The best strategies, tips and tricks for physical activities that will help geeks get fit and lose weight.
I know a lot of people who don’t bother trying to get much physical activity because they think if the don’t exercise at the gym for an hour there’s no point. But as a Weighthacker you know that things like NEAT movements and even light activities like pacing while you talk on the phone all add up.
New research from the University of Utah now confirms that literally every single minute of activity you do can help you lose weight and get fit, even if you only do it one minute at a time:
Every minute of movement counts toward the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity we’re all supposed to be getting each week. University of Utah researchers found that each minute spent engaging in some kind of moderate to vigorous physical activity was associated with lower BMI and lower weight.
The takeaway here is that doing something — anything — instead of nothing can help you. Park your car further away from the entrance at work or when you go shopping so you’ll walk a bit more. Take the stairs instead of the escalator, or walk down the platform and back while you’re waiting for the subway.
The minutes may not seem like much when you’re doing them, but science has proven that they all add up over time.
Darya Pino Rose is an online buddy of mine, a highly regarded nutrition blogger, and a real-life neuroscientist (or as she says, a PhDork). Her new book Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting is out and I highly recommend giving it a read. Darya shares a lot of the same weight loss philosophies that I do, which is one reason I interviewed her for my own upcoming book Weight Hacking.
Darya was kind enough to spend some time talking to me about Foodist and answering my questions about the book. Here’s how it went:
Foodist is a cool title. Er, what does it mean?
A foodist is someone who understands that the purpose of food is to make life awesome. Real food (not the overly processed fake stuff) should nourish you to health, bring you pleasure by tasting amazing, and bring you closer to friends, family and community.
A foodist is the opposite of a dieter, who is usually at war with food. My main goal with the book is to teach people how to transition from dieters to foodists. However, Foodist can help anyone, even non-dieters, learn to get healthy using real food.
What sets Foodist apart from all the other weight loss books out there?
Before becoming a foodist I tried every diet under the sun. The one thing they all had in common is that they only worked for a limited amount of time. They are also all based on restriction, which makes life more difficult and not more awesome.
One of the reasons most diets fail is because they focus on what we should and shouldn’t eat instead of why we make the decisions we make. In Foodist, I talk a lot about the brain (I have a Ph.D in neuroscience) and why it’s important to know how it works if we want to make the best food decisions. When we work with our brain instead of against it, we have a much better chance at success. Foodist is therefore more of a long-term plan to get healthy and lose weight, and is very different from the short-term suffer-parties that most diets resemble.
A few things intrigued me about the subtitle of Foodist, which is “Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting.” Let’s talk about that:
1) What do you mean by “real food”?
I love the way Michael Pollan defines “real food” in his book In Defense of Food. He says real food is anything your great grandmother would recognize as food. That means fresh food and ingredients that look and sound like they come from the earth (soil, sea or air). It excludes packaged foods filled with ingredients that were made in a lab.
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Did you know that comic book legend Stan Lee always wrote on a standing desk? This is a picture of him in the 1950s banging out a comic book on his typewriter and homemade standing solution. The caption reads: “Always wrote standing up—good for the figure—and always faced the sun—good for the suntan!”
Stan knew long ago what people like university professor John D. Buckley are now finding out: that standing desks can give you more energy and help you lose weight. Stan also regularly walked up the stairs to his offices at Marvel instead of taking the elevator, something the 90 year old credits with keeping him in good health.
I use a standing desk and a treadmill desk and it’s helped me lose more than 65lbs. Excelsior!
(From Sean Howe, via Scott Edelman)
So Weighthackers, we all know that what we eat and how much we eat impacts our weight. Now there’s evidence that when we eat might also play a major role in how much weight we can lose, according to this study from Spain that followed 420 people over the course of 20 weeks.
Researchers divided the study participants into two groups: early-eaters who ate their lunch before 3 p.m. and late-eaters who (you guessed it) ate after 3 p.m. They used lunch because in Spain that’s the largest meal of the day, accounting for about 40% of a person’s average daily caloric intake.
Even though both groups consumed the same amount of calories each day, the late-eaters “lost significantly less weight than early-eaters, and displayed a much slower rate of weight-loss.” The late-eaters also ate less for breakfast, or in some cases nothing at all, and we already know that breakfast is an important meal of the day for those who want to lose weight.
“This study emphasizes that the timing of food intake itself may play a significant role in weight regulation” explains Marta Garaulet, PhD, professor of Physiology at the University of Murcia Spain, and lead author of the study. “Novel therapeutic strategies should incorporate not only the caloric intake and macronutrient distribution, as it is classically done, but also the timing of food.”
Interestingly, it didn’t seem to matter when people ate smaller meals or snacks, just what the timing of their main meal was.
Although this is anecdotal, I long ago made a conscious effort to shift the bulk of my eating earlier in the day, and for me it really paid off. I now eat a bigger breakfast than I used to (that also has a significant amount of protein in it) and I eat it as soon as I get up. I switched to a having slightly bigger lunch and then turned dinner into a lighter meal, with no snacking after that. On that schedule I found I naturally felt more full throughout the day and as a consequence ate less overall. Give it a try!
Good news Weighthackers! You already know that fidgeting more can help you lose weight, but now new research out of Oregon State University says that simple things like doing chores and taking the stairs instead of the escalator can be just as beneficial to you as going to the gym. The study looked at 6,000 people nationwide and found that even activities that take only a minute or two count toward your health as long as you end up being active for at least 30 minutes in total by the end of the day.
“Our results suggest that engaging in an active lifestyle approach, compared to a structured exercise approach, may be just as beneficial in improving various health outcomes,” said Paul Loprinzi, lead author of the study. “We encourage people to seek out opportunities to be active when the choice is available. For example, rather than sitting while talking on the phone, use this opportunity to get in some activity by pacing around while talking.”
People who did so-called “short bout” movements improved their blood pressure, cholesterol and waist circumference, and were less at risk for developing metabolic syndrome (which is basically a slew of health-related problems that overweight people experience). The study also suggests that incorporating short bout movement might be more beneficial than going to the gym in the long run since it’s easier to fit into your existing lifestyle and doesn’t cost anything, so you’re more likely to keep at it.
If this sounds like something you want to do, I suggest getting a movement tracker like one of the ones in this list to help you out. Knowing how much you move each day can help you see if you need to add something new to your routine (like parking further away from the entrance to your job so you walk more) to get more activity in, and it can also inspire you to reach specific goals. For instance, thanks to my Fitbit I know today is my 151st day in a row of walking 10,000 steps or more, which makes me more likely to take 10,000 steps again tomorrow.
Okay Weighthackers, here’s some more good news about exercise: Not only does it help you lose weight and tone up (i.e. look better), it can make you less hungry too. This new finding comes from a study done last year at the University of Wyoming, which showed that exercise actually changes the way your body reacts to food.
Here’s how it works. Normally a hormone called ghrelin is one of the things in your body that stimulates hunger. When you workout, your body actually makes more ghrelin, which should in turn make you hungrier.
But the researchers up in Wyoming found that exercise also stimulates the production of hormones that make you feel satiated. According to The New York Times:
These hormones, only recently discovered and still not well understood, tell the body that it has taken in enough fuel; it can stop eating. The augmented levels of the satiety hormones, the authors write, “muted” the message from ghrelin.
But wait, the news gets better. The Times said another study done in December confirms that moderate exercise helps regulate hunger. “It found that after 12 weeks, formerly sedentary, overweight men and women began recognizing, without consciously knowing it, that they should not overeat.”
This jibes (yes, I used the word jibes) with my own experience, where I found that after I started being more active each day, my hunger went down, as did the amount of food I ate when I was hungry. The only trick though is that it takes 3 months of steady effort for the effect to kick in. So, get started!
First, here’s the good news. Although on average everyone thinks they gain about 5 pounds a year due to holiday eating, most of us actually only gain about 1 pound of holiday weight. Not bad, right? Well…
The bad news is, most of us never lose that pound. In fact, about 51% of our average annual weight gain occurs during the six-week holiday period. Worse still, “this extra weight accumulates through the years and may be a major contributor to obesity later in life,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
Another factor of note to Weighthackers is that if you’re already overweight, you’ll gain more during the holidays than someone who isn’t overweight. While a normal weight person may only add half a pound during the holidays, someone who’s overweight or obese will average five extra pounds.
So let’s talk about why we all overeat during the holidays, then I’ll show you how to avoid it:
1) Abundance: During the holidays we’re surrounded by food. Co-workers bring in cookies and cake, families gather for huge meals and refrigerators are stuffed with leftovers. The problem is, when we’re surrounded by food, humans tend to eat it even when we’re not hungry. So that’s the first strike.
2) Palatability: Another problem with holiday food is that it tends to be what’s called “highly palatable,” which means it tastse good to us. And the better a food tastes, the more of it we’ll eat. So not only are you surrounded by food, it tends to be really tasty food. Strike two.
3) Peer-Induced Overeating: We’ll eat more when our friends and family around us overeat, even when we’re not hungry. And most people around us overeat during the holidays, so the pressure to join in is enormous (and can make us enormous too!). Strike three.
You may notice something here. None of the reasons I outlined above seem “bad” per se. You’re around friends and family, the food is good and there’s lots of it. These are all typically considered desirable things. And that’s exactly what makes holiday weight gain so insidious. You’re put into an environment where it’s nearly impossible not to overeat, and nothing seems particularly wrong about it.
Okay, back to some good news. With a few simple changes you can avoid holiday weight gain altogether but still enjoy the holidays themselves. Here are 6 easy weight hacks to get you through the upcoming “eating season”:
1) Start with Breakfast: Eating a nutritious breakfast, especially one that contains a protein like eggs, will help keep you full throughout the day, so you’ll naturally eat less.
2) Have a Plan: Think about what you’re going to eat before you get into an eating situation. Love that fruit log that Aunt Sally makes? Plan ahead of time to have one piece. Love turkey and mashed potatoes? Plan to have one plate and no more. Studies show that if we have an “eating plan” we tend to stick to it.
3) Avoid a Food “Free for All”: In a buffet style atmosphere where we can get more food whenever we want, we have a hard time keeping track of how much we’re eating so we end up eating too much. Your strategy in those situations is to put everything your’e going to eat on one plate first and when you’ve finished that plate, stop eating.
4) Write it Down: Another strategy for keeping track of what you eat is to write things down as you eat them. This doesn’t have to be complex or obvious. For instance, I just keep my iPhone handy and use the Notes feature to jot down what I’ve had.
5) Don’t Clean Your Plate: When you’re done eating, don’t clean off your used plate. Instead, keep it around as a visual reminder to your brain and body that, yes, you’ve already eaten and, no, you don’t need to eat more. These kinds of visual cues are an important component of tracking what we eat, and they also signal us to feel more full.
6) Fill Up On Good Stuff First: Before you get to Aunt Sally’s fruit log, get a helping (or two!) of fruits or veggies. Because they’re low-calorie but take up more volume than heavily processed foods like cake, they’ll make you feel full but not add weight. Then when you get to the fruit log, you’ll have a smaller helping.
A few other things that will help: If you have a regular exercise routine, make an extra effort to stick to your scheduled workout during the holidays. The last thing you want to do is overeat then forego the gym. And, if you’re bringing food over to friends and family, don’t bring a treat that you know you’ll love and want a lot of. That’s setting yourself up for disaster!
Last year I used these weight hacks so successfully that I was able to lose weight during the holidays. Not only didn’t I miss all the overeating I used to indulge in, it also made the holidays sweeter than ever.
Here’s your guide for working out while watching Doctor Who.
(From America Young via Casey McKinnon)
Over on the Reddit weight loss forum r/loseit there’s a great discussion going on about the best tips, tidbits and tricks for losing weight. I’ve cherry picked 10 of the most weighthacker-like suggestions below, and if you have time I suggest you head over to Reddit and give the whole thread a read. Here are my favorites:
- “These are the questions I ask myself before I eat. Yes, that tastes good, but how I will I feel after I eat it? Is this the correct fuel for my body? Is this the right amount of fuel?”
- “Log everything you eat. Everything. Weight loss is all about managing a caloric deficit. I struggled to lose weight for almost a year before I became meticulous about logging everything.”
- “I stopped keeping ready-made foods around. When I go grocery shopping, I ONLY buy ingredients – meat, vegetables, pasta, etc. That way if I want to eat, I have to make something.”
- “I eat ice cream out of a shot glass to seriously limit my servings, and buy really expensive stuff so I want to make it last.”
- “Buy smaller plates.”
- “Cut out all sweet drinks. I just stick to water, coffees and teas. Don’t even drink 0 calorie sweet drinks. Firstly this reduces a lot of empty calories but also had another amazing effect. It reduced my snacking appetite and my need for sweet things.”
- “If I don’t have any junk food in my house, I don’t eat junk food.”
- “Brush your teeth when you feel hungry. I hate eating after I’ve brushed my teeth, the mint never goes with anything aside from a cold glass of water, and if I go drink a glass, the water usually fills me up and tides me over.”
- “Once you feel the faintest signs of fullness, just stop eating. It takes you about 20 minutes before the food actually reaches the stomache and you get a feel of how much you actually ate, so by doing this you will most of the time find you ate just right.”
- “As a single guy I simply motivate myself by asking whether or not I’d want to sleep with me if I were in somebody else’s shoes. Sounds kind of shallow but honestly it pushes me harder to achieve my personal fitness goals.”
If you’re a member or Reddit, look me up. My user handle is weighthacker.
Many people trying to lose weight struggle with feelings of hunger because they need to eat less food than they’re used to in order to burn off all the excess stored energy they’ve built up in their bodies (in the form of fat). This is especially true if they eat heavily processed foods that are high in carbohydrates, as those tend to be among the least filling things you can eat.
To solve this problem a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition back in the 1990s created a “Satiety Index” of foods to determine which kinds of foods were the most satiating and which were the least. Based on their findings of 38 different foods served in 240-calorie portions, here are the foods that are most, and least, likely to make you feel full after eating them:
- Potatoes (but not French Fries)
- Porridge (i.e. Oatmeal)
- Mars Bar
The study also came up with a few interesting findings. For instance, although potatoes scored highest on the satiety index, french fries were on the low side because of the way they’re prepared (i.e. fried). Popcorn scored the highest among pure “snack” foods because it adds a lot of bulk to your stomach but doesn’t have a lot of calories.
Amusingly, jelly beans actually rated comparatively well as a snack food (but not compared to other foods like fish or protein), possibly because they made people nauseated so they ate less later!
Fatty foods were less satiating than expected, which was attributed to the fact that the body absorbs them quickly and thus might not have enough time to register how much energy it’s taking in. Also, more palatable foods like those high in fat and sugar tended to create a desire to eat more among the test subjects, making them less satiating. Conversely, foods that were more bland like potatoes and oatmeal didn’t produce the same desire to consume more.
Foods lower in energy density and higher in fiber and water were universally found to be most satiating, as were proteins. But almost across the board any food that had been heavily processed was less satiating than unprocessed, whole foods.
(The graphic above is part of this Massive Health Infographic)
October is a tough month for people trying to lose or maintain weight. Not only does free candy abound everywhere, but there’s tremendous social pressure to participate in the gluttony, both by eating junk yourself and by giving treats to others. Also, stores go crazy with candy marketing, putting up massive candy displays everywhere.
I’m not just talking about supermarkets either, but also places like coffee shops that push pumpkin scones and ghost-shaped cookies, drug stores that sell mega-sized “value packs” of candy bars, etc. It’s a classic example of how the environment around us changes so that overeating becomes the norm and eating well becomes difficult.
However, you can participate in the fun of Halloween without over indulging by using some simple weight hacks that have seen me make it through many an All Hallow’s Eve without eating a single sweet. Here’s how:
1) My first and best hack is what I call the “$100 method” because in the beginning of October I tell my friends and co-workers that if they see me eat any candy, I’ll give them $100 on the spot. This not only gives me a powerful incentive not to eat junk, it also automatically redirects my brain’s focus from food to dollar signs should I find myself tempted.
2) If you do eat candy, keep the wrappers in front of you instead of throwing them away. This forces you to track how much you’ve eaten and will keep you from unconsciously chowing down chocolate bars like a runaway wood chipper.
3) Alternatively, write down how much candy you eat and when you eat it. Not only will this keep you honest just like the wrapper method, you can also spot any patterns in your sweet eating. If you find, for instance, that everyday at 2pm you’re eating a treat, it may mean you’re not getting enough food at lunch.
4) If you really feel a need to indulge, plan what you’re going to eat ahead of time. If Fudgtastic Bars are your thing, set one (but only one) aside to eat after lunch so you can satisfy your craving without going overboard. If you already have a specific quantity and time pre-determined, it’s easier to stick to it.
5) Don’t enable your own overeating by buying more candy than you’re likely to give out “just in case you need it” or by buying things you know you really, really like. Recognize that both of those are just excuses to chow down.
6) Another of my personal favorite tricks is to only buy candy to giveaway that I don’t like, that way I’m 100% not tempted to eat any. This one is sure-fire for me.
7) For that matter, don’t give out candy like everyone else. You can easily give away inexpensive toys from the nearest dollar store like super balls that look like eyeballs, plastic dinosaurs, glow sticks, small stuffed animals, etc. (Just don’t buy anything small kids will mistakenly eat!)
8) Another alternative to giving out candy is to give out fruit. Not only is that healthier for everyone else, if you start nibbling out of the Halloween bowl, at least you’ll be eating something that’s good for you.
9) If you must give out candy, only buy and give it out on Oct. 31, not all month long. That way even if you over indulge it will only be for one day.
10) Don’t bring leftover candy from your house to work. Yes, your co-workers will eat some, but you’ll just be tempted by it all day long. Give it to someone or someplace where you won’t have access to it.
11) If all else fails, throw out any excess candy that you’re likely to eat. We’re all taught not to “waste food” but 1) candy isn’t really food and 2) there’s no sense in “saving” the food by storing it as fat in your body if your’e already struggling to lose weight.
You can also help control your candy urges by making sure to eat regular, well-balanced meals so you don’t suddenly find yourself next to a candy bowl when you’re starving. And, if you’re out trick or treating make sure to get as much walking in as possible so you counter some of that candy intake by moving more and burning more calories.
What are your healthy Halloween eating tips and strategies?
Health on Today has an interesting article called Diet Soda is Doing These 7 Awful Things to Your Body and any weight hackers out there who still drink the stuff should give it a read. For instance, although it’s called “diet” soda it might actually be contributing to your weight gain:
You read that right: Diet soda doesn’t help you lose weight after all. A University of Texas Health Science Center study found that the more diet sodas a person drank, the greater their risk of becoming overweight. Downing just two or more cans a day increased waistlines by 500%. Why? Artificial sweeteners can disrupt the body’s natural ability to regulate calorie intake based on the sweetness of foods, suggested an animal study from Purdue University. That means people who consume diet foods might be more likely to overeat, because your body is being tricked into thinking it’s eating sugar, and you crave more.
It could also be adding to your belly fat and increasing your cholesterol: “According to a 2008 University of Minnesota study of almost 10,000 adults, even just one diet soda a day is linked to a 34% higher risk of metabolic syndrome, the group of symptoms including belly fat and high cholesterol that puts you at risk for heart disease.”
Other terrible things it could be doing include rotting your teeth due to its high acidity, damaging your cells and causing your kidney function to decline. Not good, right?
I long ago stopped drinking beverages that are sweetened either naturally or artificially since even regular sweetener will spike your insulin and cause you to be hungry when you don’t really need food. If you simply must have a sweetened, carbonated beverage, consider getting something like a Sodastream so you can control what goes into your drink instead of letting soft drink makers decide. They’ll happily feed you massive quantities of sugar if they think it can help them sell more product.
My suggestion: Try putting chunks of fresh fruit in your Sodastream drink or even in your regular water pitcher to add a light touch of sweetener, which will help with the taste without adding to your belly fat, obesity, tooth decay, etc.
We’ve been hearing more and more about how sitting all day in front of computers and TVs is slowly killing us (which is one reason I use a treadmill desk), but now a new study has pinpointed exactly how much of our precious life is being frittered away on chairs and couches: 21.8 minutes for every hour we sit.
This New York Time article Get Up. Get Out. Don’t Sit explains how Dr. J. Lennert Veerman, a senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, was able to figure out such an exact number:
Using complex actuarial tables and adjusting for smoking, waist circumference, dietary quality, exercise habits and other variables, the scientists were next able to isolate the specific effect that the hours of sitting seemed to be having on people’s life spans.
And the findings were sobering: Every single hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.
By comparison, smoking a single cigarette reduces life expectancy by about 11 minutes, the authors said.
Looking more broadly, they concluded that an adult who spends an average of six hours a day watching TV over the course of a lifetime can expect to live 4.8 years fewer than a person who does not watch TV.
It appears that continuous sitting has the same effect on you even if you get regular exercise during other times of the day, according to Veerman. Another recent study in the journal Diabetologia found that adults spend 50-70% of their time sitting, and the more you sit the more likely you are to develop a host of health problems.
The researchers then cross-referenced sitting time with health outcomes, and found that those people with the “highest sedentary behavior,” meaning those who sat the most, had a 112 percent increase in their relative risk of developing diabetes; a 147 percent increase in their risk for cardiovascular disease; and a 49 percent greater risk of dying prematurely — even if they regularly exercised.
You can combat “sitting disease” by doing simple things like moving the garbage in your office across the room so you have to get up to throw something out, taking more frequent water breaks, standing during phone calls and, of course, watching less TV.
Over on Mindflash they have a fascinating article about how food can make you more productive and raise your morale. In addition to providing this brain and happiness boost, the right foods can also decrease the amount of time you’re sick and cut down on accidents.
Not coincidentally, most of these are whole foods and not heavily processed products, which are also the kinds of things people trying to lose weight should be eating. And better still, they include chocolate! (Don’t rush out and start chowing down candy bars though, they mean a little bit of dark chocolate once a day, not gobs of the stuff.)
Here’s all the info summed up in an infographic:
Fundamentally, being overweight is the result of an energy imbalance in your system. When your body takes in energy by eating, it can only do two things with it: 1) Burn it as fuel 2) Store it as fat. So if you take in more energy than you burn off, you’ll increase the amount of fat you store.
Most people typically talk about taking in less energy when they want to lose weight (i.e. eating less), which makes sense. To burn off all the excess fat, you have to put your body into an energy deficit, either by cutting back on food, increasing the amount you move (i.e. exercise) or a combination of both.
Researcher James O. Hill, PhD. at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center suggests we’ve overemphasized the “eating less” part and need to make sure we’re attacking weight loss in a balanced manner if we want to succeed:
“A healthy body weight is best maintained with a higher level of physical activity than is typical today and with an energy intake that matches. We are not going to reduce obesity by focusing only on reducing food intake. Without increasing physical activity in the population we are simply promoting unsustainable levels of food restriction. This strategy hasn’t worked so far and it is not likely to work in the future. What we are really talking about is changing the message from ‘Eat Less, Move More’ to ‘Move More, Eat Smarter.'”
According to Medical News Today:
People who have a low level of physical activity have trouble achieving energy balance because they must constantly use food restriction to match energy intake to a low level of energy expenditure. Constant food restriction is difficult to maintain long-term and when it cannot be maintained, the result is positive energy balance (when the calories consumed are greater than the calories expended) and an increase in body mass, of which 60 percent to 80 percent is usually body fat. The increasing body mass elevates energy expenditure and helps reestablish energy balance. In fact, the researchers speculate that becoming obese may be the only way to achieve energy balance when living a sedentary lifestyle in a food-abundant environment.
As a weighthacker I know that moving more is an integral part of losing weight, which is why I’ve done things like switching to a treadmill desk so I can get my body moving while still doing the things I love, like surfing the Web and blogging.
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