TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s What Happened When I Tried a Children’s Weight-Loss App

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Michael Hevesy—Getty Images

A new Silicon Valley startup is giving kids a way to manage their eating habits on that smartphone they're glued to all the time anyway

I’m seeing red everywhere—not because I have an anger management problem but because I’ve been using Kurbo, a new app designed to help kids lose weight. And as with many things aimed at children (See: remote control cars, trampolines, songs from Frozen), adults may find themselves loving the app, too.

Kurbo is built on a “traffic light” program that has roots in research conducted decades ago, and which the founders licensed from Stanford University. Here’s how it works: Foods packed with calories, whether an ice cream sundae or bagel, are classified as red-light. Foods that you should approach with caution, like pasta and whole wheat bread, are yellow. And the go-crazy-have-all-you-want things, like broccoli or mushrooms, are green.

Kids are instructed to log everything they eat in terms of portions—and a portion, a welcome video explains, is generally the size of their fist (or open palm if the food is flat like a pizza). Users are given an automatically generated budget of reds they can have each day, and that budget can quickly become a backdrop in your mind that affects decisions you weren’t thinking much about before.

Once I found out that each slice of sourdough bread was a red and whole wheat was yellow, I started choosing wheat for my sandwiches—because the difference, one I knew about but brushed off before, was hardly worth two of my precious reds. I didn’t pick at a bowl of olives at a restaurant this past weekend, something I usually wouldn’t have even registered, because I wanted to spend that red on a beer. I can no longer justify the guacamole by telling myself that avocados are full of “good fat,” because good or bad, those babies are red. Nuts? Red. Cheese? Red. Light cheese? Beautiful yellow. (Nota bene: Eating more than two servings of any yellow in a single sitting also starts counting as a red.) There is no calorie counting or quibbling.

The downside of being so simple is that the app is inevitably reductive. If you just have a few bacon bits on a salad, you might not have a whole portion, and there’s no way to log that—and almost any nutritionist worth their salt would agree that some of the “red” foods, like the aforementioned avocados I’m suddenly abstaining from, are healthy in moderation. Also, many foods are nowhere to be found in the app’s limited (though expanding) catalog. Expecting kids to break down a dish of beef and broccoli from the local Chinese joint into individual components—when it’s unclear what those components actually are beyond beef and broccoli—is unrealistic. And while foods like nuts and even cheese are high when it comes to energy density, they have good qualities, too.

That said, the simplicity had its benefits. I found, for instance, that because I wanted to be confident in my color-logging, I’d opt for foods like a salad for which I chose the ingredients instead of one that was prepackaged. “It’s a very important behavioral principle: If you can’t count it, you can’t keep track of it, and if you can’t keep track of it, you can’t change it,” says Tom Robinson, professor of pediatrics at Stanford and director of the university’s Center for Healthy Weight. People are generally lousy at counting calories, he says, and the calorie count on a menu might be far from what actually shows up on your plate. “If you’re trying to get from 40 to 35 red lights a week,” he says, “you’re going to be focusing more on the overall choices you’re making.”

Kurbo co-founder Joanna Strober conceived of the app when she was trying to help her son to lose weight. As they visited doctors, she found they had no tools that would fit naturally into his daily life. “Okay, your child is overweight. But what do you do next?” she says. One thing she did was discover Stanford’s program for treating childhood obesity, which has a solid track record but is only available to a couple hundred families per year for a hefty sum ($3,500 for six months of weekly visits). She also found that apps marketed to the 18-and-older crowd had proved effective. So Strober tried to take every element from Stanford that she could and pack it into the Kurbo app for kids, with the help of $5.8 million in venture capital funding, making a similar system more available to the masses.

For $10 per month, a whole family gets access to the app, which comes with virtual coaching, automated notifications that nudge users to log more regularly or congratulate them for staying within their budget of reds. For $75 per month, one person in the family also gets a weekly call from a nutritional coach, some of whom have come from the Stanford program. And if that price point still sounds high, don’t despair: The company is currently in talks with insurance companies about getting coverage for usage of the app. (For the whole family to get access, users need to sign up through Kurbo’s website; an Apple app is available now, an Android app is expected in September.)

Through the Stanford program, more than 80% of kids reduce the percentage that they’re overweight, and more than 75% of overweight parents lose weight, too. In Kurbo’s beta program, which included kids ages 8 to 18, more than 85% of participants reduced their body mass index over 10 weeks.

One of the beta users was Tiana Lepera, a 14-year-old from Ogdensburg, NJ. She’s lost 10 lbs. since she starting seeing the world in red, yellow and green. “Even when we go to restaurants, we know that certain foods would be red lights, yellow lights and green lights,” she says. “If I don’t eat the bread that will be one less red light. You always think about it. It changes the way you’re thinking about food.” Her mom has meanwhile lost 29 lbs. and gone off blood pressure medication she’s had to take for the past 14 years. “Everything,” Keshia says, “corresponds to how many red lights you eat.”

TIME United Arab Emirates

Dubai’s Kids Now Worth Their Weight (Loss) in Gold

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Stack of Gold Bars Getty Images

"Your Child in Gold" program will award two grams of gold for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) a child manages to shed over two months

Dubai has devised a rather unorthodox plan to incentivize its citizens to lose weight: Shed pounds, and we’ll give you some gold. And if you’re a child — we’ll give you double.

Participants will be awarded one gram of gold, worth just under $42, for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) in weight lost. But if a family has a child over 2 but under 14 years of age, then they will receive 2g for every kilo lost. Only two children can participate per family, and the minimum weight loss is 2kg to be eligible.

Last year the program focused principally on Dubai’s adult population, and it paid out $762,340 in gold, Quartz reports.

The Dubai Municipality launched the “Your Child in Gold” initiative during Ramadan. The website for the competition gives weight loss advice: “Ramadan is the most appropriate season to launch such initiatives as it reminds us about many health benefits of reducing weight and encourages us to take strong steps to change our bad lifestyles.”

Last week, the Kahleej Times reported 341 children had officially weighed in to participate in the 2-month program.

Quartz cited a 2012 BMC Public Health Journal study which found that the UAE is the sixth most obese nation in the world.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Eat Umami, Eat Less

Calories count when it comes to weight, but taste may play a role as well.

If you’re feeling unsatisfied after a meal, perhaps wasn’t flavorful enough. A new study suggests that the taste umami may actually make you feel more full and satisfied.

Umami, a hard-to-describe flavor that tilts toward the savory, is considered the “fifth taste” after salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Long used in Japanese cooking, umami is actually glutamate, once it’s broken down by cooking a steak, for example, or by fermenting things like cheese and soy. For a quick dash of umami, cooks have turned to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer that’s added to soups and other foods. Now a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that MSG can make food more appetizing and therefore help diners feel more full.

The researchers asked 27 participants to eat the same breakfast, then some ate a high-protein soup with an MSG-enzyme combination while other had soup without the pairing. Everyone then sat down for an identical lunch, and the scientists tracked how much the volunteers ate as well as asked them questions about their appetite and how full they felt. The diners who ate the MSG-laced soup consumed less of their lunch, but still say they felt satisfied, suggesting that umami may have a role in regulating eating.

It’s not the first taste linked to appetite — peppers and spicy foods, for example, have been associated with eating less. It’s not exactly clear how the flavors affect appetite — they may work in different ways — but the growing research suggests that how much you eat may be affected by which taste buds the food activates.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Tricks to Avoid Being Hungry All the Time

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Daniel Ingold—Getty Images/Cultura RF

Once, one of my clients half-jokingly requested an exorcism from the demon possessing her body: hunger. Kind of a gruesome analogy but, truth be told, it’s fairly accurate considering how out of control she felt. When my clients struggle like this, I often say I wish I could wave a magic wand to make it all better, which of course I can’t. But what I can do is offer some tried and true advice to effectively rein in appetite and help regain a sense of balance. The five strategies below are tops for doing just that, and each also has the power to enhance your overall health. Win-win!

Make sweating fun

Have you ever found yourself hungrier after working out, and then “ate back” more calories than you burned exercising? It’s a common phenomenon, and the trick to breaking the cycle may just be choosing ways of being active that feel like fun. In a recent Cornell University study, researchers asked two groups of adults to take a two kilometer walk before lunch or a snack. Those who were told they had been on an exercise walk wound up eating 35% more chocolate pudding for dessert at lunch and 124% more M&Ms at snack time than those who were told they had been on a fun, scenic walk.

Health.com:25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

Other research shows that intense exercise—sweat sessions that are perceived as work—can lead to eating more overall. In other words, a “no pain, no gain” mentality may wind up wreaking havoc with your appetite. If you’re in a similar boat, try mixing things up. Trade grueling workouts for activities that get your heart rate up but seem like play. Think dancing, hiking, roller skating, and swimming. Many of my clients find that even if they burn fewer calories, engaging in recreational activities often helps them lose more weight, because they don’t experience rebound hunger spikes.

Get enough sleep

Catching too few ZZZs is notorious for not only ramping up hunger, but also increasing cravings for junk food. One study from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that too little sleep triggered excessive eating and weight gain, and getting more sleep slashed the consumption of carbs and fat, leading to weight loss. Another from the University of Chicago found that getting 4.5 hours of sleep (rather than 8.5) ups hunger and appetite, especially in the early afternoon.

In addition to causing appetite craziness, sleep deprivation has been tied to a number of health problems, including weakened immunity, and a greater risk of type 2 diabetes, depression, and heart disease. For these reasons, in my opinion, making sleep a priority may even be more important than exercise for weight loss. If you’re falling short like most people, read up on ways to improve your slumber.

Health.com:14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

Drink more water

Research backs what I find to be true for myself and my clients: drinking plenty of water can help manage appetite. One study found that people who drink about seven cups of water per day eat nearly 200 fewer daily calories compared to those who gulp less than one glass. Another found that when adults drank two cups of water right before meals, they ate 75 to 90 fewer calories. A second study by the same researchers showed that when two groups of people followed the same calorie-limited diet for 12 weeks, those who downed two cups of water before meals lost about 15.5 pounds compared to about 11 pounds for the water-free bunch.

Finally, a German study showed that a 16-ounce dose of water resulted in a 30% increase in metabolic rate within 10 minutes. The effect peaked 30 to 40 minutes after consumption, but was sustained for more than an hour. To take advantage of the benefits, drink about 16 ounces of H2O four times a day. If you dislike the taste of plain water, spruce it up with wedges of lemon or lime, fresh mint leaves, cucumber slices, fresh grated ginger, or a bit of mashed fruit.

Eat on a schedule

Your body loves consistency, which is why in my own personal experience, as well as my clients’, eating at the same times every day can go a long way in regulating appetite. Try eating breakfast within one hour of waking up and spacing your remaining meals about three to five hours apart. In addition to consistent meal times, strive for a steady meal structure in terms of the foods and proportions you include.

Health.com:15 Ways to Lose Weight Without Trying

For example, I recommend always including: produce, lean protein, plant-based fat (like avocado), and a small portion of a healthy starch. I’ve seen that mixing up the foods you choose within these categories, while keeping the types and quantities comparable, can have a huge impact on regulating hunger, supporting sustained energy, and creating a predictable return of hunger, almost like clockwork. In other words, when your meals are all over the place, it’s much easier to feel hungry all the time or confuse true hunger with boredom or other emotions.

Learn how to deal with stress

For most of my clients, stress is the number one eating trigger. And research backs the old adage: “stressed is desserts spelled backwards.” One recent animal study found that female monkeys chronically exposed to stress overate calorie-rich foods, unlike their calm counterparts. They also ate more throughout the day and evening, while the chilled-out chimps naturally restricted their noshing to daytime hours only. This behavior parallels what I see in so many people, and until they find effective ways to reduce stress, emotional eating is a difficult pattern to break.

Health.com:25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

The best place to start: stop beating yourself up. Instead of berating yourself for not having enough willpower, acknowledge that when your stress hormones are surging, you’re programmed to reach for chips or chocolate. Speak kindly to yourself, and shift your energy toward testing out positive ways to cope, like listening to guided meditation, venting to a friend, spending time outdoors, reading, stretching, drawing, or whatever gives you a mini-vacation from the intensity of your emotions. That strategy, rather than “dieting,” is a much better way to set yourself up for successful weight control and better overall health.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME beauty

‘Skinny Girl’ Bethenny Frankel Wears 4-Year-Old’s Clothes

Instagram post was met with a horrified response from her followers

Bethenny Frankel, former reality TV star and owner of the “Skinnygirl” beverages line, has outraged her Instagram followers after posing in her four-year-old daughter’s clothes.

Frankel, 43, who became famous after starring on The Real Housewives of New York City, sparked horror online after dressing in her daughter Bryn’s pajamas.

She posted the photo Sunday morning along with the caption: “This is my daughter’s nightgown and PJ shorts. Think we’re ready to start sharing clothes yet?”

Most people online did not think that. User jenmo2222 wrote: “I’m sorry this isn’t cute…a grown woman shouldn’t be the size of a 4-year-old especially when they have admitted to having an eating disorder in the past…!”

Fellow Instagram user, nonniedidit echoed her sentiments, commenting: “Women shouldn’t brag about being as thin as a small child… Go eat a sandwich.”

Frankel, however, defied her critics on Twitter, tweeting Monday:

In response to a fan who offered their support Frankel wrote:

Frankel, who sold Skinnygirl in March 2011 for a reported $100 million, has admitted to struggling with her weight. In a 2010 interview with People magazine she confessed: “I was owned by dieting. “I hated myself. I was completely obsessed and consumed.”

 

TIME You Asked

You Asked: Is Hot Yoga Good For You—And For Weight Loss?

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Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Devoted hot yogis swear by the activity’s many benefits. Others roll their eyes and wonder: Is it even safe to work out at 104 degrees? Here's what the experts say

Start poking around for hard science on Bikram or “hot” yoga, and you’ll find something curious: There’s not much of it. “Considering how popular this is, it’s pretty shocking that our study is one of the very first published research efforts on the subject,” says Dr. Brian L. Tracy, an exercise scientist at Colorado State University.

Tracy and his team have conducted two experiments on the physical effects of Bikram yoga, which involves completing a strict series of poses over a period of 90 minutes in a room heated to 104 or 105 degrees. The first experiment included healthy (but sedentary) young adults with no yoga experience. After eight weeks and 24 Bikram sessions, Tracy says the study participants showed some modest increases in strength and muscle control, as well as a big improvement in balance. They also achieved a slight drop in body weight.

“To be honest, we were pretty surprised by the small size of the weight change, because when you’re in the Bikram studio you feel like you’re working really hard,” Tracy says. “And remember, these were people who didn’t regularly exercise before the study. We were expecting a bigger drop.”

For his follow-up experiment, Tracy hooked up experienced yogis to equipment designed to measure their heart rates, body temperatures, and energy expenditures during a typical Bikram session. That new data helped explain some of those disappointing body-weight findings: While heart rate and core temp climbed significantly (but not dangerously) during the 90-minute session, the participants’ metabolic rates—or the amount of calories their bodies burned—were roughly equivalent to those of people walking briskly.

“I think the immediate reaction is disappointment if you’re a Bikram fan,” Tracy says, adding that, if you’ve spent time reading about the activity online, you might assume you’d be shedding up to 1,000 calories per session. “But that’s not the case,” he says. His research shows men burn an average of 460 calories, while women work off about 330. “I think the heat and the difficulty of the postures combine to alter your perception of the intensity of the exercise,” he explains. On the other hand, one part of your body is getting a major workout, Tracy says. “Heart rates are quite high for the amount of work you’re doing. Quite high.”

Is that something you should worry about, though? “Potentially,” says Dr. Kim Allan Williams, president-elect of the American College of Cardiology. When you’re hot, your heart pumps large volumes of blood to the vessels in your skin where, through a process called convection, sweat is produced. “And it’s actually not the sweat, but the sweat’s evaporation that helps cool you off,” he explains. “Sweat does not evaporate efficiently in those conditions,” he adds.

What does this have to do with hot yoga? The humidity in Bikram yoga studios is supposed to be kept at 40 percent. But in reality, Tracy says it’s tough to know how often that goal is achieved or maintained. As the humidity climbs and your heart keeps working to cool you off, you’re sweating out minerals like potassium and sodium, along with H20, Williams says. “It’s the same for athletes working out in the middle of summer,” he adds. “You have to be mindful of the heat and humidity.”

To protect yourself, both Tracy and Williams say hot yoga practicers need to pay close attention to their bodies. Feelings of light-headedness, nausea, confusion, or muscle cramping—either during or after a yoga practice—are all signs that you need to take a break. That’s especially true for inexperienced yogis, whose bodies aren’t acclimated to the rigors of hot yoga, Tracy explains.

Williams also stresses the importance of hydration and nutrient replacement. “You can’t sweat out a bunch of minerals and then replace them with water alone,” he says. Dangerously low levels of potassium, sodium, and other electrolytes contribute to those scary health risks mentioned above.

Left unanswered are questions about the long-term effects of hot yoga practice, or how people with heart defects or other health conditions might react to the strenuous conditions, Tracy says.

Sweaty bodies aside, most hot yoga fans also praise the activity’s mental and psychological benefits. And a growing pile of research on yoga suggests the practice—and not just the hot varieties—may help lower stress while improving pain management and emotion regulation in ways similar to meditation.

“This isn’t something we’ve studied directly, but I do think there’s an element of mindfulness in Bikram yoga instruction,” says Emily Lindsay, who researches stress and mindfulness meditation at Carnegie Mellon University. Focusing your attention on your breathing and body posture can anchor you in the present moment and foster mindfulness, Lindsay explains. Yoga practice can also provide moments of peace without interruption from your cell phone, email, or life’s other routine distractions. It’s not farfetched to think that these components could offer yoga practitioners some psychological benefits, Lindsay says.

“Millions of people do it, and there aren’t just one or two anecdotal stories about how Bikram changes people’s lives,” Tracy says. “So there has to be something to it.”

MONEY consumer psychology

Why We Always Fall for Products Making Outlandish Claims

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Chris Weeks—WireImage

Who would be foolish enough to fall for "shoes" that make it feel like you're running barefoot, or cookies that promise to make women's breasts bigger? Lots and lots of people, apparently.

Even the smartest consumers can be tempted to buy a product based on some marketing claim that, deep down, everyone knows can’t be true. Why?

We live in a time when modern-day snake oil, in the form of not-so-miraculous “miracle” products that are misleading if not worse, is around every corner. For example, based on sales totals, it looks like more than 70 million Americans believed Vibram’s claim that running in “shoes” that brought you a step closer to jogging barefoot would improve their “foot health.” Vibram, creator of the thin-soled FiveFinger running shoes that fit each toe like a glove, was unable to substantiate that claim, and the company settled a $3.75 million lawsuit this spring, entitling buyers to refunds.

Last summer, Skechers began paying out a $40 million class action lawsuit to more than a half million people who believed it when the company (and spokesmodel Kim Kardashian) said the shoes could not only tone muscles but also help them lose weight and improve their cardiovascular health. Reebok and FitFlops have also lost lawsuits on behalf of millions of other consumers who believed similar overstatements about the power of shoes to basically do our workouts for us.

Though consumers apparently have a soft spot for supposedly miracle-performing footwear, we’re not just suckers for hyped-up claims about shoes. Millions have purchased weight-loss potions that promise users they’ll lose fat without changing the exercise and eating habits that piled on the pounds in the first place; or lotions that can sprout new hair on bald heads. (It certainly doesn’t help that medical experts like TV’s Dr. Oz sometimes seem to endorse dubious weight-loss products.) This spring, the FTC announced that Lice Shield, a “lice-prevention” shampoo, deceived customers and exaggerated claims, and ordered the company to pay $500,000 and stop pretending that the product was “scientifically shown to repel head lice.” Another recent FTC settlement will stop the company that makes a supplement called BrainStrong Adult from claiming it has clinical proof the product “improves adult memory.”

Sometimes, the claims are downright laughable, like the F-Cup Cookies sold in Japan that are supposed to make your breasts bigger.

How could anyone fall for such claims? How can people not know better? What’s behind our will to believe when common sense tells us otherwise? There are four particularly strong forces at work: one is human nature, and three are unique to our times.

1. We are hopeful. If we’re lucky, we have a healthy dose of a charming, positive and essential human quality: hope. Add a dash of that particularly American characteristic, optimism, and we have the potential to be led astray. Hope gives us the will to try, while optimism gives us fortitude. Untempered by common sense and logic, though, hope and optimism can devolve to gullibility. The solution is not to decrease hope—it’s to blend in wisdom, and a bit of skepticism.

2. We see miracles in action every day. One marvelous technological advancement after another, from GPS systems to smartphones, has taught us to believe in innovation. “New” has never been better, and we eagerly await the next bit of wizardry. We’re more trusting and less skeptical of innovation, and therefore more likely to believe that the next big thing is really all that—the next big thing. That puts a damper on an age-old adage that’s kept us on the straight and narrow for years: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.” Today’s gadgets and innovations sometimes actually are as good as advertised. Which means consumers have to be craftier in ferreting out potentially false claims and examining the reputation of the source.

3. We have no attention spans. Evaluating products, and product claims, is harder today because of another side effect of technology—saturated with stimulation, we increasingly skim and rely on visual cues such as photos and symbolism to get the gist of what some hot new thing does. Nobody has ever been a fan of “fine print,” but today we’re less tolerant than ever. Nobody has the time or interest to dig deeper. Shorter attention spans have resulted in less patience to temper hope and optimism with thinking things through.

4. We are manipulated by marketers. Lastly, consumers are up against some brilliant marketing minds—professionals who are now armed with reams of data and psychological insights. Marketers increasingly use psychology to understand the deepest motivations of consumers and create the most resonant messaging. Most apply those insights to more fully satisfy consumers and gain an edge in a fiercely competitive marketplace. But some are less honest. Marketers have always been some of the best communicators in the world, and today they’re more aware and arguably better than ever.

Deep down, we want to believe in magic. Human beings always have. Thanks to the spectacular increase in innovation, from smartphones to self-driving cars, there’s proof that products can do seemingly magical, miraculous things. But the existence of amazing gadgets isn’t an excuse to lose grasp with reality. Smart shoppers temper hope, optimism, and awe with critical reasoning. It seems like a downer, but it’s never been more important.
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Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

TIME Nutrition

Everything You Know About Breakfast Is Wrong

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bsterling—Getty Images/RooM RF

Scientists discover breakfast may not provide all the benefits we thought it did. But there are other reasons you should eat it

Breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day if you do it right. And weight loss advice has always encouraged eating breakfast for optimal weight management. However, two new studies show this might not be true.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) discovered that skipping breakfast doesn’t necessarily help or harm weight loss efforts. In their 16-week clinical trial looking at overweight and obese participants,they report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that eating or skipping breakfast had no effect on participants’ weight loss.

Another study in the same journal found that contrary to popular belief, having breakfast every day was not tied to an improvement in metabolism. Prior thought—supported by research—has shown that eating early in the day can prevent people from overeating later out of hunger, and it boosts their metabolism early. The new study which examined causal links between breakfast habits and energy balance couldn’t prove that.

The first study did not control the intake of the participants, which could have an impact on their findings, and the second study suggests there are still other reasons to eat breakfast. The researchers of the second study found that eating breakfast was causally linked to more energy burned during physical activity, and more stable blood sugar levels in the afternoon and evening.

Although the studies question some commonly shared perspectives on the morning meal, skipping breakfast isn’t necessarily the answer—especially if not eating in the morning makes you a grump. Keep your family, friends, and coworkers in mind, please.

TIME Nutrition

“Eat Less, Exercise More” Isn’t The Answer For Weight Loss

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Paula Hible—Getty Images

Experts make an argument for why we should stop counting calories

You’ve heard it before: To lose weight, simply eat less and exercise more. In theory, that makes sense. Actually, it’s not just in theory—science has proven that burning more calories than you consume will result in weight loss. But the trouble is that this only has short-term results. For long-term weight loss, it simply doesn’t work, say renowned obesity experts in a recent JAMA commentary.

Ultimately their argument is this: stop counting calories. “We intuitively know that eat less exercise more doesn’t work. It’s such simple advice that if it worked, my colleagues and I would be out of job,” says Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. “The uncomfortable fact is that an exceedingly small number of people can lose a substantial amount of weight and keep it off following that advice.”

Blaming excess weight on people simply not changing their eating habits goes back thousands of years. Sloth and gluttony are two of the seven deadly sins, after all. But Ludwig and Dr. Mark L. Friedman of the Nutrition Science Initiative in San Diego, argue that this mindset disregards decades of research on the biological factors that control body weight. And they are not just talking about the role genetics play. They say we should stop viewing weight as something separate from other biological functions—like hormones and hunger and the effects of what foods we eat, not just how much of them.

What, then, is causing the obesity epidemic? The authors say it’s refined carbohydrates. Sugar and processed grains like white bread which have become ubiquitous in our diets, and one of the reasons refined carbs is the prime culprit is that we’ve spent far too long chastising fat. “We have to forget the low-fat paradigm,” says Dr. Ludwig. “Some high fat foods like avocado, nuts and olive oil are among the healthiest foods we could possibly eat.”

Refined carbohydrates spike insulin levels. Insulin, as Ludwig describes, is the granddaddy of anabolic hormones. Basically, when you eat a lot of refined carbs, like say, a 100-calorie pack of Oreos, it causes a surge of insulin that will trigger your fat cells to soak up calories—but there are not enough calories and nutrients to provide the energy that our bodies need. The brain recognizes this discrepancy and triggers a hunger response that also slows our metabolism. We are then going to want to eat more.

Instead of counting calories, we should be focusing on the quality of the food we consume, says Ludwig. “If you just try to eat less and exercise more, most people will lose that battle. Metabolism wins,” says Ludwig. “Simply looking at calories is misguided at best and potentially harmful because it disregards how those calories are affecting our hormones and metabolism—and ultimately our ability to stick to a diet.”

 

TIME Nutrition

3 Ways to Lose Weight Without Dieting

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Peter Cade—Getty Images

Cutting back on calories sounds good in theory, but not in practice. Here’s what science says about other tricks to bring weight down

No one needs to be told that if they eat less, they’ll probably weigh less. But if it were that simple, we wouldn’t be staring down a national crisis of overweight and obesity, and those at a healthy weight wouldn’t have a hard time tamping down temptation.

Researchers are building the case for unusual approaches to weight loss and while none of these strategies alone are a bull’s-eye, as anyone who’s tried a diet knows, every little bit helps.

Be mindful.

It’s the latest buzzword in health and wellness because it’s an effective way to direct potentially negative behaviors toward more positive, healthy habits. In a review of 21 studies published in the International Association for the Study of Obesity that used mindfulness-based strategies, most showed that the techniques helped to curb binge eating, emotional eating and over-eating in response to outside cues. For weight purposes, it’s based on non-judgmental ways of analyzing why overweight and obese people eat—whether it’s because of stress or other negative emotions, or because you’re responding unconsciously to cues such as the sight or smell of food.

The mindfulness interventions included things such as figuring out the difference between actually feeling hungry and eating to satisfy emotional needs such as stress, anger or depression. The strategies also helped overweight and obese people to find other outlets, not involving food, for their negative feelings.

MORE: The Mindful Revolution

Slow down.

How you eat can also affect how much you eat, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Scientists analyzed 22 studies in which participants were asked to eat either slowly or more quickly, and found that those who took longer to finish a meal tended to eat less than those who wolfed down their food. That’s not so surprising, but the more encouraging part of the study hinted that getting people to slow down may help them to feel full after eating less. People who changed their eating rate to eat more slowly did not report feeling more hungry up to 3.5 hours later. The researchers admit that most of the participants knew the study involved how eating rates affected hunger so the results might have been biased by their thinking that eating more slowly was better for reducing obesity, but the findings still hint that our bodies may process food differently depending on how quickly it comes in.

Drink…vinegar?

Nausea is a good way to make almost any food unappetizing but it’s not necessarily a healthy strategy for weight control. While a study in the International Journal of Obesity found that adding vinegar to milkshakes had the desired effect – the unpleasant taste was enough to quell any hunger people may have felt, and even made them nauseous – the researchers don’t see such deterrents as being an effective way to control eating, at least on a lasting basis. Studies show that negative reinforcement, such as depriving children of things they really want, like toys and treats, doesn’t help to reshape their behavior to like these things less.

Eating, as all of these studies show, is a complex combination of physical need and psychological reaction. Diets may address the physical part of what goes into the body, but any effective, and lasting weight loss program should address how that food is consumed, and why.

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