakfast, pointing out it usually ends the longest period most people go without nourishment. If the last thing you eat is at 8 p.m. and then sleep to 7 a.m., that's eleven hours of fasting.

“Your body enters into a prolonged fasting state,” the association says in an article on its website. “It starts to believe that you won’t be eating any time soon. When you finally eat lunch, your body stores it as fat because it thinks, 'I’d better save this for later. I don’t know when the next meal will come.' That, of course, leads to weight gain. When you break the fast in the morning, on the other hand, your body can use that food to power you through the day.” 

Eat the right things

Nutritionists generally say that people who eat breakfast tend to eat healthier throughout the day. And eating the right things for breakfast can be just as important as eating the morning meal.

Eating a huge breakfast of eggs, sausage and pancakes – typical in the past – is not going to be helpful, unless you are preparing for a day of hard, manual labor, like plowing the back 40. Even then it probably isn't the best choice. Starting the day with a lot of calories probably means you'll consume a lot more before the sun sets.

Dr. Heather Leidy, a nutrition expert at the University of Missouri, says the best breakfasts are low in carbs and fat and high in protein and fiber. Fiber will fill you up and keep you from being hungry later on. And less is more. A healthy breakfast, she says, should really be no more than 500 calories.

Eating a healthy breakfast is particularly important for children and adults with chronic health conditions. According to Katherine Zeratsky, at the Mayo Clinic, it can also help people lose and control their weight. In addition to keeping you from getting hungry later in the day it will also boost your energy level. 

Healthy breakfast foods

What makes for a healthy breakfast? According to the John's Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, you should sample from the bread and grain, dairy and fruit or vegetable food groups. When you have little time for breakfast, have fruit, non-fat yogurt or granola bars on hand. 

You can also be creative. There's no law saying your have to consume traditional breakfast food first thing in the morning. If you have leftovers from a healthy dinner the night before and the mood strikes you, there's no reason you can't have warmed up salmon and vegetables for breakfast.

Cold pizza, on the other hand, is probably a bad idea.

“Three square meals a day,” the saying goes. But how many of us actually eat three meals a day? Specifically, how many of us eat breakfast ever...

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What makes us fat? Germs, researchers say

Having the right intestinal microbe mixture can mean the difference between being lean or obese

Lots of things can make us fat -- too much food, too much sitting around and so forth. But researchers at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) say there's another factor, one you might not of: the microbes in your gut.

Working in mice transplanted with intestinal microbes from lean and obese twins, a new WUSTL study shows that altering the microbial mix prevents mice destined for obesity from gaining weight and fat or developing related metabolic problems linked to insulin resistance.

But there’s a caveat: Microbes associated with leanness can’t take up residence in mice with “obese” gut microbes unless the animals eat a healthy diet. The research is reported Sept. 6 in the journal Science.

“Eating a healthy diet encourages microbes associated with leanness to quickly become incorporated into the gut,” said senior author Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, director of the Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology at Washington University.

“But a diet high in saturated fat and low in fruits and vegetables thwarts the invasion of microbes associated with leanness. This is important as we look to develop next-generation probiotics as a treatment for obesity,” Gordon said.

While the research may lead to effective new treatments in the future, for now the advice remains the same: eat your vegetables and move around a little.

The study

The research involved identical and fraternal female human twin pairs, ranging in age from 21 to 32, in which one twin is obese and the other lean. This stark weight disparity occurs in about 6 percent of twins and is more common among fraternal twins than those who are identical.

As part of the study, the twins’ gut microbes (captured from fecal samples) were transferred into mice that had been raised in a previously microbe-free environment. Because mice naturally eat each other’s feces, the researchers had a chance to observe what happens when a mouse carrying a collection of gut microbes from an obese twin is housed with another mouse carrying gut microbes from the lean twin.

Do the mice transfer microbes to one another through their feces, the researchers asked. And if so, which microbes ultimately take over?

The answer depends on diet.

If the animals ate a healthy diet low in saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables, microbes from the lean twin invaded the gut of the mouse with the obese twin’s microbes, preventing weight gain and the development of metabolic problems associated with insulin resistance. In people, insulin resistance is associated with significant weight gain and typically is the first sign of metabolic problems that eventually can lead to diabetes.

In 2009, a study by Gordon and his colleagues indicated that the collections of microbes in the guts of obese people lack the diversity and richness of people who are lean. This observation was confirmed by the new research.

“We think the lack of diversity leaves open niches – or jobs, if you will – that can be filled by microbes associated with leanness,” he said. “Our results underscore the strong interactions between gut microbes and diet and help illustrate how unhealthy diets select against gut microbes associated with leanness.”

Lots of things can make us fat -- too much food, too much sitting around and so forth. But researchers at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) s...

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Do the math and lose weight

If you can keep track of calories you have a better chance of controlling your weight

More people are losing weight the old-fashioned way. They're simply being more aware and keeping track of what they eat. In the end, it's calories that make the difference.

While nutrition is key to good health, it's generally acknowledged that consuming too many calories – hundreds more than you burn each day – is a good way to pack on the pounds. That's one reason that many restaurants are being required to post calorie information on their menus.

A hungry consumer might want a triple burger with a large order of fries until they see how many calories that is. Armed with that information, they may opt for a small, single burger and a side order of fruit.

Increasingly, restaurants are getting on board. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) recently reported member food and beverage companies have exceeded their goal of reducing 1.5 trillion calories in the marketplace in the United States.

“Our industry has an important role to play in helping people lead healthy lives and our actions are having a positive impact,” said Indra Nooyi, HWCF Chair, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo. “We see continued opportunities to give consumers the choices they’re looking for and to work collaboratively with the public and non-profit sectors on initiatives that enable continued progress.”

Food providers under pressure

Restaurants, food processors and beverage companies have been under pressure as America's obesity problem has mushroomed over the last 30 years. McDonald's, for example, has responded with happy meals that include apple slices, salads and wraps, and began posting calorie information on menus before they were required to.

But that still hasn't silenced critics, nor did it spare CEO Don Thompson a recent scolding from a nine-year old girl, who stood up at a shareholders' meeting and accused his company of “tricking kids.”

Restaurants that post calorie information on their menus help consumers who want to maintain a limit on the number of calories they consume each day to stay on track. Previously, it has been difficult to know how much a restaurant meal bumped up your calorie intake.

When you eat at home it's much easier. Food nutrition labels state the calories per serving and if you total up the calories per part of a meal, you can keep track of your caloric intake.

More than just cutting calories

Nutritionists stress that restricting calories, while important, is only part of a healthy diet. There are good calories and bad calories, they say. Some foods give you more bang for the buck, when it comes to calories.

For example, foods that are high in fiber are not only good for you, but are more filling. You don't have to eat as much to feel full. Some foods provide what are called “empty” calories.

Alcohol falls into that category, packing seven calories per gram. Giving up alcohol for a while can definitely make it easier to shed pounds and lower your caloric intake.

There's growing research that suggests reducing your calories can improve your overall health. A 2006 study at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine found that reducing calories was good for your heart. The researchers, however, found increasing calories from vegetables promoted the best health, since vegetables contain a high percentage of nutrients per calorie. 

A 2012 study linked consuming too many calories with memory loss. And of course, consuming too many calories will make you obese, leading to all types of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

How many are too many? It will depend on your age, sex and body make-up. Here's a calculator that can help you determine the number that's right for you. 

What to do

To keep track of your daily calories you need to keep a food journal. With the memo functions on most smartphones now, it's easier than it once was.

Eat smaller portions. Americans have increased their portion sizes over the years because calories have become cheap. Eating less food will translate into consuming fewer calories.

Where possible, try pre-packaged meals. These will help get you accustomed to smaller portions and enable you to easily track the number of calories you are consuming.

More people are losing weight the old fashioned way. They're simply being more aware and keeping track of what they eat. In the end, it's calories that mak...

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Feds seize Florida company's diet products

Some of the drugs may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke

Acting on behalf of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. marshals have seized tainted dietary supplements from Globe All Wellness (Globe All) in Hollywood, FL. The products contain an undisclosed active pharmaceutical ingredient and may be unsafe.

Several of the seized products contain sibutramine hydrochloride (sibutramine), the active ingredient in the obesity drug Meridia. Meridia was withdrawn from the U.S. market in December 2010 after clinical data demonstrated that it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Unapproved drugs

Globe All markets its products with claims that its products can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, among others. Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), products offered for such use are considered to be drugs, since they are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.

The company’s products are drugs that have not been approved by the FDA for their claimed uses.

“Companies that distribute products containing undisclosed drugs are not only breaking the law, they are putting consumers at risk,” said Howard Sklamberg, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “With these kinds of hidden dangers, consumers cannot make informed decisions about the products they are taking.”

Failed inspection

During inspections of Globe All conducted in October 2012 and February 2013, the FDA also found that the company distributed dietary supplements that were not manufactured in accordance with the current good manufacturing practice (cGMP) requirements for dietary supplements.

“Two important protections for the public are that a firm may not sell new drugs unless they have been tested and approved by the FDA and a firm may not make false or unsubstantiated claims about drugs they sell,” said Melinda K. Plaisier, acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. “When a firm disregards these protections, it not only violates the law but also creates a risk for consumers who may rely on a bogus product and forego effective and proven treatment. The FDA must and will take aggressive enforcement action.”

The FDA seized various lots of the following products:

  • SlimXtreme
  • SlimXtreme Gold
  • SlimPlus
  • SlimLee
  • GelSlim
  • SlimDrops
  • Colonew

No illnesses have been associated to date with Globe All’s products.

Acting on behalf of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. marshals have seized tainted dietary supplements from Globe All Wellness (Globe All) in Hol...

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Dieting is a game of inches – and patience

Be happy with small steps, you aren't going to reach your goals overnight

How's that diet going? It's easy to get discouraged if you don't reach your goals when you think you should. So maybe it's time to readjust your goals.

“If we set lofty weight loss goals, like 10, 20 or 30-plus pounds, and we don’t make progress quickly enough, it’s too easy to get distracted and have our emotions convince us that the goal is not achievable,” said Lauren Whitt, director of University of Alabama Birmingham's (UAB) Employee Wellness.

Whitt and other fitness expects believe that breaking down goals into smaller, more manageable short-term targets, like losing one to two pounds per week, can lead to better chances of success.

“Once those first one or two pounds are lost, you can celebrate,” Whitt added. “Then the next mini-goal can become the focus.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also found benefit from gradual weight loss. It's especially helpful, the agency says, when it comes to maintaining your new weight.

The challenge

Here's what dieters are up against. To lose one pound you need to burn or reduce 3,500 calories. For most people, walking briskly for one hour will burn about 300 calories, less than 10 percent of that. CDC recommends reducing caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day.

Going on a crash diet – reducing consumption far below that amount – can yield near-instant results. But it often results in what is known as “yo-yo dieting.” Your weight goes down and comes right back up.

Don't mess with your metabolism

By restricting so many daily calories, you are resetting your body's metabolism. Once you start eating normally again, your body burns calories more slowly. Not a good thing.

There's an abundance of commercial weight loss programs available to consumers. Some appear to be more effective than others. Before selecting one, however, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests you discuss it with your doctor.

Based on your doctor's advice, the agency suggests choosing a diet that emphasizes healthy eating that reduces calories but does not forbid specific foods or food groups. Supplement that healthy eating plan with daily exercise of some kind. And again, start small, especially if you have not been very active lately.

What would such a plan yield in the way of results? According to NIH, between a half pound and two pounds per week.

How realistic are your goals?

Another important factor is having a realistic assessment of your current weight and measure your goals against that. You're here, but you want to be here – how realistic, or healthy, is that?

To start, you'll need to know your body mass index (BMI), a number calculated on your weight and height and a measure of how much fat your body is carrying. CDC has a handy online calculator to help you quickly establish your BMI. It will also give you a target weight to shoot for.

If you can't lose, stop gaining

It may be that before you can start losing weight, you need to stop gaining. Whitt says that can be a realistic and helpful goal if you are finding yourself struggling to lose weight.

“Look at the number you are now, and tell yourself you will stay right there,” Whitt said.

Whitt said a team of people supporting you, whether in a contest or in an individual weight-loss plan, is crucial.

“They are the ones who can pick you up and encourage you on a day when it feels overwhelming,” Whitt said. “These same people will also challenge you to continue to push forward, helping to propel you to greatness and encourage your efforts.”

It's also important not to focus on failure. Remember, there are going to be setbacks along the way. When you get right down to it, getting to and maintaining a healthy weight is not a destination but a journey. It's something you should try to do for the rest of your life.

How's that diet going? It's easy to get discouraged if you don't reach your goals when you think you should. So maybe it's time to readjust your goals.&l...

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To lose weight, put down the drink and pick up the phone

Reducing alcohol use and tapping into social networks can be a cheap way to lose weight

Who couldn't stand to lose a few pounds? Consumers spend billions on diets, diet food, exercise equipment and gym memberships.

Maybe there is a less expensive way to lose weight and, in the process, become a little more healthy. We're going to pass along two such ideas.

First, if you consume alcohol, consume less of it. Over the years Americans have worked up what seems to be a mighty thirst. After the end of Prohibition in the 1930s per capita consumption of alcohol in the U.S. gradually rose, until it peaked in around 1985.

Empty calories

Drinking a lot of alcohol has health consequences but many drinkers don't stop and consider what it does to your waistline. The National Center for Health Statistics reported late last year that on average, American adults drink in 100 calories daily from beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages.

Men ages 20 to 39 consume the most alcohol, about 175 calories per day, while women in the same age group consume about 60 calories daily. The study also pointed out that almost 20 percent of men and six percent of women consume more than 300 calories daily from alcohol.

That's like eating a candy bar every day, something most people would not do if they were trying to drop a few pounds.

“It is certainly not a good health strategy to have alcohol calories constituting a significant percentage of total calorie consumption,” said Dian Griesel, co-author of the book TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fatburning Metabolism.

The authors say women, especially, would be better off giving up alcohol until their weight goals are met.

Social networks

Another way consumers often seek to lose weight is though support groups. Weight Watchers, in fact, has been an effective program for many since it requires members to attend meetings for support and accountability.

But mobile technology now gives dieters access to some of the same kinds of support through Twitter feeds and other social networks.

A study at the University of South Carolina (USC) found that Twitter use among participants in a weight loss program increased the odds of their success at shedding pounds.

"The results show that those who regularly utilized Twitter as part of a mobile weight loss program lost more weight,” said Brie Turner-McGrievy, a USC researcher.

The study followed 96 overweight and obese men and women living in a metropolitan area over a six-month period. All participants had a smartphone or other mobile device that connected to the Internet.

The participants received regular podcasts on which they received health and nutrition information as well as feedback and encouragement. The study found the podcasts were effective in producing a 2.7 percent decrease in body weight at six months.

Twitter particularly effective

The researchers said they found the Twitter posts particularly effective. Many of the posts were from participants, offering encouragement or a personal success story.

"I avoided eating a pastry this morning at a breakfast meeting! I did have a skim Mocha without whipped cream...not too bad,” one post read.

It was these personal posts by study participants, Turner-McGrievy said, that seemed to be the most helpful.

“Traditional behavioral weight loss interventions generally provide social support through weekly, face-to-face group meetings,” she said. “While we know this is effective, it is costly and can create a high degree of burden on participants.”

But providing group support through online social networks can be a low cost way to reach a large number of people who are interested in achieving a healthy weight.

Who couldn't stand to lose a few pounds? Consumers spend billions on diets, diet food, exercise equipment and gym memberships.Maybe there is a less expen...

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A fitness club not just anyone can join

Health club only accepts consumers who are at least 50 pounds overweight

Downsize Fitness is an exclusive fitness center. People with six-pack abs need not apply. This club only takes members who are at least 50 pounds overweight.

The club currently has locations in Chicago, Las Vegas and Dallas but has plans to take the concept nationwide. It was developed specifically with chronically overweight and obese individuals in mind. The idea is to provide an environment where overweight consumers don't feel self-conscious, because they are no different from any of the other members.

Owner Francis Wisniewski says the center is modeled after hit TV show,"The Biggest Loser," but he says it's structured to be more realistic -- both from a financial and time perspective. Unlike a traditional health club, every Downsize Fitness member works with a trainer every time he comes to the gym. The trainers put members through their workouts and hold them accountable for their diet.

"Our goal is to help members change their lifestyle," Wisniewski said. "It's not just about following a diet or working out; it's about teaching members new habits they will embrace in and outside of the gym. Our goal is to give our members a new quality of life and we have the resources and unique trainer support to do that for everyone who walks through our door."

Personal experience

The motivation for the gym comes from Wisniewski who himself lost over 60 pounds in the last year. Wisniewski says he had success but always felt uncomfortable working out in the gym, where everyone else seemed to be in much better shape than he was.

He made the decision to open a gym for overweight individuals when he realized he was not alone in being uncomfortable at typical gyms. Through a supportive team-oriented environment and trainer-based workout plans, the aim is to get overweight individuals healthy and fit.

Some members who have posted comments online have pointed out the fitness equipment, such as treadmills, are built for heavy people and, unlike most health clubs, the walls are not covered with mirrors.


Downsize Fitness is not the first health club to set some exclusivity parameters for membership. Curves is a national franchise of health clubs whose membership is open only to women. It opened in 1992 with the premise that some women were intimidated by working out in a health club with men. The company says it now has locations in 85 countries.

Whether Downsize Fitness matches that success is yet to be seen. However, the company could be punished for its success.

Once its members are no longer 50 pounds overweight, they will no longer meet the membership requirements. But with America's obesity epidemic, that would be a problem Downsize Fitness might like to have.

Downsize Fitness is an exclusive fitness center. People with six-pack abs need not apply. This club only takes members who are at least 50 pounds overweigh...

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Four reasons you aren't losing weight

In some ways, it's a math problem

With the best