Combatting Diet Crabbiness

Dieting can wreck havoc on your nerves and cause mood swings, especially in those in-between-meal moments.

diet crabbinessThat is why eating several small meals spread out throughout the day is a good idea to help manage these mood swings and keep your blood sugars level.

Mood swings are caused by fluctuations in serotonin levels in the brain, which often occur when someone hasn’t eaten or is stressed out. Research out of the University of Cambridge is now showing that these same regions of the brain affected by serotonin levels are the same regions of the brain that control anger.

Although reduced serotonin levels have previously been implicated in aggression, this is the first study to show how this chemical helps regulate behavior in the brain as well as why some individuals may be more prone to aggression. The research findings were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Researchers altered the diets of the people participating in this study from serotonin-depleted days with no tryptophan to placebo days with normal amounts of tryptophan. This protein, tryptophan, is needed for the production of serotonin. Reactions to this manipulated diet were scanned via MRI images and notes were taken on behavioral changes, particularly in facial expressions.

“Using the fMRI, they were able to measure how different brain regions reacted and communicated with one another when the volunteers viewed angry faces, as opposed to sad or neutral faces.”

The MRI showed regions of the brain that were affected by low serotonin levels to experience weaker signals that control emotional responses to anger.

The subjects of this study were pre-screened to determine their normal response to anger and aggression. Those who exhibited higher levels of anger were affected worse by the lower levels of serotonin and the absence of tryptophan in their diets.

Dr Molly Crockett, co-first author who worked on the research while a PhD student at Cambridge’s Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (and currently based at the University of Zurich) said:

“We’ve known for decades that serotonin plays a key role in aggression, but it’s only very recently that we’ve had the technology to look into the brain and examine just how serotonin helps us regulate our emotional impulses. By combining a long tradition in behavioral research with new technology, we were finally able to uncover a mechanism for how serotonin might influence aggression.”

Why Do I Always Put on Weight in the Winter?

If you think you’re imagining an increase in your appetite as winter draws near, you’re not.

winter weight gainSome scientists believe, based on research from a study from 1991 out of the University of Georgia, that we are hardwired to our instincts dating back to our cave-dwelling days and these instincts are responsible for an average increase of 200 calories a day in the winter. Colder weather means a food scarcity.

The other culprit is light. The lack of daylight hours in the winter sends signals to the brain for us to stockpile on food and eat faster than normal.

But some scientists disagree with this theory and place the blame on the holidays and people spending more time indoors and less time exercising. During the winter months, our cravings for comfort foods escalate as does our caloric intake. The stronger the memories attached to your favourite foods, the higher the possibility that you’ll eat more of these foods. With every mouthful, these memories are enhanced. Eating already increases our production of the feel-good hormone, dopamine, and when it’s a favorite food, this sensation is even greater.

Unfortunately, most of our comfort foods are high in carbs and high in fat, which leads to more calories and an increased chance of weight gain. So, you can limit yourself by paying close attention to your portion control. Also, including a protein component to every meal you eat will fill you up faster and keep you full for longer.

For those people who are strict about their fitness regime, having a winter plan is always a part of their strategy. Planning ahead is always a good game plan, especially when the winter months are ahead of us. Don’t give in to colder climates and use that as an excuse not to exercise. Devise a plan that will keep you motivated and exercised all winter long.

How Not to Overeat

To find out how effective the traditional method of diet and exercise is in losing weight, scientists studied children to get their reaction.

How not to overeatOvereating is something we all do, whether we are young or old and even if we’re not hungry. Changing this repetitive and destructive habit requires a lifestyle change and some serious behavioral therapy.

A recent study out of the University of California, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology looked at a couple of different methods to help overeating.

These studies focused on reprogramming natural responses to satiety and internal hunger cues. Scientists also brought cognitive therapy into the mix by working on the psychological and physiological response to foods in any given situation.

The first method was called Appetite Awareness Training that focused on learning the difference between being full and actual hunger. The second method was called Cue Exposure Training that focused on resisting temptation – something like that old dog trick, where you sit your dog down in front of a delicious treat and he sits there and drools, not touching the food until he’s given the command.

“We teach children and parents how the environment tricks us into eating foods even when we’re not hungry,” said Kerri Boutelle, PhD and lead study author, citing examples of food triggers such as TV commercials, the abundance of easy-to-eat and high-calories snacks, and the use of food as a reward.

This study lasted eight weeks and provided the participants with coping skills and ideas to help resist temptation and the urge to overeat. Test subjects were also taught how to manage their overeating and listen to their body’s hunger cues and food-related moods.

The results were recorded for body weight, overeating, binge eating and caloric intake.

“While this was a pilot study, our initial results suggest that the ‘cue exposure’ approach might be very helpful in reduction of eating in the absence of hunger,” said Boutelle. She added that significant reduction in such overeating was found in the cue-exposure group, even six months post-treatment, though there was very little long-term impact on overeating in the appetite awareness group. There was only a small effect on body weight and no effect on reported calories eaten in either group; however, both approaches resulted in decreased binge eating in children and their parents

“These findings are exciting because they offer a completely new paradigm for controlling overeating and binge eating,” Boutelle said. “By reducing overeating and binge eating, we hope to provide a new way of preventing weight gain and providing children with a sense of control over what they chose to eat. This is really important, because a loss of control can lead to depression and other psychiatric problems, and of course childhood obesity.”


University of California – San Diego. “New approach to management of overeating in children.” ScienceDaily, 7 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 Dec. 2011

Cut Out Mid-Morning Snacking

There is so much confusing information out there about how to lose weight, it’s enough to drive you nuts.

cut out midmorning snacksHow many times have you heard that grazing throughout the day, dividing your calories into smaller meals, is the ideal way to stay full, curb cravings and lose weight?

Well, new evidence is saying that if you are a woman aged 50 to 75 and are trying to lose weight, you need to omit that mid-morning snack from your diets.

This new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, took 123 women aged 50 to 75 who were overweight or obese and tracked their eating habits and subsequent weight loss. Their diets ranged from 1,200 to 2,000 calories a day and low in fat – less than 30%. Each woman engaged in 45 minutes of cardio exercise a day for five days a week.

The results showed that those women who consumed a mid-morning snack were lose an average of 7% of body weight compared to those women who did not consume a mid-morning snack who lost 11% of their body weight.

“We think this finding may not relate necessarily to the time of day one snacks, but rather to the short interval between breakfast and lunch,” says study researcher Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD. “Mid-morning snacking, therefore, might be a reflection of recreational or mindless eating habits rather than eating to satisfy true hunger.”

The study reports that once snacking becomes a regular part of your dieting regime, it’s easier to give into temptation and snack too often.

“Since women on a weight loss program only have a limited number of calories to spend each day, it is important for them to incorporate nutrient-dense foods that are no more than 200 calories per serving,” McTiernan says.

Having a high-protein breakfast will keep you feeling fuller for longer and you will probably forget all about your mid-morning snack. Another way to help you succeed in your weight loss goals is to measure out your snacks, so you won’t be tempted to eat more than you should. Grabbing nuts from a full bag or grapes from a full bunch will only lead to eating more calories.

Explaining Post-Diet Weight Gain

The biggest complaint amongst dieters who follow a calorie-restricted diet is that as soon as they stop the diet, they gain back most of the weight lost.

post diet weight gainWithin the first year, as many as 80% of dieters gain back the weight lost while on a diet.

To understand better why this is such a common occurrence amongst dieters, scientists out of the University of Melbourne studied appetite hormones to see if they were altered during the dieting process.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the results of this study showed that these hormones indeed were affected for about a year after a calorie-restricted diet. After dieting, the hormones were supercharged and working over time to regain the weight lost. The effect of these altered hormones is increased hunger and a larger-than-normal appetite.

“Maintaining weight loss may be more difficult than losing weight,” says lead researcher Joseph Proietto, PhD, a professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne’s Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, in Victoria, Australia. “This may be due to biological changes rather than [a] voluntary return to old habits.”

To test this theory, the scientists placed 50 overweight and obese men and women on a 10-week, calorie-restricted diet and then tested their hormone levels over a one-year period.

These blood tests showed that appetite hormones leptin, ghrelin and insulin were altered as a result of weight loss. Subjects also noted an increase in hunger throughout the morning, even after eating breakfast.

Even though the average weight lost was 30 pounds over the 10 weeks, the dieters gained back about 12 pounds over the course of the year. This was in spite of eating a well-balanced diet and exercising on a regular basis. The dieters again noted an increase in hunger pangs and blood tests showed that hormone levels were still unstable.

While these results may shock a few people, the scientists explain that this is a typical response of the body and one that has been hard-wired into our genetics as a survival technique.

“Multiple mechanisms have been developed over eons of evolution to get you to regain weight once you lose it, to tell your brain you’re hungry and to ensure that you don’t stop eating. If you don’t have those drives, you wouldn’t be alive.

Now that we live in a world where calories are so easily consumed and physical exercise—the best way to burn off those calories—is largely unnecessary for day-to-day survival, these biological drives are backfiring and contributing to obesity.” – Dr Charles Burant, Director of the University of Michigan Nutrition Obesity Research Center.

It’s not all a total loss though. Despite these increases in hunger pangs and cravings, dieters can still be successful if they arm themselves with a strong willpower and persevere to resist these cravings.

“That’s not to say that weight regain is inevitable, or that these drives can’t be overcome through willpower. Although the hormone changes noted in the study are very real physical effects, personality and psychological factors may play a role in an individual’s ability to manage chronic hunger. This may explain why some people maintain weight loss for longer than others,” he says. “Maintenance of weight loss requires continued vigilance and conscious effort to resist hunger.” – Joseph Proietto, PhD, University of Melbourne.

Researchers are using this information to develop new ways to help restore hormonal levels after dieting.

Columbia University has used leptin with great success in helping dieters to keep the weight they lost off.

“When diabetics don’t have enough insulin in their bodies, we give them back insulin in order to maintain their blood glucose,” Dr. Burant says. Researchers should be finding a way to do the same for people who have lost weight, he adds, “whether it’s with a drug, a dietary supplement, or certain nutrients—something that will stimulate the release of these hormones.”