Category Archives: Weight Loss

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Losing Weight

We have been told for decades that losing weight was simple: eat fewer calories and exercise more so that you burn more calories than you consume.


If losing weight (and keeping it off) was simple, don’t you think that we would all be slender? But those of us who have struggled with weight loss, those of us who have lost weight only to put it all back on again—sometimes with interest—have long suspected that weight loss and sustaining healthy weight is not so simple as we have been led to believe.

Recent research has shown that there is indeed more than meets the eye when it comes to losing weight. Here are a few of those recent findings:

1. The Role of Stress. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that stressed-out mice that had a history of quick weight loss due to dieting (imposed by the researchers, not by the mice) ate more high-fat foods than stressed mice that had not been made to diet. The study found that the stressed dieters had higher levels of the stress hormone corticosterone, and were more likely to exhibit “depressive” behavior than their non-dieting brethren. Even after the dieting mice were allowed to eat as much as they desired and had returned to normal weights, the changes in their brains respond to stress persisted.

Lesson Learned: while this study has not yet been tried on human subjects, it indicates there may be a link between quick weight-loss diets and a permanent change in the way the brain responds to stress. This may explain why so many people become “yo-yo” dieters, losing and gaining weight over and over again.

2.  Weight Loss Reduces Risk of Cancer. Moderate weight loss can reduce levels of inflammation that have been linked to the development of certain cancers, according to a study published in the May 1, 2012 issue of Cancer Research. The study was done on a group of post-menopausal women whose goal was to lose 10% of their body weight. During the one-year study, cancer-reactive protein levels dropped by about 36% in the women who only dieted, and about 42% in women who dieted and exercised. The researchers said that obesity drives inflammation, and inflammation drives the development of cancers, particularly cancers of the breast, lung, colon, and endometrial cancer.

Lesson Learned: Even modest weight loss will reduce the risk of some common cancers. Diet and exercise combined are the most effective ways to lose weight.

3.     Not All Calories Are Equal. A 2011 study at Harvard University showed that calories from potatoes (especially French fries, of course), red meat, and soda will cause more weight gain than the same number of calories consumed by eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry or fish. The study followed 120,000 non-obese, healthy Americans for up to 20 years.

Lesson Learned: It’s not just how much you eat—it’s also what you eat. Potatoes, sugary drinks, red meats, and refined carbohydrates (such as sugar, corn syrup, and white flour) will put on more poundage than fish, fowl, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

4.     Sleeping Helps Lose—or Gain—Weight. The same study from Harvard found that study participants who slept less than six hours or more than eight hours a night gained more weight during each study period than those sleeping around seven hours a night. According to Michael Breus, PhD, author of “Beauty Sleep,” sleep deprivation increases levels of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and reduces levels of leptin, which tells us when to stop eating.

Lesson Learned: Aim at getting about 7.5 hours of sleep a night to avoid creeping weight gain.

5.     You Can Predict When Willpower Is Low. Every dieter has experienced this scenario: You are invited to a party where you know there will be lots of yummy and fattening food. You talk to yourself firmly about sticking to the vegetable crudités. But when you get there, the food is so beautiful and delicious-looking, and all home-made, too—and you wind up eating your day’s allowance of points or calories long before it’s time to go home.

How do you know when your willpower is going to let you down? If you monitor your heart rate variability (HRV), you can predict when your willpower is strong—or weak. When HRV levels are high, so is your will to resist. When HRV is low, your willpower will be low, as well. So if you monitor your willpower before that party and see it’s down in the dumps, you can give it a helping hand. You could eat before you go to the party, for instance. Or you could decide to stay home and avoid temptation altogether. HRV can be measured easily at home or on the go with SweetBeat™, an iPhone app, plus a compatible heart monitor (widely available in sporting goods stores or at

Lesson Learned: Willpower and HRV are tightly coupled. When HRV is low, don’t put yourself in a position where you know you will be tempted to go off the diet. The more we learn about weight loss, the more likely it is that we will be successful at it. Losing weight is hard; make it a little easier by using real data to give yourself a break.

A Modest Proposal for Lowering the Cost of Health Care

Are you happy with the cost of health care? Maybe you are—maybe you’re one of those fortunate people who are employed by an organization that offers group coverage at a reasonable cost to employees.

If you’re one of the people who are not in this enviable position, you have probably opted for catastrophic coverage alone, because individual insurance for a family has now reached the point where few middle-class Americans can afford comprehensive coverage. Or maybe you’re one of the 17% of Americans who are uninsured.

So, why is health care so expensive? There are lots of opinions about this, and here are a few:

  • The insurance companies are charging too much because they are greedy
  • Doctors and hospitals are charging too much because (pick one) a) the cost of malpractice insurance is so high; b) insurance companies and/or Medicare/Medicaid don’t reimburse them enough; c) they are greedy
  • Medical technology and pharmaceuticals have become increasingly expensive, driving costs up
  • People are living longer, and adults age 65+ have the highest level of health care spending among all age groups, with the majority spent on the treatment of chronic disease and end-of-life issues
  • People are eating too much processed food and corn syrup, which has resulted in a huge upswing in obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Whether or not you subscribe to any or all of these opinions, health care has become an increasingly contentious wrangle on the national scene, with government, business, the medical community, Teapartiers, liberals, the insurance industry, lobbyists—and, of course, lawyers—brawling in the streets (sometimes literally!).

So what are you going to do about it? Yes—YOU. It should be increasingly clear that the squabbling over health care costs and who is going to pay for them is not going to end any time soon. No one is going to swoop down like Superman and make everything better for us. There are too many opinions, too much divisiveness, and too much money at stake for us to imagine that much will be resolved in the foreseeable future.

But what can one person do to affect the situation? The answer is: one individual can do nothing to affect “the situation,” but we can all do something to make a difference to ourselves and our families. America was founded by individualists, people who wanted to change their lives for the better—people who were so unwilling to allow others to chart the course of their lives that they were willing to face a hostile wilderness and fight a few wars to achieve their goals. When it comes to health care, we must now think of ourselves as pioneers, mapping our own destination through virgin territory.

Fortunately, we now have many tools at our disposal that our ancestors lacked. (Louis and Clark would have made much better time if they had had GPS instead of Sacagawea.) The Internet allows us to research medical conditions, enabling us to make better health care decisions. Because we are highly motivated to find out everything about our own medical conditions, we can end up better informed than our doctors at times. There is a wealth of information online about diet, nutrition and exercise. It does require discretion to wade through all the claims and disinformation that is also online, but intelligent people go to reputable sources and ignore the rest.

Another development more recent than the Internet opens a new dimension of self-care that promises even more control over our own health: self-monitoring. The advent of mobile technology, combined with advances in sensor technology and software, has brought self-monitoring to the consumer market. We are now in the earliest stages of this development, but there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on:

Scanadu: this company, founded by Walter De Brouwer, is trying to create a real-life tricorder, like the ones used by Bones and The Doctor on various versions of “Star Trek.” Scanadu is seeking to develop a device that will scan the body for medical conditions without invading the body, without taking samples, without contacting the body, and potentially without cooperation from the patient. The Scanadu tricorder would put medical diagnostics directly into the hands of the consumer. It’s not here yet—but keep an eye out.

AirStrip: Airstrip has a mobile monitoring system that measures heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and multiple other medical parameters, displaying the information on an iPhone. At present, this is available only for clinicians who are remotely monitoring hospitalized patients, but the technology can clearly be scaled for consumer use.

SweetBeat™: This iPhone app from SweetWater Health, LLC is designed to detect and monitor stress, and also has a relaxation tool to help users reduce stress. Using a compatible consumer heart monitor (available from many sources, including Wahoo! And 60Beat), SweetBeat actually monitors the nervous system, looking at heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is affected by many factors, but SweetBeat is tuned for stress, which is the underlying cause of many diseases. (Authorities such as Stanford University Medical School and Mayo Clinic say that 90% of diseases are caused by preventable stress). SweetBeat gives the user a real-time picture of what the autonomic nervous system is doing, and tools to quickly and effectively lower stress.

These are just a few of the things available (or soon-to-be-available) that help individuals monitor their health. It’s early days yet; we will be seeing a great deal more in the near future. Keep tuned, because health in the future will be more about preventive health to keep you out of the traditional health care system, and tools that allow you to detect health problems before they become critical (and expensive).

So here’s to the future. Here’s to your health. Here’s to your pocketbook.

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Download SweetBeat™, the iPhone stress management app: