Environment Mods

Tricks and strategies for modifying the local environment (home, work, school) that will help geeks lose weight and get fit.

Climbing stairs for just 2 minutes a day can help you lose weight


According to this new NPR blog post, climbing stairs for just two extra minutes a day could help you counteract the average weight gain of a pound each year that most people experience:

“If the average American adult was to climb just two more minutes of stairs per day,” [Dr. Karen] Lee explains, “we could burn enough calories to offset the average annual weight gains we see in American adults.”

In fact, climbing stairs burns more calories than jogging, so skipping the escalator or elevator could be a simple way to help you lose weight. I happen to live on the 20th floor of an apartment building and about once a week I try to walk up instead of riding the elevator. I won’t lie, at first it was pretty hard and I had to rest around floor 10 (straight out of a scene from Ghostbusters) but now I can make it to the top without resting. And I feel great afterward.

So if you’re not a stair person now, it’s a good Weight Hacking habit to cultivate.

Posted August 4, 2014 @ 4:43 pm | Tags: ,

Study: People drastically underestimate the calories in fast food


When people eat at a fast-food joint they tend to drastically underestimate the amount of calories they’re getting, a new Harvard Medical School survey found. The survey included interviews with more than 3,000 people who ate at six different fast-food chains in 2010 and 2011.

“At least two thirds of all participants underestimated the calorie content of their meals, with about a quarter underestimating the calorie content by at least 500 calories,” Harvard’s Jason Block and colleagues wrote in the British Medical Journal.

On average people thought they were eating 175 fewer calories than they actually were. To put that in perspective, if you overate that much once a day, over the course of a year you’d gain 18 extra pounds!

Ironically, people were more likely to underestimate calories when eating at Subway compared to places like McDonald’s and KFC. Researchers suspect that’s because Subway advertises itself as being a healthy food option, creating a so-called “health halo” effect. This effect leads people to think that foods with healthy labels have fewer calories than they really do, and as a consequence they eat more of them.


Posted May 28, 2013 @ 10:56 am | Tags: ,

First Reviews: HAPIfork promises to help you eat slower and lose weight


Mashable and Engadget posted the first reviews I’ve seen of the HAPIfork, an Internet-connected device that’s designed to help you eat your food more slowly. Mashable describes it this way:

The fork, which looks and feels a little like an electric toothbrush, is designed to vibrate in your mouth if you take bites too frequently. It uploads its info to an app via Bluetooth or to your laptop via USB, giving you a nice graph of the number of bites you took over time during each meal.

The concept is that the slower you eat the more full you’ll feel, and that means you’ll consume less food and therefore lose weight. It’s an idea that’s backed up by some research. So does it work?

The Mashable reviewer found that he was already eating more slowly than the HAPIfork’s default setting of 10 seconds between bites, so it wasn’t as effective as it could be. His conclusion was that “while the device works as advertised, it may require some customization on the user’s part to change any habits.”

The Engadget reviewer found it to be more effective: “I, on the other hand, felt the feedback on first bite — and second, and third. It’s a mild vibration — something like the feeling you get when your phone vibrates through a coat pocket — but it’s enough to trigger a reaction. By the time I was four bites in, I was making a conscious effort to keep the buzz at bay and, as a result, chewing significantly more before swallowing.”

The HAPIfork team is hoping to raise $100,000 via a Kickstarter campaign that’s offering the forks at $89 apiece.

Posted April 18, 2013 @ 12:51 pm | Tags: ,

Two pieces of technology that helped a GeekDad lose weight

Over on Wired.com’s site GeekDad, Ryan Carlson talks about how using MyFitnessPal and the BodyMedia LINK has helped him live a healthier life. “Between my on-body monitoring device and calorie counting App I’ve been able to be more aware of my intake and activity (an inactivity). This awareness has led to changes in my habits because of these gadgets. As a result of the experiment I’ve kept myself out the kitchen to graze between meals more often, had smaller helpings of dessert, and kept my caloric intake in check within daily recommended allowances.”

Posted @ 10:59 am | Tags: ,,

How using the ‘pistachio effect’ can help you eat less


The otherwise innocuous pistachio shell is a great example of the counterintuitive way human beings consume food. While we think the amount of food we eat is driven primarily by hunger, that’s rarely the case. In reality, the amount of food we consume is usually dictated by the food environment around us.

For instance, research has repeatedly shown that we’ll eat more food regardless of how hungry we are if more food is put in front of us. And a study called “The Effect of Pistachio Shells As a Visual Cue In Reducing Caloric Consumption” demonstrates that simply seeing the remains of our food can have an impact on how much we’ll eat. Here’s how it worked:

The subjects were told they were going to evaluate a variety of brands of pistachios and were surveyed at the end of each day to determine their fullness and satisfaction. The subjects were offered pistachios on their desks for an 8-h period on two separate days and were able to consume the pistachios at their leisure during that time. Subjects began each day with a sixteen ounce bowl filled with four ounces of pistachios in the shell. They were also provided with a second sixteen ounce bowl, in which they were instructed to place the empty shells from the pistachios they consumed. Every 2 h throughout the day pistachios were added in two ounce increments. In condition one, the shells remained in the bowls until the end of the day, whereas in condition two, the shell bowls were emptied every 2 h throughout the day.

At the end of the day both groups reported being equally full and satisfied by their allotment of pistachios. However, the group that kept the empty shells in front of them ate 18 percent fewer pistachios than the other group. The study concluded that having a visual cue of how much they’d eaten (in the form of empty shells) is what made the difference.

This coincides with a similar study at Cornell University where two groups of people were given chicken wings to eat. For one group, the discarded bones from consumed wings were removed from the table right away, while in the other group the bones were left on the table in plain view. By the end of the meal the second group had eaten 27 percent fewer wings.

“The results suggest that people restrict their consumption when evidence of food consumed is available to signal how much food they have eaten,” said Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing and of Applied Economics at Cornell.

In practical terms, you can apply the “pistachio effect” to other things as well. If you’re eating food that comes in a wrapper, don’t throw the empty wrappers away until after you’re done eating so they’ll help you keep track of how much you’ve eaten. At big social settings where there might be lots of hours d’oeuvre offerings, don’t clean your plate to make room for more goodies. And if you’re eating food buffet style, don’t get a fresh plate to go back for seconds. Keep your original plate with you to remind yourself of what you’ve already had. The result is that you’ll eat less but still feel satisfied.

Posted April 2, 2013 @ 12:55 pm | Tags: ,,

Use this simple trick to make a standing desk when you’re traveling



A friend of mine just texted me this picture of the DIY standing desk he’s using while traveling in England. It’s a simple but easy trick to make you’re life a little healthier when you’re on the road.

Posted March 29, 2013 @ 10:57 am | Tags:

Labels that equate calories to walking distance help people eat less



A fascinating new survey conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine showed that when the number of calories for menu items was translated into physical activity, people made better eating decisions. To put that in plain English, when people saw they’d have to walk 2.6 miles to burn off the burger they were ordering, they ordered less food.

In the survey researchers tested four label options: one listed just the food item, one listed the food and the number of calories it contained, one listed food, calories and the equivalent walking distance for the those calories, and the last one listed food, calories and the amount of walking time the calories equaled (see image above). Here’s what happened:

People who viewed the menu without nutritional information ordered a meal totaling 1,020 calories, on average, significantly more than the average 826 calories ordered by those who viewed menus that included information about walking-distance. Study participants ordered meals adding up to averages of 927 calories and 916 calories from menus with only calorie information or calorie information plus minutes walking, respectively, although the differences between these two totals were not statistically significant.

The researchers next want to translate this survey into a real world setting to see what kind of results they’d achieve. This is similar to a red, yellow green labeling system that was successfully tested a while back that also helped people eat better.

Posted March 19, 2013 @ 10:48 am | Tags: ,

Scientists compare soda to a ‘ruthlessly efficient bioweapon’


The health advocacy organization Center for Science in the Public Interest is petitioning the FDA to limit the amount of sugar in soft drinks “to safe levels consistent with authoritative recommendations.” Its position is that the quantity of sugar manufacturers put in soft drinks has become so large that it’s basically poisoning people.

“As currently formulated, Coke, Pepsi, and other sugar-based drinks are unsafe for regular human consumption,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.  “Like a slow-acting but ruthlessly efficient bioweapon, sugar drinks cause obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  The FDA should require the beverage industry to re-engineer their sugary products over several years, making them safer for people to consume, and less conducive to disease.”

Yes, that sounds extreme when you first read it (and if you’ve seen statements by the CSPI before you’ll notice they like to use a little shock value to draw attention to health issues). However, their point is actually a valid one. As Yale’s Dr. David Katz has pointed out, sugar is one of many substance where the “dose makes the poison.”

The notion that sugar is a “poison” was established when a lecture by Dr. Robert Lustig espousing that view went viral.

While the construction of alarming tables and figures demonstrating the calamitous effects of sugar (and specifically, fructose — Dr. Lustig’s particular nemesis) can be defended with legitimate science, it is nonetheless something of a distortion. Even more calamitous pathways could be mapped out for oxygen, which in excess is not just highly toxic, but lethal in rather short order. Oxygen, per se, is not poison of course. The dose makes the poison.

So, too, for sugar — including fructose. Our excessive consumption of it is the poison.

Basically what Katz and the CSPI are saying is that a modest amount of sugar isn’t going to harm anyone, but many people are currently eating (or drinking) way too much of it. The CSPI illustrates this by pointing out that while the American Heart Association recommends that women take in no more than 6 grams of added sugar a day and men no more than 9 grams, one sweetened 20-ounce soda contains 15 grams of sugar, far more than either recommendation. And that’s causing all sorts of health problems.

The bottom line for Weighthackers is that, because food companies are loading up their products with sugar so they can sell more of them and not because they’re good for you, it’s up to you to be aware of what’s in the things you’re eating and drinking. If you like soda, consider getting something like a Sodastream so you, not Coke or Pepsi, can decide what goes in your drink. That way you can keep your sugar intake under bioweapon levels.

Posted February 19, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

Stan Lee used a standing desk back in the 1950s (picture)


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)

Posted February 14, 2013 @ 3:16 pm | Tags:

These 2 simple changes helped hundreds of people lose weight


Putting down your utensils between bites and allowing yourself an afternoon snack only if you’ve first eaten a piece of fruit are two small but significant changes that helped hundreds of people lose weight. That’s what a new report has to say about the National Mindless Eating Challenge, a Web-based healthy eating and weight loss program that was made available to the public from 2006-2009.

The program was set up to see if “small behavioral and environmental changes based on simple heuristics may have the best chance to lead to sustainable habit changes over time.” The people who reported adhering to the program at least 25 days a month lost an average of 2lbs a month. Although that might not seem like, much, over the course of the year that would add up to 24lbs without much effort.

Another suggestion that helped people lose weight was “Any time you think you might eat when you’re not hungry, go ahead and do so, but only if you first say (out loud): “I’m not hungry, but I’m going to eat this anyway”.” I imagine most people didn’t do that one in public restaurants though.

Check out the link above to the full report for more tips.

Posted January 29, 2013 @ 11:41 am | Tags:

New study finds using Twitter can help you lose weight

Twitter Logo

Using Twitter as part of a weight loss program makes it more likely that you’ll successfully lose weight, according to a new study by the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. The study involved 96 people who were tracked for six months and who were using either an Internet-connected iPhone, iPod Touch, a Blackberry or an Android phone.

All of the participants were sent weekly podcasts that coached them about nutrition, exercise and goal setting. In addition, half of the group received an app that helped them monitor their diet and physical activity, as well as a Twitter app.

“The results show that those who regularly utilized Twitter as part of a mobile weight loss program lost more weight,” said [Brie] Turner-McGrievy of the Arnold School’s Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior.

The study also found that “those who engaged with Twitter were more successful with losing weight, such that every 10 posts to Twitter corresponded with approximately −0.5 percent weight loss.” The Twitter-enabled group used the social networking service to keep in touch with and support each other, and they also received daily tweets from a weight loss counselor.

This is more evidence that using a social network can help you lose weight since we already know that social networks can make weight loss contagious among friends.


Posted January 14, 2013 @ 2:53 pm | Tags: ,,

University professor reveals his ‘easy’ weight loss solution: standing

Dr John Buckley Standing Desk

Dr. John Buckley at the University of Chester has come up with a plan that he says will effortlessly let him lose weight this year, and he thinks anyone working in an office can do the same thing. “This is the perfect way for any office-bound worker to achieve the typical New Year’s resolution of wanting to lose half a stone [8 lbs] without changing anything else – how easy is that?” he said.

Buckley’s idea is one I’ve also been using and am a huge advocate of: spend part of your working day at a standing desk. I’m actually standing as I type this sentence, so I can vouch for how easy it is to work on your feet, and how much better it can make you feel.

I have a GeekDesk, but in Buckely’s case he’s using one of the university’s old oak lecterns as a standing work station:

Applying his knowledge of human physiology, Dr Buckley calculates that by working at this desk for three hours of his day will burn an extra 144 calories per day, compared to sitting at his desk and with no change to his job or leisure time activities.

In a year this will equate to more than 30,000 calories or eight pounds of human fat.

Buckley also walks up the stairs to his seventh floor office as often as possible. “It’s little changes in behaviour such as this, or standing at your desk, that can add up to make quite a big difference to your health.”

Posted @ 9:48 am | Tags:

3 insidious reasons we gain weight during the holidays (and how to fight them)

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.

Posted November 20, 2012 @ 1:38 pm | Tags: ,,,

Reddit’s 10 best tips, tidbits and tricks for losing weight

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:

  1. “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?”
  2. “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.”
  3. “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.”
  4. “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.”
  5. “Buy smaller plates.”
  6. “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.”
  7. “If I don’t have any junk food in my house, I don’t eat junk food.”
  8. “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.”
  9. “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.”
  10. “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.

Posted November 12, 2012 @ 9:58 am | Tags: ,,,,

The right lighting and music can make you eat 18% less food

Candlelit Dinner

Soft lighting and calm music can create an environment where you’ll eat up to 18% less than you normally would, a new study found. The key seems to be that you’ll take your time eating in a relaxed setting, which means you give your body more of a chance to register the food you’re eating. The result is that you’ll feel satiated without consuming as much food as you would otherwise.

The study was done by Prof. Brian Wansink of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and Dr. Koert van Ittersum of the Georgia Institute of Technology:

“In the more relaxed atmosphere, people eat slower, so satiation kicks in sooner. This makes people stop eating sooner, so they overeat less,” van Ittersum said. “These restaurants blast music at the tables and use red lights, so people chow down and go on their way. When you hammer food down your throat, your body doesn’t register how much food is enough, and so you go beyond the point you need for normal levels of satiation. We suspect slowing down the consumption process is a big way to cut down on overeating.”

In the study the researchers took a Hardee’s restaurant and used typical fast food lighting and music in one half while turning the other half into more of an upscale dining experience. Those on the calm side ate 775 calories worth of food vs. 949 for the loud side, and they also reported enjoying their meals more. Since both groups ordered the same amount of food, the researchers think it makes sense for fast food joints to slow things down since they’ss reap the same profit but their customers have a bette experience.

Posted October 25, 2012 @ 1:00 pm | Tags: ,,

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