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If Diets Don’t Work…What Does?

10 May

If Diets Don’t Work…What Does?

This weekend the New York Times attacked the topic of “Why You Can’t Lose Weight on a Diet”. The article, written by neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt led with, “The problem isn’t willpower. It’s neuroscience. You can’t – and shouldn’t – fight back.”

Dr. Aamodt is the author of the forthcoming book “Why Diets Make us Fat” and is herself a proponent of abandoning diets in favor of behaviors that will improve our health and extend our lives.

I had the good fortune to be featured along with with Sandra Aamodt on today’s KQED Forum radio program in San Francisco with host Michael Krasny. The purpose of the episode was to analyze research showing that diets do not result in long-term weight loss and how they might even lead to weight gain.

The precipitating publication that spawned interest in this topic was a recent article in the journal Obesity that followed “The Biggest Loser” competitors 6 years after their appearance on the show. As you can probably guess, 6 years out weight loss was not a foregone conclusion for the Biggest Losers.

Since the show’s finale, the 14 Biggest Loser participants analyzed in the study had regained 70 percent of the weight they initially lost. And perhaps even more interesting, these losers were burning approximately 500 less calories per day than other people their age and size.

The neuroscience tie-in that Sandra Aamodt is looking at questions what we know as the set point. The set point is that target weight your body is going to fight to keep you at, no matter how hard you try to get below it. And dieting that pushes your weight below your body’s set point results in you burning fewer calories and ultimately messing with your body’s metabolic rate.

One challenge lies in quantifying your “set point” or your body’s “metabolic rate”. These aren’t numbers on a scale or values in your blood that can be easily measured. Sandra and her team are instead analyzing the powerful interplay between cyclical feasting and fasting, one’s genetic makeup and ultimately their weight outcomes.

Her findings may surprise fad diet adherents: diets that require you to cut calories below your baseline needs have the opposite of their intended effect – they result in lower metabolic rates which ultimately impede weight loss and may even contribute to net weight gain.

So what’s a dieter to do? Here are a few takeaway messages from today’s show:

  • Embrace intuitive eating – learn to listen to your true hunger and satiety cues when making food choices
  • Don’t just blame your genes – genetics may play a role in obesity, but so does environment and lifestyle factors
  • Get moving – regular physical activity not only increases your energy output but it also can boost your resting metabolism, meaning you burn more calories at rest if you exercise than if you don’t
  • Learn from other losers – check out the National Weight Control Registry, a cohort of “Successful Losers” – those who have lost 30 pounds and kept it off for more than a year. See what they have in common and learn from their experiences.
  • Ditch the diets – no published data has ever found a particular diet or eating pattern to be the one that promotes sustainable weight loss; the diet industry is a $20 billion+ megalith that will do everything to convince you of the opposite!

So time to throw out your diet books and get back in tune with your body. Cutting calories too low doesn’t lead to sustainable weight loss and actually lowers your metabolic rate.

For more info on the tie in between our brain and our bodies, check out Sandra’s TEDTalk on Why Diets Don’t Work and listen to today’s Forum program from KQED here.

Greger’s 5:1 Fiber Ratio Rule

18 Dec

Greger’s 5:1 Fiber Ratio Rule

A colleague recently turned me on to the daily videos published by Michael Greger, MD of

Dr. Greger’s entertaining video snippets do an outstanding job of summarizing the vast amount of published nutrition research, delving into what the studies really say (and don’t say) – and saving you a boatload of time by not having to navigate the peer-reviewed published articles in journals yourself.

I was intrigued by a video this week called “The Five to One Fiber Rule” – which basically advocates for every 5 grams of carbohydrate aim to get at least 1 gram of dietary fiber.



Example of a food that meets the 5:1 fiber rule – Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted 100% Whole Grain Bread - it has 15g carbohydrate and 3g dietary fiber for a perfect 5:1 ratio:

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Now, to be fair, Greger certainly isn’t the first one to advocate a carb:fiber ratio (see previous post on Harvard’s 10:1 ratio); but as a hard-line plant-based diet guru, he gets strict on the quality of your carbs.

This 5:1 ratio rule helps eliminate junky carb foods that start with the first ingredient including the word “whole” and then contain, as Dr. Greger puts it, “corn syrup and a chemistry set”.

Greger is one of those rare doctors who definitely gets it when it comes to fiber, highlighting a number of research studies extolling the benefits of more dietary fiber. These benefits include:

And just how can the medical community help lower chronic disease risk with diet? Another study highlighted in Gerger’s video implores clinicians to, “Enthusiastically and skillfully recommend that patients consume more dietary fibre.”

You do that by eating more whole plant foods:

  • Getting soluble fiber from oats, nuts, seeds, legumes and most fruits
  • Getting insoluble fiber from whole wheat, wheat bran, brown rice, other whole grains and most vegetables

If you’re interested in more of Dr. Gerger’s refreshing takes on whole foods and nutrition research, check out his information-rich site at or his new book “How Not to Die” (…review coming to the fiber blog soon!)


Bad Diet Trickle Down: 1 in 5 US Kids has High Cholesterol

10 Dec

Bad Diet Trickle Down: 1 in 5 US Kids has High Cholesterol

A new report released today by the CDC shows that 21% of children and adolescents have at least one abnormal cholesterol reading, putting them at increased risk for heart disease development down the road.

“Abnormal” cholesterol values captured in the data included either:

  • Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
  • High total cholesterol, or
  • High non-HDL cholesterol (namely LDL “bad” cholesterol)

There were only slight differences in rates between male and females and values did not differ significantly by race.

The report summarizes data from 2011-2014, and does not delve into exactly how much of that elevated cholesterol can be attributable to diet or lifestyle (vs. genetics).

But there is no doubt that overweight and obesity are certainly contributors driving these rates of what historically was an “adult” disease, now being seen in children.

As I commented in today’s Healthline article on the report, “We’re seeing the effects of poor lifestyle choices trickle down into the younger generation.”

A diet high in the wrong types of fats (saturated and trans fats) and low in dietary fiber contributes to cholesterol abnormalities.

Depending upon what data you are looking at, the typical American only eats about 16 grams of fiber per day. This is roughly half of the recommended amount of dietary fiber that individuals needs to help support optimal health.

For more information on the report, check out the CDC’s report here and the Healthline article here.

The Science of Comfort Food

30 Nov

The Science of Comfort Food

As we hit the height of holiday celebrations, comfort food plays an increasingly prominent role in some people’s lives. But there’s an actual science behind why we perceive certain foods to be more “comforting” than others.

Food psychology expert and Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think author Brian Wansink describes comfort foods as “high calorie foods people consume when stressed and that are believed to relieve negative moods and evoke a state of pleasure.”

Last week I had the opportunity to appear on the San Diego PBS show Mid-Day to discuss the science behind comfort food. I was interviewed alongside Jordan Troisi, a psychology professor from Sewanee. Dr. Troisi’s research on comfort food was recently published in the journal Appetite, and his most recent paper found that:

  • Comfort food provides us with “social utility”
  • Our social needs are important in driving non-social factors (such as eating)
  • We have a need to exhibit social connection and can do so by choosing foods with certain associations

Although most comfort foods are of the higher-calorie, higher-fat nature, there are a few tips for keeping comfort foods in check this upcoming holiday season:

  • Eat unhealthy comfort foods less often or in smaller portions
  • Balance intake of less-than-healthy comfort foods with increases in physical activity
  • Make healthier swaps to lighten up comfort foods that preserve the integrity of the dish

Some ideas for healthier comfort food swaps this season:

  • If you’re a mashed potato maven – try subbing cauliflower for half of the mashed potato to cut calories without compromising taste
  • Mac & cheese your comfort food of choice? – use whole wheat pasta and reduced fat cheese or lower fat dairy ingredients in your home-made dish
  • For chilis and stews that warm your heart – swap in extra lean ground meat, bulk up with the beans and serve over whole grain pasta or brown rice for a nutritious bump

For more information on healthy comfort foods, check out these great comfort food recipes from Cooking Light and the PBS interview on the science behind comfort foods available here.


National Healthy Lunch Day

17 Nov

National Healthy Lunch Day

There’s a lot happening on the diabetes front this month – it’s American Diabetes Month and today is National Healthy Lunch Day, sponsored by the American Diabetes Association.

The intent of National Healthy Lunch day is to ignite a dialogue about the importance of healthy eating and moving the country towards healthier lunch habits – both today, and beyond.

One of the key tenets of good health and weight management is preparing more of your food yourself…while eating less food from restaurants and other prepared food establishments.

When you cook at home – YOU are in ultimate control. In fact, a study presented just last week at the American Heart Association’s 2015 scientific sessions found that eating more homemade meals may help prevent type 2 diabetes.

In this study of 58,000 females from the Nurses Health Study and 41,000 males from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who were followed for 36 years found that:

  • People who ate about two homemade lunches or dinners each day — or about 11-14 meals a week — had a 13 percent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to people who ate less than six homemade lunches or dinners a week.

Preparing foods at home helps you contain cost, contain calories, boost fiber intake and minimize unwanted weight gain.

So this National Healthy Lunch Day – get packing your own lunch with some easy-to-use tools available for download from the American Heart Association here.