Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Enjoy food less = Eat more ?!?

Interesting article:

"The more an individual overeats, the less potent the rewards from eating become and that creates a pattern of overeating. "

The Pleasure Factor

Using milkshakes and brain scans, researchers find that some women are genetically predisposed to get less enjoyment from eating and may overeat to compensate.
By Sarah Kliff | NEWSWEEK
Published Oct 16, 2008

It was a difficult question for obesity researchers: do some people overeat because they find eating more pleasurable or gratifying than others? Logically, that makes a lot of sense—it's a time-tested principle of psychology: if a behavior feels good, we'll keep doing it. But a new study published today in the journal Science adds to a growing body of research suggesting the opposite: that women who derive less pleasure from eating may eat more to compensate, putting them at higher risk for weight gain and obesity. The research also discovered a particular genetic trait that, when present, is associated with an even stronger relationship between low sense of reward and overeating.

"If you ask overweight individuals if they crave food, I really think they are legitimately thinking it's more rewarding," says study author Eric Stice, a senior scientist at the Oregon Research Institute. "They'll say they're really sensitive to the rewards. But when you look at the brain scans you get a different picture."

Previous brain imaging studies have looked at what happens when we look at pictures of food. In those cases, obese individuals tend to anticipate a higher level of satisfaction of eating the pictured food than lean individuals do, supporting the idea that the people who overeat are the ones who find it more rewarding. But the Science study was the first to do those same fMRI scans while participants were actually eating—or, in this case, drinking a chocolate milkshake. "Nobody had ever administered food to people in a brain scanner and looked at what happens in the brain while you're eating," says Stice. "Now we have evidence that, when you give an obese individual a chocolate milkshake, there's less of a response going on."

What they found had a lot to do with dopamine, a neurotransmitter typically released in response to a pleasurable experience. Using an fMRI machine, the researchers measured the activity in an area of the brain that tends to be a hub for dopamine, called the dorsal striatum, when women had either a pleasurable food (the chocolate milkshake) or a control food (a tasteless solution). Obese women showed less activity in that region of the brain when they drank the milkshake compared to their leaner counterparts. And when researchers followed up with their participants a year later, they found those with decreased activity were also more likely to have gained weight. The more an individual overeats, the less potent the rewards from eating become and that creates a pattern of overeating. "The new bit is that once you start down that obesity track, it's hard to get back off," says Stice.

That risk was particularly pronounced among individuals with a particular genetic variation known as the Taq1A1 allele, suggesting a genetic disposition for weight gain—what other researchers call the most significant finding of this study. "What this research does to move things forward is identify a genetic component to brain functioning in obese people," says Gene-Jack Wang, a scientist with the Brookhaven National Laboratory. "This is a gene that can go any direction and these people are potentially more vulnerable [to having lower levels of dopamine]."

The study results reinforce the notion of obesity as similar to drug addiction, a comparison that researchers have been toying around with for the past few years. Dopamine has played a critical role in addiction research, where researchers have seen a similar pattern. "This research follows what we have seen in addictive people," says Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "At first we thought they were more sensitive to pleasurable responses. But research has shown exactly the opposite, that they have a blunted response to drugs and release much less dopamine. With obesity, it took everyone by surprise."

Researchers know that these findings of a genetic basis for low-reward overeating are important, but there's still a lingering question: how this research can best translate into obesity-prevention efforts. "A lot of things come out of this, a lot about future applications, possible drug treatments," says Wang. "It provides answers, but is also a bit of another Pandora's box." Wang and others know genetics is definitely not everything—rates of obesity have skyrocketed in the past century, far too quickly to be attributable to genetic variation alone—and that our nutritional environment plays an extremely significant role.

Still, if doctors can pinpoint genetic risk factors for obesity, it could reshape treatment: by, for example, identifying high-risk individuals early on or using pharmacologic interventions that could counterbalance low dopamine levels. Stice says he's not an advocate of genotyping, which he says would be "infeasible." Instead, he sees the main message of his study as a public-health warning, a strong reminder of why it's important to avoid overeating in the first place. "The more you eat, the less reward you get and the worse the problem is going to get," says Stice. Talk about a no-win situation.

© 2008

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Little Black Dress Motivation

Thrift store shopping is one of my passions. I love to find great clothes cheap. And since they are cheap, I have no problem buying something fantastic in a size smaller than I am, hoping that it will fit at some point in the future.

A few weeks ago, I bought a really cute black summer halter dress. It was so tight that I could barely zip it and was afraid of ripping it when I did, but it was just too cute to pass up -- on the chance that I would be able to wear it someday.

When I found out that I'd be going to New Orleans last weekend, I knew the dress would be perfect for my trip if only I could fit into it. I suddenly had my weightloss motivation in the form of a little black dress.

Well, I am happy to report that I was able to wear the dress in New Orleans and, though it was just a tad snug in the ribcage, it was not at all too tight. I felt fabulous and in control. I want to remember that feeling, that little taste of success, to use as motivation always.

Weight Loss Documentary

What happens when two British journalists participate in a crash diet experiment to lose five dress sizes in five weeks, aiming to end up a UK size 0 (U.S. size 2)?
The mental/emotional effects are as interesting as the body changes.

It's worth a watch on YouTube; here's the first of five episodes. You can find the rest by searching for "Super Skinny Me" on YouTube.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How Long to Lose?

Here's an interesting little app that purports to calculate how long it will take you to lose to your goal weight based on your height, current weight, activity level, and the amount of calories you eat per day. I'm not sure how accurate it is; it was apparently created by a member of the band on whose website it is. Also there are pictures and mentions of food that might trigger a craving, so beware.

The bad news for me is that, according to this, if I eat only 1200 calories per day but don't exercise, it will take nearly two years to lose ten pounds. As far as I'm concerned, that's about a year and 11 months too long.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pendulum Swings

One day I eat well, two days I overeat. I pigged out Saturday, fasted Sunday, pigged out Monday. Obviously, I am having a hard time with consistency. Except for consistency with my exercising: I am consistently doing very little working out. Arggghh. Gotta work on that.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


This just saved me from pigging out on pizza.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Calorie Counting Help and Planning

I've decided to try out to help me keep track of my daily calories and see how close I am coming to my goals. It has a great calorie counter where you can search for a food (including restaurant food) and add it to your daily food diary. The site totals the calories and other nutitional info for you. You can then save the info to track how you are doing over time.

You can also calculate what your daily calorie intake needs to be to lose (or gain) a certain amount of weight in a certain time, based in your current weight, height, activity level, and age. The basic membership is free, so I'm going to try it out for a while. It seems very useful so far; I'll let you know what I think about it after a few days.


I fasted for straight three days last week. Contrary to my expectations (and previous experience), it was not difficult at all. Seriously. I was not hungry. For the most part, I felt energetic. Only very late at night on the second day and on the evening of the third day did I feel weak at all. I walked and worked and exercised and felt good. I couldn't believe it. It was amazingly easy. Really. I kid you not.

The other amazing thing besides how easy it was, was the resulting weight loss. On the second day of the fast I weighed 128 pounds. On the third day, I weighed 125 1/2 How it is possible that I could have lost that much in one day, I don't know. I figured that it was only partly true weight loss and the rest was due to a lesser weight of food in my belly, but I was wrong. After I broke my fast the night of the third day I expected to see some gain the next day, simply due to the weight of the food in my system, if nothing else. But I didn't. The day after the fast, my weight was still going down. I weighed 124 3/4. I'm not sure how that is possible, but I like it.

The only down side to the fast occurred when I finally broke it. I first tried eating some veggie sushi from the grocery store, but it hurt my mouth so badly that I literally could not eat it. The roof of my mouth was on fire with pain. Instead, I ate some cantaloupe which that did not cause mouth pain at all. Next I ate a little brown rice with soy sauce which caused only a small amount of pain. Finally, I tried the sushi again and was able to eat it that time with only a little pain.(Maybe I should have listened to my body and not eaten it at all.) Why was there pain when I initially ate again after the fast? Why to some foods and not others? Did the fasting make me more sensitive to something that I am allergic to?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Battle of the Peanuts

I did battle with a bowl of peanuts tonight...and won. They were sitting there, looking oh-so-innocent, but they didn't fool me. I knew they were intent on tempting me into going off my fast.

My winning strategy was simply this: I thought, "I've had peanuts before. I know exactly what they taste like. I will have them again sometime in the future. I don't have to have them right now."

And so I didn't.

Weighty News

Today's weight report: 128 pounds. Headed in the right direction again at last.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Perceptions and Misperceptions

The Nashville Film Festival featured lots of movies, lots of parties, and lots and lots and LOTS of free food and drinks. It's awfully hard for a cheapskate like me to turn down free food and drink, especially very yummy free food and drink. From the daily dishes provided by Whole Foods (one of the festival sponsors) in the VIP tent, to the buffets at receptions and parties that were catered by some of Nashville's best restaurants, I sampled it all.

One dangerous misperception that I have stuck in my head is that food tastes better when it's free. Another, even more dangerous one, is that free food calories -- like out-of-town calories, vacation calories, and party calories -- don't count!

These misperceptions were just as guilty as hunger or the attractiveness of the food in leading me into days of over-eating at the film festival. (And at least one night of over-drinking, but that's another story entirely.)

Another perception that gave me the title of this post is the feeling of being thin or fat which may or may not not be based in reality. I've had a couple of doctor appointments recently (don't worry, I'll live) and with each of them came a dreaded weigh-in. I say 'dreaded' because these weigh-ins came after all that over-eating at the film fest. I went to the first appointment knowing that I had been pigging out and feeling like a big blob of lard. Well, actually that perception was right: I weighed in at 132 pounds. Yipes!

I'd like to say that was a wake up call, but I continued to overeat and under-exercise for a few more days. Finally, I started getting my act together again just before my second doctor appointment. I went to that one feeling thin and pretty good: I weighed in at 131 pounds. (Actually, also yipes!)

Now, I know for a fact that the one pound difference did not make that much difference in the real world outside my own mind. I doubt if anyone but me could even notice it. But in my perception it loomed large.

How is it possible that I felt fat at 132 and thin at 131? All perception. Because I knew that I had been pigging out and not talking care of myself I felt huge and horrible at my first weigh-in. Because I had started taking care of myself again, I felt thinner and fit at my second weigh-in; I could have sworn that even my pants were looser.

The other aspect of this, is that my perception caused the one pound weight loss to make me feel not only thinner, but hopeful, back on track, and confident. That, in turn, has since helped me to really get myself back on track. (Believe it or not, I actually fasted today for only the second time in my life -- more about that in a later post.)

Bottom line is that perception is a mighty, mighty thing. I will have to harness it for good, not evil -- that is, to help me lose weight, not gain.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Body Image - Are you as fat (or thin) as you think?

I saw an interesting body image test on a makeover show (What Not to Wear) on TV today. They had a woman draw an outline of what she thought her body looked like, trying to make it the size she thought she was. Then the host had her stand against her drawing while he drew around her body with a different color marker on top of what she had drawn. When she stepped out and looked back at the two superimposed drawings, it became obvious to her that her mental picture of how she looked was larger than the reality.

I decided to try this myself, and, based on my results, I recommend it. First, I taped a large piece of paper on the wall. I happened to have an old roll of kid's craft paper that I used, but a roll of wrapping paper that is blank on the back would probably work, too.

I stood against the paper on the wall and marked where the top of my head came to so I'd know where to start, then drew a simple outline of what I thought my body looks like size- and shape-wise. Then I stood against the paper and drew an outline around the actual edges of my body. (It would be easier to have a friend help, if you are brave enough.)

My results? Like the woman on TV, I apparently have a mental picture of myself that is larger than the reality. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't *that* far off, but the real outline of my torso was about four inches less that what I had guessed.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, it is nice to know that I'm not quite as enormous as I often feel. On the other hand, what does a distorted body image say about me? What do I do about it? How can I change it, or do I want to?
I have to admit that being thinner than I guessed is a bit of a confidence builder. (Or is it just an ego stroke?) But maybe thinking I am larger than I really am is a good weight loss motivator. If that's the case, maybe it's better to go on thinking I'm bigger. But what if the price for that extra motivation is lower self-esteem?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Celebrity Sizes

I don't know if it's entirely healthy to compare yourself to celebrities, size wise. But I know that I do it, and so do lots of other people, especially those of us who are trying to lose weight. There's a natural curiosity about those who are held up as "ideal" examples of beauty and body shape.

It's usually pretty difficult to know what clothing sizes celebrities wear (and dang nigh impossible to know how much they weigh). You can't necessarily trust what you read in the magazines and gossip websites. But one place to find out what size some celebrities are (or were at the time they wore a certain garment, at least) is It’s an auction site where clothes once wore by celebs are auctioned off for worthy causes.

I'm sure there's still variation in what the sizes mean, as I talked about in the last post, but it's still pretty interesting to "contrast and compare." For example, the one-shouldered red gown that Katherine Heigl wore to the Academy Awards ceremony in 2008 is listed on the auction site as a size "Custom 4," which sounds about right to me.

On the other hand, I was surprised to see that the emerald green gown Keira Knightley wore in the great film "Atonement" was a size 2. I would have guessed smaller, maybe a 0 or even a 00. She just seems a lot skinnier than a 2 to me and seems more than one size smaller than Katherine Heigl.

By the way, Keira's "Atonement" dress went for a whopping $46,000(!) while Katherine's Oscar dress garnered a high bid of $5,000, all for a good cause.

Good to Know

According to Nordstrom, the Designer Apparel sizes for the U.S. are:
Size 0: 31-23-33.5
Size 2: 32-24-34.5
Size 4: 33-25-35.5
Size 6: 34-26-36.5
Size 8: 35-27-37.5
Size 10: 36-28-38.5

Now, clothes at Wal-Mart, Old Navy, and the like definitely do not follow that guideline. It's a crap shoot what size you wear there. I have clothing in my closet ranging from size 6 to 10 that all fits.

What really irks me though, is the way clothing sizes have changed over my lifetime (at least in the U.S.). What used to be a 10 twenty or thirty years ago is a *LOT* smaller than what passes for those sizes now. I have some pants that I saved from high school that were a 10 back then and today I can't get in them at all, even though I can wear a 6 in some (OK, a few) new pants.

The marketing departments figured out that women like to fit into smaller sizes and that they'd get more sales and good word of mouth if they "relaxed" the sizing. (Relaxed = lied about.) It's another symptom of the fattening of America.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Trying to Eat Less

I tried to be good today. I really did.

For breakfast, I ate 70 calories of low-fat Activa yogurt. For lunch, I had a 240 calorie pasta-and-veggies Lean Cuisine-type meal. Doing great, huh? But then a coworker bought take out food to share, and I...well, I succumbed.

I did limit my portions, though. At least that's something.

I justified the extra lunch food in my mind by thinking that the yogurt and frozen food were really so low-cal that they could be considered one meal. (An extended breakfast? An interrupted brunch with a gap of a few hours in between the first and second courses? Whatever.) So the extra food was just my second meal and it wasn't too much for being a meal when considered on it's own. Right? Right.

Still, I decided to skip dinner. Just a glass of Merlot and a 100ish calorie hunk of cheese for a snack/dessert would be enough, I decided. But I was weak. There was leftover brown rice in the frig and I love rice. So I ended up also eating a big bowl of brown rice with soy sauce. And an apple. Not a horrible day maybe, but pretty bad for someone who was trying to make this one of my "good" low calorie diet days. Sigh.

Feeling Thin, Looking Fat

Perception is a tricky thing. Some days I feel disgustingly fat. But there are a few moments when I feel nearly thin. I'll reach around to rub my lower back when I'm tired, and I will notice how much firmer and smaller it feels than it used to, with muscle and bone and only a thin(ish) layer of padding. Someone will make a comment like the one a couple of days ago when I came back from a workout at the company gym on my lunch break and overheard one co-worker telling another that I "didn't need to workout." I take those moments with a grain of salt, but they do make me feel good.

And then there's yesterday.

I went hiking for my 49th birthday. I was feeling pretty fit and pretty good about the physical activity I was getting. Then I came home and looked at the photos we had taken. OH MY.

They can best be described with one word: FAT. (Although huge, enormous, and elephantine also spring to mind.)

I guess a reality check like that is needed from time to time to keep me on track with my weightloss efforts, but (ouch!) it was quite a blow to the old ego. I deleted the most horrible of the photographs immediately. (Well, after a few minutes of staring at them in shock and some hand-wringing that is.) The others will serve as a reminder that 5'6" and 128ish is not good enough.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How Did I Do?

So after posting that menu plan in the last blog post, I figure I should fess up on how well I did in following it!

Here's the original menu:

Breakfast: boiled egg with V8 juice or low-cal yogurt with almonds
Lunch: soup or diet frozen dinner
Dinner: Veggies and brown rice
Snack/dessert: square or two of dark chocolate, almonds

Here's what I actually ate:

Breakfast: low-cal yogurt with almonds
Lunch: lentil soup
Dinner: black beans and brown rice (with a small amount of melted cheese and some hot sauce & seasonings)
Snack/dessert: apple, red wine

I also walked for 15 minutes at a fast pace (14 minute miles) on the treadmill today, which isn't much but certainly better than nothing. All in all, I'm feeling pretty good about the day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Planning Ahead

Yesterday, I could have gone out to lunch with a coworker. I would have spent money I didn't need to spend and eaten a lot more than I needed to eat. Instead, because I had my lunch (and my lunch hour which included 20 minutes of fast walking)well planned, I was able to resist.

I am trying to have an eating plan everyday. Some days that plan will include going out to eat, but not on such a regular basis that it breaks my diet or my bank account.

On an idea day, here's what my goal menu looks like:

Breakfast: boiled egg with V8 juice or low-cal yogurt with almonds
Lunch: soup or diet frozen dinner
Dinner: Veggies and brown rice
Snack/dessert: square or two of dark chocolate, almonds

Right now, that menu is an ideal that I do not reach on more days than I do, unfortunately, but I figure that even accomplishing it on some days is better than on none. I am trying and I am getting better at it, and planning is the key for me.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Thinspiration or Depression?

Watching the preternaturally perky -- and thin -- actress Amy Adams in "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" at the movies last night, something occurred to me. When I am in what I call a thin state of mind (eating lightly, exercising, losing weight or at least feeling good about my prospects for losing weight) seeing skinny people inspires me. It makes me want that kind of body, the kind that can wear anything and look good, the kind that can be seen or photographed from any angle without looking fat, and it helps me keep working toward it. It's thinspiration.

On the other hand, when I am overeating, not exercising, and feeling down and hopeless about my size, seeing slim people just makes me mad. Or sad. Mad at myself for not being thin the way they are. Sad that I might never look like them. Jealous, envious, depressed, and full of self-loathing.

It's like being a little poor kid, seeing the local Richie Rich kid playing with amazing toys, wanting them with all your heart, and not having them. Except that unlike the child who needs someone else to buy her those toys, this is something I can get myself. I can have a better, healthier body if I work hard enough and long enough. I can achieve my weight goals. But no one else is going to do it for me. And it won't happen unless I work at it every day. The sooner I accept that, the sooner I get thin.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Incidental Exercise -- Why Not?

I recently read that an office worker who jiggles his or her foot or does some other incidental little nervous motion off and on during the work day burns about 75 more calories per day than someone who doesn't. That's not much, but it adds up over the course of a month or a year or several years. (And we are in this for the long haul, are we not?)

Since reading that, I've been noticing people at my work. Some basically sit still for eight hours a day. Other stand up, sit down, stretch, wiggle, pace, etc. The latter has got to be healthier.

I'm trying to add more movement to my day -- both the little wiggles and jiggles and tics and flexes and stretches, and the more deliberate exercises. One way I am adding movement/exercise is by doing it just *whenever*. In other words, I don't wait until I have a 30 minute chunk of time to exercise. Some days, that 30 minute chunk is just never going to come. Instead, I can walk during my 15 minute break or work out for 20 minutes of my lunch hour. Why not do squats while I brush my teeth? Why not do lunges while I wait for something to heat in the microwave? Why not stretch while I watch TV?

Once upon a time, I watched two hours of TV every Thursday night and stretched for the whole two hours on a regular basis. (Well, for a whole TV season, anyway!) I was as flexible as I've ever been. It was relaxing and it felt good. It burned calories. Why not?