Mind Hacks

Mental tricks and cognitive strategies that will help geeks get fit and lose weight.

Interview: Darya Pino Rose talks about her new book Foodist



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.


Posted May 9, 2013 @ 11:32 am | 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:

Lose more weight by setting several small goals instead of one big one


The University of Alabama ran an article of good weight loss tips that, among other things, recommended setting several smaller goals to help you lose weight instead of focusing on one big goal. That’s because smaller goals are both more manageable and provide better feedback:

“If we set lofty weight loss goals, like 10, 20 or 30-plus pounds, and we don’t make progress quickly enough, it’s too easy to get distracted and have our emotions convince us that the goal is not achievable,” said Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., director of UAB Employee Wellness.

Whitt explained that breaking down goals into smaller, more manageable short-term targets, like losing one to two pounds per week, can lead to better chances of success.

“Once those first one or two pounds are lost, you can celebrate,” Whitt added. “Then the next mini-goal can become the focus.”

This makes a lot sense for all you Weigthhackers, especially because losing 1-2 lbs a week is a lot easier for most people than losing 5+ lbs a week. And yes, I know you’re probably thinking, I just want to lose it all RIGHT NOW! But the reality is you probably didn’t put on your extra weight in just a few weeks so it would be hard to take it off that quickly.

By the way, when I set out to lose weight a few years ago I had a target of getting down to 175 lbs by my birthday in December. I didn’t actually reach that goal until January, but even though I was “a month late” I’m completely satisfied with the outcome. In fact, I decided to keep going and eventually reached a nice, trim 157 lbs. You know how long did losing that other 18 lbs took me? I honestly don’t remember, because that wasn’t important. What was important is that I finally lost the weight I wanted to, not how quickly I did it.

Posted January 22, 2013 @ 8:30 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: ,,

10 easy ways to lose weight quickly (and permanently) in the New Year


Welcome to the New Year, which is traditionally a time when most of us look ahead to how we can improve our lives over the next 12 months. And if you’re overweight, probably the #1 thing on your 2013 To Do list is losing weight. Well, Weighthacker has you covered. Below are 10 of the best tips and hacks you can use to start losing weight quickly and, more importantly, permanently in the New Year.

Read on if you want to start losing weight today:


1) Don’t “Lose Weight”

“Losing Weight” is a great intention for the New Year but as an actual goal it’s terrible because it’s too vague. A better goal would be “lose 25 lbs by the end of March.” People who research goals say being specific does 4 valuable things for you: it focuses your efforts, it keeps you motivated, it makes you persistent and it inspires you to learn and grow.

2) Don’t Got On A Diet

In multiple studies the failure rate of dieting has been pegged somewhere between 80-95%, largely because of one issue: people can lose weight on almost any diet but they gain all the weight back once they go off the diet. So instead of going on a diet, focus on making permanent, sustainable changes to your diet. See tips 1, 3, 4, 5 and 10 for ways to do that.

3) Know How Much Food You’re Really Eating

According to registered dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner, “Nobody knows how many calories they should be eating, nobody knows how many they are eating, and nobody knows how many calories are in foods.” And it’s going to be hard for you to lose weight if you don’t know any of that. So sign up for a free online service like Loseit or MyFitnessPal that will help you easily understand and track what you eat. In fact, just writing down what you eat each day using something as low tech as a pen and paper will make you more accountable to yourself, which will automatically make you eat better.

4) Know How Much Food You Should Be Eating

There are dozens of free online calculators like this one that will help you figure out how much food you should be eating each day. Using them takes less than 5 minutes and will give you a whole new perspective on your food intake. Once you know how much food you should be eating, it will be easier for you to figure out how to eat the right amount to meet your weight loss goals.

5) Eat Whole, Not Processed, Foods

Whole foods like apples are more filling, have fewer calories and contain more nutrients than heavily processed foods like muffins and bagels. So an easy way to lose weight is to substitute whole foods for processed ones whenever you can. A good place to start is looking at the food label on the back of what you’re buying. In general heavily processed foods will have many more ingredients than whole foods, and they’ll also have ingredients with chemically-sounding names that you don’t recognize. Avoid those!

6) Walk

This one is easy and we were all born to do it: Walk. Many smart people believe walking is the single best exercise you can undertake, and a half hour a day of putting one foot in front of the other is all you need to do to start getting the benefits from it. It’s also free and you don’t need to go to the gym to do it! (I also suggest getting a walking desk if you can swing it. It changed my life.)

7) Track Your Steps

Splurge on a simple Web-enabled device like this Fitbit to track how many steps you walk each day. It will wirelessly upload your data online so you can chart your progress, set goals and (of course) share your info via social networks. Just like tracking your food helps you eat less, tracking your steps motivates you to walk more.

8) Plan To Fail

Losing weight is like playing a video game. You’re never going to do things perfectly the first time you try it, but the more you play the better you’ll get. So go into the New Year knowing that there will be setbacks and pitfalls on your weight loss journey. Instead of letting them derail you, use them as opportunities to figure out what went wrong so you can do better the next time.

9) Mod Your Environment

Using smaller plates, putting junk food in opaque vs. clear containers, and leaving your fruit bowl out in the open are some of the many ways you can mod the environment around you to help you lose weight. Check out this interactive guide from Diane Magazine for 11 tips on how to rearrange your kitchen for maximum weight loss help.

10) Planned Obsolescence

One of the biggest reasons people regain the weight they lose is because once they reach their goal weight, they slowly abandon the habits they used to lose the weight in the first place. 5 days at the gym becomes 3, then 1, then none. A splurge day turns into two days, then into a splurge week, etc. And because you previously lost weight, you fall into the mindset of “well, I can lose it again any time I want.” Before you know it, you’ll be back to where you started or, worse, heavier than you used to be. You can avoid all that by planning to segue smoothly from “weight loss” mode to “maintenance” mode, something most people never consider. When the behaviors you used to lose weight become obsolete, replace them with a new set of behaviors to maintain your progress, otherwise you’ll default back to the old ways that made you overweight to begin with.

To get more weight loss strategies and tips throughout 2013 and beyond, follow me on Twitter at @weigthhacker, over on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also sign up for the Weighthacker newsletter using the form on the right-hand column or pre-order my upcoming book.

Remember, you can lose the weight you want to!

Posted January 3, 2013 @ 9:00 am | Tags: ,

Take a picture of your meals to help you eat better and lose weight


When researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison asked dieters to both keep a written food journal and to photograph their meals, they found something interesting. The photos were better tools than the diaries when it came to encouraging participants to select healthier meals, and they were more effective at helping people remember if they had overindulged in snacks.

According to the Telegraph:

Prof Lydia Zepeda and David Deal, the researchers who carried out the study reported in New Scientist magazine, found that written food diaries were often filled in hours after the meal and were not as powerful in creating an impression of how much food had been consumed.

“Nutritionists see diaries as recording tools. Now they should explore the role of photo diaries as intervention tools,” Prof Zepeda said.

Since all you weight hackers probably have easy-to-use cameras built into your phones, try snapping pics of all your meals to help you eat better and lose weight. And I do mean all your meals, not just the fancy ones you’re already putting on Instagram. If you don’t take a picture of everything, you’re more likely to “forget” you ate it.

Also, if you’re an iPhone user, check out The Eatery app by Massive Health. It’s a free, elegant way to take pictures of your meals, rate them, then share them with your friends. In an interesting twist, The Eatery also lets other users rate your meals anonymously, so you’ll get a crowdsourced view of how healthy your meals are. If that seems a little intimidating, just remember, you get to rate their meals too.

Posted December 12, 2012 @ 9:30 am | Tags: ,,,

3 ways “weight denial” is making you fatter

Gallup released an interesting poll about our perceptions of ideal weight and how they correspond to our actual weight. The poll highlights 3 things that all Weight Hackers need to be aware of:

1) As we become heavier, we think it’s okay to be heavier.

2) No matter how overweight we are, our tendency is to think our weight is “about right.”

3) We also consistently underestimate how overweight we actually are.


Posted November 29, 2012 @ 12:53 pm | 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: ,,

11 ways to avoid eating too much (or any) Halloween candy

Halloween Pumpkins

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?

Posted October 23, 2012 @ 8:30 am | Tags: ,,

These foods will make you more productive and boost your morale

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:

Posted October 19, 2012 @ 11:20 am | Tags: ,,

How to eat less without feeling like you’re eating less

Eat Less Button

Over on Lifehacker they have a great post called Simple Ways to Eat Less Without Noticing by scientist, nutrition expert, and self-admitted geek Darya Pino:

[T]here are some tricks you can use to slightly reduce the amount of food you eat without feeling deprived, or even really noticing.

Your brain is easily fooled by shifts in perspective. It’s also more responsive to external cues like an empty plate, than internal cues like a full stomach. Understanding these influences can show you how to tilt them in your favor.

Many of the techniques she suggests are part of the Weight Hacking system that helped me lose 65lbs, and Darya even did a great interview for my upcoming book. Some highlights of her post include:

  • Using smaller plates to trick your brain into thinking the portion of food you’re eating is larger.
  • Using taller, skinnier glasses, which appear to contain more liquid than shorter, thicker ones.
  • Eating a protein for breakfast so you’ll feel more full throughout the day.
  • Ignoring health claims on packaging, which are primarily used to make heavily processed food seem good for you even when it isn’t.

I’ll let you read the rest of her post, but suffice it to say there’s a lot of great stuff there.

Posted October 18, 2012 @ 10:43 am | Tags: ,

How Non-Homeostatic eating could be sabotaging your weight loss

Man overeating

Scientists breakdown eating into two categories: Homeostatic and Non-Homeostatic. Homeostatic eating means you’re consuming food because your body needs energy. Ideally we’d all eat this way: only when we need to.

Non-Homeostatic eating is when we consume food for reasons other than energy requirements, and it can be a tremendous source of excess calories for many people. In an excellent post called Why Do We Eat? A Neurobiological Perspective, researcher Stephan Guyenet explains it this way:

A common sense example is all we need to begin to understand this. The holiday season is the scenario in which Americans are most likely to overeat and gain fat. That’s not because we’re suddenly hungrier on Thanksgiving– holiday weight gain is driven almost exclusively by non-homeostatic overeating: the presence of readily accessible, delicious, energy-dense, diverse food, and social eating and drinking.

He also points out that drinking soda usually falls into this category:

Another example of non-homeostatic eating is soda consumption. People don’t choose calorie-dense soda over plain water because they’re hungry or thirsty– they choose it because they like soda.

As a weighthacker, my own weight loss became most significant and sustainable when I focused on eliminating my Non-Homeostatic eating. In fact, once I started looking for them, I was shocked at how many Non-Homeostatic eating opportunities I was subjected to on a regular basis. Here are some examples:

  • Birthdays and other celebrations at work mean I’m offered free cookies and cake at times when I’m not actually hungry. Being given a delicious sweet combined with the social pressure of eating to celebrate the occasion used to mean I’d take in lots of extra calories I didn’t need. Now I politely decline.
  • At restaurants, we’re all routinely offered over-sized meals, encouraging us to eat well beyond homeostatic needs. Now I’ll ask for half my meal to be boxed up to go before it’s brought to me so I’m not tempted to overeat. I’ll also either avoid pasta dishes altogether or ask that they bring me a reduced portion because restaurants love to load you up on cheap pasta to make you feel like you’ve gotten value for your money.
  • I’m a regular at Starbucks where I drink unsweetened iced tea, which adds nothing to my caloric intake. But I’m pretty regularly offered free food I don’t need by friendly baristas pushing cookie and pastry samples. Also, because I’m a frequent customer they sometimes offer me broken pastries for free rather than throwing them out. I stopped taking any of these freebies.
  • Beyond just the soda example above, almost any sweetened drink is Non-Homeostatic for me. I rarely drank intentionally to consume calories but rather for thirst or taste. Now I make sure I’m either not taking in calories when I drink, or I’m accounting for them in my daily energy needs if I do drink them.

You get the idea. The good thing is, once you know how Non-Homeostatic eating is impacting you, you can start avoiding it. I think most weight hackers will see a remarkable shift in their calorie consumption when they do. I certainly did.

Posted October 9, 2012 @ 8:30 am | Tags: ,,

Reading food labels makes you thinner, researchers find

Food Label

People who read food labels are significantly thinner than those who don’t, according to a new study in Agricultural Economics called The effects of nutritional labels on obesity. Researchers found that label readers had an average Body Mass Index (BMI) that was 1.39 point lower than their non-reading counterparts.

That may not sound like a lot, but it could easily be 10lbs or more depending on your starting size, enough to push some people from the “overweight” to the “healthy” category or from “obese” to “overweight.” The study also found that women benefit even more than men if they read labels, with a BMI that’s 1.49 points lower.

One of the keys to my own 65lb weight loss was learning to reading the backs of labels, which helped me spot foods that seemed healthy but that were actually contributing to my weight gain. For example, I used to think Vitamin Water was a healthy alternative to soft drinks until I read the label closely and realized it had a staggering 55g of sugar, which is the equivalent of eleven sugar packets! And I was getting most of the vitamins in the “vitamin water” (which is really sugar water) from food I was already eating, meaning they were basically useless.

So, weighthackers, learn to read food labels if you don’t know how. It can (literally) make a big difference.

Posted September 18, 2012 @ 12:24 pm | Tags:

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