Tag Archives: weight loss

Being too hard on yourself may be destructive

Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?

That simple question is the basis for a burgeoning new area of psychological research called self-compassion — how kindly people view themselves. People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising, according to a story in the New York Times.

The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic. Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.

This idea does seem at odds with the advice dispensed by many doctors and self-help books, which suggest that willpower and self-discipline are the keys to better health. But Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field, says self-compassion is not to be confused with self-indulgence or lower standards.

“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” said Dr. Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin. “They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

Imagine your reaction to a child struggling in school or eating too much junk food. Many parents would offer support, like tutoring or making an effort to find healthful foods the child will enjoy. But when adults find themselves in a similar situation — struggling at work, or overeating and gaining weight — many fall into a cycle of self-criticism and negativity. That leaves them feeling even less motivated to change.

“Self-compassion is really conducive to motivation,” Dr. Neff said. “The reason you don’t let your children eat five big tubs of ice cream is because you care about them. With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”

Dr. Neff, whose book, “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,” is being published next month by William Morrow, has developed a self-compassion scale: 26 statements meant to determine how often people are kind to themselves, and whether they recognize that ups and downs are simply part of life.

A positive response to the statement “I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies,” for example, suggests lack of self-compassion. “When I feel inadequate in some way, I try to remind myself that feelings of inadequacy are shared by most people” suggests the opposite.

For those low on the scale, Dr. Neff suggests a set of exercises — like writing yourself a letter of support, just as you might to a friend you are concerned about. Listing your best and worst traits, reminding yourself that nobody is perfect and thinking of steps you might take to help you feel better about yourself are also recommended.

Other exercises include meditation and “compassion breaks,” which involve repeating mantras like “I’m going to be kind to myself in this moment.”

If this all sounds a bit too warm and fuzzy, like the Al Franken character Stuart Smalley (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me”), there is science to back it up. A 2007 study by researchers at Wake Forest University suggested that even a minor self-compassion intervention could influence eating habits. As part of the study, 84 female college students were asked to take part in what they thought was a food-tasting experiment. At the beginning of the study, the women were asked to eat doughnuts.

One group, however, was given a lesson in self-compassion with the food. “I hope you won’t be hard on yourself,” the instructor said. “Everyone in the study eats this stuff, so I don’t think there’s any reason to feel real bad about it.”

Later the women were asked to taste-test candies from large bowls. The researchers found that women who were regular dieters or had guilt feelings about forbidden foods ate less after hearing the instructor’s reassurance. Those not given that message ate more.

The hypothesis is that the women who felt bad about the doughnuts ended up engaging in “emotional” eating. The women who gave themselves permission to enjoy the sweets didn’t overeat.

“Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan,” said Jean Fain, a psychotherapist and teaching associate at Harvard Medical School who wrote the new book “The Self-Compassion Diet” (Sounds True publishing). “Most plans revolve around self-discipline, deprivation and neglect.”

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Cave man diet is a menu from the old, old days

Our Stone Age ancestors lived in an uncomfortable world, spending their 30-year life spans hunting and gathering without air conditioning or heat. But some say the cave men ate better than we do, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.

That’s the premise behind the Paleo diet, a health and weight-loss trend that encourages people to eat modern-day versions of Paleolithic food.

Several weeks ago, one group of health-conscious Californians took on the Paleo diet and planned to spend nine weeks eating like cave men. That means consuming only animals, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and mushrooms, said Rick Larson, co-owner of CrossFit West Sacramento, the gym running the challenge.

“A lot of people at our gym were getting good workout results, but I knew they weren’t supporting it with their diets,” Larson said.

Like any diet, the hardest thing about the Paleo diet is what you can’t eat. Out is anything that humans began eating after the agriculture and animal husbandry revolutions, meaning no dairy, beans, grains or starches and absolutely nothing processed.

The idea of the Paleo diet has been around since the 1980s, but it was popularized in the 2002 book “The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat” by Loren Cordain, a professor at Colorado State University.

Twenty years ago, Cordain read about the diet in a scientific journal and decided to try it.

Following the diet is tough. Larson holds weekly social support sessions with participants. On a recent Tuesday, Larson told the group they are allowed to have two vices: tea and coffee.

“But not sweetened, and with no dairy,” he said.

He points to himself. He’s been doing the Paleo/Zone diet for 11 weeks, and his body fat percentage is 2.7, he said.

Santinia Pasquini, 33, said she has tried everything from Weight Watchers to diet pills, and in the week she’s been doing the Paleo/ Zone diet, she has lost 8 pounds. There was no mentioned whether that loss was typical of other group members.

Drinking water prior to a meal may reduce hunger, weight gain

There is a school of thought that says drinking two cups of water before a meal can promote weight loss. Fill up on no-calorie water so you’ll naturally eat less, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.

But, so far, there hasn’t been much scientific evidence to back this popular theory. Some research is promising, however. A study published in the journal Obesity showed that people consumed between 75 to 90 fewer calories per meal if they drank two cups of water prior to eating.

The study was the first randomized controlled trial looking at water consumption and weight control, said lead author Brenda Davy, an associate professor of nutrition at Virginia Tech.

The researchers asked 48 adults to follow a low calorie diet for 12 weeks. Half of the volunteers were randomly assigned to the “water” group and drank two cups before the main meal. They lost about 5 pounds more than the group that did not consume water.

The water group was also able to keep the weight off after 12 months, said Davy, who presented new long-term data from the study on Monday at the American Chemical Society Conference.

“It’s a simple way to facilitate weight management,” Davy said.

It’s not known exactly how water consumption might help with weight loss. The volunteers in the study reported feeling more full and less hungry, “so we think a feeling of fullness is part of it,” Davy said.

Americans also suck down about 400 calories a day in beverages.

“The folks in the water group appeared to be substituting water for the beverages they normally consumed,” Davy said.