weight loss


Weight Loss 2015: How To Get A Little Help From Your (New) Friends

If you made your resolution to lose weight in 2015 on New Year’s Eve, chances are you’re already feeling your initial determination start to flag. The dreary winter dusk calls for comfort food, and there’s slush between you and the gym.

So it’s time for a little help from your friends — only, maybe they should include new friends, not just the usual posse. Not the network that may have influenced you to over-indulge in the first place.

Dr. Sherry Pagoto, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and an obesity researcher, says studies show that social support is important for making lifestyle changes. “But just because you’ve decided to make a change, that doesn’t mean your friends or family members have. So what do you do? The best support comes from people who are on the same journey.” Social media lets you find people who are “exactly where you’re at, have the same interests and can support each other.”

“Maybe you don’t need everyone in your family to be as dedicated about the gym as you are,” she adds. “But if you can post to your online community — ‘I’m headed to the gym’ or ‘I just got back from the gym’ or ‘I’m on day 5 of my couch-to-5K’ — you’ll have someone who says, ‘Yay!'”

Here, Dr. Pagoto offers five top tips for using social media to help with weight loss:

1. Create a private Facebook group for friends interested in losing weight.

How? It’s easy: Post on Facebook asking if anyone wants to join a private weight loss group. Then create a group page (private, not public) and send invites to those interested. Identify a day when people report weight change from the last week, and a day to post goals for the coming week. Ask people to post helpful content, recipes, their exercise plans, questions, struggles and more throughout the week.

2. Find an existing weight loss community, such as those on Sparkpeople, Weight Watchers or MyFitnessPal websites.

Many are free. Just be sure they are promoting healthy lifestyle change, not a particular specialized diet.

3. Most commercial weight loss apps allow you to ‘friend’ other users. Connect with other serious users to increase your social support and motivation. Continue reading

Where Does Fat Go When You Lose Weight? Mostly Into Thin Air

(Phoney Nickle/Flickr)

(Phoney Nickle/Flickr)

By Richard Knox

A couple of years ago, Ruben Meerman took off 40 pounds. And that got him wondering: What exactly happened to all that fat?

Conventional wisdom was that he “burned” it off. Or sweated it off. Or excreted it. None of that satisfied Meerman, who has a physics degree and makes his living explaining science to schoolkids and for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

So Meerman tackled the problem and eventually came up with a surprising answer: Most of the lost fat disappears into thin air.

More specifically, 84 percent of those fat molecules get exhaled as colorless, odorless carbon dioxide. The other 16 percent departs the body as H-2-O — plain old water.

Meerman says the discovery “got me really excited because I’d stumbled onto a gap in the knowledge. It struck me as remarkable that no one had thought this was interesting enough to pursue.”

The British Medical Journal thought so too. It has published a paper, co-authored by biochemist Andrew Brown of the University of South Wales, in its annual Christmas issue, which features off-beat (but peer-reviewed) research.

Weight Loss Realism

Meerman hopes the work will dispel misconceptions held by health professionals as well as the general public. And, he hopes it will provide a helpful dose of realism to counter the impossible expectations millions have about weight loss.

If people understand where the fat goes (and how), they’ll get “why there’s a limit to how quickly you can lose weight,” Meerman said in a Skype interview from Sydney. “And if you understand the limit, you won’t be so quickly depressed if you don’t lose 20 pounds in the first two weeks.”

First, the misconceptions. Meerman and Brown surveyed 150 professionals — split equally among family doctors, dietitians and personal trainers — about where they think the fat goes during weight loss.

By far the most common answer was that the fat was transformed into energy or heat — that is, “burned off.” About two-thirds of doctors thought so. A slightly higher proportion of dietitians did too, and about 55 percent of personal trainers.

But that would violate the Law of Conservation of Mass. It’s a basic precept of chemistry, formulated in 1789 by the French scientist Antoine Lavoisier, which holds that mass is neither created nor destroyed in chemical reactions. The total mass at the end must equal the mass at the starting point — even if matter is quite transformed in the process, from solid to liquid or gas.

The Energy Of A Bomb

Meerman points out that if fat were transformed into pure energy during weight loss, the results would be cataclysmic. Continue reading

Senators Lambaste Dr. Oz For Sketchy Weight Loss Claims

Dr. Mehmet Oz testifies Tuesday before a U.S. Senate subcommittee. (Lauren Victoria Burke/AP)

Dr. Mehmet Oz testifies Tuesday before a U.S. Senate subcommittee. (Lauren Victoria Burke/AP)

At last, an antidote to some of the medical folderol that Dr. Mehmet Oz — “America’s doctor” — spouts on his popular television show.

Maggie Fox of NBC News reports here that Dr. Oz “got a harsh scolding from several senators on Tuesday at a hearing about bogus diet product ads.” (Raspberry ketones, anyone?)

“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true,” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, said at the hearing. “So why, when you have this amazing megaphone…why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”

(My personal answer: Dr. Oz is one giant metaphor for what is wrong with American health care: it’s a business. So money may sometimes get in the way of doing the right thing.)

Dr. Oz had a different response. NBC reports that he argued that his show had to “engage the viewer,” and “I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show,” he added. “I recognize that oftentimes they don’t have the scientific muster to pass as fact. I have given my family these products.”

Not good enough for Sen. McCaskill. More from NBC: Continue reading

Make Lemonade: Study Finds Kids’ Active Video Games Boost Exercise, Weight Loss

Every time my kids hunker down for a long stretch of screen time, I get a tiny pang of guilt. The little good-parent-voice in my head says: They should be outside running around (or inside running around if you’re in New England, still praying for an end to this relentless winter). In any case, they should be active, not immobilized in front of a screen.

But maybe it’s OK for them to be active, and in front of a screen. A study published earlier this month in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that yes, those active video games do help overweight and obese kids boost their physical activity levels and lose weight too.

Chiew Pang/flickr

Chiew Pang/flickr

The study, with 75 kids between 8 and 12 years old, concluded that: “Incorporating active video gaming into an evidence-based pediatric weight management program had positive effects on physical activity and relative weight.”

Here’s more on the study from Reuters:

Both groups took part in the weight management program at local YMCAs and schools, but one group also received an Xbox game console and two active games.

The Xbox Kinect device captures the child’s body movements to operate the game. The games given to the kids in the active gaming group were Kinect Adventures! and Kinect Sports. (Children in the weight-loss program-only group received the same equipment and games at the end of the study).

All the children’s activity were recorded using an accelerometer, which measures movement, during the day.

At the start of the study, the children were between the ages of 8 and 12 years old and weighed between 123 and 132 pounds (lbs). About 67 percent of the kids had a body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height, that put them in the overweight category for their age groups. The rest of the children were in the obese category.

The researchers found that children in the group that received the active games added about seven minutes of moderate to vigorous activity and about three minutes of vigorous activity to their daily routines over the 16 weeks. Continue reading

I’m Finally Thin — But Is Living In A Crazymaking Food Prison Really Worth It?



I am not fat. At just over 5 feet tall and 101 pounds, I’m actually closer to thin. It shocks me to even write this, but after a zaftig childhood and a curvy-bordering-on-chunky early adulthood, I find myself, in middle age, after two kids, to have reached my “ideal” weight.

But lately I wonder if it’s really worth it.

From the outside, thin is surely better. Other moms tell me I look great. I can consider bikinis. I appear far younger than my actual age and, with a perky, teen-sounding BMI of 19.9, I fit in my daughter’s Forever 21 tops.

But peek inside my brain: it’s alarming.

(Rachel Zimmerman/WBUR)

(Rachel Zimmerman/WBUR)

I spend an inordinate, and frankly embarrassing amount of time thinking about food, planning meals and strategizing about how to control my weight. It’s on my mind pretty much every waking hour of every day and the details are painfully banal: how many pumpkin seeds in my nonfat yogurt; will a green smoothie pack on an extra ounce or two; can I eat dinner early so my weight the next morning will be optimally low?

If I don’t exercise (Every. Single. Day.) I get depressed. If I stray from my short list of accepted foods, I can spiral out of control. My life is bound by a strict system of controls and rigid rules (maintained with a pack-a-day gum-chewing habit) that keep my weight in line. These include daily digital scale checks that set my mood each morning: 102.9 is bad news; 100.4 gets me high. Trivial? Yes. A shamefully first-world problem? Absolutely. But, sadly, true.

And widespread. A new report on women and body image conducted by eating disorder experts at the University of North Carolina makes clear the scope of the problem: a mere 12 percent of middle-aged women are “satisfied” with their body size. (An earlier study put the number at 11 percent.) What’s worse, perhaps, is that even those relatively content ladies are troubled by specific body parts: 56 percent, for instance, don’t like their stomachs. Many dislike their skin (79 percent unsatisfied) or faces (54 percent unsatisfied) or any other parts that suggest, in Nora-Ephron-neck-hating-fashion, they are aging.

The author as a not-quite-svelte child, in an undated photo from the 1970s.

The author as a not-quite-svelte child, in an undated photo from the 1970s.

The very first sentence of the study, published in the highly un-sexily titled Journal of Women and Aging, makes clear that women who are happy in their own skin are a rare, exotic breed; specimen worthy of study by a crack team of anthropologists. The report begins:

We know strikingly little about the intriguing minority of women who are satisfied with their body size. Defined as having a current body size equal to their ideal size, body satisfaction is endorsed by only about 11% of adult American women aged 45–74 years.

If you dig a little deeper into the study you’ll find that this “body satisfaction” is fragile. Women were asked if they’d remain satisfied if they gained five pounds. The answer (duh): “No.”

And these so-called “satisfied” women seem to spend a huge amount of energy maintaining. Continue reading

‘Thigh Gap': Reflections On Teenage Girls’ Latest Obsession

By Sylvia Pagan Westphal
Guest Contributor

A few weeks ago, my 13-year-old daughter brought up the issue of the “thigh gap.”

A thigh-what? I thought. I Googled it and was appalled by the latest teenage girl obsession: having ultra-skinny thighs, so much so that one can see a space in between them when feet are touching (hence, the gap) is a trait many teenagers now covet. Of course, for many, this idealized gap is physically impossible to attain. (Still, I must admit to checking in the closet mirror to see if I had one.)

topgold/flickr, creative commons

topgold/flickr, creative commons

I was relieved when my daughter said she found the trend unhealthy. At the same time, she said, it’s unavoidable.

“You hear about it from your friends, it just travels,” she says. “Usually when you first find out about the thigh gap, the normal instinct is to Google it and one of the things that comes up is Tumblr and you get these crazy blogs on how to get a thigh gap and how to diet so you get it.”

(It’s true, some of these sites are a parent’s nightmare, from Cara’s Thigh Gap on twitter, which I’m not even linking to it because of the inappropriate content, to less-bad-but-still-troubling Operation Thigh Gap. Even this level-headed wiki-how is anxiety-producing, in that it confirms the ubiquity of the trend.)

It’s a tough world out there for our teens. We bombard them with conflicting messages to stay fit and be healthy (see Michelle Obama) while at the same time asking them not to get too neurotic about their body image. Some of us mothers send mixed messages too. What matters is how beautiful you are on the inside, we tell them, yet we work out and order salads for dinner Continue reading

After Losing 322 Pounds, One Man’s Thoughts On Christie Surgery

Russ Hannagan before and after losing 322 pounds (Courtesy)

Russ Hannagan before and after losing 322 pounds. (Courtesy)

As a man who formerly weighed over 500 pounds, I’ve been thinking a lot about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s recent announcement that he had lap band surgery. And I’m not alone: The governor’s surgery has also been a hot topic among many of my weight-loss friends on Facebook and Twitter, and my fellow diet workshop participants in Newton.

As a “New Jersey Boy” myself (born and raised in Carteret, Exit 12 on the Turnpike), and because I still have many friends who live in the Garden State, I like to keep tabs on what’s happening there. At first my friends and I felt Mr. Christie was in a state of denial. I believe he was once quoted as saying he was the healthiest “overweight” man you’d ever meet. Many of us who attend diet workshops know this feeling. You are overweight but still feel it’s not a problem. Like an alcoholic who claims they can stop at any time.

We would love to sit down with him and talk with him about “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” of weight loss. I mention this because back in November of 2011 I weighed over 533 pounds. In a little over a year, I have lost 322 pounds. I now weigh 210. My goal weight is 200 pounds, so I am only 10 pounds away from reaching it. But it took a great deal of hard work to get to where I am now.

I know this sounds like every other Cinderella story out there but through the years I have tried every diet in the book. From counting calories, to getting food shipped to me, to attending overeaters classes; you name it and I have tried it. Sure, I would lose the weight for a while and I would be healthy, but then it would all come back with a vengeance and I would be even worse then I was before.

Russ Hannagan celebrates his 50th birthday, a year after his surgery. (Courtesy)

Russ Hannagan celebrates his 50th birthday, a year after his surgery. (Courtesy)

My epiphany came when I met a friend I had not seen in a long time. I literally did not recognize her because she’d lost so much weight. I asked her what she’d done to transform herself. That’s when she told me about bariatric weight-loss surgery.

There are two main types of this surgery (and I’m not counting lap band surgery here). With the bariatric procedure they surgically alter your stomach into a small pouch (Roux-en-Y) or a gastric by pass sleeve. I won’t go into all the details — but suffice it to say I got the pouch.

Each month at Newton Wellesley Hospital, I attend these free diet workshops with other patients who are having or have had the surgery. The nurses, nutritionists, doctors, and fellow patients teach each other how to eat right and exercise properly. We all continue to attend the workshops to stay current on what types of vitamins are available and how stay healthy. The surgery is a tool — not a cure and not a goal. In the right hands and used in the correct way this tool can make your life so much better. I am proof of that. Used incorrectly it can be as useless as any other fad diet out there. Continue reading

Weight-Loss Surgeon: Christie-Style Secrecy Common, Stigma Lingers

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is surrounded by security and journalists in 2012. (Getty Images via NPR)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is surrounded by security and journalists in 2012. (Getty Images via NPR)


I’m not sure which is grabbier news: That New Jersey Governor Chris Christie underwent weight-loss surgery in February or that he felt compelled to keep the operation secret until The New York Post was about to publish a story about it.

I asked Dr. Daniel B. Jones, director of the Weight Loss Surgery Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a Harvard professor of Surgery, for his perspective. He began by emphasizing that all patients are entitled to privacy about their health care, including a governor. He went on:

That said, it is not uncommon for patients, when they have weight loss surgery, to say, ‘I don’t want anyone to know about this.’ We try to get patients over that hump as part of the pre-operative evaluation.

As physicians, we really want patients to identify: Who’s your support group? Who’s your champion? If your spouse doesn’t know what you’re doing, they’ll bring junk food into the house; if family members don’t know, they may think you’re not eating enough. So we really want some core people to know what’s going on. That said, most people do have a core group but don’t want other people to know.

Dr. Daniel B. Jones (BIDMC)

Dr. Daniel B. Jones (BIDMC)

We don’t know the reason but we think there’s still sort of a stigma to having weight-loss surgery. So even though we’re doing 150,000 weight-loss operations a year [in the United States], there’s the idea that if you have a weight-loss operation you’re somehow ‘taking the easy way out.’ You’re kind of ‘cheating.’ You’re just not tough enough to do the diet and exercise required for weight loss. You’re somehow ‘weak,’ right?

We even see this with gastric bypass patients who, six months after surgery, when they’ve lost 100 pounds and they’re healthier and more mobile, they still ask themselves, ‘Should I have done this without an operation?’

So this is sort of normal. In fact, I had a nurse — this was a real clandestine operation. She came in with a separate name, only a bare-minimum number of people got to know who it was. It was done in complete secrecy, but three to four months later, after her lap band was working, the whole hospital knew she’d had it. So what happens is, you reach a point of ‘Everyone can know.’

I quote people a 40-percent chance that the band over their lifetime will need to be repaired, revised or removed.

The other part of it is a concern that you might fail. And the pressure’s kind of high. So once you’re winning, everyone likes to share success. Not everyone knows whether they’re going to achieve it. You have to remember, everyone who’s had a weight loss operation has, by definition, already been on multiple diets — that’s a requirement for any operation in an accredited bariatric program. It’s very common for people to have lost 15 or 50 or 100 pounds, and for one reason or another they’ve gained back even more. It has to do with our physiology. It’s not about willpower.

The body has a set point and whether you like it nor not, your body hovers there. So if you diet in the traditional sense and knock the weight down, your body thinks you’re somehow starving it. And the first chance it gets, it fires off chemicals that not only push you back to where you started, it sets your new set point higher. We call this yo-yo-ing.

Whether it’s the band or the sleeve or the bypass, [weight-loss operations] do things that make it possible for people to get the weight off and keep it off. Continue reading

Study Finds ‘Significant’ Weight Loss Among Seriously Mentally Ill

It’s widely known that people with serious mental illness have a lower life expectancy — around 25 years less — compared to the general population. One reason is that these folks are more likely to smoke and be overweight or obese which, of course, can lead to all sorts of critical health problems — heart disease, diabetes, respiratory troubles and a whole host of chronic illnesses. The challenges facing this population are great: the very medications they take to function through the day can lead to weight gain, and studies have shown that they often have poor diets and sedentary lives.



A number of efforts are currently underway to try to reverse this trend by focusing directly on the physical health of the mentally ill.

The latest study in this arena, published in The New England Journal of Medicine today, found that a so-called “behavioral weight-loss intervention” including weight-management counseling and group exercise “significantly” reduced weight “in overweight and obese adults with serious mental illness” (including those with major depression, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder).

The mean weight loss, after 18 months, was 7 pounds, researchers from Johns Hopkins report. Not so much, you may think. But researchers note: “This extent of weight loss, albeit modest, has been shown to have beneficial effects, such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease among persons with an initially elevated risk.” Also noteworthy is that people in this study, called ACHIEVE, lost weight gradually over time.

“Participants in the intervention group in ACHIEVE continued to lose weight after 6 months and did not regain weight, Continue reading

Boston’s Million-Pound Goal Looks Like A Losing Battle, But…

Thomas Menino

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino cuts cake during last year’s Boston Harborfest, back when cake was likelier to be on the menu. (U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

Boston’s battle to lose is looking, at the moment, like a losing battle. That is to say, Mayor Thomas Menino’s one-year goal of a million collectively shed pounds by late next month is looking exceedingly distant. As the Boston Globe declares in this feature story by lifestyle reporter Beth Teitell:

So far we’ve lost 95,697 pounds. Only 904,303 to go. By April 23.

People, now would be a good time to start that juice fast.

Beth joins us on Radio Boston between 3 and 4 today to discuss the city’s weight-loss campaign. Just a couple of points to note:

It’s very hard to know whether that disappointing poundage is a true failure to lose or just a failure to track. I spoke today to Boston City Councillor Felix Arroyo. Last year, when Mayor Menino announced his million-pound march, WBUR’s Delores Handy reported that he also personally pledged to lose two pounds a month himself. Other weight-loss pledges followed, she reported, including Arroyo’s goal of over three pounds a month.

So how did he do? Not badly. He hasn’t lost the 36-plus pounds he pledged, but he estimates he’s lost about 10 pounds, mainly by cutting back on unhealthy food and listening to the stomach that tells him he’s full rather than the taste buds that tell him the food is delicious.

He’s doing just what weight loss experts suggest, creating a sustainable, healthier lifestyle rather than following an extreme, faddish diet. Just one rub: he didn’t think he’d charted his weight loss on the city’s Website, and if a man who’s civically oriented enough to be a city councillor doesn’t get around to doing it, you can bet a great many other citizens are similarly remiss.

“Most people I talk to think about weight loss at one point or another, and it’s not the easiest thing to do but I also suspect it may not be the easiest thing to track on a mass scale,” he said. It may not be possible to know whether Boston has lost a million pounds or not, he said, because it’s so hard “to create a mass consciousness across the city of, ‘Lose weight and track it in this place.’ I don’t envy the work of the people trying to do that.'” Continue reading