Happy Holidays!

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Best wishes from Childhood Obesity News!

We will return with a regular post on Monday, December 26.

Happy holidays!

Why Is Humor Slimming?


As a coping mechanism against irritability, anxiety, stress, depression, mood swings, or any other emotional pain, eating gets very low marks, and is known as a maladaptive response.
It fails to accomplish the mood stabilization goal, and instead makes everything worse.

Laughter, on the other hand, appears able to reverse the stress response chemically, as measured by blood levels of various crucial molecules. As a mechanism for stress reduction, it does wonders. Various studies have shown that laughter can bolster the workings of the immune response, perform as an analgesic, and benefit the cardiovascular system.

In their paper, “Laugh Away the Fat? Therapeutic Humor in the Control of Stress-induced Emotional Eating,” Elizabeth S. Bast and Elliot M. Berry wrote:

We propose that humor may be tried as a new tool in the therapeutic arsenal for those who are dependent on food to manage their moods, or who have pathologic eating habits such as binge eating disorder. Humor has been shown to be a useful coping strategy, and, like hedonic eating, is hypothesized to be associated with the release of endorphins…

Other benefits of humor may also include a reduction in boredom, which may be another major cause of non-metabolic physiologic eating.

The first thing to know is, funny isn’t foolproof. Researchers who examined a very small and distinctive subgroup of humanity (Finnish police) found that the individuals with a greater sense of humor tended toward tobacco smoking and obesity.

The second is that “answers” would be too strong a word for what the research has uncovered. There are hints and indications, and many intriguing pathways wait to be explored. For instance, the ability to generate humor can be taught. Humor is being used in psychotherapy to help manage depression, but does not seem able to do as much for patients trapped in anxiety.

Chasing the elusive

Some people just see things differently, and part of that difference includes the ability to create emotional distance, which is a major coping technique. A battlefield medic with a couple of amputated legs to deal with can’t pause and search for words to express appropriate empathy, or reflect over the wasted potential that has vanished from a young soldier’s life.

Bast and Berry found that “an important buffering effect was noted when those who viewed sad stimuli were able to use humor to prevent negative affect.” In other words, research confirms our collective folk wisdom around the public servants known as first responders. In the best case, they learn to create a layer of psychic armor for themselves, and even come up with a positive spin. (No legs? The guy will never have to face the moral dilemma of whether or not to wear leather shoes.)

This ability to mentally distance the self from the situation is known to correlate highly with a sense of humor, and it is why frontline emergency workers cultivate grim — or “gallows” — humor in order to retain their sanity.

The authors say:

Despite the complexity of eating behavior, because emotion may play such an important role in people’s eating habits and behaviors — especially if they are “emotional eaters” — we hypothesize that influencing the way emotions and anxiety are managed could have positive effects on eating behavior.

Humor has been shown to have numerous positive physiologic effects, one of the strongest of which is helping people cope with stress, even people who don’t find it easy to laugh off their problems. We therefore hypothesize that strategic and purposeful use of humor may provide a useful tool for those individuals in whom stress and anxiety trigger eating of highly palatable foods. The hope here is that humor will continue to be investigated and integrated into therapy, especially, as the authors suggest, “among obese people with stress-induced emotional eating problems.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Laugh Away the Fat? Therapeutic Humor in the Control of Stress-induced Emotional Eating,” rmmj.org, Jan. 2014
Images sources (Twitter, from top): @Julie_McGann1, @Ewans_Dad, @CassiusMorris

Bring the Funny — and Measure It


Elizabeth S. Bast and Elliot M. Berry wrote “Laugh Away the Fat? Therapeutic Humor in the Control of Stress-induced Emotional Eating.” Their purpose was to call attention to the relationships between obesity and the “hypothesized mechanisms” of emotional eating. The publication included what the authors modestly termed a brief overview of the research on the relationship between humor and eating behavior.

They describe obesity as “a multifactorial condition of epidemic proportion across much of the developed world.” On the bright side, it appears that one of the ways to combat it is a virtual commodity that brings no profit to any pharmaceutical corporation, and that is the ability to tickle funny bones.

Yin and yang

Also important is an individual’s capacity to experience funny bone tickling. Humor is officially defined as a personality trait, and like everything else in science, it needs to be measured. To discover and describe a person’s sense of humor, Bast and Berry explain that there are two main “instruments” — in the sense that a ruler or a odometer is an instrument — because they all measure something.

In 1984, Rod A. Martin and Herbert M. Lefcourt introduced the “Situational Humor Response Questionnaire,” aka SHRQ. It was designed to figure out how a sense of humor can moderate stress. Dr. Martin has said that “we defined sense of humor as the frequency with which a person smiles, laughs, and otherwise displays mirth in a wide variety of life situations.” The SHRQ describes 18 situations, either pleasant or unpleasant, and respondents are asked about their reactions.

The report said that…

[…] significant correlations were found between the SHRQ and a number of criteria, including mirth responses during an interview, peer ratings of Ss’ sense of humor, a measure of positive mood, and rated wittiness of impromptu comedy monologs.

The other test with a similar aim is the “Coping Humor Scale or CHS,” “created to investigate how subjects used humor specifically to cope with stressful situations.” To make further investigation count, researchers hope to find an information-gathering tool more reliable than self-reporting, because bias can influence answers that relate to both humor and emotional eating.

There is also work to be done on the cross-cultural effects of humor. More recently, the “Humor Styles Questionnaire” (HSQ) was developed in an attempt to overcome problems inherent in the others. It classifies humor into four main pigeonholes…

[…] two of which are hypothesized to be psychologically beneficial (so-called affiliative and self-enhancing humor) and two detrimental (aggressive and self-defeating humor).

Also, what a sense of humor means is that two different things are going on — humor appreciation and humor generation. The ability to generate or create humor is more closely associated with effective coping, but humor appreciation can also go a long way toward success in dealing with mundane life. Here is an interesting detail:

Preliminary studies have shown that while people with a greater “sense of humor” have a greater subjective satisfaction with their health, they are not healthier per se.

Humor therapy is certainly not suggested as a stand-alone methodology. A person’s eating habits and choice of diet and activity level are all very important. However, research seems to imply that humor therapy can impact the personality in such a way that taking care of those other areas becomes easy and joyful, rather than burdensome.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Laugh Away the Fat? Therapeutic Humor in the Control of Stress-induced Emotional Eating,” rmmj.org, Jan. 2014
Source: “Situational Humor Response Questionnaire: Quantitative measure of sense of humor,” ResearchGate.net, July 1984
Photo credit: Philippe Put via Visualhunt/CC BY

Kids, Fitness Trackers and Holidays


It is possible that some grownups still haven’t shopped for holiday gifts for children, so here are a few interesting things about fitness trackers, which enjoy a degree of popularity among the health-promoting products known as “wearables.” Something like 70% of children are classified as “inactive,” which does not bode well for the abolition of childhood obesity.

Often, the possession of a gadget will inspire a person to take 10,000 steps every day. Of all the fitness trackers sold, about one-third of them are given as gifts.

Adidas executive Stacey Burr stresses the importance of stimulating people’s desire to move more, and, in particular, their willingness to stick with it. The company makes a heart-rate monitor that is worn on the wrist, for kids, and various other kinds of wearable sports electronics, like sensor-based clothing.

Also, as reported by Adam Lashinsky:

Burr says educators have found correlations between more activity and better attendance, behavior, and academic achievement.

A writer known as Leigh Stark asks:

But what if you don’t want to be tracked, or what if the people wearing the devices shouldn’t be tracked by a digital system?

Katherine Pace of the Australian company Elanation says that kids younger than 13 are not included in the terms of service specified by adult “fitness solutions.” Kids are an underserved population whose need for age-appropriate and cyber-safe wearables is now being met by her company. In this brand of fitness device, made for kids ages 5-12, the chat capability is limited to pre-programmed messages composed or approved by the parent figures, much some brands of talking dolls.

In other words, gullibility and lack of discretion can’t put the child at risk. Kids can’t unwittingly share confidential information, or send regrettable pictures.

Also, the Elanation ETurbo wearable is said to connect with the online world in a better way, “with no GPS tracking or sharing of locations either incidentally or accidentally.” This keeps the child from being located by malevolent strangers or non-custodial parents.

The product description tells how the bracelet rewards kids based on activity. The more energy they expend in real life, the more energy their avatar gains in a game:

ETurbo does track footsteps and heart rate, monitoring only these and linking this information to an online world kids can play around with…

For every 1000 steps taken in the real world, ETurbo allows kids entry into a digital community on the iPhone or iPad featuring video content, tips from sports stars, and more…

This digital community also features a game or two, and […] the in-game character is directly impacted by real-world activity…

The safe and protected environment is a big selling point, and another attractive feature is the relative lack of bells and whistles, like geolocation. The battery life improves vastly, and the device allegedly only needs to be charged once a week or so.

Coincidentally, Australia was one of the sites (along with the U.S. and the U.K.) of a survey of almost 10,000 customers, a survey that revealed the sad truth about fitness trackers. Whether they are bought by their intended users, or as gifts, either way about one-third of them are abandoned.

Reasons given by the study subjects were breakage, lack of utility, and boredom. Reporter Chuck Martin says:

Consistent with other studies, the Gartner survey found that consumers see wearables as being priced too high, given their perceived usefulness.

In yet another negative, fitness trackers and smartwatches are not appealing to consumers from the standpoint of design.

People younger than 45 tend to think a smartphone can do everything they need.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “This Is the Compelling Science Behind Fitness Trackers,” Fortune.com, 11/02/16
Source: “Australian fitness gadget made to get Aussie kids moving,” Pickr.com, 11/24/16
Source: “Fitness Tracker Abandonment Rate: 30%; Smartwatch, 29%,” MediaPost.com, 12/08/16
Photo credit: Maurizio Pesce (pestoverde) via Visualhunt/CC BY

Season of Challenge


If this is such a wonderful time of year, why do people suffer astronomical levels of anxiety around it? We tend to think first of the lonely, isolated folks who have no one to celebrate with, or even just be with, and, of course, that happens, too. But in terms of traumatic stress, wasting a special day in the wrong environment can be just as unpleasant.

One person’s obstacle might be the mandatory time spent with bosses and co-workers, rather than home with the family. But the person next door might long to escape the family scene and hang out with work friends. It doesn’t matter — stress is stress.

A newsletter from Dr. John Agwunobi, head of Herbalife Nutrition, arrived with some useful ideas that spark memories of past years and inspire new empathy for people who face what they can’t help thinking of as an ordeal, for one reason or another. It could be the fear of losing all restraint, and gaining 20 pounds. Skipping a meal, or meals, to prepare for an evening feast can backfire in various ways, including a tendency to grossly overeat at the event itself.

Dr. Agwunobi warns of the futility of trying to “save up” stomach space for a big feast. In fact, he takes the opposite route and recommends a snack rich in protein, to take the edge off hunger, before going to a party. He also recommends perpetual motion:

Keep walking around and don’t park next to the chips and dips. Walking counts as exercise, so the more you move the better. Let loose and dance off the party calories; the extra bonus is that the more time you spend dancing the less time you will spend eating.

Too often, the most dreaded aspect of the holiday social scene is forced association with someone it would have been perfectly fine never to see again. One school of thought believes that this 2016 season will be especially difficult in that sense. Occasionally, life gives us the chance to observe an expert in evasion, who demonstrates how to make escaping from a houseful of people into an art form.

Positive plotting

Helpfulness is a marvelous way to avoid a family party fraught with potential confrontations. Volunteer to walk the family dog. Did Aunt Louise forget to buy nutmeg? No problem. A drive to the grocery store is a chance to both be a hero, and make a temporary escape. Or maybe a cousin will sustain a minor wound that requires a trip to the emergency medical facility, and you can both get out of there for a while.

Returning to Dr. Agwunobi, he recommends working out regularly to avoid stress and the consequent emotional eating. This leads to a different tangent, to Joe Rogan, who once said, “I don’t like me when I don’t work out, so I make me work out so I can be sane.”

Another fitness buff, talking about his family relationships, said, “I don’t work out for me, I work out for them.” In other words, the mental and emotional benefits of being in peak health can make it easier to be the kind of person he wants to be in the family setting.

No doubt a thousand others have expressed the same basic thought in different ways. Anyone who faces a potentially difficult or explosive family gathering over the holidays can prepare with a kind of training program, arriving at the crucial event as well-rested, thoroughly exercised and optimally nourished as possible. Readiness just might circumvent the desire to disappear under a bushel of food and a gallon of drink.

And watch out for those drinks, Dr. Agwunobi warns. Celebratory tipples, whether alcohol-based or not, can hide an astonishing amount of sugar. Consider alternating with sparkling water.

The winter holidays would be incomplete without advice on how to survive them. Readers are encouraged to stroll down memory lane with some past Childhood Obesity News posts whose suggestions are equally valid right now. There are ideas for grownups, for kids, and for grownups who hope to guide kids on a healthy path.

Holidays and Childhood Obesity
A Holiday Reminder
Obesity, the Holidays, and Fitting In
Escaping Winter Holiday Hell
All Hail the Lord of Misrule

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Photo credit: jasonb42882 via Visualhunt/CC BY

The Bugs That Slip Us a Mickey


In the post “Microbes, Mood and Obesity” we mentioned how various members of the gut microbiome community produce molecules that affect the human mind. Dr. David Jockers has zeroed in on a particular substance, ammonia, which wreaks on the body the following damages — “fatigue, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, back pain and accelerated aging” — and causes another list of maladies to the brain, such as “mood disturbances, insomnia, loss of coordination and dexterity, clumsiness, confusion and inability to concentrate.”

For Natural News he wrote:

This ammonia is taken to the liver and is turned into urea where it is excreted in the urine. When the body is producing excessive ammonia and/or when it is not filtering and excreting enough ammonia we can end up with very serious problems.

Most people excrete ammonia just fine, although some, genetically programmed to be incapable of metabolizing and eliminating the ammonia their bodies produce if they ingest the wrong things, are severely affected. The interesting part is this. Science had gotten used to the idea that the transformation of sulfur compounds into about four grams of ammonia per day is performed by “the body” — or perhaps “the intestines.”

It now seems that the bugs contribute the ammonia. Dr. Jockers writes:

The gut microbiome (full collection of microorganisms) metabolizes the amino acids into nitrogen compounds, which are used to repair cells. Some of the species present in our microbiome also produce ammonia when they break down amino acids. Some individuals have alterations in their gut microbiome to where ammonia producing bacteria are overpopulated.

Members of our inner microbial community produce a chemical that renders us tired, weak, nauseated, headachy, loose-stooled, moody, sleepless, uncoordinated, clumsy, confused and unfocused. Feeling like that can cause overeating, and overeating causes obesity. Now that we know how some of the gut bugs sabotage our health by squirting out juice that makes us several kinds of unhappy, what can we do about it?

Swallowing a bunch of antibiotics is emphatically not the answer, because it damages the bug families who inhabit us peacefully, and upsets their population balance, and the problems then worsen exponentially.

They are in our heads

In 2014, Norwegian researchers looked at the feces of 55 humans and found that the depressive patients were colonized by significantly greater numbers of certain bacteria, and meaningfully lesser numbers of other bacteria, than their non-depressed counterparts.

At Ontario’s McMaster university, writes Zack Fediay, researchers…

[…] were able to change the behavior of germ-free mice by colonizing their intestines with bacteria from other mice… This led naturally daring mice to become apprehensive and shy, for example, leading scientists to suggest that microbial interactions with the brain could induce psychological change.

The same journalist reports that at UCLA, scientists…

[…] showed through fMRI scans that women who ate yogurt containing active probiotics twice a day for a month showed a reduced reflexive response to photos of actors with frightened or angry faces.

In other words, it now seems entirely possible that the consumption of four particular kinds of microbes can allay human anxiety, without side effects. If this turns out to be accurate, it could change the lives of millions of people, including the emotional overeaters who are propelled by anxiety into unhealthy relationships with food.

What if the consumers of mood-elevation pills never bothered to renew their subscriptions? Pharmaceutical corporations are unlikely to fund research in this area, and who can blame them?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How your genetics and microbiome play a role in ammonia metabolism,” NaturaNews.com, 01/19/15
Source: “Depressed? Anxious? What If Your Bacteria Are Playing a Part?,” UbiomeBlog.com, 03/28/16
Photo via Visualhunt

Microbes, Mood and Obesity


In the straightforwardly titled “Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour” two writers for Nature, John F. Cryan and Timothy G. Dinan, discussed the microbiota-gut-brain axis and the communications that take place there:

A growing body of evidence indicates that microbiota have a role in the normal regulation of behaviour and brain chemistry that are relevant to mood and anxiety. Moreover, they intriguingly suggest that an individual’s microbiota composition may influence their susceptibility to anxiety and depression.

Anxiety and depression are two of the main triggers of disordered eating behavior, so if the gut bugs have anything to do with enabling anxiety and depression, we probably should know about it.

Mark Lyte is one of the people who look into this matter professionally, in a laboratory housed at the Texas Tech University Health Services Center. In search of answers to questions about how the microbiome influences the brain, Lyte studies monkey poo and, through fecal transplant technology, attempts to change the course of neurodevelopment in monkeys.

Journalist Peter Andrey Smith learned from other scientists of Lyte’s reputation as a pioneer and a prophet who believes that specific psychological disorders can be treated by tailored bacteria. A gastroenterologist colleague, Stephen Collins, said of Lyte that he “showed, quite clearly, in elegant studies that are not often cited, that introducing a pathological bacterium into the gut will cause a change in behavior.”

Creatures live inside us and pump out dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, all of which are connected human anxiety and depression, and intestinal disorders. They are making the same chemicals that our neurons use in their communication and mood-regulation systems. Who needs space invaders, when we already have interior armies battling grimly for control of our minds? Smith goes on to say:

Lyte has spent his career trying to prove that gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain.

“If they make this stuff here, does it have an influence there? Guess what? We make the same stuff. Maybe all this communication has an influence on our behavior.”

Of course, Mark Lyte is not the only expert working in this area. Just to randomly name another, there is California Institute of Technology microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian, about whom Smith says:

Research has moved beyond the basic neurochemicals to focus on a broader class of molecules called metabolites: small, equally druglike chemicals that are produced by micro-organisms. Using high-powered computational tools, he also hopes to move beyond the suggestive correlations that have typified psychobiotic research to date, and instead make decisive discoveries about the mechanisms by which microbes affect brain function.

The gut bugs literally produce psychoactive compounds that function like psychiatric drugs. In one fanciful way of looking at it, a human is inhabited by zillions of tiny little dope pushers, offering to deal out feel-good molecules in return for our cooperation. Sure, they want to survive and reproduce, just like us, but even if their agenda is totally understandable, what do they want in return for all those little fixes, and what does it cost us?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour,” Nature.com, October 2012
Source: “Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood?,” NYTimes.com, 06/23/15
Photo credit: Ben Ballard (Relaxdesign Minis) via Visualhunt/CC BY

Food vs. LOLz


Research indicates that “comfort food intake may reduce stress by acting on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis.” That proposition alone seems enough to fuel several academic careers. It is one of many ideas brought up in a paper by Elizabeth S. Bast and Elliot M. Berry, titled “Laugh Away the Fat? Therapeutic Humor in the Control of Stress-induced Emotional Eating,” which contains several jumping-off points for expanded ways of thinking about such practices as binge-eating.

The work concludes with the suggestion that humor “be investigated as an additional therapy especially among obese people with stress-induced emotional eating problems.” People suffer from irritability, anxiety, stress, depression, mood swings, and a state described as tense tiredness. Any of these conditions might be caused by nutritional factors, and might be alleviated by better nutrition, but are likely to delude a person into pursuing even worse nutrition, in the mistaken belief that a feast of chocolate-covered bacon will help them feel better.

The authors wanted to learn the most effective coping strategies to deal with emotional eating, and what kinds of behavioral modifications might be useful. In the realm of mood regulation, there are two hypotheses, which are not mutually exclusive, but which could very well work together synergistically. As they express it:

The hedonic effects of comfort food may be augmented by subsequent endocrine effects, especially in persons experiencing high levels of stress.

Nutrient-dependent effects result from “the specific quality of the food and possible biochemical effects that may occur due to these qualities.” Hedonic effects stem from the brain’s pleasure-reward circuits, which may be corrupted by too much exposure to hyperpalatable foods loaded with fat and sugar.

Related to nutrient-dependent effects, clues abound, connected with protein, fatty acid, carbohydrates, insulin, hypoglycemia, tryptophan, serotonin, glucocorticoids, and their interactions. There is a lot to sort out and, as always, prudent scientists admit how much research remains to be done:

Without more evidence it is difficult to reach any conclusions except that the relationship between insulin release and the propensity for emotional eating should be studied further.

The term “ego-threatening stressor” applies to an activity that includes the possibility of failing in front of other people, such as public speaking. With an event like this on the horizon, people tend to go for the high-calorie, hyperpalatable foods — which paradoxically are quite likely to affect their performance in a negative way. There may be an additional guilt burden, as the individual engages in self-blame. So the blind, instinctive seeking of comfort can not help but backfire.

Tiny, unsung heroes

These words written by Peter Andrey Smith for The New York Times are worth repeating:

Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and […] among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These, in turn, appear to play a function in intestinal disorders, which coincide with high levels of major depression and anxiety.

Along with influencing a person’s sense of well-being, serotonin is connected with appetite regulation and food intake. With the help of the gut microbiome, at least 80% of a body’s serotonin is manufactured in the GI tract, and the different kinds of bacterial colonies can be picky about their nutritional demands.

Some gut bacteria increase insulin sensitivity. The real possibility exists that manipulating populations of interior microbes can change people’s lives profoundly. Maybe answers to both diabetes and misery-based obesity can be discovered by listening to and befriending the microbiota.


Source: “Laugh Away the Fat? Therapeutic Humor in the Control of Stress-induced Emotional Eating,” RMMJ.org, January 2014
Source: “Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood?,” NYTimes.com, 06/23/15
Photo credit: Marc Kjerland via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Obesity and Unorthodox Therapeutic Modalities


A meta study done by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reviewed 45 trials of various behavioral interventions aimed at obesity. Together the studies encompassed more than 7,000 subjects. The very great majority of the studies, 42 of them, “used multicomponent interventions targeting lifestyle change.” Those components might include dietary counseling, exercise, and behavior change.

Then there were three studies that didn’t fit that category:

Three smaller trials assessed different behavioral approaches (weight loss maintenance, regulation of cues for overeating, and interpersonal therapy). IPT has been effective for use in individual and group formats and has demonstrated positive results for the prevention of excessive weight gain in overweight adolescents…

Interpersonal psychotherapy is the kind where the client learns to examine relationships with family and friends, and also learns ways to make changes in problem areas. It has short duration and a limited focus.

Here is an interesting thing about interpersonal therapy. Binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa might, at first glance, appear to be very different maladies. After all, one leads to obesity, and the other emaciates. But interpersonal therapy has been named as one of the two most promising treatments for both conditions. (The other most promising treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.)

Here is an explanation of why interpersonal therapy seems to be effective:

IPT helps patients connect their binge and/or purge behaviors to interpersonal difficulties; the therapist highlights how a social arena can function as both a causal and a maintaining factor for binge eating, but can also be used as an avenue through which to build support for recovery. Given the emphasis of IPT on current relationships, it is particularly effective for youth, for whom the social network is of heightened importance.

Concerning obesity, binge eating disorder seems to fulfill the description of a Body Focused Repetitive Disorder, a type of problem which is also said to respond well to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We have discussed the probability that food addiction is a spectrum, with some victims more toward the substance addiction end and others toward the process addiction end. We explored Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRB) and mentioned that an institution called Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers named several therapeutic modalities that have been employed, with encouraging results, to deal with BFRB.

Some of the therapies are Cognitive Behavioral, Habit-Reversal, Acceptance and Commitment, and Dialectic Behavioral. Then there are Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotional Regulation, and Distress Tolerance.

As the old saying goes, different strokes for different folks. This is one of the advantages of human individuality — what doesn’t work for one person might very well work for the next. Childhood Obesity News has been looking at various unconventional ideas — for instance, the proposition that in certain cases, humor can be a food substitute. In the struggle against obesity, even marijuana has its supporters.

According to a two-minute video from High Times, the endocannabinoid system can influence appetite, metabolism, and weight. More recent studies have confirmed the beneficial effects, in terms of lowered BMI, reduced fat mass, and lower fasting insulin levels,
but the video was more fun.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Draft Recommendation Statement,” USPreventiveServicesTaskForce.org, November 2016
Source: “Binge Eating Disorder,” EdReferral.com, undated
Source: “Watch: How marijuana can help obesity,” HighTimes.com, 06/04/14
Source: “Marijuana, the Munchies and Obesity,” HighTimes.com, 08/26/15
Photo credit: symphony of love via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

A Detective on the Eating Case


Childhood Obesity News has been looking at various kinds of therapy, particularly the type that doesn’t involve spending months or thousands of dollars, which led to finding “How to curb hunger pangs with your mind.” This possibility is suggested by research fellow Eric Robinson, who is a University of Liverpool behavioral scientist interested in experimental psychology. He has explored such questions as whether the awareness of social influence on eating behavior, which is pretty widely accepted as significant, is actually a factor in the amount that someone eats.

While not denying that hunger originates with chemical signals from gut hormones, he also credits the mind with abetting in the formation of appetite. Maybe, just maybe, thinking about the most recent meal can help a person refrain from eating too soon, or too much.

This notion was helped along by the work of another experimental psychologist, Glyn Humphreys, of the University of Oxford. Anterograde amnesia is an extreme form of short-term memory loss, and Prof. Humphreys determined that a person who has it will happily eat a big meal only 15 minutes after finishing another big meal. Because of the inability to recall the first meal, a person with a full stomach can feel as hungry as one who hasn’t eaten since breakfast.

Fortunately, anterograde amnesia is rare, and surely the people who suffer from it are watched over, and prevented from eating 20 meals per day. Maybe it’s not such a big deal.

But journalist David Robson backgrounds the discussion of Robinson’s work by recalling that of Jeff Brunstrom, of the University of Bristol, who demonstrated how easily a healthy brain can be fooled:

His subjects thought their task was simple: to eat a bowl of soup. Unbeknown to them, Brunstrom had hooked up a pipe that passed through the table and into the bowl, which allowed him to top-up some of his subjects’ soup without them noticing. He found that their later snacking depended almost entirely on the appearance of the bowl at the start of the meal — whether it seemed big or small — and very little on the actual amount he had fed them.

That sounds a lot like what happens to people whose wine goblets are constantly topped up by servers, so they don’t realize how drunk they are. Prof. Brunstrom also discovered that people who ate with one hand and played solitaire with the other would eat more cookies later on — apparently, because they were unable to form a coherent memory of their most recent meal.

Robinson experimented with a three-minute recording that reminded ham-sandwich eaters to consume their food mindfully and to focus fully on the sensual experiences. The control group ate their ham sandwiches while listening to bird calls. The test came later, with the snacking opportunity that both groups shared. The mindful savorers, who could remember their meal, snacked 30% less than the bird-call subjects.

Robinson found that merely asking a person to consciously remember previous consumption could put a lid on the desire for food later in the day. The writer says:

Your imagination may even offer a helping hand: a team in Pennsylvania has found that visualising your cravings, in full detail, seems to trick the mind into thinking it has actually eaten the snack — reducing desire and actual consumption.

Based on the premise that savoring food can be a great and useful habit, Robinson is reportedly developing an app that will remind a person to mentally relive the day’s previous meals.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How to curb hunger pangs with your mind,” BBC.com, 01/22/15
Source: “Awareness of social influence on food intake. An analysis of two experimental studies,” NIH.gov, February 2015
Photo credit: dynamosquito via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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