Takeaways from the Biggest Loser study

chow_050616-466368885I recently heard some discouraging news about the prospects of losing weight and keeping it off. What is the best course for people like me, who had a lifelong battle with weight?

You’re likely talking about the study that followed 14 “Biggest Loser” contestants six years after they competed on the TV show. The study, in the journal Obesity, has received wide media coverage.

One of the participants actually weighs less than she did at the end of the competition, but the other 13 regained some or all of the weight they had lost. While more than half retained at least a 10 percent weight loss six years later, five now weigh as much or more as they did before the Biggest Loser. Their level of physical activity had not changed significantly since the end of the competition.

What surprised the researchers most were the measurements of the participants’ “resting metabolic rate,” or the calories a person burns while at rest. It’s generally known that when people diet and they trim down, their metabolism slows and they don’t burn as many calories. But researchers found that as these participants regained pounds, their metabolic rates did not increase as expected. In order to maintain their weight, most Biggest Loser graduates must eat 200 to 800 fewer calories per day than other people who weigh exactly the same as they do.

In addition to that hurdle, researchers found that the participants continue to have significantly lower levels of the hormone leptin. Less leptin triggers hunger and cravings, and is normal when you diet. The participants had normal levels of leptin when they started the Biggest Loser competition and almost none when they finished. Six years later, the participants’ leptin levels had not returned to normal. They were hungry, all the time.

So, what does this mean for you? Since everyone is different, it’s difficult to say. But here are some things to consider:

  • Focus on health, not the scale. Eat 2 to 2.5 cups of vegetables and 1 to 1.5 cups of fruit every day, and round out your diet by focusing on whole grains, lean protein and healthy oils. And get plenty of physical activity: Make it your goal to walk, play sports or work out for at least 30 minutes five days a week. Even if the pounds don’t drop, regular physical activity lessens the risk of chronic disease.
  • Take guidance from the National Weight Control Registry, www.nwcr.ws, a database of more than 10,000 people who have lost 30 pounds or more and have kept it off for at least a year. Most report they have had success by maintaining a low-calorie, low-fat diet, and 90 percent say they exercise an average of an hour a day. But understand the hunger pangs you will likely feel are real, and you will have to work harder to maintain your weight than your lean friends.
  • Shed any shame or guilt you feel about your weight. As science learns more about individual differences in metabolism as well as leptin and other hormones that affect hunger and appetite, it’s easier to understand the biological underpinnings of why so many of us struggle with weight issues. Self-blame doesn’t help.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness with Ohio State University Extension.

Keep watch on pregnancy pounds

160498927My daughter-in-law is pregnant but doesn’t seem to be gaining much weight. She is pleased, but I’m concerned. Should I be?

You don’t say how far along in her pregnancy your daughter-in-law is, but you should know that doctors generally recommend women gain only 1 to 4 pounds total during the first three months, and then 2 to 4 pounds per month until birth.

However, guidance varies depending on the circumstances. For example, teens who are pregnant are encouraged to gain more weight, as their own bodies are still developing. And a woman’s pre-pregnancy weight plays a major role: According to the Insitute of Medicine, women at a normal weight for their height should gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. Underweight women should gain more, 28 to 40 pounds. Overweight women should gain less, 15 to 25 pounds, and obese women should limit weight gain to 11 to 20 pounds.

Gaining a proper amount of weight during pregnancy — not too much and not too little — is good for both mother and baby. It will decrease the chance of premature birth and Caesarean section, and increases the chance of a healthy newborn. In addition, gaining too much weight during pregnancy often causes long-term weight problems, not only for mom but for the child as well.

That’s why “eating for two” is a horrible misnomer. Most women need only about 300 additional calories per day during pregnancy. For the most part, those calories should be nutrient-rich choices, from whole grains, lean protein and dairy, fruits, vegetables, and healthful fats. It’s especially important for pregnant women to get enough folic acid (400 micrograms a day), iron (27 milligrams a day) and calcium (1,000 milligrams a day) for a healthy pregnancy.

There are plenty of resources to help guide your daughter-in-law to eat right for both herself and her baby. A good place to start is the National Institutes of Health “MedlinePlus” website, http://medlineplus.gov. Just type “Pregnancy and Nutrition” in the search engine and you’ll find reliable information from a myriad of resources, including the National Academy of Dietetics, the Mayo Clinic, the Nemours Foundation and the March of Dimes.

The most important concern is to make sure your daughter-in-law is getting proper prenatal care. As long as she’s seeing her doctor regularly, and they both are keeping an eye on her weight gain and other health issues, you can rest easy.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or filipic.3@osu.edu.


Tips to prevent holiday weight gain

I need some inspiration to help keep me from gaining weight during the holidays. Any ideas?

The temptations of the season often come not with glitter and sparkle, but with sugar, fat and calories.

Fortunately, weight gain isn’t inevitable. In fact, most studies suggest an average weight gain over the holidays of about 1 pound. This is good news, because most people assume it is five or 10 times that number.

Still, researchers warn that people tend to keep that extra pound instead of shedding it after the season is over. Those pounds can pile up over time, leading to significant weight gain.

Studies also indicate that people who are already overweight are more likely to gain five pounds or more during the holidays.

Perhaps the first thing to acknowledge is that this won’t be easy. Accepting that in advance will help you make a more serious effort. With that in mind, here are a few tips from the experts:

  • Unless you can already easily estimate and track calories of the special treats and meals you’re likely to face over the holidays, try a “mindful eating” approach instead. A recent Ohio State University study showed that this technique can help people with diabetes to significantly reduce their weight and blood sugar. To use this method, take a few minutes before eating to assess how hungry you are, and then make a conscious choice about how much you eat. When you’re full, you stop eating — no matter how tempting the food is.
  • Learn to say “no” politely: “It’s delicious, but if I eat one more bite, I’ll feel stuffed.” Don’t let yourself feel pressured into eating more than you want to.
  • Help yourself with portion control by using smaller plates, especially at a buffet. Fill it up with vegetables or lean protein, if possible, before you add other dishes. When eating out, ask for a take-home box to be delivered with your food, and put half of your meal in it before you take a bite.
  • Watch the alcohol. A recent study showed that American adults get an average of 5 percent of their calories from alcohol alone, amounting to about 100 calories a day. That could easily increase during the holidays. Set yourself a limit in advance, and follow any alcoholic beverage with a nice big glass of water.
  • Find ways to increase physical activity to account for extra calories. Stretch your 30-minute workout to 45 minutes. And, make it a point to always park far from the entry to work or the store, just to work those extra steps in.

For more ideas from around the web, see http://bitly.com/holidaygain.