TIME Obesity

‘Thrifty’ Metabolisms May Make It Harder to Lose Weight

File photo dated Thursday October 16, 2014. of a young girl using a set of weighing scales as slimmers should forget what they have been told about avoiding rapid weight loss in favour of slow but sure dieting, according to new research.
Chris Radburn—PA Wire/Press Association Images File photo dated Thursday October 16, 2014. of a young girl using a set of weighing scales as slimmers should forget what they have been told about avoiding rapid weight loss in favour of slow but sure dieting, according to new research.

The study marks the first time lab results have confirmed the widely held belief

Losing those love handles may be easier for some people than for others, says a new study that confirmed the theory that physiology plays a role in a person’s ability to lose weight.

According to a press release, researchers at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch studied the metabolisms of 12 obese men and women undergoing a six-week 50% calorie-reduction experiment. After measuring participants’ energy expenditure after a day of fasting and then re-examining them during the caloric-reduction period, researchers found that the slower the metabolism works during a diet, the less weight the person loses.

Coining the terms “thrifty” vs. “spendthrift” metabolisms, the experiment marks first time lab results have confirmed a widely held belief that a speedy metabolism plays a role in weight loss.

“While behavioral factors such as adherence to diet affect weight loss to an extent, our study suggests we should consider a larger picture that includes individual physiology — and that weight loss is one situation where being thrifty doesn’t pay,” said lead author Dr. Susanne Votruba, Ph.D.

Researchers have yet to figure out if the differences in metabolic speeds are innate traits or develop over time. Also, the study was only focused on weight loss, and the team does not know if the body’s response to caloric reduction can be used to prevent weight gain.

Over one-third of Americans are obese, and it leads to some of the most common forms of preventable deaths in the country.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Weight Watchers Founder Dies at 91

Jean Nidetch
Alan Diaz—AP In this photo taken July, 18, 2011, Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers, is shown at her home in Parkland, Fla.

Jean Nidetch made weekly weight loss meetings into a big business

Jean Nidetch, the founder of the popular diet plan Weight Watchers, died Wednesday at the age of 91.

Nidetch, who struggled to lose weight, started Weight Watchers after hosting weekly meetings with overweight friends at her home to talk about their issues with weight and dieting. She went from 214 pounds to 142, and before long, Weight Watchers was founded. Nidetch and her fellow founders became millionaires when the company went public in 1968, the New York Times reports. The company was eventually sold to H.J. Heinz.

Nidetch died at her home at in Parkland, Fla., CBS News reports.

“Compulsive eating is an emotional problem, and we use an emotional approach to its solution,” said Nidetch in a 1972 article published in TIME. The first version of Weight Watchers focused on foods like lean meats and fruits and vegetables, but as the New York Times writes, the emotional support was always one of the distinguishing parts of the program.

Today Weight Watchers remains a very popular diet, and continues to offer weekly meetings. Recent studies have shown that Weight Watchers tends to work better than other diets for people trying to slim down.

TIME Research

Health Stores Often Promote Diet Pills to Minors

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Despite warnings that they are intended for adults

Health store employees will often promote the use of over-the-counter body-changing supplements to minors, despite the fact that they often contain warnings that they are intended for adults.

In new research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in San Diego, researchers had study participants call 244 health food stores in 49 states and identify themselves as 15-year-old boys and girls. The researchers discovered that even though testosterone boosters are not recommended for kids and teens under age 18 without a medical reason, 9.8% of sales associates recommended them. Testosterone boosters contain messaging indicating they are for adults only, but 41% of the sales associates told the callers they thought were 15 that they could buy them on their own.

Health store employees would frequently recommend supplements for callers posing as teen girls who said they were looking to lose weight.

“Adolescents are being enticed by flashy advertisements and promises of quick, body-shaping results,” says Dr. Ruth Milanaik of Cohen Children’s Medical Center. “In this body-conscious world, flashy advertising of `safe, quick and easy body shaping results’ are very tempting to younger individuals trying to achieve ‘the perfect body.’ It is important for pediatricians, parents, coaches and mentors to stress that healthy eating habits, sleep and daily exercise should be the recipe for a healthy body.”

Though the research is preliminary and still a relatively small study size, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says dietary supplements have not been tested for safety or effectiveness in kids. Despite the research and warnings, though, the study authors note that it is still legal for minors to purchase these supplements in 49 states.

To keep up with all the news that affects your kids, sign up TIME’s free weekly newsletter here.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

How to Block the Hunger Pangs When You Diet

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The hardest part of a diet are the cravings. That’s because dieting goes against the body’s developed-over-millions-of-years instinct to feed when energy levels drop. There’s a network of neurons that is exquisitely designed to sense when the body’s cells need more calories to fuel the metabolic, enzymatic, muscular, neurologic and sensory things they do. So when the body wants calories, we eat.

But what if it were possible to fool the body into thinking that it was full — without eating a bite?

Now scientists say you may be able to have your cake and not eat it — at least a little more easily. They worked with mice, but their findings could lead to new obesity treatments for people as well. In two papers published in Nature and Nature Neuroscience, researchers from different groups culminate a 15-year search for the specific nerve circuits in the brain responsible for hunger and satiety.

Scott Sternson, a researcher and group leader at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus, investigated the signals that prompt us to eat. Do we eat to silence the negative sensations we get when we’re hungry? Or do we eat simply because we like the taste of food? Previous studies in animals suggests the latter, and the fact that we eat even when we’re not hungry also supports the idea.

But Sternson reports in Nature that his team found evidence it’s the desire to get rid of the unpleasant feelings associated with hunger that drives eating. Something called agouti-related peptide neurons (AgRP) are critical for regulating when animals eat. When calories dwindle and energy drops, AgRP are active, fueling appetite. “When we start to lose 5%, or 10% of body weight, that’s when these neurons are kicking in. And they are a big part of why most diets fail even though people do succeed in initially losing weight,” he says.

That may explain why diets go awry too. Sternson says AgRP nerves may not be active at the start of the diet, but as we lose weight, and the body senses that fewer calories are coming in, the neurons become more active, compelling us to fill up the missing calories and making us feel unpleasantly hungry all the time.

Sternson gave recently-fed mice mice different flavored capsules. Those flavors were associated each with either turning on or turning off the AgRP; when the mice were offered the flavored capsules again, they tended to favor the flavor they associated with when AgRP was turned on, and they felt hungry.

But when they did the same test on mice who hadn’t eaten in a while, the animals tended to favor the flavor linked to when AgRP was turned off — that’s when they didn’t feel the hunger pangs and the physical pain associated with hunger. Indeed, when they did more experiments that allowed them to peer inside the animals’ brains and see which nerves were active, the AgRP neurons started to quiet down as soon as the animals saw food, even before they began eating. But if the mice did not eat after seeing the food, the neurons would rev up again and remind the animals — painfully — that they hadn’t eaten.

But simply interrupting AgRP neurons wouldn’t be the safest way to support weight loss, says Dr. Bradford Lowell, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and senior author of the other paper, published in Nature Neuroscience. Not only do AgRP neurons regulate appetite by driving animals to eat, but it also tries to conserve what energy remains by helping the body burn fewer calories. It signals the sympathetic nervous system, which controls things such as heart rate and blood pressure, to work less efficiently. And that could have negative effects on the heart.

The ideal situation would be to find something downstream of AgRP’s signaling that can be manipulated more safely. And that’s what Lowell spent the past 15 years doing. In his latest paper, he reports on a cluster of cells in the hypothalamus that might be just such a target. Unlike the neurons that trigger the heart-related symptoms when AgRP is activated, these nerves act as the hunger hub. Called melanocortin 4 receptor cells (MC4) hey are responsible, Lowell found, for feelings of satiety. Activating AgRP normally turns these cells off, so animals will feel the uncomfortable symptoms of hunger and start eating.

But one question that Lowell was keen on answering was whether animals eat to quiet down the hunger pangs of whether they simply eat because it activates reward and pleasure centers in the brain. By using the latest laser-technology that can activate specific neurons, they studied hungry mice and turned the MC4 cells on in one room and off when the mice wandered into another room, essentially tricking them into thinking they had just eaten, even if they hadn’t. Not surprisingly, the mice tended to spend more time in the room where the cells were turned on, and they felt “full.” “They were not eating any food but the mice chose to hang out in the room where their satiety signals were turned on. And they really liked it,” says Lowell.

But when they repeated the study with mice that had dined on chow, the results were different. This time, the mice didn’t show any preference and the satiety signals didn’t seem to affect them. That means that the animals ate mainly to get rid of the hunger pangs, and that given a choice, they would rather feel full.

That’s the same with people, and explains why diets are so hard to keep up. It’s a challenge to constantly fight the instinctive desire to quiet those hunger calls. But, says Lowell, it may be possible to manipulate the MC4 cells and fool the body into feeling the same satisfaction that comes with a full belly. “If we artificially turn on the downstream neurons of MC4, we are countering the adverse effect caused by AgRP being active. We are artificially removing the effect of the AgRP neurons on them,” he says.

And doing that, says Sternson, could help people who start a diet to stick with it. “We think it’s critical to understand all we can about these neurons, and how they control hunger when we start to loose weight. The more we understand the proteins that these neurons express, the more intelligently we can conceive potential treatment strategies,” he says. And those therapies might even make it possible to be hungry without feeling hungry, making them them the ultimate diet enabler.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Ways to Get Slim on Autopilot

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Streamline your day-to-day diet decision making

“Just tell me what to eat.” Weight-loss experts say that’s the number one thing they hear from women who are trying to slim down. And no wonder: Whether it’s the endless aisles of food at the grocery store or a seemingly harmless salad bar, research shows that the more options you have, the more likely you are to blow your calorie budget.

The culprit? Decision fatigue. When faced with lots of choices, the regions of your brain responsible for willpower and regret become overstimulated, upping the odds that you’ll make poor decisions—and feel less satisfied with the selections you make even when they’re good ones.

“We think choice makes us happy, but the truth is, it can cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety,” says Judith Beck, PhD, author of The Diet Trap Solution and president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Philadelphia. Most of your eating habits should be automatic, similar to putting on a seat belt when you get into a car, she says: “Making choices in advance helps you stay on track because it eliminates the ‘Should I? Shouldn’t I?’ struggle every time you need to decide something.” (Like when your co-worker brings in brownies—again.)

Here are five ways to streamline your day-to-day decision making so you can drop a few and feel less stressed in the process.

No. 1: Forget your “free day”
It’s a popular allowance among conscientious eaters, many of whom chronicle their mouthwatering splurges (waffles and whipped cream!) with #cheatday. But chowing down on whatever strikes your fancy as a reward for sensible eating the rest of the week can undo your hard work. Data from the National Weight Control Registry shows that people who lost a significant amount of weight are more likely to regain it if they allow themselves to eat with abandon on weekends and holidays. Even one day of chasing fries and cake with bottomless margaritas can more than double your regular calorie intake—and those calories add up. “When you step on the scale on Monday and see you’ve gained, you’ll probably feel discouraged, which undermines your resolve to keep eating healthy,” Beck notes. Plus, she adds, “it’s difficult to get back on track after a day- or weekend-long blowout. Normal eating feels like deprivation.”

No. 2: But treat yourself every day
Beck tells her patients to enjoy just one indulgent food a day. “Cookies, chips, fudge: Everything is fair game, provided you choose your treat in advance and stick to a moderate portion that fits into your daily calorie allotment,” she explains. If you’re going to have some chocolate after dinner, it’s easier to turn down a tempting cupcake at your nephew’s birthday. (And if it pains you to pass on the cupcake, you can make that the next day’s treat.)

No. 3: Say yes to soup Sunday
Or Tuna Taco Tuesday, or a big salad with protein as your go-to weekday lunch.

Self-control is like a muscle: The more you exert it (burger or branzino? Candy bar or nutrition bar?), the more fatigued it becomes, until you almost unconsciously make the decision you normally wouldn’t (burger and a candy bar, please!). Willpower is overrated,” says Jane Burrell Uzcategui, RD, instructor of nutrition at Syracuse University. “If you’re constantly relying on your brain to make the right choice, you’re constantly going to be disappointed.”

Having default snacks and meals reduces the number of decisions you make on any given day—so you’re more likely to eat well at other times. “I tell clients to have 5 to 10 staple recipes and switch them up: Make a different cut of meat one night, or try a new sauce in your weekly stir-fry,” says New York City dietitian Lauren Slayton, RD, author of The Little Book of Thin.

No. 4: Have backup meals at the ready
Don’t let an insanely busy day or burned dinner send you straight into the arms of the Papa John’s deliveryman. Instead, stock up on a few fast-fix meals that fit your diet criteria, so you’re prepared when things go awry.

Preplanned meals are smart even when you’re not crazed. In a recent study, researchers at ConAgra Foods asked people to have a light (270-calorie) frozen meal in place of their usual lunch three days a week for a month. Not only did folks report feeling satisfied hours later, they consumed 500 fewer calories per day.

“Having to measure portions or calculate calories can be tedious, and if you’re tired, it’s not going to happen. The reason frozen meals worked is because they offer options but eliminate guesswork,” explains Kristin Reimers, RD, whose study inspired a wellness program that helped more than 2,000 employees lose as many as 2 pounds a week by eating a microwave meal with under 450 calories at least once a day.

No. 5: Cut yourself off
Willpower can be weakest at night—which is why it’s so easy to intend to have just a little ice cream before bed, only to look down and discover that you’ve emptied half the pint. An easy fix: Tell yourself, “I don’t eat after 9 p.m.” (or a similar time that makes sense for your schedule). Says Beck, “Rules work, even when they’re self-imposed.”

What’s more, knowing that the kitchen is closed may make it easier to hit the hay—and being well-rested bolsters your willpower so you can make wise, waist-friendly food choices tomorrow.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Obesity

Kindergarteners Watch More Than 3 Hours of TV a Day

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With more screen time, the effects add up fast

For kids as young as kindergarten-age, watching even a small amount of TV daily is linked to obesity and overweight, finds a new study. Kids who watched an hour of television a day were more likely to be overweight or obese than kids who watched less than an hour of TV per day.

Presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, the study looked at data from more than 10,000 kindergarteners and followed them through first grade.

Kindergarten students in the U.S. spent an average of 3.3 hours watching TV every day, the study finds, and that screen time comes at a high price. Kids who watched 1-2 hours of TV per day had an increased odds of obesity 47% above the group that watched less than an hour a day, and an increased odds of overweight 43%.

“Television is a very passive activity,” says study author Mark D. DeBoer, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia. Combine the ill effects of sitting with TV-related behaviors like more snacking and exposure to commercials selling unhealthy food, and the effects can add up.

It took very little TV time to have a big effect on weight; DeBoer says he didn’t see much difference in the weights of children who watched 1-2 hours a day versus those who watched more than two hours.

That’s likely because kids miss out on physical activity when they’re plopped in front of the tube. “In this age range, when you’re not sitting and doing something, you’re running around,” DeBoer says. “As much as they don’t go out and jog, kindergarteners are still at an age when they are frequently, if not constantly, on the move.”

DeBoer says he hopes his study can help shift guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which currently recommends that children spend no more than two hours a day watching screens. Instead, he says, parents should be encouraged to cut TV time even more and replace it with activities like reading to their children, going to museums and visiting other educational destinations. “This may be a step toward changing that recommendation in the future,” he says.

For all the week’s news of interest to families, sign up here for TIME’s free weekly parenting newsletter.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

12 Mental Tricks to Beat Cravings and Lose Weight

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Try the 'apple trick'

Using pure willpower to overcome cravings doesn’t always work. (If it did, dieting would be easy and we’d all be at our own healthy, feel-great weights.) Guess what? You don’t have to tough out an unrelenting yen to house a box of Cheez-Its; you just need to fool yourself into thinking you didn’t actually want to eat the junk food in the first place. It’s easier than you think. Here are tips from experts and recent studies to help you stay on track.

Visualize an internal pause button

The next time you want to reach for a big bowl of Chunky Monkey, picture yourself hitting a pause button in your brain. “If someone were to ask to borrow a lot of money, most people can stop and say, ‘I’ll think about it,'” says Coral Arvon, PhD, director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin Longevity in Miami, FL. But when that chocolate cake or bottle of wine is in front of us at the end of day, the majority of us don’t hesitate to indulge. “Think ‘pause,’ and consider your decision for 10 minutes before making an actual decision,” Arvon suggests.

Watch the video: 6 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Eating Less

Substitute junk food with healthy foods that resemble junk food

Find a healthy alternative that shares some of the same qualities as the fatty food you’ve got a craving for, says Jonathan Alpert, a New York City-based psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. Craving the crunch and salt of potato chips? Make a batch of satisfyingly crispy kale chips. Eyeing the carton of ice cream in your freezer? Whip up a fruit-packed smoothie bowl instead. “Over time your taste buds and brain will adjust and learn to like these healthier options,” says Alpert.

Watch the video: 5 Healthy Baking Swaps

Imagine yourself eating

Thinking about eating a bag of candy makes it more likely you’ll eat less of it when you actually start eating it, according to a 2010 study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers. Study participants who visualized eating 30 M&Ms before indulging in a bowl of the candies ate fewer M&Ms than two other groups who imagined eating only three candies or no treats at all. Researchers say the key lies in thinking about eating the food versus merely thinking about or visualizing it.

Tell yourself you can have anything

When you think about going on a diet, hunger pangs, deprivation, and waving goodbye to your favorite foods probably come to mind. Problem is, denying yourself your favorite foods immediately sets you up for failure, says Amy Goodson, RD, sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys and co-author of Swim, Bike, Run, Eat: The Complete Guide to Fueling Your Triathlon. “You want to make changes you can do for the rest of your life. The key is to eat what you want, but not everything you want,” says Goodson. “You can still enjoy one to two splurges during the week as long as you stay on track the rest of the time.”

Read more: 10 Mistakes That Make Cravings Worse

Go back in time

Cut back on calories by learning to snack like a preschooler, says Goodson. “Many people get in trouble with snacking because they eat too much. So trick your mind into eating less by portioning your snacks in small baggies. This helps you feel as if you’re eating ‘all’ of something, which satisfies your brain.” Ideally, break out portion sizes of chips, snacks, and other goodies as soon as you bring them home from the store so you’re not tempted to dip your hand in the entire 10-serving container. To further avoid temptation, keep the portioned snacks out of sight hidden in a cupboard.

Read more: A Slacker’s Guide to Losing Weight Without Trying

Use the “apple trick”

The next time you’re standing in front of the refrigerator trying to figure out what you’re craving, maybe you’re not really hungry, says Goodson. Here’s how to figure out if you’re genuinely hungry or just trying to satisfy a craving. “When you crave a salty or sweet treat, ask yourself if you’d eat an apple,” says Goodson. “If the answer is yes, you’re hungry and it’s okay to have a small snack. If not, drink some water, because you’re not really hungry.” Since thirst often masquerades as hunger, drinking a glass of water should silence your craving.

Watch the video: 4 Tricks to Eat Healthier

Plan your junk food

Instead of waiting for a temptation to strike and only then trying to handle it, plan to have one indulgent or “junk” food a day, preferably after dinner, says Judith S. Beck, Ph.D., president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Philadelphia and clinical associate professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s easier to resist cravings during the day if you know you are going to have your favorite food that night.” And when you finish a moderate portion of that food, remind yourself that if you want more, you can have more tomorrow night, and the next night, and the next night, and so on.

Create a top 10 list of distractions

Before a craving strikes, be ready to combat it by having a ready list of alternative activities to keep you on the straight and narrow. “Play a video game, call a friend, take a walk, read to your kids, groom your dog, polish your nails,” says Beck. “Watch how the craving has diminished when you firmly focus your mind on something else.” Other distractions include brushing your teeth, doing a set of crunches or push-ups, deep breathing, or meditation.

Read more: 20 Little Ways to Drop the Pounds and Keep Them Off

Fool your eye

Use smaller plates. A moderate portion on a large dinner plate looks small, says Beck. “Part of feeling satisfied is visual satisfaction. Another part of feeling satisfied is when hunger diminishes. So pledge to eat all your food sitting down, slowly, while enjoying every bite.” Keeping junk food out of sight and eating in only the kitchen or dining room—not in front of the TV—can also help you lose weight, according to a Cornell University study.

Read more: 10 Signs Your House Is Making You Fat

Train your resistance muscle

Every time you have a craving and you resist it, you build up your “resistance muscle,” which makes it more likely that the next time you have a craving you’ll resist it. On the other hand, each time you give in to a craving, you strengthen your “giving in muscle,” says Beck, “which makes it more likely that the next time you’ll give in and the time after that and the time after that.”

Set your phone to send you motivational messages

Spontaneous eating is what gets almost every dieter into trouble, says Beck. One way to counteract it is by turning your phone into your conscience. She suggests setting a reminder on your smartphone so every time it goes off, you read a message that encourages you to stick to your diet: “I could eat whatever I want, OR I can lose weight and be healthier,” or “If I eat food I haven’t planned to eat I’ll get momentary satisfaction but I’ll feel bad later.” You’ll want to have these ideas at the forefront of your mind every time you’re hit with a craving.

Read more: How the Pros Curb Food Cravings

Stay clear of TV while eating

Turn off The Walking Dead while eating dinner and you’ll eat fewer calories. Watching TV makes you overeat, according to a study published in the journal Appetite. Two groups of women were studied while they snacked with or without TV. One group was offered one type of snack, while the other group had the choice of four snacks. Everyone ate more while watching the tube. “Avoid this by never having the box or bag of snacks next to you while watching TV,” says Goodson. Get a serving on a napkin or small plate and take the serving to the TV room.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Which Weight Loss Diet Works Best? A New Study Ranks the Evidence

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With so many ways to lose weight, you’d think it would be easy to tell which diet program works best — Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, Nutri System or Slim Fast. But it might surprise you to learn that there isn’t a lot of good evidence on how effective various diets are, and here’s why

With the American Medical Association now urging doctors to treat obesity as a medical condition, physicians should be screening and treating overweight and obesity just as they would any other chronic disorder. But when it comes to figuring out which methods are proven to work best, physicians may find themselves at a loss. Some studies have found that commercial weight-loss programs work about the same when it comes to the amount of weight they can help consumers lose, while others found that low-carb diets beat out low-fat plans.

To make sense of the noise, Kimberly Gudzune, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and her colleagues searched the scientific literature for studies on 11 commercial weight-loss programs. In their results, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, they assessed which ones have the best data to support them. But they also found there weren’t that many studies actually tracking how much weight people on the programs lose.

Gudzune decided to focus on commercial programs like Weight Watchers and NutriSystem, among others. And of 4,212 studies that involved these diets, only 45 were done under the gold scientific standard of randomly assigning people to a weight-loss program or not, and then tracking their weight changes over time. “The majority [of programs] still have no rigorous trials done,” says Gudzune.

According to her analysis, only two programs, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, helped dieters to lose weight and keep it off for at least a year. Those on Weight Watchers shed nearly 3% more of their starting weight after 12 months than those not dieting, and Jenny Craig users lost nearly 5%. Other programs, including Atkins, the Biggest Loser Club and eDiets, also helped people drop pounds, but since the studies only lasted three to six months, it’s impossible to know if that weight loss lasted.

The modest weight loss “may be disappointing to many consumers,” says Gudzune, but she notes that weight-management guidelines suggest that a 3% to 5% sustained weight loss is an important first step toward a healthy weight. “Even that small amount of weight loss can help to lower blood sugar, improve cholesterol profiles, help to lower blood pressure and ultimately prevent things like diabetes,” she says.

“Would 6% or 8% or 10% of body weight lost be better? Yes, but it’s not like the interaction is totally linear,” says Gary Foster, chief scientific officer of Weight Watchers International. Over time, weight-loss rates may change, and other studies show they typically slow after the initial blush of success.

MORE Calorie vs. Calorie: Study Evaluates Three Diets for Staying Slim

Modest weight loss can also seed good eating habits that can keep weight loss going, or maintain weight at a healthy level. “Modest weight loss on average can translate to a big public-health impact” on the obesity epidemic, says Dr. Christina Wee, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the obesity-and-health-behaviors research program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Fewer overweight and obese individuals mean fewer cases of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, joint disorders and more. So for doctors faced with advising their patients on how to best manage their weight, these are the first bits of evidence that some commercial programs — Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig — might be better than others in helping patients to slim down and stay that way.

Still, a larger robust bank of evidence-based studies is needed. Typically, studies follow dieters for about three months, during which most people are likely to lose the most weight because they are more motivated and simply because they in a study and feel obligated to follow the diet. That’s another problem with the studies on diet programs, says Wee. “When trying to do a scientific study, researchers don’t want too many things going on at the same time, so they end up with a design for the study that doesn’t reflect the real world,” she says. “So the result is the result from an artificial setting.”

MORE: Diet Bake-Off: Jenny Craig Wins, Says Consumer Reports

Another factor that makes studying diets tricky is the fact that participants are assigned a diet. In real life, people tend to try a weight-loss program of their own choosing. When they find that it doesn’t fit with their lifestyle or personality, they try another. They may be more successful with their second or third choice, but in a study, they would fall into the failure category if they didn’t lose the target amount of weight on the first program.

“Now that obesity is coming under the medical umbrella, it’s really going to put more pressure on whether commercial programs or medical clinics have really good evidence to show their programs are effective,” says Gudzune. “For so long obesity was just in a no-man’s land, which I think did it a disservice because it didn’t push the industry to have better scientific evidence on what works and what doesn’t work.”

And it’s not just physicians seeking this proof. With the Affordable Care Act now covering obesity screening and counseling, and providing incentives to states to reimburse for comprehensive obesity treatments, it’s critical for insurers and policymakers who decide which weight-loss programs are worth paying for and which ones to deny.

Read next: Popular Diets Are Pretty Much the Same for Weight Loss, Study Finds

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TIME faith

Pope Francis Told to ‘Eat Less Pasta’ by Doctors

Pope Francis leads a Chrism mass for Holy Thursday on April 2, 2015 at St. Peter's basilica in Vatican.
Andreas Solaro—AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis leads a Chrism mass for Holy Thursday on April 2, 2015 at St. Peter's basilica in Vatican.

He's gained some weight in recent years

Infallibility, it appears, does not extend to the papal waistline.

Pope Francis is being warned by Italian doctors to “eat less pasta, walk more often, and lose a little weight to take some strain off his aching back,” according to the ANSA news agency.

Doctors told ANSA “that changing his eating habits, including fewer carbs and pasta only a few times per week, is needed to counter a weight gain noticed in recent years.”

The workaholic 78-year-old Francis, who’s not been shy about his love of pizza and who typically rises at 4:30 a.m. to start his busy days, also admitted in his Holy Thursday homily that he’s just exhausted.

“The tiredness of priests. Do you know how often I think about this weariness which all of you experience?” Francis said at St. Peter’s Basilica, according to another ANSA report. “I think about it and I pray about it, often, especially when I am tired myself.”

Francis was elected in March 2013, after his predecessor, Benedict, took the unprecedented step of retiring from the papacy. And last month, Francis suggested he, too, had retirement on his mind when he told the Mexican broadcast outlet Televisa that he felt his papacy would last only “four or five years … I do not know, even two or three. Two have already passed. It is a somewhat vague sensation.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

 

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