Sleep Yourself Skinny, Plus More Hot Diet News

1. Shed pounds while you sleep.
Getting a good night’s sleep in a dark room may help you lose weight, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mice gained 50% more weight over eight weeks if they slept in bright or dim light (the same as you’d experience if a TV or computer were on all night), reports Ohio State University neuroscientist Laura Fonken, lead author of the study.

They didn’t eat more or exercise less. But they did eat at different times, which may have affected their metabolism, Fonken says.

“These results demonstrate how modern societal developments – like electricity and the extension of daytime activities into the night – can impact health,” Fonken tells Lifescript.

Preventing diet-busting night-time light exposure is relatively easy, she says: “Turn off TV screens or computer monitors, and buy a good set of blinds that block out incoming street light.”

2. Is your computer making you fat?
If you’re reading this story while eating lunch, you might overeat later, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers at England’s University of Bristol found that people who used their computer while having lunch ate twice as many cookies half an hour later than those who had no distractions while eating.

The conclusion: If your attention is focused on a computer screen – or cell phone or TV – during a meal, you’ll have a fuzzier memory of eating, which might affect your appetite.

“Multitasking shouldn’t be on the menu at meal time,” says Caren Tishfield, R.D., a New York City-based dietitian.

“Even if it’s a quick lunch at work, the more mindful you are of what you’re eating, the less likely you’ll be to overeat later in the day,” she says.

3. Do housework to ward off weight gain.
A cleaning binge or other moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can prevent the gradual weight gain that often comes with age, according to a Northwestern University study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The effects were most pronounced in women. Those with high levels of activity gained an average of 13 fewer pounds over 20 years than those with low activity.

The active women did 2.5 hours a week of recreational exercise (running, brisk walking, bicycling), exercise classes or strenuous housework.

“As women age, they lose calorie-burning muscle,” Tishfield says. “But when you’ve been exercising all through adulthood, you retain more of it.”

4. Walk at work.
Even if you work out regularly and watch what you eat, sitting at a desk all day could keep you from reaching your goal weight, according to research by the University of Montreal in Canada.

The study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, analyzed changing work habits over the past three decades. Increasing hours of sedentary work could be partially responsible for rising obesity rates, the researchers concluded.

If you have a desk job, getting up at regular intervals is essential for health and stress relief as well as weight maintenance, Tishfield says.

“Walk up and down the building’s stairs, or just up and down the hallway. Move every hour or so. And, if you can, put on a pedometer and keep track of how much you’re walking every day.”

5. Eat carrots to live longer.
Bugs Bunny was on the right track. A nutrient in many orange and dark-green vegetables is so healthful, it could reduce your risk of dying from various health causes, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control study.

Alpha-carotene – found in carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli and spinach – is a valuable antioxidant with far-reaching health benefits, the researchers found.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, analyzed health information from more than 15,000 people. Those with the highest levels of alpha-carotene (9 micrograms per deciliter or more) had as much as a 39% lower risk of dying from any health cause over a 14-year period.

The antioxidant is found in many of the same foods as beta-carotene but may be more effective at limiting cancer cell growth, the researchers say.

6. Eat whole grains to reduce belly fat.
People who eat three or more daily servings of whole grains (and seldom eat refined grains) have up to 10% less visceral belly fat, according to a Tufts University study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Visceral fat (under the muscle layer) is considered more dangerous than subcutaneous fat (just under the skin’s surface). It’s tied to metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms that raise risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the researchers note.

Whole grains – found in steel-cut oats, couscous, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta – are digested more slowly than white-flour foods and don’t raise blood sugar as quickly, Tishfield says.

They’re also high in fiber, which makes you feel full, she says.

“That way, you’re satisfied and less likely to overeat later, either while snacking or at meals,” Tishfield says.

7. Reduce belly fat to build bones.
Here’s another reason to lose visceral fat: It may increase your chances of developing osteoporosis, according to a Massachusetts General Hospital study.

Women with more visceral fat had increased bone marrow fat and decreased bone mineral density, both of which can damage bone health, says radiologist Miriam A. Bredella, M.D., the study’s lead author.

The most sensitive test to determine visceral fat is an abdominal MRI or CT scan. But you can also just measure your waist circumference, Bredella tells Lifescript.

Osteoporosis risk isn’t tied to a specific number, but Bredella suggests you aim for a waist measurement under 88 cm (about 34.5 inches). Waists larger than that are also associated with increased cardiovascular risk and diabetes in women, she says.

8. Dairy decreases diabetes risk.
A fatty acid found in milk, cheese, butter and yogurt may cut your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, say Harvard School of Public Health researchers.

Participants with the highest blood levels of trans-palmitoleic acid – which isn’t produced by the body and can only be found in food – were least likely to get diabetes, according to the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Low-fat dairy products contain some trans-palmitoleic acid, lead investigator Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., tells Lifescript. “But levels would generally be higher in whole-fat products.”

But don’t swap out skim milk just yet. Many health experts advise against full-fat dairy products, citing concerns about heart disease and obesity. And Harvard researchers aren’t recommending that people change their diets until additional studies are completed.

9. Watch out for drug-filled weight-loss supplements.
Some herbal weight-loss products may contain prescription or illegal drugs, according to a British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology study.

Researchers at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong tested 81 weight-loss supplements that had caused bad user reactions. Three-quarters contained at least two pharmaceutical drugs.

The most common was sibutramine, the active ingredient in the weight-loss drug Meridia – which was withdrawn from the marketplace due to increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

“Consumers should avoid products marketed as supplements that claim to have effects similar to prescription drugs,” says Michael Levy, director of the Division of New Drugs and Labeling Compliance at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

You should also be wary of “products with labeling only in a foreign language or marketed through mass e-mails,” he says.

10. You may catch fat
If our family and friends gain weight, it’s more likely we will too, according to a study at Harvard University’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics.

Obesity can “trickle down” through social groups, researchers say, possibly by changing what people perceive as normal.

The average person has a 2% chance of becoming obese in any given year. Those odds increase by 0.5% for every obese person she comes into regular contact with, researchers found.

It’s important to be aware of your weight changes, Tishfield warns.

“Even without consciously intending to, people are generally more likely to do what everyone else does.”

11. Improve your BMI to avoid dying young.
Overweight but otherwise healthy women have a 13% higher risk of dying prematurely, according to a huge research study involving more than a million people.

The government-funded research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated 19 studies that lasted 5-28 years.

It measured weight using the Body Mass Index (BMI). (An ideal BMI 18.5-24.9; overweight is 25-29.9; obese is 30+; and morbidly obese is 40+, according to the National Institutes of Health.)

Being obese raised the risk of dying early 44-88%, depending on whether you’re at the low or high end of the scale. Being morbidly obese doubled it.

On the other hand, being super-thin may not provide any extra benefits, researchers say. Women with the lowest death rate were healthy, never smoked, and at the high end of the ideal BMI range (22.5-24.9).


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