Opinion: We Don’t Control Our Weight

Dayna Lee-Baggley wrote . . . . . . . . .

If you’re willing, let’s try an experiment. I’m going to offer you two options, and I’d like you to pick the option that you think sounds more likely to be successful.

Option 1: Tomorrow’s weight will be 301 pounds, the day after that it will be 195 pounds, and the following day it will be 255 pounds.

Option 2: Tomorrow, go for a 10-minute walk, the day after that eat two servings of fruit, and the following day drink three glasses of water.

Which option would you be more likely to succeed with? Which option would anyone be more likely to succeed with? If you picked Option 2, you win!

Why would most of us pick Option 2 over Option 1? Option 1 involves an outcome (weight) and Option 2 involves a behavior (doing something). And as humans, we have much more control over our behavior than we do outcomes like weight. In fact, there’s mounting and convincing evidence that we don’t control our weight.

Now, this may seem hard to believe. Everything you’ve ever heard from the media, from your healthcare providers, from others in your life is that if you just work hard enough, if you just try long enough, you will be able to have a skinny body. But science tells us something different. We can influence our weight but we don’t have direct control.

Weight is actually influenced by more than 50 different processes, many of which we have no control over.

The figure in the top illustrates the factors that influence weight.

For example, weight is influenced by how much sleep you get, the cortisol (stress hormone) levels in your body, how many McDonald’s locations are in your neighborhood, the walkability of your city, your genetics, and your access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Most of these we have no direct control over. How much you eat and how much you exercise are only two small factors in weight.

This also has important implications for how to manage weight. If we focus on weight as the goal, at some point, we will feel like our efforts aren’t getting us to our goal. This is inevitable because we don’t control all the factors that influence weight. And when we feel like our efforts aren’t getting us to our goals, the most normal response is to give up trying and to not bother to try again.

This is an effect called “learned helplessness,” first described by Dr. Martin Seligman and his colleagues: when we feel we have no control, we just stop trying. Many of my patients living with obesity will describe trying over and over and over again to lose weight only to find themselves heavier than when they started. And often I will hear them say “and then I just gave up.” That’s learned helplessness. And once learned helplessness sets in it’s hard to undo.

But there is a way we can avoid learned helplessness: by focusing on behavior as a goal instead of weight as a goal. If you try harder to go for a walk, you’re much more likely to go for a walk, but if you try harder to “lose weight” you don’t necessarily lose more weight. In fact, the stress of trying to lose weight may increase the cortisol levels in your body and make it harder to lose weight.

So, if you’re working to manage your weight, think about setting behavioral goals: things that other people can see you do. Examples include going for a walk, eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, eating more whole foods, eating at regular intervals during the day, or tracking your food intake. You’ll be more likely to feel successful and to want to keep going.

Source: Psychology Today

Sweet Brown Rice Porridge with Sweet Corn and Chestnut


1/2 cup sweet corn kernels
152 g shelled chestnuts
8 red dates (seeded)
4 shelled dried longans
1/2 cup brown rice
sugar to taste


  1. Rinse the sweet corn kernels, red dates and dried longans.
  2. Rinse the brown rice.
  3. Soak chestnuts in boiling hot water for a while. Then peel them.
  4. Boil 10 cups of water. Add sweet corn kernels, chestnuts, red dates, dried longans and brown rice.
  5. Bring to the boil again and switch to low heat. Simmer for 1-1/2 hours. Season with sugar. Serve hot.

Source: Tasty Low-fat Desserts

In Pictures: The Taste of Fall – Chestnut Sweets

Study: What Influences Healthy, Sustainable Food Choices

“We eat first with our eyes.”

This comment has been attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius, a 1st Century Roman gourmand. Two thousand years later, academic research backs up Apicius’ statement, as a team of marketing professors at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University (SDSU) have studied the sensory impact of food and the evolution of healthy eating.

SDSU associate professor, Dr. Morgan Poor, who has studied the impact of food on the senses knows firsthand how just an image of food can have a sensory and emotional effect on individuals. “Seeing a photo of a hamburger, for example, can stimulate other sensory images, causing individuals to imagine the taste or smell of that hamburger,” she noted.

World Wide Health Crisis

Unfortunately, the pleasing aesthetics and easy access to unhealthy foods (such as hamburgers), along with limited access to healthy foods, may be leading to a worldwide health crisis. In fact, statistics released by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that 39 percent of all adults in the world are overweight and 13 percent are obese meaning they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. The organization also noted that global obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975.

Making Healthy Food Attractive is Key

One solution to obesity may involve focusing on the pleasure of eating which could be used a tool to promote healthy food choices. Research conducted by SDSU marketing professors Dr. Paula Peter, Dr. Iana Castro, and Dr. Sunaina Chugani, and recently published in the Journal of Business Research, determined that associating healthy food with pleasurable experiences and emotions led to greater interest in purchasing or eating it.

The researchers cited a successful marketing campaign by Bolthouse Farms to reverse the sales decline of their brand of baby carrots. The campaign did not emphasize the carrots’ healthy qualities, but embraced the sensory pleasure derived from eating them. For example, the neon orange color, crispy texture and crinkly sound of the packaging mimicked some of the characteristics of certain “junk foods” and led to an increase in product sales of 10 to 12 percent.

Breaking down Barriers to Healthy Foods

In the same research, the professors also noted that the two primary barriers to building pleasurable experiences around healthy foods are time and money. Time is needed to seek out the necessary ingredients to assemble a healthy meal or find a restaurant that serves good tasting, healthy food, where money is needed to purchase the restaurant meals or the ingredients (as well as the knives, pans and other tools) to create the end product. Based on numerous studies, the professors concluded that money, more so than distance to the food or lack of time, is the primary barrier to healthy food access.

Castro has done extensive research on access to healthy foods (including fresh produce) for people living in lower income and ethnically-diverse neighborhoods. Residents of underserved communities do not always have access to supermarkets and may rely on smaller food stores, liquor stores or corner stores to meet their food needs. These smaller stores are limited in the amount of healthy foods they can offer. However, distributors require minimum order quantities to cover their delivery costs and, in many cases, these minimum order requirements exceed store needs.

In an article that was co-authored by Castro that is forthcoming in Translational Behavioral Medicine*, researchers studied whether stores that accept food assistance payments are able to meet the minimum stocking requirements set by United States Department of Agriculture. While the stocking requirements are meant to increase the amount of healthy food items available in smaller stores, the research suggests that stores are struggling to meet the requirements.

Taking Action

Castro decided she wanted to do more than just study food access challenges in underserved communities – she wanted to find a way to give community residents access to fresh produce while providing SDSU students a learning experience that increased their involvement in tackling pressing issues that impacted the local community.

Castro co-founded BrightSide Produce, a produce distribution service operated by SDSU students, to address the challenges faced by small stores in underserved communities. BrightSide Produce initially launched in June 2017 with five stores in National City, California, but word spread that the produce was popular with customers and profitable for the store owners. As of September 2019, BrightSide Produce was delivering fresh produce to 13 stores in National City, with plans to expand into the City of San Diego by the end of the year.

Respect for the Insect

What’s next for academics, cooks and scientists wanting to find healthy, low-fat food sources that are also easily sustainable? Professor Peter is finding evidence to suggest a new food source may be coming to American menus soon:


While eating bugs (entomophagy) may be trending in epicurean circles, they would certainly lack eye appeal to most people and would seem to fly in the face of some of Peter’s earlier research emphasizing the aesthetic attributes of healthy foods. However, given the popularity of edible bugs in other cultures, beauty may be in the eye of the beholder.

“Insects such as ants, grasshoppers, crickets and various kinds of larvae have been used as a low-fat source of protein in many parts of the world (especially in Asia), but have found little traction in the Western Hemisphere, especially the U.S.,” said Peter. “While many people in Western culture find the practice of eating insects to be repugnant, they are actually high in protein and iron, as well as an inexpensive and sustainable food source.”

Will American chefs and lovers of healthy foods be able to make bugs look good enough to eat? Stay tuned – Professor Peter is researching that now.

Source: San Diego State University

Brain Changes May Help Track Dementia, Even Before Diagnosis

Even before a dementia diagnosis, people with mild cognitive impairment may have different changes in the brain depending on what type of dementia they have, according to a study published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“These differences may reflect underlying changes in the brain that could be used to track early changes in people who are going to develop either Alzheimer’s disease or dementia due to cerebrovascular disease,” said study author Juan “Helen” Zhou, PhD, of Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involved people recruited from Samsung Medical Center in South Korea: 30 people with mild cognitive impairment including memory problems, which is often considered an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, and 55 people with mild cognitive impairment with damage to small blood vessels in the brain, which is an early sign of vascular dementia, or dementia due to cerebrovascular disease.

The participants had positron emission tomography (PET) scans at the start of the study to see if they had amyloid-beta plaques in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and structural MRI scans to see if they had the signs of cerebrovascular disease associated with vascular dementia. The functional MRI scans were used to measure how brain regions are functionally connected. These scans were repeated every year for up to four years.

The functional MRI scans were looking at functional networks in the brain—the executive control network, which is engaged during activities such as use of working memory and switching between tasks; and the default mode network, which has been linked to memory retrieval.

The researchers found that the interactions in the default network declined more steeply over time in the people who had amyloid-beta plaques in the brain confirming Alzheimer’s disease than in people in early stages of vascular dementia and without amyloid-beta plaques in the brain. Specifically, the rate of annual decline in the default mode network connections was on average 13.6 times faster in the people who had amyloid-beta plaques in the brain confirming Alzheimer’s disease than in people in the early stages of vascular dementia and without amyloid-beta plaques.

Researchers also found that the rate of annual increase in interactions in the executive control network was on average three times faster in people in the early stages of vascular dementia and without amyloid-beta plaques than in people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“More studies are needed with larger numbers of participants and longer follow-up periods, but these results suggest that these changes in brain network connections could potentially be used to track early changes in Alzheimer’s disease and cerebrovascular disease,” said study author Sang Won Seo, MD, of Samsung Medical Center in South Korea.

Limitations of the study were the small number of participants and the relatively short time for follow-up.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

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