AHA: Lifestyle Changes Helped New Dad Shed Nearly 50 Pounds

THURSDAY, Jan. 3, 2019 (American Heart Association) — It happens every January. Gyms fill with people who’ve committed to New Year’s resolutions involving health and fitness. While making a resolution is an important first step, developing new habits is the key to long-term success, said Erik Minaya, who has maintained significant weight loss for several years.

Minaya started to put on the pounds during his freshman year in college. His body mass index continued to creep up throughout his college years and beyond, as he began working at a stressful job with a one-hour commute each way. By age 24, he tipped the scale at nearly 265 pounds.

“The bad habits compounded over the years,” said the 30-year-old from Michigan.

Sugary drinks and fast food were his biggest vices. Drive-in dinners were easier and cheaper than healthy options, and the jolt of sugar and fat temporarily alleviated some of the stress after working at a job he didn’t enjoy. By 2 p.m. nearly every afternoon, Minaya would crash.

“I wasn’t motivated to do much,” he said. “And good luck getting me to go out and do anything physical.”

Minaya’s family has a history of elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, and diabetes. Worried that he was headed down the same path, Minaya made drastic lifestyle changes in 2013.

He cut out fast food, replacing it with lower-carb offerings that he prepared himself. He swapped regular soda for diet; a few months later, he switched to water.

“It wasn’t a crash diet,” Minaya said. “I was trying to make actual life changes.”

People should limit their intake of added sugars to no more than half of their daily “discretionary calories,” suggests the American Heart Association. For most men, that figure is 150 calories per day; for most women, it’s 100 calories. But one 12-ounce can of most sugary sodas will typically contain about 150 calories, and some have even more.

The changes Minaya made had an almost immediate impact.

He lost 15 pounds during the first year. And after accepting a new job with a shorter commute and an onsite gym, he lost 15 more pounds. Since then, he has continued to lose weight more slowly – nearly 50 pounds total so far. He has more energy and focus.

“I have an almost heightened sense of awareness,” he said.

Minaya recently finished a 5K run (3.1 miles) in less than 30 minutes “which is slow for me,” he said. He also lifts weights and plays golf, tennis and soccer. He persuaded his company, Delta Dental of Michigan, to put up a basketball hoop in the parking lot.

“It’s good to have a goal and go for it,” Minaya said. “I like being driven to achieve something.”

Minaya is not shy about sharing his experience. He recently encouraged a friend to adopt the same diet, which led the friend to lose 30 pounds. He also told his story at an event hosted by Delta Dental, the AHA and the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum as a part of the Rethink Your Drink campaign.

With a newborn at home, Minaya said he has succumbed to old temptations and put on a few pounds, but he is determined to get back on track, not only for his sake but also for the sake of his daughter, Elsie.

“My wife, Jamie, and I want to make better choices for her sake,” he said. “I’ll never have six-pack abs, but what I care about is good health.”

Snacking for Diet Success

THURSDAY, Jan. 3, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Restrictive diets are hard to stick with, especially when you must eliminate most of your favorite foods.

Research has also found that cutting out a particular food can cause cravings and may lead to overindulgence — and weight regain — when you allow yourself to enjoy it again.

Since permanent weight loss really involves a forever approach, learning how to work in your favorites, especially sweets, is a must even during the weight-loss phase.

Penn State University researchers set out to test whether purposefully including a favorite snack in a diet could help people stick with their eating plan and achieve weight loss success. They conducted a small study in which all the participants followed a low-calorie, high-nutrient diet of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, non-fat milk and lean protein with a small number of daily calories going to a sweet treat.

For one group of participants the treat was one small square of chocolate twice a day plus a sugar-free cocoa drink. For the other group, the treat was red licorice, plus the cocoa drink.

After 18 weeks, both groups lost inches and pounds, with the chocolate group achieving slightly better results. The researchers also found that participants didn’t overindulge in their treats — they kept within the overall calorie-range of their diet — and that the snacks kept cravings under control.

To try this approach on your own, you must practice portion control. Make sure most of your intake is from nutrient-rich foods. And allot no more than 150 calories a day to your preferred snack — that’s about one ounce of dark chocolate.

More information

You can search for the calorie counts of more than 1,000 types of chocolate on the website of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

AHA: The Pros and Cons of Weighing Yourself Every Day

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 2, 2019 (American Heart Association) — This is the year
you’ve vowed to lose weight. You step on the scale to mark the starting point
toward your goal.

Now how often should you hop back on to check your progress?

The answer isn’t always so simple. Perhaps every day, perhaps every week,
with the qualifier that the scale isn’t the only way to gauge whether you’re
headed in the right direction.

“Our philosophy here is that no one size fits all,” said Meridan Zerner, a
dietitian, nutritionist and wellness coach at Cooper Clinic in Dallas. “The
majority of research would say weigh daily. But if there’s any negative fallout from weighing every day in terms of outlook, self-esteem or your positive momentum, I would say we can check in once or twice a week.”

A study presented at the American Heart Association’s recent Scientific
Sessions conference concluded that daily weigh-ins might be beneficial. Researchers tracked 1,042 adults over a year and found that people who weighed themselves once a week or less did not lose weight, while people who weighed themselves six or seven times a week averaged a 1.7 percent weight loss.

“That’s an action we call self-monitoring, which is an evidence-based
strategy that we use with all kinds of behavior change,” said Amy Walters, a
psychologist and director of behavioral services at St. Luke’s Health System
Humphreys Diabetes Center in Boise, Idaho. “Tracking your behavior gives people some accountability, it can create some natural feedback, and it can serve as a source of motivation. They see, ‘Gosh, if I really follow my plan, I start to see some changes.'”

But there can be drawbacks to spending too much time on that scale.

“You can get obsessive about it,” Walters said. “We want to focus on trends and not get hung up on today’s number. Weighing daily may be distressing if you don’t see the scale change, or have a negative impact on motivation.”

Dr. Pamela Peeke, a Maryland-based physician who has written four books on
healthy living and weight loss, concurred.

“Keeping tabs on your progress is important to help achieve your weight loss goals,” said Peeke, who chairs the Science Advisory Board for the Jenny Craig weight loss centers. However, she added, “If daily weighing causes you more anxiety than motivation, then it’s not right for you.”

Several factors can affect anxiety and motivation. Different scales can yield different results at different times of day, which is why experts recommend using the same scale at the same time. “First thing in the morning is the best,” Zerner said.

Even on the same scale, Walters said, “your weight can fluctuate because of different things: your fluid intake, your hormone levels, your activity level. We don’t want to get too hung up on the number.”

That number, Zerner said, isn’t always a true indication of progress. “If somebody loses a pound of fat and gains a pound of muscle, that’s two full pounds of change and that’s meaningful,” she said.

Nor is the scale the only measure of success.

“How’s your energy level?” Walters said. “How are you feeling physically? Are your clothes fitting better? Are you sleeping well? There are other biometrics like blood pressure or blood glucose levels, besides just your weight.”

Zerner advises her clients to also monitor their body fat percentage and
waist measurement. Men are advised to have a waist circumference the distance around the natural waist of less than 40 inches, while women should aim for a waist that measures less than 35 inches.

“(The scale is) just one of many tools,” Zerner said. “But it’s giving you feedback, awareness, accountability and just being mindful of how your body is doing.”

Low-Carb Diets May Work By Boosting Calorie Burn

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 14, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Strictly limiting carbohydrates and eating more fat may help the body burn more calories, a new clinical trial shows.

Researchers found that among 164 adults in a weight-loss study, those placed on a low-carb, high-fat diet burned more daily calories, versus those given high-carb meals. On average, their bodies used up 250 extra calories per day over 20 weeks.

The researchers estimated that over three years, that would translate into an additional 20-pound weight loss for an average-height man.

“This study refutes the conventional thinking that it’s only calorie-cutting that matters,” said senior researcher Dr. David Ludwig. He is co-director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Instead, he said, the source of those calories may make the difference in whether your metabolism “works with you or against you.”

According to Ludwig, the findings support a theory called the “carbohydrate-insulin model.” The premise is that diets heavy in processed carbs send insulin levels soaring, which drives the body to use fewer calories, and instead store more of them as fat.

“Our study suggests that you’ll do better if you focus on reducing refined carbohydrates, rather than focusing on reducing calories alone,” Ludwig said.

He and his colleagues reported the findings online Nov. 14 in the BMJ.

Many studies over the years have attempted to answer the question of whether low-fat or low-carb is better for weight loss. Often, they’ve concluded there is little difference.

But those studies, Ludwig said, have typically been behavioral studies where people may or may not stick with their diets.

So his team conducted a “feeding study” to carefully control what people ate.

First, 234 overweight and obese adults were recruited for a “run-in” phase, with the goal of losing about 12 percent of their weight over 10 weeks. Their diets were low-calorie and had moderate amounts of carbs.

Of that group, 164 lost enough weight and moved on to the next phase. They were randomly assigned to either a low-carb, moderate-carb or high-carb diet for 20 weeks.

People on the low-carb diet got 20 percent of their calories from carbs like vegetables, fruits and beans; a full 60 percent of their calories came from fat, including sources like meat, whole milk, cheese and nuts. The remaining 20 percent of calories came from protein.

The situation was flipped for people on the high-carb plan: 60 percent of calories from carbs and 20 percent from fat. The moderate plan divided the two nutrients equally, at 40/40.

After 20 weeks, the low-carb group appeared to be burning more calories — an average of 250 more per day, versus the high-carb group, and 111 more than the moderate-carb group.

The researchers did not look at the effects on any further weight loss. Instead, each person’s calorie intake was calibrated to maintain what they’d already lost. The point, Ludwig explained, was to zero in on the effects of the different diets on calorie burning.

According to Dr. Anastassia Amaro, an assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of Pennsylvania, “The study design is very clever.”

Amaro, who was not involved in the research, said she already suggests that patients cut back on carbs when they are trying to lose weight.

These findings, she said, will boost her confidence in that advice.

However, Amaro said, the low-carb diet used in this study is not ready for a “direct translation” into the real world. For one, she explained, it’s not clear whether it’s the lack of carbs that was key.

“This is also a high-fat diet,” Amaro pointed out. “Is it the lack of carbs, the fat content, or both?”

What about the nutritional value of such a diet? Ludwig said it’s healthy — allowing fruit, legumes and an “unlimited” amount of vegetables, for instance.

“What it doesn’t have is grains and added sugar,” he said.

Ludwig agreed, however, that more research is needed to show whether the approach is the best way to maintain weight loss. He and his colleagues recently started a new trial that will pit a very low-carb diet against one that is high-carb but low in sugar, and another that is high-carb/high-sugar.

And what about people who currently have a healthy weight? Would a low-carb, high-fat diet cause their bodies to burn more calories?

That’s a “good question,” Amaro said — but this study can’t answer it.

More information

The Harvard School of Public Health has more on carbohydrates.

An Action Plan When You Regain That Lost Weight

MONDAY, Oct. 29, 2018 (HealthDay News) — It’s the most frustrating part of dieting: Regaining the weight you worked so hard to lose.

It helps to understand why this happens so you won’t blame yourself as you get back on track.

Many hormones that regulate body weight and rule your appetite seem to go haywire after weight loss, possibly because the body wants the weight it was familiar with back on. These hormones can stay higher, encouraging weight regain, for more than a year, even after the pounds start creeping back.

So the tendency for weight regain could be part of the body’s natural instinct and not simply because you went back to old eating habits. To combat this, you need to keep a diet mindset for at least one year after you reach your goal weight.

But what can you do if that weight has already started coming back? First, go easy on yourself. Dieting takes dedicated effort and you don’t want to waste energy blaming yourself.

Next, go back to all the diet principles that helped you lose weight. Do a self-checkup to see if your portions have gotten bigger recently, if you’re eating too often, or if you’re not being as careful about the quality of calories you choose as you were when you were losing weight.

It may also be that you aren’t exercising as much as you did. While calorie restriction seems to increase appetite, exercise can reduce it as well as burn off calories. A study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism found that exercising after a meal may extend the feeling of satisfaction that the food gave you. This could be helpful in coping with smaller portions.

Just be sure not to overeat right before exercise. A small snack is OK, but you should wait two hours after a full meal so that digestion isn’t fighting against your workout efforts.

More information

To help you calculate the right amount of calories to both get to and stay at your desired weight, use the body weight planner tool from the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Almost Half of Americans Are Trying to Lose Weight: CDC

FRIDAY, Oct. 19, 2018 (HealthDay News) — The latest national tally on dieting finds that nearly half of U.S. adults are doing what they can to trim a widening waistline.

Overall, 49.3 percent of people aged 20 and older said they’d tried to lose weight over the past 12 months, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings were based on a 2015-2016 national health survey, the latest data available.

The new stats reflect a significant increase from prior surveys. For example, 43 percent of American adults were trying to slim down in 2007-2008, but the numbers have crept steadily upwards every year since, the CDC said.

Attempts at weight loss were higher for women than men in the latest survey (56.3 percent and 42.2 percent, respectively), but over time rates of increase have been steady for both genders.

Why are more Americans than ever concerned about overweight and obesity? Registered dietitian Stephanie Schiff cites multiple reasons.

First off, “we are more sedentary than ever before,” said Schiff, who guides the nutrition program at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital, in Huntington, N.Y. “Our entertainment is more likely to occur while we are sitting — in front of the TV, in front of a computer, in bed with our phones in our hands.”

Next, “we’re not cooking our own food as much, we’re eating out more,” she said. “And when we don’t have a hand in our own meals, we don’t have control over what goes into it — others do. And they add more fat, more sugar, more salt.”

Increasing stress levels can also “play havoc with our metabolisms,” Schiff said, and that can prompt people to overeat. Sleeplessness is another known risk factor for poor eating, she added.

So what works to get slim and keep the weight from coming back? Sharon Zarabi is a registered dietitian who leads the bariatric program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

She believes the key is to incorporate healthy living habits that last a lifetime — not just a fast fix.

“I try to avoid using the word ‘diet,’ as it is something you manage for a short period of time based on food intake,” she said. Instead, Zarabi said, she would “encourage more healthy living, which focuses on incorporating rituals to define a new sense of optimal well-being to feel good for life.”

“You follow a diet when you want to lose weight — and then what?,” she said. “Lifestyle is what keeps the weight off, and that comes through our behavior.”

Schiff agreed. She noted that even the faddiest, “odd” diets can work to drop pounds, but then those pounds come creeping back.

“Because eating only 500 calories a day may not be sustainable, or eating only certain foods for your blood type,” she explained.

The real solution is finding “a way of eating that is natural and has you feeling satisfied” over the long term, Schiff said. That means including foods you actually enjoy.

Sticking to plant-based foods and avoiding refined sugars, refined flour and chemically processed foods works best, Schiff said.

“Sometimes it also means changing your environment — getting rid of problem foods in your house, the foods you have no control over, or that you eat just because they’re there,” she said.

The bottom line, she said, is to “make changes that you know you can live with for the rest of your life.”

And don’t forget exercise. Exercise can help boost weight loss, but more importantly it’s a way of “keeping your body finely tuned and healthy and strong,” Schiff said. And with exercise — especially resistance exercise — if weight does come back, it will return as healthy muscle, not fat, she said.

The new stats on weight loss were published Oct. 18 in the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

More information

There;’s more on maintaining a healthy weight at the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Diet Tips That Go Beyond Calorie Cutting

FRIDAY, Sept. 28, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Calories in must be less than calories out — that’s the basic rule of dieting.

But there’s more to losing weight because more than hunger often motivates people to eat. So how can you find effective motivation to change your eating habits and lose weight?

Try these five keys to weight-loss success.

  • Monitoring your diet and exercise efforts is job number one to stay the course. Choose the method you’re most comfortable with, from pen and paper to an online journal or app. Be sure to include daily food intake, exercise output and your weight changes.
  • Accountability is crucial. That’s why regularly checking in with a weight-loss coach can keep you on track, especially if he or she provides personalized feedback. Yes, this is an expense, but one that could be offset by smaller grocery bills.
  • Be part of an in-person or even an online weight-loss group for the social benefits along with the opportunity to share tips.
  • A weight-loss group may also provide you with another essential — a structured plan to follow. This should include diet and exercise specifics, plus behavior modifications to help you break any specific habits that led to your weight gain.
  • Above all, when you’re choosing a diet to follow or a program to join, make sure it’s tailored to your needs, tastes and goals. If it doesn’t feel right or fit into your schedule, you’ll have a hard time sticking with it.

There’s no single strategy for weight loss. Though cutting portions is a must, these other steps are what enable you to shift your focus away from habits that led to weight gain.

More information

To choose a safe and successful weight-loss program, visit the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Say No to Yo-Yo Dieting

FRIDAY, Sept. 7, 2018 (HealthDay News) — New to weight loss or tired of yo-yo dieting? Learning “stability skills” first may lead to greater long-term weight loss success.

Many dieters regain up to 50 percent of the weight they lose within a year because they abandon the healthy lifestyle changes they made to lose the weight.

According to research done at Stanford University, the answer may be to learn “forever skills” first — skills you’ll practice for life.

Researchers tested their concept by starting one group of women on an 8-week maintenance plan before any dieting began. The women learned how to be more active and eat healthy, with correct portion sizes and without feeling deprived.

They also were encouraged to approach dieting with more of a relaxed attitude. But they did learn how to deal with diet disruptions and even went through a simulated vacation during which they used new skills to stay within the prescribed calorie range in the face of high-fat and high-calorie meals.

Here are some stability skills to master:

  • Weigh yourself every day.
  • Practice mindful eating — awareness of what you’re consuming.
  • Eat in moderation.
  • Make small cumulative changes over time.
  • Reward yourself with non-food reinforcement.

Beyond education, the Stanford program left participants feeling confident they’d be able to maintain results after weight loss. The benefits were visible at a one-year follow up: The women who first learned about maintenance and then dieted regained about 20 percent of their lost weight, far less than the 43 percent weight regain experienced by the women in the group who dieted first.

If you want to lose weight, it might pay to start with maintenance skills and develop a mindset more in tune with keeping lost weight off.

More information

The National Women’s Health Resource Center has 5 tips to start practicing right away.

Losing Weight the Online Way

MONDAY, Sept. 3, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Not being able to attend face-to-face meetings doesn’t mean you can’t get the benefits of joining an organized diet group. All you need is an internet connection.

Online diet programs let you sign in for information and motivation at any hour of the day or night.

Participating in a web-based weight-loss program can be helpful in many ways — not just with weight loss, but also with weight-loss maintenance and improving lifestyle habits that might have led to your weight gain.

There are many types of online programs, some from the same companies that offer in-person sessions, and others from successful diet doctors, for instance. So it makes sense to compare choices, especially those with a monthly fee.

Basic offerings tend to include diet information and planning, and goal setting — such as losing inches as well as pounds, and even lowering blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease risk factors. You can often add on bells and whistles like feedback from a diet professional, which may lead to greater success, especially if you’ve lacked motivation in the past.

Some helpful features of online programs include:

  • Personalized calorie counts to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week.
  • Food and exercise diaries.
  • Calorie calculators.
  • Menu plans with a grocery list.
  • Options for special dietary needs.
  • Physical activity plans tailored to your interests.
  • Weekly tips and tricks for motivation and weight loss.
  • Forums or chats for support.
  • Graphs to chart your progress.

Keep in mind that you’ll still need to make the effort to log in, monitor and chart your weight, and keep track of calorie intake and exercise expenditure. But you’ll be able to do this on your schedule and whenever you need a boost of motivation.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has detailed information on choosing a diet program with criteria for both online and in-person programs.

Later Breakfast, Earlier Dinner Might Help You Shed Body Fat

THURSDAY, Aug. 30, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Could the timing of your breakfast and dinner help you eat less and lose body fat?

A small, preliminary study suggests it’s possible.

People cut their daily calorie intake by about 25 percent when they held off on breakfast for 90 minutes and then had dinner 90 minutes earlier than usual, said senior researcher Jonathan Johnston. He is a reader in chronobiology and integrative physiology with the University of Surrey in England.

These people also lost more than twice as much body fat, on average, than a control group with unrestricted eating times, Johnston added.

“Meal timing is important, in addition to meal content,” Johnston said. “Meal timing research is still quite new, but has a lot of promise to help people improve health with relatively minor changes to behavior.”

There’s strong evidence in animals that restricting the number of hours of food availability each day can help boost metabolism, Johnston said.

But the researchers weren’t sure whether humans would see the same benefit, since so many factors go into when people eat meals and snacks, Johnston added.

To find out, nine people were recruited to take part in a “time-restricted feeding” pilot study, in which they delayed breakfast and moved up dinner by an hour and a half. During that window, they could eat as often as they liked.

“We deliberately designed our study to have a fairly minor reduction in daily eating duration,” Johnston said.

Another seven people served as a control group by eating meals as they normally would.

Participants provided blood samples and completed diet diaries before and during the study period.

After 10 weeks, the people with a shorter meal window had reduced their body fat by about 2 percent, compared with under 1 percent lost by those in the control group, the researchers said.

Participants also cut their average energy intake from roughly 2,091 to 1,553 calories per day, the findings showed.

People said they tended to eat less because they had reduced appetite, decreased opportunities to eat, or a cutback in their snacking habits, according to a questionnaire they filled out afterward.

There are a couple of possible reasons why changing meal times might alter a person’s calorie intake and help them lose body fat, Johnston said.

Restricted feeding could lead you to eat food at times best suited for your body’s daily metabolic rhythms, he suggested. It also could be that a shorter meal window increases the length of the daily fasting period.

“In reality, my guess would be a combination of both these options,” Johnston said.

However, these changes to meal timing may not be sustainable for many.

About 57 percent of participants told researchers they could not have maintained the new meal times long-term, because they were incompatible with family and social life.

But 43 percent said they would consider continuing a time-restricted diet if eating times were more flexible.

“This is really important as it emphasizes how important it is for dietary changes to fit with people’s lives in the real world,” Johnston said. “An important question for future research is to evaluate whether a shortened daily duration of feeding will be effective if started at different times of day.”

The meal schedule in this study is a form of intermittent fasting, said Grace Fjeldberg, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Mayo Clinic Health System. This “has become an increasingly popular trend to support weight loss,” she said.

“Everyone is looking for quick ways to support weight loss and improve overall health, and eating fewer times throughout the day often produces a deficit in calories and ultimately weight loss,” Fjeldberg explained.

But Fjeldberg warned that quick weight loss through fasting might not necessarily lead to better health and long-term reduced weight.

“Hunger and stress hormones can spike with prolonged periods of fasting, and for some this may mean increased portions in the few meals that are eaten throughout the day and potentially higher calories,” Fjeldberg said.

Eating behavior expert Susan Carnell agreed with Fjeldberg that further research is needed.

“Time-restricted feeding may have benefits, but could be hard to stick to, so larger trials testing effectiveness as well as feasibility of different schedules are needed,” said Carnell, who is an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences with Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“Another point to consider might be that probably some schedules will work better for some people than others, so individual tailoring will probably be important for feasibility,” she added.

The study was published Aug. 29 in the Journal of Nutritional Science.

More information

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has more about intermittent fasting.