April 2015 | Dr. Stephen Gullo

Monthly Archives: April 2015

In Sight, In Your Mind (And Your Stomach)

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In Sight, In Your Mind (And Your Stomach)

No two dieters are alike and there are any number of factors that contribute to our weight problems. Recently, researchers at The Ohio State University uncovered two seemingly unrelated but equally powerful predictors of obesity: having low self-esteem related to one’s weight and keeping food visibly available around the house, especially outside the kitchen.

Not surprisingly, in the homes of obese folks food was distributed in more locations outside the kitchen, which suggests an environment where it’s harder to avoid eating food. In the study, obese participants also claimed significantly lower self-esteem (and more depression) regarding their body weight than did their non-obese counterparts.
It’s known that both the home environment and psychosocial factors separately have an effect on weight, but this is the first time they have been evaluated together. While most studies ignore the role of self-esteem as it pertains to obesity, it is a crucial factor to consider because people who feel badly about themselves may not feel motivated to change their home environment.

So what can we do about this? We can’t stop eating. The answer lies in changing our habits. It sounds easy enough, but changing eating habits is the most challenging aspect of helping people lose weight and keep it off. Ultimately, to change the way we eat, we have to change the way we think about eating. For that, we need strategy.
For years, Dr. Gullo has been cautioning patients to keep their homes clear of foods they have a long history abusing. After all, this is where we spend a majority of our time. Indeed, A study from the National Weight Control registry found that people who lost weight and kept it off keep problem foods out of their house and out of sight. The small percentage of Dr. Gullo’s patients who regained weight did so first in their own homes. And this slide inevitably starts with a food they have a history of abusing. We’re all vulnerable to foods that have tripped us up in the past. Just seeing a food that you routinely overeat can cause you to put it in your mouth. This is why breaking availability is the #1 strategy that winners at weight control use to avoid temptation at home.
Think about it: you can’t eat what’s not there. On the other hand, the more it’s around, the more you’ll eat and think about that food. Having problem food around the home will only perpetuate your struggle with temptation. If you have a food you overeat in your home, even if you’ve somehow managed to avoid it, remove it immediately. If you can’t (say it’s for someone else in your home), steer clear of temptation by avoiding proximity. Don’t even look at it! Consider putting it in a brown bag or tin foil so when you go into the kitchen, it’s out of sight. Put the food on a high shelf in cupboard with wooden or metal doors. And don’t work or make phone calls from your kitchen.

Without these strategies, you will invariably return to the foods you have a history of abusing. Psychologically speaking, keeping foods that tempt you around and on display at home fuels a sense of deprivation. Even if you don’t eat it, being near a favorite food, or just knowing it’s in the next room, creates a mental tug-of-war. of-war. It’s always on your mind, more so if it’s clearly visible. At home, especially, control your food curiosity. Remember that the more you center your life on a vulnerability, the more vulnerable your life will become! Availability stimulates craving. It’s not rocket science.

You Can’t Outrun A Bad Diet

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You know the expression about wisdom coming later to some than to others? Well the weight loss industry is finally coming around to the idea that exercise’s contribution to weight loss is minimal at best. The latest research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that excess sugar and carbs — not physical inactivity — are primarily to blame for the growing obesity epidemic. This isn’t to say that exercise doesn’t have multiple health benefits. It does. But as Dr. Gullo has said before, exercise alone is not enough to win the war against weight. Weight loss is a numbers game. Unless you’re a professional athlete and exercise is your job, you can’t possibly burn off more than you consume. In fact, our calorie-laden diets now have more to do with our struggles with weight than physical inactivity, alcohol, and smoking combined, researchers have concluded.

Equally significant, said the researchers, are the source of the calories. For every additional 150 calories of sugar, there was an 11-fold increase in incidence of type 2 diabetes, compared to 150 calories obtained from fat or protein. These results were independent of the person’s weight and physical activity level. So why are calories from sugar more dangerous to a dieter than calories from fat or protein? Because calories from sugar are stored as fat and increase hunger, whereas calories from fat and protein induce satiety. It’s been said before, but bears repeating: calories aren’t created equal.

So knowing that, as one researcher put it, you can’t “outrun a bad diet,” where do we go from here? How do we make real changes in how we think about dieting? The food industry has contributed to our burgeoning waistlines, what’s lost in the conversation about where to assign blame, is any discussion of the role of human psychology in our struggles with weight. The researchers speak of increasing our understanding of what is needed to “reach a healthy weight” and that this understanding is the key ingredient to ending our struggles with weight.

But what is “needed?” That’s the crux of the problem. We can start by doing away with so much talk about “health.” Repeated calls to “health” show how little the diet field understands the role of human psychology in our struggles with weight. The appeal to health falls on deaf ears with the majority of this country’s 110 million dieters. As Dr. Gullo has noted before, most dieters are far more concerned about fitting into a little black dress for their 10 year high school reunion than they are about the phytonutrient content of kale. Dieters are calorie detectives. They know more about the nutritional content of food than most dietitians and nutritionists. The problem is that they can’t stop eating when it comes to their favorite foods.

Thinking, habit and behavior—this is the triumvirate that contributes more to our struggles with weight than any calorie-laden food or lack of exercise. After all, how can a 50-calorie Oreo cause so much anguish? In fact, it’s not a single Oreo that stirs up trouble but all the additional Oreos you eat. Dieters don’t have “quality” problems; they have quantity problems!

Don’t believe us? Then listen to what America’s top public health official, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said in a interview: “Exhorting people to eat less and exercise more is totally ineffectual.” Why? Because people who struggle with weight control know that they eat too much and exercise too little. Or, as Dr. Gullo says, “We know how we should behave. But how do we really behave?” For instance, the vast majority of diet “experts” encourage their clients to enjoy “all foods in moderation” since all of human history is a testimony to human excess. Yet those who could live by “all foods in moderation” would have no need of the diet field! There’s a wide gulf between what’s held as the established norm and what’s really happening in the world of food.

This is why dieters need a new paradigm for dealing with their weight problems NOT a new fad diet or exercise regime. Simply, they need strategy. As Dr. G says, “Strategy is stronger than willpower.”

Are you a Weekend Warrior?

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Weekend warrior”—it’s a popular expression in the American lexicon. It’s used to describe everything from a person who regularly parties on the weekends to the aging (and aching) baby boomer who play sports as though he was still 16. But for the most part, it typifies the person who simply can’t cram in exercise during the week, and instead works out like a lunatic on weekends.
However, even the most determined fitness fanatic may find it hard to exercise everyday and try to make up for lost time (and a few extra pounds) on weekends. It’s generally recommended that people get at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity each week, with at least two strength training sessions per week. If you neglect to exercise during the week and try to fit in 150 minutes on the treadmillon Saturday, there’s a good chance you’re going to injure yourself.
Should you find yourself needing to fit in most of your activity on the weekends, there are ways to ramp up your fitness levels without putting yourself at risk. The key? Smart strategy. Rather than spending all your time on one activity, try to mix up your exercises. Do a low-impact activity like swimming, followed by some rowing and jogging. Done properly, cross-training may also help avoid injuries.
However, on a long term basis, the best strategy for adding more fitness into your week is keeping track of how you spend your time Mondaythrough Friday. Determine whether you can fit in a quick 10-minute walk on your lunch break. Perhaps you could bicycle to work or take a walk around the block after dinner. Strategy isn’t just helpful for reigning in our eating behavior. It’s also great for helping find time for regular exercise, which studies show is helpful for weight control, but not so much for weight loss. Remember that strategy is stronger than willpower; planning out small blocks of activity time will help support your weight control plan. And never forget that the most important exercise of all for weight control can’t be found at the gym: the exercise of good judgement with your food choices.

Springing Into Weight Loss

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Except for a snowman, who doesn’t love Spring? It’s about new beginnings. It’s the season for new life, cleaning out closets, and fresh blooms. But as Spring marches on, the majority of this country’s 108 million dieters aren’t thinking about spring-cleaning, baby animals or lilacs. Indeed, a single thought dominates their waking hours: I am 25 pounds overweight. How am I going to shed the winter padding and fit into my bathing suit?

While much is made on diet websites about eating seasonally, or making healthy food choices for optimal nutrition, most dieters are preoccupied only with shedding their winter weight and getting a beach-ready body. Let’s face it: the majority of this country’s dieters know what they should or shouldn’t eat to lose weight. Is there a dieter alive who believes there’s no difference between 30 calories of spinach and 30 calories of Twinkies? This isn’t a knowledge problem. The knowledge of what we should eat to lose weight has been known for 40 years. It’s a human behavior problem and human vulnerability problem. And it’s a problem that’s not going away.

Dropping winter weight to get in shape for summer takes more than making “healthy” food choices or eating seasonally. To get a beach-ready body you need the right foods but more importantly, you need the right strategies to not only lose weight but also to keep it off and have your body “beach-ready” for years to come.

Below are four favorite strategies the winners at weight control use to get lean and fit for summer.


1. Don’t just change your weight, change your thinking

Einstein once described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Unfortunately, this is the mindset of the majority of dieters. Indeed, most dieters lose weight but they never change their fundamental thoughts and feelings about food. We can learn much from medical conditions where behavior plays a significant role. Take diabetes, as an example. Today, there are insulin analogs to replace insulin and drugs that correct insulin deficiency. Yet, diabetes is on the rise and medication only benefits a fraction of people with diabetes. Why? Because diabetes is a complex behavioral disorder that requires people to make changes. Pills don’t make people change. Similarly, a lifetime of biological programming, cultural conditioning, and out of control eating habits can’t be undone with a piece of paper titled “diet.” Unless you change your thinking, you’ll just end up another failed dieter.


2. Think historically, not just calorically

Just as each of us has our own unique fingerprint, we all have our own unique history when it comes to food. Food history helps us identify the handful of foods, behaviors, situations and patterns that cause loses of control and lead to weight gain. This is a simple truth: Those who honor the lessons of their food history and adopt new habits lose weight. On the other hand, those who return to their old habits gain it back again and again. Consider your personal history with a particular food before you consider the calories, or grams of fat and carbohydrates in a particular food. Recognizing your own pattern of behaviors and habits with certain foods is the first and most powerful step to helping reign in years of out-of-control eating behavior. When you know your history with a particular food, you won’t be goaded into eating something just because it’s “healthy,” “seasonal” or “low in calories.”


3. Think substitution, not deprivation

Dieting is the one area of our lives where we do not seem to be able to handle success. Look at your own life. How many times have you reached the summit only to return to the foods, behaviors and thinking that cause you to gain it back? Why do dieters sabotage their success? Perhaps the single greatest reason why people fail again and again is that they associate dieting with deprivation.

But deprivation is a learned behavior. And anything that is learned can be unlearned. Fortunately, mastering the deprivation mindset has never been easier. In 2015, there is a low calorie substitute for virtually every high calorie food people love. A central theme of behavioral nutrition is that dieting is not about deprivation but substitution. Equipped with the right foods and creative strategies and techniques for losing weight and keeping it off you’ll find on my website and in my books, Thin Tastes Better and The Thin Commandments Diet, you can truly live by the mantra: Dieting is about substitution, not deprivation.


4. White + Green = Lean

One of the quickest ways to a beach-ready body is to limit your protein sources to lean white meat from chicken, turkey, pork and white meat fishes such as tilapia.
A diet high in green leafy vegetables can help suppress appetite, slow down the release of the other nutrients and increases the absorption of the protein you ingest, and even increase your metabolic rate (as the body has to work hard to process the vegetables).
Finally, drink plenty of water. Proper hydration helps build muscle and facilitate fat loss. It also creates a feeling of satiety, particularly cold water. Shoot for a minimum goal of 64 ounces a day and more if you’re exercising.

If you decide to go the seasonal food route to help with your weight loss goals, check out my my favorite spring produce—Avocado, spinach, rhubarb, asparagus, Swiss chard, and mint—for perfectly timed additions to your diet.

How Losing Sleep Inhibits Losing Weight

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Are you doing everything right but still struggling with your weight loss? Sleep deprivation may be getting in the way of controlling your weight.
It doesn’t happen often but some of my patients will tell me they’re honoring their food history, using strategy and following our eating plan and still not losing weight. So if you’re dutifully swapping cream cheese for low fat cottage cheese or a trading a bowl of steamed pasta in favor of steamed shrimp and the scale still won’t budge, you may want to consider another source: sleeping habits. Studies have previously shown that sleep-deprivation causes a spike in the hunger hormone ghrelin, which may increase appetite and jeopardize weight loss.
Take a recent study that looked at what food people chose when they were sleep-deprived vs. when they slept normally. The study participants were asked to select ideal portion sizes from seven meal items and six snack items. During one test, the participants were hungry, and during another, they were sated. The participants were also tested when they slept for about eight hours, and when they did not sleep enough. The participants consistently chose larger portions of energy-dense foods when they were sleep-deprived, regardless of whether they had just eaten. The study seems to suggest that even if you eat a big meal, your brain may still trick you into thinking that you’re hungry when you’re not, which inadvertently sabotages weight loss.
But sleep deprivation may not only cause us to eat more, it may also leads us to make poor food choices. A second study by researchers at the University of California Berkeley found that depriving people of sleep for just one night created profound changes in the way their brains responded to high-calorie junk foods. On days when the subjects had not had proper sleep, fattening foods like potato chips and sweets stimulated stronger responses in a part of the brain that helps govern the motivation to eat. The study’s lead author Matthew P. Walker found that a sleep-deprived brain not only responds more strongly to junk food, but struggles mightily to reign in the impulse.
While adequate sleep seems critical for successful weight loss, life is not perfect, and many of us do not get enough sleep. If you have a job and family, not to mention umpteen other responsibilities, there are going to be days when you don’t get enough sleep.
Since for the majority of people willpower alone may not be enough to resist the siren call of the refrigerator, use strategy to save you. Many of my patients find that it’s best to shut down the kitchen after dinner and avoid eating after a certain time. Some even put up a gate at the kitchen entrance. If the urge to eat is still great, try an activity such as reading, texting a friend, or if you feel safe, even going for a walk.


My other suggestion is to be aware of when you are sleep deprived since you may still feel hungry even though you’ve had enough to eat. Stick with the same meal plan you’ve been following, particularly if it’s been helping you to lose weight. Alternatively, if you feel comfortable eating larger meals on days when you’re sleep deprived, use “food smart” strategy. I tell my patients to switch to my A-List Eating Plan, which you can find in my book, The Thin Commandments Diet. This plan was designed specifically for safe, rapid weight loss while still allowing for generous portions. I’ve found that eggs, white meat, seafood, and high calcium, low-fat dairy, along with a high fiber cracker such as the GG Scandinavian Crispbread, which contains just 16 calories per cracker and three grams of appetite quenching fiber and a mere three grams of carbs, offer volume while providing great taste, and satiety. The winners at weight control know that when you’re truly food smart you can eat more and weigh less. This is the essence of “smart strategy.” And by the “weigh,” did you ever meet anyone who got fat from a shrimp?