3 Ways to Lose Weight and Keep It Off During the Holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year yet it’s the hardest time of the year to keep our waistlines in check. Many people ask me: “How can I avoid gaining five to 10 pounds during the holidays?” Along with having a positive attitude and self-discipline, I always answer that question with the three tips below. Cheers to keeping the holiday “party pounds” off!

1. Make every meal count.
The key to weight loss is having a healthy, well-balanced meal plan. The meal plan should be tailored to your individual calorie needs, current health status, and food preferences. Eating a variety of nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean protein choices, and high fiber whole grains, will leave you little room for processed food choices.

To ensure you are eating a healthy well-balanced meal, fill half your plate with plant-based food (e.g., sautéed Brussels sprouts), one quarter of the plate with a lean protein source (e.g., grilled salmon), and the other quarter with high fiber whole grains (e.g., quinoa).

2. Make a mind and body connection with every meal and snack. Overeating commonly occurs when your mind is not aware that your body is being fueled. Allowing your mind and body to connect results in healthier portion control and a satisfied appetite. The mind and body connection can be achieved simply by enjoying your meals and snacks sitting down without any distractions. Some common distractions include: watching television, working on your laptop, reading a magazine, and getting caught up on social media. We are all guilty of being preoccupied while we eat. Make a conscious effort to avoid these distractions. Turn off the television. Leave your phone in the other room. When we enjoy our meals without distractions, we eat less and make better food choices throughout the day. Changing eating habits takes time and willpower. If you get off track, jump right back on. Never give up on your health!

3. Move every day.
Exercise is essential for weight loss and our overall well-being. Whether you choose to go for a hike, swim, or Pilates class, exercising is one of the healthiest ways to relieve stress. Cardiovascular exercise is important for heart health. Weight training helps to build lean body mass and strengthen our bones. The American Heart Association recommends that we aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. If you cannot devote an entire 30 minutes to exercise, then try to fit two mini-workouts into your day. Always keep in mind when you want to shed some pounds, you need to burn more calories than you eat.

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Financial incentives can motivate people to lose weight

(TRFW News) Weight loss shows on national television are quite popular. Shows such as “The Biggest Loser” or “Extreme Weight Loss” have gained popularity over the years. It’s fascinating for us to witness amazing transformations in people’s lives!

There are many different reasons that people get inspired to take control of their health. For some, it may be a spiritual awakening, breaking through deep emotional pain in life, or a sobering health crisis.  Studies now show that motivation can also be from financial incentives. (1)

Financial incentives resulted in three times more weight loss

A study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2008 showing that short-term incentives, such as financial rewards, do provide a strong motivation. The participants were split into three groups. Two of the groups were given incentives, while the third group was used as a control. (2)

The study was evaluated over the course of 16 weeks and the participants in the incentives group lost, on average, 13 to 14 pounds compared to only 4 pounds in the control group. (2)

Long-term weight loss posed challenges

After the completion of the 16 week study, participants were evaluated with long-term effects on their weight loss goals. After the end of 7 months, the incentive group actually gained some weight, which resulted in no statistical differences between them and the control group. However, the upside is that the incentive group weighed significantly less compared to the start of the study, whereas the control group did not. (2)

A few years later, the same group of researchers decided to do another study and lengthen it. Instead of 16 weeks, they tested 32 weeks. The results proved quite similar; “Financial incentives produced significant weight loss over an 8-month intervention; however, participants regained weight post-intervention.” (3)

Dieting for dollars

An article from last year in NBC News Today’s Health showed that financial incentives help people jump into their weight loss goals. The goal is simple, if a person reaches that month’s weight loss goals, monetary reward is given; however if the goal isn’t reached, monetary reward is punished. As much as people love to make money, they also hate losing money. (4)

Mayo Clinic did an even longer study that lasted an entire year, compared to previous studies that were only 4 to 8 months long. There were rewards and there were penalties. For some, it’s worth it, “As human beings, our brains really respond to rewards. Unfortunately, you would think being healthier, having a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer is the reward itself, but that’s a long term thing. Money, you feel it in your pocket and you like it.” (4)

Sources for this article include:

(1) news.all4naturalhealth.com
(2) jama.jamanetwork.com
(3) www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
(4) www.today.com

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Did Josh Hutcherson Lose Weight for ‘Mockingjay’? Peeta Looks Very Frail in …

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Can an app help you lose weight?

Social media on smartphone

Smartphones and tablets combine an extraordinary amount of portable computing power with connectivity to the world via cell phone signal and WiFi. Many health entrepreneurs are trying to harness that power to help people to get healthier. According to one estimate, the number of health apps for phones may already top 40,000.

Now the tough question: Do they actually work? A study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine on one popular weight-loss app finds that the answer is “not so much.”

University of California, Los Angeles researchers put to scientific scrutiny a free app called MyFitnessPal. It is based on research on how people make changes in their habits. The company claims it has more than 50 million registered users.

MyFitnessPal is a web-connected food journal and weight loss coach. A user can access a database of more than 4 million foods, and add what he or she ate to a daily log. The app calculates the number of calories consumed and compares them to the daily calorie goal, which the app computes based on the user’s current weight, goal weight, and desired rate of weight loss.

The researchers randomly assigned more than 200 overweight middle-aged women to one of two groups: one used MyFitnessPal as a weight-loss aid, the other talked to a primary care doctor about weight issues but did not use MyFitnessPal. The women’s progress was assessed at three and six months—long enough to detect a significant difference in weight loss among these relatively motivated calorie counters.

The app users lost an average of about 5 pounds—but so did the non-app users. That means, at least in this study, recommending a weight-loss app to people who want to lose weight isn’t much better than getting advice from a doctor. One reason may be that use of MyFitnessPal fell off quickly, from an average of 5 times a week at the start of the study to just over once a week by the second month.

Designing effective health apps

Simply giving people an app to track their data is not enough to create positive health outcomes, says Dr. Kamal Jethwani, the head of research and innovation at the Center for Connected Health at Partners HealthCare and assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. Many health apps still lack the built-in intelligence to figure out what particular mix of features—coaching, social connections, and financial or other incentives—can provide sufficient motivation to fuel real change.

“There are many examples of apps that do one of the three right,” Jethwani says. “I have not seen one that does several things very well.”

To help change that, Jethwani and his colleagues at the Center for Connected Health are developing a smarter app called Text 2 Move to spur healthier behaviors in people with diabetes. This dynamic phone messaging system tracks a user’s activity and location, and provides him or her with personalized, motivating messages and other feedback. Preliminary research suggests it increases average walking time by a mile a day and improves blood sugar control.

The next-generation version of the app will have multiple motivation modes—coaching, social, and gamification. It will analyze a user’s behavior for a short trial period and then “decide” which behavior it thinks will work best.

“We would want to have an app that, within a couple of weeks, based on your data, decides what motivational style is going to work for you and offers you a host of options,” Jethwani says.

This is more likely to succeed than depending on stressed and overtaxed healthcare workers to figure out the best option and “prescribe” it for you.

A health app for you?

In spite of the app’s poor showing in the UCLA trial, MyFitnessPal and other health apps can be useful tools for people who want to manage their weight and lifestyle. But it takes two things from the user—motivation to make a change and using the app enough to produce the desired effect.

“Clinicians must become aware of these tools and support our patients in their use, since they are a great way to start moving the needle on the awareness and education needed to produce lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Jethwani. “Motivated patients will achieve great results, while other patients may stop using them, but will definitely gain better insights into their lifestyles.”

If you are interested in health apps, good information is available from a website called Wellocracy, which is run by the Center for Connected Health. It provides tools and information to help people find apps and personal fitness trackers that suit their personal needs and motivational style.

Take a few for a test drive and see if you feel better.

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Is a Vegan Diet the Best Way to Lose Weight?

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Attention, meat and cheese lovers. The best way for you to shed unwanted pounds might be to give up your favorite omnivorous treats in favor of a vegan diet (at least for a little while), according to a new study from the University of South Carolina. The good news: You can keep your carbs.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Lose Weight Without Dieting

Research published recently in the journal Nutrition followed a group of 50 overweight or obese adults looking to lose weight over a six-month period. Their plan of attack in the battle of the bulge included sticking to one of these five eating regimens:

  • Vegan: No poultry, meat, seafood, eggs or dairy, but these participants could still fill up on plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
  • Vegetarian: Dairy and eggs were allowed, but meat, poultry and seafood were strictly banned on this plan.
  • Pesco-vegetarian: Fish, dairy and eggs were a yes; meat or poultry, a no.
  • Semi-vegetarian: These dieters could still eat red meat, as long as they limited it to once a week. Poultry consumption was restricted to five times per week or less.
  • Omnivorous: All food groups were a go.

At the end of the six-month study period, the people placed on a vegan diet lost significantly more weight than the dieters on other plans—by about 4.3% or 16.5 pounds on average. And the study’s authors think the vegan dieters were more successful for a few simple reasons.

“One, they were consuming more fiber-containing foods, which helped them feel fuller, preventing them from being hungry and overeating,” says study author Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, PhD, RD. “Secondly, their diets were lower in fat, and therefore, most likely had fewer calories.”

RELATED: 25 Three-Ingredient Smoothie Recipes

What may surprise many folks (especially Atkins aficionados) is that the vegan dieters still shed pounds even though they were allowed to eat carbs. Why? Participants were told to focus on consuming low glycemic index (GI) carbs, such as whole grains, fruits and beans, rather than high GI carbs, like white rice or pastries.

When you consume high GI carbs, your blood sugar spikes and then crashes, leading you to become hungry again very quickly, according to Turner-McGrievy. But with low-GI carbs, blood sugar stays more stable over a longer period of time. “Soda and whole-wheat pasta are both high in carbs but the pasta is low GI, high in fiber, and will keep you fuller longer,” she says.

RELATED: 12 Fast Food Drinks That Aren’t Worth the Calories

The vegan diet didn’t just melt away pounds either; it also helped improve other markers of health. People on a completely plant-based plan experienced the greatest decreases in fat and saturated fat levels both two months and six months into the study, and had lower BMIs and improved macro-nutrient levels by the end of the research period.

RELATED: 5 Beginner-Friendly CrossFit Workouts

While giving up meat and dairy might seem difficult, it may be worth it if you’re looking for a weight loss plan that actually works, according to this study. Just stick to the right foods, and a slimmer physique will follow.

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One Reason Calorie-Tracking Apps Might Not Help You Lose Weight

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By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Nov. 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Millions of Americans use smartphone apps that help them track how many calories they consume each day, but a new study finds that people who used a popular one after their doctor recommended it did not lose any weight.

The study doesn’t conclusively debunk the idea of using such apps as weight-loss tools. Some participants were barely overweight in the first place, and their level of motivation varied, the researchers noted, and they added that they believe MyFitnessPal is fine as a calorie counter for people who are willing to use it.

“I recommend it to my own patients who want to lose weight and enjoy using apps,” said study author Dr. Brian Yoshio Laing. However, “most patients were simply not ready to commit the time to track calories. It takes several minutes to input everything you eat for each meal. Many patients felt it was too tedious, but some patients enjoy it and like getting the feedback on their daily caloric intake.”

With MyFitnessPal, users log in and record everything they eat and drink each day, while the app tracks the calories and nutritional value of what is consumed.

At issue is the obesity epidemic. According to medical researchers, more than one-third of Americans are obese, which is a step beyond overweight, with middle-aged people, blacks and Latinos especially likely to carry excess weight.

Apps like MyFitnessPal allow people to track not only their calories but also how much exercise they’re getting. Ideally, people will adjust their diets once they realize how many calories they’re taking in.

MyFitnessPal has 65 million users and more than 4 million foods in its database, said company spokeswoman Rebecca Silliman.

In the study, just over 200 overweight and obese primary care patients in the Los Angeles area were randomly assigned by their doctors to either use the MyFitnessPal app or get regular care. Researchers followed up at six months to see what happened to them.

The researchers couldn’t reach many of the patients. Of those who could be tracked, there was no difference between the two groups when it came to changes in weight and blood pressure levels.

“Many patients used the app initially but usage dropped off pretty quickly within the first one to two months,” Laing said. “There was some data suggesting the more people used the app, the more weight they lost. But we don’t know if this was simply because they were more motivated and would’ve lost weight with or without the app.”

Some patients appreciated the app, including some who lost more than 10 pounds. One said: “I realized I was consuming 5,000 to 6,000 [calories] per day and afterward I never ate that much again!” Another had this to say: “The app showed me where my problems are — so I reduced portion sizes and cut back on alcohol, carbs and sweets.”

Silliman, the MyFitnessPal spokeswoman, said using the app requires willingness and commitment. “We know that the app works, because we hear from our customers every single day that they have achieved their fitness goals using this tool,” she said.

MyFitnessPal helped the study authors do their research but didn’t fund the study.

Can calorie-counting apps become more effective? Study author Laing thinks so. “A faster, streamlined interface for entering foods may be a priority,” he said. “Alternatively, weight-loss apps could assess an individual’s readiness for self-monitoring before using the app and could prepare new users for the potential time commitment.”

The study appears in the Nov. 18 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

More information

For more information about fitness, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.