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Clutter Can Mean More Calories

How does clutter affect you? A new study suggests it can prompt you to overeat. Researchers from Cornell and Australia’s University of New South Wales investigated snacking and the effect of spending 10 minutes in a kitchen littered with newspapers on the table, dirty dishes in the sink, and the phone ringing. To begin, the researchers asked about half the 101 women participants to write about a time when they felt out of control and the others to write about feeling in control. Then they asked them to wait for 10 minutes in the messy kitchen or in a clean, organized and quiet kitchen. Bowls of cookies, crackers and carrots were available in both kitchens. The researchers reported that among the women who wrote about being out of control, those who waited in the messy kitchen ate twice as many cookies in 10 minutes as those who waited in the clean kitchen. “Being in a chaotic environment and feeling out of control is bad for diets" noted lead author Lenny Vartanian, Ph.D. adding that he suspects the same results would be observed for men. Bottom line: a clean, organized kitchen may help you cut calories. Learn more about how to create a sanctuary in your home.

Want To Lose Weight?

The notion that the more you exercise, the more weight you’ll lose could disappoint you. You would be better off focusing on what you’re eating. That’s the word from a study examining daily energy expenditure of 332 adults in five countries, including the U.S. The participants wore devices that recorded their activity levels for a week, and the researchers used that information to calculate the number of calories each person burned using standard measurements. They found that moderate activity - the equivalent of walking a couple of miles per day - burned about 200 calories more than amounts expended by sedentary people, but that more strenuous activity didn’t add up to more calories burned. The findings suggest that the body adapts itself to the extra effort and burns the same calories more efficiently. "The most physically active people expended the same amount of calories each day as people who were only moderately active," explained study leader Herman Pontzer, a professor at the City University of New York.  He emphasized that exercise is good for you and can help with weight loss, but its impact isn’t as great as you may have thought.

My take? Practical experience shows us that exercise won’t always result in significant weight loss, especially for those who take in more calories as they increase physical activity. My own experience is that exercise alone is much less effective at promoting and maintaining weight loss than exercise combined with a positive change in eating habits. Diet is key.

Why Late Night Eating is a Bad Idea

Eating late at night when you can’t sleep can lead to problems beyond weight gain - it may compromise your concentration and alertness. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania report that adults consume about 500 extra calories late at night when their sleep is limited. To investigate the effects of those excess calories, the researchers gave 44 adults ages 21 to 50 unrestricted access to food and drink but allowed them to sleep for only four hours a night for three nights. On the fourth night, 20 of the participants could eat and drink all they wanted, while 24 were prevented from snacking - they were allowed to drink only water from 10 p.m. until their 4 a.m. bedtime. Each night at 2 a.m. during the study all the participants took tests to evaluate their working memory, cognitive skills, sleepiness, stress levels and mood. On the fourth night, participants who drank only water after 10 p.m. performed better on tests of reaction time and attention than those who had eaten, even though both groups had the same sleep restrictions. 

Want to Practice Intuitive Eating?

If stress or boredom lead you to overeat, consider intuitive eating. It may help you gain perspective on your diet, and prevent unwanted weight gain. Learn more!

Do you tend to when stressed or bored? If so, you may be especially prone to putting on unwanted extra pounds. One way to minimize weight gain is through “intuitive eating.” This practice involves slowing down, paying careful attention to your body and its hunger signals (or lack of them) and adjusting your intake to your actual needs. This practices has been linked to weight loss (and, as a bonus, lowering cardiovascular disease risk). Intuitive eating doesn't limit what or how much you eat, but rather dictates that you eat only when really hungry and stop when you are satiated.

So next time you catch yourself eating simply because you are under pressure, under-stimulated or depressed, consider that you're doing the opposite of "intuitive eating" and consuming unneeded calories that can lead to weight gain. Resolve to bring mindfulness to your eating for the rest of the day, until doing so becomes a habit.

How to Reduce Snacking While Watching TV

For those who can’t break a television and snack habit, the trick might be to watch Charlie Rose’s interview program rather than action movies. A new study from Cornell University found that students who watched the 2005 action movie “The Island” on television ate 65 percent more calories (354) than those who watched Charlie Rose (215 calories). The participants who watched "The Island" also consumed nearly twice as much food – 7.3 ounces v. 3.7 ounces - compared to the Charlie Rose crowd. Another group of students assigned to watch “The Island,” but without sound, ate 46 percent more calories than those who watched Charlie Rose, and consumed five ounces of food compared to the 3.7 ounces eaten by those who watched the Rose show. Study leader Aner Tal revealed that the students who watched “The Island” (with sound) ate the most food by weight because they were snacking on baby carrots, which weigh more than, say, popcorn. Tal said that he thinks the students ate more while watching the action movie because they kept pace with the tempo of the film. The not-so-scientific message here may be that if you want to cut the calories you consume while watching TV, stick with slower-paced and more cerebral offerings rather than action-adventure movies or TV shows.

Aner Tal et al, “Watch What You Eat Television Action-Related Content Increases Food Intake.” JAMA Internal Medicine doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4098

Can Skipping Breakfast Ruin Your Diet?

The latest word on this subject is “no.” The question of whether or not skipping breakfast is key to weight loss has been asked and answered in any number of studies and the answers have often been contradictory. The latest effort to determine whether or not eating breakfast has an impact on weight loss came from the University of Alabama, where researchers looked at the effect of eating or skipping breakfast on 309 healthy overweight and obese people ages 20 to 65. One group was asked to eat breakfast before 10 a.m. while those in another group were asked not to eat anything before 11 a.m. A third group, divided between people who habitually skipped breakfast and those who always ate it, was not given any instruction about whether or not to eat the morning meal. None of the participants was on a strict weight loss plan, but all were trying to lose weight independently. After 16 weeks, skipping or eating breakfast had no discernible effect on weight loss. Study leader Emily Dhurandhar, Ph.D., said future studies would be aimed at understanding “why eating or skipping breakfast did not influence weight loss, despite evidence that breakfast may influence appetite and metabolism.”

Emily J. Dhurandhar et al, “The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,
doi: 10.3945/ ajcn.114.089573

Emotional Eating Goes Two Ways

When you consider emotional eating, you may focus on the tendency to seek comfort foods that beckon when you’re blue, but a new study suggests that emotional eating has a flip side: the healthy decisions you make about food when you’re in a good mood. Researchers at the University of Delaware set out to explore this territory by first recruiting 211 local adults and asking them to read inspiring articles about someone who had a good life and achieved worthwhile goals or to read something neutral. Afterward, when offered a choice of foods, the study volunteers who read the positive article rated the healthy ones higher than high calorie comfort foods. For a second study, the researchers gave 315 college undergraduates negative articles about someone whose life was sad and who failed to reach goals or something neutral to read. After that, when given food choices, the students preferred the comfort foods. The researchers concluded that when you’re in a good mood you’re more likely to think ahead, and about the future benefits of making healthy food choices. The flip side is that when we’re down, we’re still more likely to opt for the immediate taste and sensory experience that comfort foods offer.

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Meryl Gardner et al, "Foods and moods: Considering the future may help people make better food choices." ScienceDaily, February 12, 2014.

Eating Slowly Cuts Calories

Can you really cut daily calories by eating your meals more slowly? Researchers from Texas Christian University tackled this question by recruiting 70 men and women - half of them were of normal weight, and half were overweight or obese. In a research kitchen, the study participants were asked to eat an unlimited lunch slowly, pausing to put down their spoons during the meal, taking small bites and chewing slowly. At the next session, the groups were instructed to consume the food as quickly as possible, not putting down their spoons, taking big bites and chewing quickly. The researchers reported that the normal weight participants consumed 88 fewer calories during the slow meal than they did during the fast one. However, the overweight and obese participants consumed only 58 calories less during the slow meal, although at both meals they consumed fewer calories overall than the normal weight subjects, the investigators reported. What’s more, both the normal weight and the overweight/obese participants reported being less hungry an hour after the slow meal than after the fast one. The main message here is that making an effort to eat more slowly may cut calories, enhance your enjoyment of your meals and keep you feeling full longer.

My take? I have long promoted mindfulness as a central strategy in building a healthy lifestyle. You might be able to cut calories a bit simply by paying attention to eating slowly, as this study suggests. Leisurely meals, in good company, can be a welcome change from the fast pace of 21st century life. One of the goals of the slow food movement - viewed as an antidote to fast food culture, microwave cooking, and eat-on-the-run meals - is to encourage us to slow down and reflect on our meals so that we can truly enjoy our food and drink. Bear in mind, however, that if you want to lose weight, what works in the long run is putting fewer calories on your plate. To lose weight while maintaining or improving your health, I recommend my anti-inflammatory diet coupled with calorie-consciousness and daily physical activity.

Meena Shah, at al “Slower Eating Speed Lowers Energy Intake in Normal-Weight but not Overweight/Obese Subjects,” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, published online January 2, 2014

Chew Slower, Eat Less

Would you eat less if you chewed each bite of food more thoroughly? To find out, researchers at Iowa State University recruited 47 people: 16 of normal weight, 16 overweight, and 15 obese. At a preliminary session to establish baseline eating habits, prospective participants were asked to eat five portions of pizza rolls and count the number of times they chewed each bite. The researchers didn’t reveal the purpose of the session or the study to the participants. Once the study was initiated, all participants received 60 pizza roles each time they reported to the lab for three weekly sessions. Depending on the session, they were asked to chew each bite the same number of times as at their baseline visit, 50 percent more, or twice as many times. Results showed that the participants ate about 10 percent less, corresponding to 70 fewer calories, when they increased the number of chews per bite by 50 percent. When they doubled the number of chews per bite, they ate 15 percent less and took in 112 fewer calories. More research will be needed to determine if this is an effective and sustainable weight loss strategy. The study was published online on November 11, 2013 by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

What’s Your Least Favorite Aspect of Meal Preparation? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed boredom with food and how some people feel they need to eat out of necessity instead of for pleasure: Bored with Food? Check out the article and let us know what part of meal preparation you least enjoy.