By Rosemary Counter - Monday, January 21, 2013 - 0 Comments
The social network can help you lose weight, but are you willing to be honest with your followers?
If you’ve been lucky enough never to find yourself at a Weight Watchers meeting, it goes something like this: a dozen dieters, mostly women, sit in a circle. In turn, but only if they want to, they share their weekly progress. “I lost 0.4 lb.,” someone might say. The rest of the room claps.
To encourage an appearance the next week, peppy leaders reiterate one staple statistic of the 50-year-old program: people who attend meetings regularly lose three times the weight as those who do not. Nonetheless, just two years after its last relaunch, Weight Watchers is revamping again (with its online 360° program) in an effort to keep up with the times.
Some dieters are already a tweet ahead. “I love a good meeting, but there wasn’t always a meeting when I needed it,” says 43-year-old Rebecca Regnier, a television reporter from Ohio. For her—and 58 per cent of Canadians who Weight Watchers says tried to lose weight in the last year—Twitter is always there. “When it’s 2 a.m. and I’m fighting a snack craving, it’s not 2 a.m. in Australia. I have friends there to talk me out of it.”
To her ever-expanding network, Regnier’s tweets include healthy humblebrags (“An apple handled some pre-lunch cravings for me today. Yay apple!”), support for her followers (“Don’t quit! Restart”), and admissions of gluttony (“I had a candy-bar-in-the-car moment”).
Despite periodic transgressions, all documented on @LaughItOff to almost 9,000 followers, Regnier lost 20 lb. How she did it—in short, choose any diet that works for you, follow experts in the field, connect with followers for support—became the ebook Your Twitter Diet, one of many that marries dieting with social-media oversharing.
Web options include Tweet What You Eat and Tweet Your Weight. GQ correspondent Drew Magary, down 60 lb., tweets his weight every morning in what he calls the “public humiliation diet.” With just the push of a button, an endless series of websites (Lose It, FitDay, SparkPeople) and apps (My Diet Coach, Thin Cam, the Eatery) can broadcast every bite into cyberspace.
Doing so isn’t always as easy as it seems. Meegan Dowe, a 33-year-old education coordinator from Halifax, who used to blog about her weight struggles anonymously, used the MyFitnessPal app to track her 90-lb. loss. “It tweets both the food I eat and the calories I burn,” she explains.
Though she hates to admit it, Dowe doesn’t think she could have lost the weight without Twitter. “It gave me a community I didn’t have; people at a similar weight as me and with the same frustrations,” she says. While people are almost always positive, sometimes they’re nasty. “I’ve heard things like, ‘You only burned 300 calories in 60 minutes? I could do it in 20.’ ”
Unlike Weight Watchers, Twitter is far from a private place. For those who thrive on aggressive competition, like GQ’s Magary, this might be “its own incentive anyway,” he wrote.
Others, not so much, says Weight Watchers’ chief scientist, Karen Miller-Kovach. “Social dieting is probably great for some and terrible for others.” The research is mixed, she says. It’s generally accepted that obesity is socially contagious, and that more and better support is associated with long-term weight loss. If social media are part of your support system, reported the Archives of Internal Medicine in December, then they can certainly help your progress. But they can’t be your only trick. “You’re not going to tweet yourself to thinness, but if you’re following a program and also tweeting about it, you may see more success,” says Miller-Kovach.
If a public weigh-in feels akin to modern torture, the Twitter diet could be detrimental. “It can reinforce shame. It can be embarrassing, humiliating and not at all helpful,” she says.
Regnier admits to feeling the shame “just a little bit.” For binge eaters like her, food sessions are often solitary and shameful, and a midnight Twitter confession forces an accountability she might otherwise not have. “But seriously,” she asks, “if you’re not willing to share with someone what you’re eating, then why are you eating it?”
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 12:02 PM - 0 Comments
There’s a tendency to divide the world of pills in two: evil pharmaceuticals and nice supplements. When we’re looking at the outrageous claims on the labels of supplements—that they’ll help us lose weight, clear-up acne, live long lives—we somehow forgot that the natural-health business is a business like any other, and that in Canada, while there are loose regulations around these products, they are not necessarily safe or effective.
Unlike pharmaceuticals—which admittedly have their own evidence problems—”natural” pills don’t undergo rigorous testing before they reach the market. So some of the claims about them are simply lies or not based in good science. As Dr. Edzard Ernst, one of the world’s foremost experts on the evidence for alternative complementary medicine, told Science-ish: “It is a myth to assume that the supplement industry behaves any differently from any other industry. It is about making money, and all too often people are less than responsible in the pursuit of this aim.”
The good news is that there is strong evidence to either back or refute some common notions about supplements. Science-ish sifted through the research to identify indications for capsules that have compelling science behind them. Here’s the Science-ish guide to supplements:
Antioxidants for preventative health
Don’t mean to be alarmist here but the evidence suggests antioxidant supplements (beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium) may actually kill you quicker.
Vitamin C for colds
This is a myth. As Science-ish has explained in the past, this regularly updated Cochrane review on vitamin C and the common cold shows that popping these pills every day does nothing to prevent colds and only maybe shortens their duration.
Vitamin D for a range of indications
From combating chronic pain to staving off cancer, this celebrated supplement seems to be recommended for everything. Unfortunately, the evidence for most vitamin D-related claims is weak. It doesn’t help reduce the risk of a range of cancers. There’s little evidence that these pills can alleviate chronic pain. As well, no link has been found between vitamin D and reductions in blood pressure, improved cardiovascular outcomes, and the prevention of fractures in older women. People whom vitamin D can help: those who have tested positive for a deficiency.
Glucosamine for osteoarthritis
According to high-quality studies, these supplements appear to help manage pain and improve physical function in people suffering with this joint disorder.
Melatonin for jet lag
Melatonin supplements are the closest thing we have to a cure for jet lag. As a 2009 systematic review pointed out, “Melatonin is remarkably effective in preventing or reducing jet lag, and occasional short-term use appears to be safe.” What’s more, melatonin may also be effective for treating a number of sleeping problems, as well as cluster headaches.
Probiotics for gut health
For some very specific indications—managing diarrhea in hospital settings or antibiotic-induced diarrhea—probiotics seem to be helpful. But despite their popularity for improving gut health, the jury is still out.
St. John’s wort for depression
The use of this stuff to manage depression is actually backed by strong evidence. A synthesis of 29 studies in over 5,000 patients from several countries found that those who took the plant extract in the trials “were superior to placebo, similarly effective as standard antidepressants, and had fewer side effects than standard antidepressants.”
Weight loss supplements
Lies, damned lies. Raspberry ketones, green coffee beans: don’t waste your money! If there was a tablet that could help with weight loss, we would not be in the midst of an obesity epidemic. In fact, Science-ish has yet to come across claims about a weight-loss supplement that are backed by good evidence. As a general rule, when a study about one of these “fat busters” suggests it’s effective, that’s probably because the experiment was poorly designed or it was done in animals or cells but not in people.
Your supplement of choice isn’t listed here?
Check out this user-friendly, science-based website for more information about a range of supplements.
Science-ish is a joint project of Maclean’s, the Medical Post and the McMaster Health Forum. Julia Belluz is the associate editor at the Medical Post. Got a tip? Seen something that’s Science-ish? Message her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @juliaoftoronto
By Jessica Allen - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Weight-loss surgery cards give better bang for your buck at buffets
If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who’ve undergone gastric bypass surgery in an effort to lose weight and emerged with a stomach the size of an egg, it hardly seems fair to pay the same price at an all-you-can-eat buffet as everyone else. Enter surgeon-distributed weight-loss surgery (WLS) cards, which allow patients to eat at a discount at buffets such as the Golden Corral chain or restaurants like Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, Olive Garden and Red Lobster. Given that they let people order dinner from lunch and children’s menus, where portions are smaller, not to mention cheaper, it’s not surprising the cards are in demand. Ann Rogers, director of the Penn State surgical weight-loss program, told NPR, “If we forget to give them out, the patient says, ‘What about those discount cards?’ ”
Although they’ve been around since the 1990s, the rise in bariatric surgery in the U.S. has expanded the market. The cards’ current popularity couldn’t be more timely. According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, restaurant portions have been growing in the past decade, contributing to the obesity epidemic. So the WLS cards are a concept that might actually come in handy for the rest of us.
By Julia Belluz - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 5:25 PM - 0 Comments
This past weekend, Science-ish was disappointed to read Margaret Wente’s column on health evidence, in which she opined: “Today’s health wisdom has a way of becoming tomorrow’s bunk… This may help explain why all the standard diet and exercise advice is worthless.” Sure, evidence about the best way to eat is evolving, the media screws up reporting on science all the time, and the health sciences are particularly vulnerable to what Edmonton-based health law professor Timothy Caulfield calls, in his insightful new book A Cure for Everything!, “an unprecedented number of perverting influences” like Big Food.
But that’s no reason to discount science altogether. When you look at the evidence about diet, some things are pretty straightforward. So rather than taking a blind approach to a healthy life, Science-ish will stick to the science, and give you the six things you should know about an evidence-based approach to diet and weight loss.
By Julia McKinnell - Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Petites who overeat by just 28 calories a day could gain 30 lb. in a decade
“Have you ever wondered why they make clothes for petite women but not food?” asks fitness expert Jim Karas in a new book that’s specifically written for women five foot four and under.
The Petite Advantage Diet is aimed at shorter women who are wondering, in frustration, why regular diets don’t work for them.
“Petite women can’t eat like the big girls,” Karas tells Maclean’s from his office in Chicago, where he’s been personal trainer to celebrities like Diane Sawyer, Hugh Jackman and Oprah Winfrey’s best friend, Gayle King.
With the release of The Petite Advantage Diet, “women are looking at me like I’m the second coming,” he says. “They’re saying, ‘Oh my God! I always knew there was something different! None of these other programs is working for me.’ It’s an interesting sense of urgency for this book. In the United States, 47 million women are five foot four and under. There are tens of millions of women in the U.S. and Canada who are falling into this category.”
By Julia McKinnell - Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 8:20 AM - 1 Comment
A woman’s guide to diabetes offers tips about dating, diet and airport security
Having diabetes is a full-time job that goes beyond balancing blood sugar levels, writes the author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Diabetes. You have to worry about how to feel sexy with a plastic pump attached to your lower back; how to still feel desirable with bruises on your stomach from insulin injections; and when in your relationship to tell your new boyfriend he’ll need to run and grab orange juice if you start to pass out.
Author Amy Stockwell Mercer was 14 when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Her book includes her own experience of living with diabetes, as well as advice from other diabetic women on topics ranging from dating and diet to travel tips and motherhood.
According to a University of Toronto study, teenage girls with diabetes are twice as likely to develop eating disorders. “Diabulimia,” Mercer explains, “is characterized by a person with diabetes who is intentionally skipping insulin therapy to keep blood glucose levels elevated, which in turn causes dangerous weight loss.”
One woman cited in the book, Charla, hated being chubby as a child and remembers suddenly losing weight when she was 16. “God was answering my prayers!” she thought as she continued to eat gluttonously without gaining weight. “I also couldn’t get out of bed and knew something was wrong.” Her parents took her to the hospital where she was diagnosed with diabetes. Once she started insulin, “I gained 14 lb. I felt like the Michelin man. The day I got out of hospital I started skipping insulin because I had to lose weight.” She eventually started taking just enough to survive, “one shot at bedtime.”
By her thirties, Charla had developed eye complications—diabetic retinopathy. She finally found a supportive, female endocrinologist who advised Charla to switch from injecting insulin with a needle to wearing an insulin pump. “When I first started wearing the pump, I hated it. I felt like it was a scarlet D on my forehead. I almost gave it back. I stopped wearing dresses. I hated wearing it on my belt because you could see the tubing. Then I figured out I could hide it in a pants pocket by putting a hole in the pocket and stringing the tubing through the hole. Once I figured that out, it was much better. I’m glad I stuck with it.”
In a chapter on puberty, Mercer warns that women with diabetes have more menstrual problems than their non-diabetic peers. Expect long cycles and heavy menstruation. “Usually, a woman’s insulin requirement goes up 10 to 15 per cent during the last three to five days of the menstrual cycle because of the hormone progesterone. Rising levels of progesterone counteract the action of insulin. The only way to manage changing insulin requirements right before your period is to measure your [blood glucose] often.”
Most of the women in Mercer’s book agree it’s best to tell your friends and dates as soon as possible about your condition. “I was a little self-conscious about carrying syringes around. I didn’t want anyone to think I was a drug addict,” explains Stella Biggs. Another woman, Kristin Makszin, tells Mercer, “I think that diabetes can be a good way to find a caring person. If it’s the right person, they will care and want to learn more.”
Another woman, Maia Caemmerer, shares her solution for birth control. “I chose to get a Mirena [hormone] IUD. The consistent release of hormones evened out my blood glucose. It was one of the best choices I made for my diabetes, and it took one thing off my daily health-related to-do list: no more birth control pills!”
In a chapter on travel, a woman warns that the battery in her insulin pump sets off the metal detector at the airport. She’s learned to wear the pump on her waistband, outside her clothing, when she’s travelling and to “never, ever wear a long skirt going through the checkpoint. There is nothing more humiliating than a TSA agent frisking your inner thighs while the whole world is watching.” And don’t forget, “eastward travel means a shorter day. If you inject insulin, less may be needed. Westward travel means a longer day, so more insulin may be needed. Keep your watch on your home time zone until the morning after you arrive.”
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
Does the fashion icon sell weight-loss better than Elizabeth Manley?
At the recent 25th anniversary party for Fashion Television, Jeanne Beker was the centre of attention. (The “Jane Goodall of fashion,” as National Post gossip columnist Shinan Govani calls her, has hosted the show since it began.) But instead of talking about FT or Beker’s new clothing line at the Bay, everybody was talking about how thin she looked, and rumours she was on Herbal Magic. Beker later confirmed she’d been using the Canadian weight-loss product, a program that can include meal plans and supplements, and taken off 20 lb. “She was skinnier than some of the models,” gushed Fashion magazine editor Bernadette Mora on Twitter. Beker “certainly looks a lot better than poor Elizabeth Manley,” the product’s official spokesperson, journalist Karen von Hahn wrote on her blog.
Manley, an Olympic medallist in figure skating, has been pitching for Herbal Magic since last year and, after losing almost 30 lb., she looks fit and trim. But who makes a better spokesperson for the company is an open question. Canadians have seen Beker at countless fashion events over the years, but can picture Manley barbecuing in the backyard. On the Herbal Magic site, Manley wears a sweater and jeans; Beker is a high-fashion icon. Even so, von Hahn seemed to suggest that Beker (who isn’t an official Herbal Magic spokesperson) might provide some stiff competition for Manley.
By Julien Russell Brunet - Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 12:20 PM - 1 Comment
The program pays one pound sterling for each pound lost
In a bid to fight back against Britain’s exploding obesity crisis, a town in Essex is trying a novel approach: it’s going to pay people to lose weight.
Starting in September, Basildon’s Pound-for-Pound pilot project will reward each of its 100 volunteers with a £1 ($1.90) shopping voucher for every pound of weight they shed. Before-and-after photo sessions will document their progress, and the volunteers will get advice on how to best lose weight. At the end of the program, the participants return for a weigh-in, where they can cash in their weight loss for financial gain.
Similar programs have been used successfully in the U.S., but this project is the first of its kind in the U.K., where the adult obesity level is 24 per cent, the highest in Europe. Basildon in particular has an adult obesity rate of just under 26 per cent, the fifth-highest rate in Britain. Continue…
By Joanne Latimer - Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
Some Weight Watchers leaders are so funny their meetings are standing room only
“I’ll never forget the day I found my hip bone,” vamped Tara Anderson at the packed Weight Watchers meeting she was leading in Saint-Leonard, Montreal. “I found this bump! So I came out of the shower [back of her hand across her forehead] and announced dramatically to my husband, ‘I have a lump.’ He said, ‘Well, you’ve got a matching one right over there.’”
Anderson (down 40 lb.) didn’t wait for the laughter to stop before pressing ahead: “I just want to thank the member who gave me the present last week and told me it had zero [food] points. Driving home, I was overcome with hunger, so I tried to rip open the Cellophane by stabbing at it with a pen. I finally got it open and bit into it blindly.” She paused for effect. “It was a sponge! This is a reminder: don’t let yourself get that hungry.”