Which consumer are you?

The astute academic or health professional: You have a degree (one or more) in nutrition, you have PubMed bookmarked on your internet browser, and you spend your days dispelling nutrition myths and/or researching the next nutrition breakthrough.

The health foodie. You scour wholesome recipes online, you already know the nutrition trends for 2019, you make detailed grocery lists like it’s your job, you’re a #mealprepsunday veteran, and always know where to find the best deals for natural/organic/raw/fresh eats.

The bachelor/broke student: Is it cheap? Edible? Delicious? Easy to prepare? If yes, it goes in the cart.

The athlete with phenomenal sport skills, and (developing) culinary know-how: You know that the foods you eat influence your athletic performance. You are game for eating better, under one condition: you need quick/easy foods that pack a nutritional punch.

The busy parent: There are lunches to make, picky eaters to feed, and you can’t remember the last time you enjoyed a calm, healthy mealtime at home. Grocery shopping is typically a stressful battle between your healthy intentions, and the little ones’ demands for sugary cereals and flashy marketing.

Photo Credit: Lifehacker

Whether you identify with one or multiple distinct categories listed here, each one is unified by a few common underlying themes:

We all eat.

We crave amazing flavors.

There are never enough hours in the day.

We really do have good intentions; We want to eat well.

Assuming we don’t grow/hunt/gather our own food, we cross paths with one another for a common purpose: Food Shopping! On that note, we’ve been exposed to the same rules of thumb for healthy grocery shopping:

-Shop the perimeter!

-Steer clear of the middle aisles!

The way I see it, there are two types of people in this world: Those who love the center aisles (but could use a little strategy for picking the best options), and those who openly shun those aisles (but are secretly curious to explore the forbidden foods within).

As a health professional, it’s my duty to pass along this tried-and-true advice. But as a real-life RD on a budget, I hear you: Those middle aisles are mighty tempting, so what’s a guy/girl to do?

Take a deep breath, direct that grocery cart towards those center aisles, keep your eye on the prize and walk with intention because you have a fool-proof plan. Healthy shoppers, unite! Today, you’ll conquer those middle aisles like the savvy consumer you are.

Photo Credit: The Sports Nutrition Coach

Your strategy: Divide and conquer by food group like so:

Whole grains, legumes, and pseudograins: Instant oatmeal, frozen brown rice or quinoa (that’s a pseudograin), ready-to-serve plain cooked rice, Grape Nuts (for impressive iron and fiber content), popcorn, Vaccuum packed pre-cooked lentils (that’s a legume), whole grain bread (can you find bread with 0-1g sugar per serving? Can you find fiber above 2g per serving?)

Fruits and vegetables: Frozen is your friend! These items are picked at peak ripeness and flash-frozen immediately afterwards. Canned items are fine as well (in light syrup or water). Can you get all colors of the rainbow?

Protein: Canned beans, canned tuna, canned chicken, canned salmon, frozen chicken strips (no breading), hummus

Dairy: single serve plain Greek yogurt (Ok, you’ll find this in the perishables, but this is too versatile not to include), string cheese

Fats: Olives, frozen Cool Whip, prepared guacamole

Snacks: Dark chocolate (Pro-tip: Pick one with single-digit grams sugar per serving), nuts (try pistachios, almonds, or walnuts), dried fruit, jerky, whole grain chips, hummus

Drinks: Chocolate milk

Spreads/flavorings: Sriracha, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, pesto

Photo credit: Smile Sandwich

 Once you return home from this über successful grocery trip, you’ll want to assemble some stellar meals using your new bounty. Try this one-day sample plan:

Breakfast: Yogurt cup topped with frozen fruit, Grape Nuts, nut butter (purchase single serve packets in a pinch!) Feeling extra hungry? Prepare a side of instant oatmeal

Lunch: Tuna sandwich (canned tuna mixed w/ mustard, Ezekiel bread). Side of green salad (found in deli section)

Snack: Handful of nuts, handful chips, and hummus

Post Workout: Classic PB&J, or chocolate milk

Dinner: Defrost that frozen rice, quinoa, or lentils, frozen veggies of choice, top w/ beans (and/or thawed ready-to-eat chicken), salsa, pre-made guacamole, and Sriracha

Dessert: 2-3 squares of dark chocolate, alongside frozen blueberries w/ a dollop of cream

Not everyone has a nutrition coach by their side, but you, ASN reader, have an edge. Use this guide to confidently navigate the previously forbidden center aisles. Print it, internalize it, share it. No nonsense, no gimmicks. Blasphemy? Hardly. Creative and backed in science? Absolutely.

Instagram: The New Frontier for Weight Loss?

When you open Instagram*, you’re immediately bombarded with beautiful pictures of iconic nature scenes, happily engaged couples, the most adorable animals, and, of course, drool-worthy plates of food.

This relatively new social network has been growing in users every day and novel ways of using the application have emerged, including tracking weight loss and weight management. Research has shown that social support can be a key feature for many when embarking on a diet to lose weight. Emerging studies have found that online social networks can help motivate and encourage participants to adhere to their health goals. Instagram has captured the attention of people looking to share and find healthy living inspirations through photos and captions.

Recently, researchers from the University of Washington conducted semi-structured interviews with participants that use Instagram to share photos of their daily eats instead of using a traditional food journal or application to record their food intake. They found that one of the benefits of the Instagram method was taking photos of food when dining out or dining with friends is easier than trying to write or record a description of the meal. Also, Instagram provides a visual food diary, which can be useful in identifying volume and quality of food.

Another benefit is that participants reported that the social and emotional support they received from other Instagram users helped keep them accountable towards their goals, honest about their dietary intake, and encouraged them to extend support to other users. Instagram also allows users to create multiple accounts, so participants appreciated how they could create an account specifically geared towards healthy living. This led them to find likeminded communities and followers through the use of healthy eating, tracking, and weight loss-related hashtags. This also allowed participants to keep their personal account separate so they do not overwhelm friends and family with their food photos. Participants that met their weight loss goals and reached the maintenance stage found that staying on Instagram to mentor others motivated them to stick to their health goals, since they have users relying on them for support.

However, Instagram is not a foolproof platform for successful weight loss and weight management. Dr. Charles Spence, University of Oxford, warns in his review that looking at visually appealing pictures of food through advertisements and social media could stimulate hunger signals. When this “digital grazing” is done too often, it could tempt people to eat, even when they are not hungry. Another study administered an online survey to participants about their social media use, dietary habits, and had them complete an orthorexia nervosa assessment tool. The study found that out of all the social media channels, only higher Instagram use was linked to a greater tendency towards orthorexia nervosa.

Instagram has only been in existence since 2010 and research on the platform is still in its early stages. As access to technology continues to evolve, more research in this area will hopefully continue to emerge. For some, utilizing a social media platform to track and meet health goals could be a useful strategy.


*Instagram is a picture-messaging smartphone application where users can upload photos, apply photo editing filters, and share with the Instagram community through strategically-placed hashtags that link photos together into a virtual photo album.



Chung CF, Agapie E, Schroeder J, et al. When Personal Tracking Becomes Social: Examining the Use of Instagram for Healthy Eating. CHI. 2017. doi:10.1145/3025453.3025747

Elfhag K and Rossner S. Who succeeds in maintaining weight loss? A conceptual review of factors associated with weight loss maintenance and weight regain. Obesity Rev. 2005; 6, 67–85. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2005.00170.x

Harvey-Berino J, Pintauro S, and Buzzell P. Effect of Internet Support on the Long-Term Maintenance of Weight Loss. Obes Res. 2004;12, 320–329. doi:10.1038/oby.2004.40

Hu Y, Manikonda L, Kambhampati S. What We Instagram: A First Analysis of Instagram Photo Content and User Types. Proceedings of the Eighth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. 2014. Retrieved from

Hwang KO, Ottenbacher AJ, Green AP, et al. Social support in an Internet weight loss community. Int J Med Inform. 2010; 79(1), 5–13. doi:10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2009.10.003

Spence C, Okajima K, Cheok AD, et al. Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation. Brain Cogn. 2016; 110, 53–63. doi:10.1016/j.bandc.2015.08.006

Turner PG and Lefevre CE. Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Eat Weight Disord. 2017; 22, 277–284. doi:10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2

By: Hassan S Dashti, PhD

The most popular New Years resolution by far is weight loss. People kick-start their new year on new ‘detox’ or fad diets with hopes to lose some weight or, less commonly, to adopt a healthy lifestyle, only to quit a few months later. Traffic to websites like and hits an all time high in January! (1) People often envision January 1 of every year as an empowering and motivating moment that enables them to consider making these daring lifestyle changes. People might be less inclined to make these commitments on arbitrary dates like March 1 or October 19. With emerging evidence suggesting seasonal changes in the environment and human physiology, driven primarily by seasonal changes in sunlight and temperature, is it possible that certain start dates or seasons are more conducive to successful weight loss?

Seasonal variations have been observed for numerous communicable and non-communicable diseases (2) and both biological and behavioral traits. One of the earliest observations of seasonal variation in a disease was that of rickets, a disease resulting from vitamin D deficiency (3). Clinical observations indicated that rickets was common in spring, but rare in fall. The subsequent finding of seasonal variation in plasma 25(OH)D levels suggested that summer sunlight exposure was indeed an important determinant of vitamin D status. For more complex traits, like obesity, the seasonal etiology, if present, is likely to be multifactorial!

Successful weight loss is largely determined by the ability to reduce overall caloric intake, which depends on food availability and internal hunger cues. Living at a time where food is essentially abundant year-round in the Western world, people are typically not dealing with food shortages. For most processed foods, seasonal price variability is also absent, particularly in metropolitan areas, so people’s intakes are likely to be homogenous year-round (4,5). However, seasonal price variability of nutrient dense fruits and vegetables may limit a person’s likelihood to adhere to diets higher in fruits and vegetables. For example, strawberry prices tend to decrease through the first four months of the year and rise again from September to December. Fresh apples, on the other hand, have a fairly weak seasonal price pattern as a result of new apple varieties with later harvest dates and sophisticated storage technology. But it seems that despite the constant supply of most foods at steady prices, seasonal variation in dietary intake may exist. In the Framingham Heart Study, for example, self-reported total energy intake was 86 kcal/day higher during the fall than in the spring (6). Also, percentage of calories from carbohydrate, fat and saturated fat showed slight seasonal variation, with a peak in the spring for carbohydrate and in the fall for total fat and saturated fat intake. Of course these differences may be due to seasonal differences in self-reporting and recall, but if it’s true, is weight loss in the spring more successful than the fall?

Another important aspect of weight loss to consider is seasonal variability in energy expenditure.

The investigation from the Framingham Heart Study (6) also observed seasonal variation in physical activity, including common activities such as gardening, carpentry, lawn mowing, golf and running for men, and gardening, swimming, health club exercise, dancing and bicycling for women. Not surprisingly, people residing in the Northeast are less inclined to engage in outdoor physical activity. This sedentary lifestyle in the winter may partly explain the reason why people tend to be the heavier in the winter! (7)

Newer studies are investigating more complex physiologic changes that might interfere with energy balance. Recent observations in humans suggest that cold exposure may induce the conversion of white adipose tissue to more metabolically active brown-like adipose tissue (8). This ‘beiging’ effect of cold exposure could potentially have clinical implications for diabetes and obesity. Other studies have observed seasonal variability in metabolism and epigenetics as well (9,10). Whether these physiologic differences can override energy imbalance resulting from seasonal lifestyle differences is currently unknown.

To test whether there are seasonal differences in weight loss success we’d ideally test this in a randomized and controlled weight loss trial whereby people are prescribed hypocaloric diets and assigned random start dates. This can also be investigated analytically in previously conducted weight loss cohorts. Various methodologies are available for the assessment of seasonality and those range from simple comparisons across seasons, to simple models such as fitting monthly counts to a sine curve, or more complex statistical models (2).

Despite the little evidence we have so far relating seasonality and energy balance, healthcare providers, including nutritionists, should account for seasonality in their practice, and tailor their dietary (food and fluids) and physical activity recommendations accordingly – it’d be senseless to recommend berries when they are unavailable at stores or outdoor exercise when it’s uncomfortably warm! But perhaps reaching that point of enthusiasm for weight loss is the most important factor predicting weight loss success, so if January 1 is that date when motivation hits in, then so be it!


2.Christiansen CF, Pedersen L, Sørensen HT, Rothman KJ. Methods to assess seasonal effects in epidemiological studies of infectious diseases–exemplified by application to the occurrence of meningococcal disease. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2012 Oct;18(10):963–9.
3.Stamp TC, Round JM. Seasonal changes in human plasma levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Nature. 1974 Feb 22;247(5442):563–5.
4.Evolving U.S. Fruit Markets and Seasonal Grower Price Patterns, by Kristy Plattner, Agnes Perez, and Suzanne Thornsbury, USDA, Economic Research Service, September 2014
5.Bernstein S, Zambell K, Amar MJ, Arango C, Kelley RC, Miszewski SG, et al. Dietary Intake Patterns Are Consistent Across Seasons in a Cohort of Healthy Adults in a Metropolitan Population. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Jan;116(1):38–45.
6.Ma Y, Olendzki BC, Li W, Hafner AR, Chiriboga D, Hebert JR, et al. Seasonal variation in food intake, physical activity, and body weight in a predominantly overweight population. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006 Apr;60(4):519–28.
7.Visscher TLS, Seidell JC. Time trends (1993-1997) and seasonal variation in body mass index and waist circumference in the Netherlands. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Oct;28(10):1309–16.
8.Iyengar P, Scherer PE. Obesity: Slim without the gym – the magic of chilling out. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2016 Feb 26.
9.van Ooijen AMJ, van Marken Lichtenbelt WD, van Steenhoven AA, Westerterp KR. Seasonal changes in metabolic and temperature responses to cold air in humans. Physiol Behav. 2004 Sep 15;82(2-3):545–53.
10.Aslibekyan S, Dashti HS, Tanaka T, Sha J, Ferrucci L, Zhi D, et al. PRKCZ methylation is associated with sunlight exposure in a North American but not a Mediterranean population. Chronobiol Int. 2014 Jul 30;:1–7.

By Caitlin Dow, PhD

The most recent data from the CDC indicates that approximately 35% of American adults have obesity (1). In order to reduce obesity prevalence, a popular notion is that people with obesity just need to “eat less and move more.” Indeed, many public health programs use this concept as their primary approach for combating obesity. While eating less and moving more may help prevent obesity or result in successful, sustained weight loss in individuals who are simply overweight (but not yet obese), ongoing research indicates that these simple lifestyle changes will do very little in the face of prolonged obesity (2).

If you look at any weight loss study, you will most assuredly find the same results, regardless of study design. The first six months are generally characterized by substantial weight loss, followed by sustained weight regain, resulting in a final weight that is negligibly lower and potentially higher than the starting weight . This “checkmark effect” or weight loss recidivism that has been reported nearly ubiquitously across diet and exercise-based weight loss trials (3) indicates that lifestyle interventions are generally not successful modalities for treating obesity.

Based on a rudimentary understanding of metabolism, the calories in/out approach should work for weight loss and weight loss maintenance. So why doesn’t it work for so many people? The answer lies in the complex network linking the environment, genetic predisposition to obesity, as well as metabolic and physiological changes. A large body of literature indicates that the brain’s reward systems are significantly dysregulated in individuals with obesity (4). In an environment that supports ease of access to highly palatable foods, the pleasurable effects of consuming said foods can override homeostatic control of intake. While some people are able to regulate intake despite the high palatability of these foods, a number of genetic mutations in the brain’s reward systems may result in overeating and obesity in many people. Furthermore, the hypersensitive reward systems that often lead to obesity can become insensitive once a state of obesity is attained. In effect, this leads to overeating to receive the same pleasure from the same foods. These dysregulated reward systems are coupled with preadipocyte expansion into mature adipocytes, allowing for increased fat storage. While this isn’t the entire story, this should shed some light on the complex interactions of dysregulated internal systems that foster the metabolic abnormalities that result in obesity. Importantly though, these impairments are typically only demonstrated once obesity has been introduced and sustained (3).

As for weight loss, when caloric restriction is initiated, the body triggers a number of systems to prevent starvation. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense as food sources were often unpredictable and the body adapted to conserve energy – the “feast and famine” principle. However, for most of us living in industrialized nations, famine is rare and feast is common, limiting the need for this once very necessary adaptation (though the body has not evolved to recognize the abundance of calories in our modern food supply). When we try to induce weight loss via caloric restriction, the body will reduce its resting metabolic rate to counter these advances (5). This supports the “set point theory” – the idea that the body will defend its highest-sustained weight. In fact, as weight loss increases, the drive to restore the highest bodyweight only increases (6). It’s like when you’re pulling on your dog’s leash to get him into the vet and he plants his feet firmly and resists with all his might. Ultimately his strength pulls him out of his collar and sends him running in the opposite direction. Except here we’re talking about the human body and it’s not nearly as comical.

All of these biological adaptations that introduce, sustain, and defend obesity explain why weight loss and its maintenance is so exhaustingly difficult for so many people. As Ochner and colleagues suggest, most individuals who had obesity but lost weight simply have “obesity in remission and are biologically very different from individuals of the same age, sex, and body weight who never had obesity.” As a hypothetical scenario, imagine you are comparing two people: they weigh the same, but person A had obesity and has lost weight whereas person B has never lost weight. Person A will have to burn up to 300 calories more (or consume 300 calories fewer) than person B to maintain that weight (2). This underscores the idea that weight regain is not simply an issue of willpower and weakness.

What we need more of are studies evaluating multiple approaches to weight loss (surgeries, medications, likely in combination with lifestyle changes). What we need less of is bias from people without obesity, the media, and even healthcare providers. Indeed, “the mere recommendation to avoid calorically dense foods might be no more effective for the typical patient seeking weight reduction than would be a recommendation to avoid sharp objects for someone bleeding profusely” (2). We also need better obesity prevention approaches because, clearly, it’s biologically more feasible to prevent weight gain than to lose weight and keep it off.


1.Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adults obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA. 2014;311(8):806-814. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.732.

2.Ochner CN, Tsai AG, Kushner RF, Wadden TA. Treating obesity seriously: when recommendations for lifestyle change confront biological adaptations. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2015:

3.Ochner CN, Barrios DM, Lee CD, Pi-Sunyer FX. Biological mechanisms that promote weight regain following weight loss in obese humans. Physiol Behav. 2013:120:106-13. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.07.009.

4.Kenny JP. Reward mechanisms in obesity: new insights and future directions. Neuron. 2011:69(4):664-79. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2011.02.016

5.Grattan BJ, Connolly-Schoonen J. Addressing Weight Loss Recidivism: A Clinical Focus on Metabolic Rate and the Psychological Aspects of Obesity. ISNR Obesity. 2012. doi:10.5402/2012/567530

6.Rosenbaum M, Leibel RL. Adaptive thermogenesis in humans. Int J Obes.2010:34:S47-55. doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.184

By Celez Suratos, MS, RD, ACCN15 Blogger

It’s no surprise that obesity was one of the many topics covered at the recent Advances and Controversies in Clinical Nutrition (ACCN) conference. At his presentation during ACCN, Dr. Scott I. Kahan, MD, MPH, delved into the many obesity guidelines and algorithms that exist today.

According to Dr. Kahan and the National Guidelines Clearinghouse, there are over 400 guidelines on the topic of obesity (this excludes the number of other various topics that may include obesity as secondary information). With an ongoing and growing list of information on obesity, how does a clinician sift through it all to find a best strategy to put into practice? Luckily Dr. Kahan summarized four recently published guidelines that can help anyone interested in knowing more about how obesity should be approached from a treatment standpoint. These guidelines were derived from the (1) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI); (2) Endocrine Society; (3) American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE); and (4) American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP).

The information shared in this post will be from Dr. Kahan’s summary of the guidelines from the NHLBI. The recommendations derived from this organization attempt to answer questions regarding the benefits of weight loss, risk of being overweight, the ideal diet an obese individual should follow, what lifestyle interventions are relevant to assist obese patients achieve and maintain weight loss, and the any benefits or risks of bariatric surgery, if such an intervention is necessary. The five recommendations a practitioner should follow when treating the obese patient include:

– Use body mass index (BMI) as the primary screening tool to identify patients who are obese (currently defined as BMI greater than 30). One should also consider waist circumference as a secondary screening tool to identify patients who may be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease
– Advise on moderate weight loss, as defined by a three to five percent reduction in weight, rather than a goal weight. Three to five percent may sound like such a small amount, but it can still have a great impact on various health outcomes in an obese individual. And it may be a less daunting goal for the patient
– Just like a magic pill to make a person instantly lose weight overnight does not exist, there is no such thing as the perfect diet prescription to guarantee sustained weight loss. The focus should be on an individualized meal plan that is lower in calories, incorporates the patient’s food preferences (to encourage compliance), and is used in conjunction with modified lifestyle behaviors
– A successful intervention requires a multidisciplinary approach inclusive of professionals from the fields of nutrition, physical activity, and behavior modification that proceeds for at least six months. According to the data included in Dr. Kahan’s presentation, during this comprehensive intervention period, patients with frequent on-site counseling exhibited more weight loss than patients who relied on other forms of counseling (i.e. electronic counseling, counseling through more commercial weight loss programs)
– The last recommendation from the NHLBI guidelines involves bariatric surgery when appropriate. At present time, patients with BMI greater or equal to 40 kilograms (kg)/meter (m)2 or greater or equal to 35 kg/m2 with co-morbidities, bariatric surgery may be a more viable option than the other previously mentioned recommendations.

Weight loss is not a “one size fits all” scenario; it is always best practice to individualize, individualize, individualize! Obesity is a complex issue that involves more than just number of calories, or those seen on a weighing scale. It is a disease state that constantly relies on a collaborative approach from experts in multiple health-related disciples in order to ensure the best results.

By Celez Suratos, MS, RD, ACCN15 Blogger

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a technique used to incite positive behavior change. It is directive and client/patient-centered. Healthcare providers (including registered nurses and dietitians) use MI to direct self-motivational statements from the patient. Hence, allowing patients to be in charge of setting and meeting their own goals. Dr. Kathryn I. Pollack from the Duke University School of Medicine facilitated an interactive workshop on MI at this year’s Advances and Controversies in Clinical Nutrition Conference (ACCN). The main focus was to inform healthcare providers of the “spirit” of MI, as well as putting MI techniques into practice through role-playing.

Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” But did you know that communication is approximately 90 percent body language? MI is more than a methodological counseling approach. It also causes a healthcare provider be more present and aware of how he/she is communicating to the patient. According to Dr. Pollack, the “spirit” of MI embodies four key principles to elaborate on such a concept; Partnership, Acceptance, Evocation, and Compassion.

A healthcare provider may have the tendency to dominate the conversation by supplying the patient with numerous facts about the status of his/her health, likely telling the patient what he/she “must” do in order to prevent the “worst-case scenario” from happening to them. However, in MI, a provider should focus on building a partnership-like relationship rather than one that is hierarchical. One can do this by initially asking permission before sharing information and giving advice. This allows patients a choice to discuss their health based on their own readiness to handle the information you want to give them. Alternatively, a provider can ask the patient what concerns he/she may have in order to allow the patient to set the agenda, giving the patient the power to discuss what he/she may already be thinking about improving.

Acceptance goes beyond the concept of non-judgment. This means the healthcare provider accepts the patient’s motivation, commitment, and choices in totality. This relates back to non-verbal communication. If you are feeling judgment, you are also likely exhibiting judgment, which then means your patient can see your judgment. Think about it – do you ever cross your arms or furrow your brow when you disagree with a statement? Letting go of judgment will not only improve your skills as a practitioner, but can be freeing as well.

A healthcare provider may be able to provide a patient with beneficial reasons to improve his/her health status. However, evocation is the idea that people are motivated by their own reasons. In MI, the provider facilitates a conversation that allows the patient to find his or her own motivation for adopting positive change. One way to help patients find their motivation is to prompt them with questions to discuss their readiness to change. Such questions may include asking patients to rank their readiness to change (i.e., on a scale of 1 to 7 –with 1 being least ready to change and 7 being most ready for change, for example), then asking why they chose that particular number on the scale, what it would take for them to rank their readiness for change even higher (if not already ranked as a priority), and when will they be ready to implement their plan. Evocation extracts information from the patient, such as reasons to change, identifies barriers to change, and eventually a self-actualized plan to get patients to reach their goal(s).

Dr. Pollack also mentioned ‘compassion’ as a novel principle to the spirit of MI, particularly in the provider-patient relationship. It comes from the idea that providers should use open-ended questions, reflective statements, and summarize the conversation when they interact with their patients. This demonstrates active listening, versus a series of agreeable head-nods or dismissive “uh huh” verbal responses. Compassion also calls on providers to give patients affirmation with each step they take to reach their goal(s), even during times of perceived setbacks.

Dr. Pollack summarized that only the patient can make change happen for him or herself. The patient is the one who needs to put in the work to see results. Motivational interviewing is not only a tool healthcare providers can use as a catalyst for positive change, but is also a specific skill that takes practice and time to perfect.

By Caitlin Dow, PhD

Breakfast is often considered the “most important meal of the day,” and if you are looking to lose weight, you mustn’t skip breakfast… or so the story goes. This idea is widely believed in popular culture as well as by many nutrition scientists and government bodies and is repeated so often that many in the field consider it health dogma. Indeed, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans even recommend breakfast consumption as an important tool for weight loss. But what does the science say?

Observational studies indicate that breakfast consumption is linked to lower weight. Data from the National Weight Control Registry demonstrated that 78% of the nearly 3,000 subjects included in the analysis (adults who had lost at least 13 kg and kept the weight off for a year or more) reported eating breakfast everyday and only 4% reported never eating breakfast [1]. Further, a recent meta-analysis of observational studies that have evaluated the relation between weight and breakfast consumption found that skipping breakfast was associated with a 55% increased odds of having overweight or obesity [2]. These findings are likely the reason many tout breakfast consumption as an important weight loss modality, despite these studies not actually testing that outcome.

Observational studies can only describe associations, but are not appropriate to determine causation. Thus, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have sought to test whether breakfast consumption directly impacts weight. In one of the first RCTs to evaluate the role of breakfast in weight loss, Schlundt et al. [3]studied women with obesity who were self-reported breakfast eaters or skippers.Within each group, women were randomized to eat or skip breakfast in addition to following a 1200 kcal/day diet for 12 weeks. All groups lost at least 6 kg, but interestingly, those who were randomized to switch their breakfast condition (e.g. ate breakfast at baseline, then started skipping) lost more weight than those who maintained their breakfast habit. These results suggest that changing an eating behavior in addition to following a reduced calorie diet may accelerate weight loss. However, the results from a study by Dhurandhar et al. did not corroborate those findings. Adults with overweight and obesity were randomized to one of three conditions in which all groups received a USDA pamphlet on healthy eating practices: the control group received no other information, one group received additional instructions to consume breakfast, and the third group was instructed to not eat breakfast [4]. After 16 weeks, there was no observed effect of treatment assignment on weight loss.Contrary to the results from the Schlundt study, baseline breakfast eating habit was not related to weight change, though this study didn’t evaluate breakfast consumption in conjunction with a reduced calorie diet.Finally, in a recently published 4-week study, adults with overweight and obesity were randomized to three different breakfast conditions: water (control), frosted flakes, or oatmeal [5].Interestingly, skipping breakfast resulted in an average weight loss of 1.2 kg, while those randomized to either breakfast condition demonstrated no significant weight change.However, total cholesterol also increased in the control group, suggesting that skipping breakfast may result in slight weight loss, but have detrimental effects on cardiometabolic health.

Thus, the results from the few RCTs completed in adults with overweight and obesity, to date, do not support the notion that breakfast consumption should be part of a weight loss regimen. Importantly, though, the results are also not compelling to suggest that eating breakfast hinders weight loss. This field is still young and many questions remain unanswered. I look forward to more RCTs evaluating breakfast consumption (and potentially, breakfast quality) on various facets of weight and metabolic health.


1.Wyatt, H.R., et al., Long-term weight loss and breakfast in subjects in the National Weight Control Registry. Obes Res, 2002. 10(2): p. 78-82.

2.Brown, A.W., M.M. Bohan Brown, and D.B. Allison, Belief beyond the evidence: using the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity to show 2 practices that distort scientific evidence. Am J Clin Nutr, 2013. 98(5): p. 1298-308.

3.Schlundt, D.G., et al., The role of breakfast in the treatment of obesity: a randomized clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr, 1992. 55(3): p. 645-51.

4.Dhurandhar, E.J., et al., The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr, 2014. 100(2): p. 507-13.

5.Geliebter, A., et al., Skipping breakfast leads to weight loss but also elevated cholesterol compared with consuming daily breakfasts of oat porridge or frosted cornflakes in overweight individuals: a randomised controlled trial. J Nutr Sci, 2014. 3: p. e56.

By: Emma Partridge, MS Candidate

Green tea contains a high concentration of polyphenols, most of which are flavanols. Flavanols are commonly known as catechins, the most active catechin being epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).1 Within the world of nutrition, green tea is consistently touted as a beverage with a plethora of health benefits. These benefits are far-reaching and specific roles of green tea have been identified to improve symptoms or reverse disease damage amongst people with autoimmune disease, heart disease, cancer, liver disorders, smoking complications, chronic inflammation, and more. The roles of green tea often overlap and while green tea consumption is important for those with various diseases, the consumption of green tea by healthy individuals may be integral in the prevention of many of the following diseases.

Chronic Inflammatory Disease
EGCG may be most important flavanol when it comes to inflammation control.2 EGCG has been shown to suppress the production of cytokines, pro-inflammatory mediators. Suppressing cytokines decreases long-term inflammation and has been shown to improve inflammation-related symptoms in arthritis models.3,4

Autoimmune Disease
In addition to helping to control the chronic inflammation associated with most autoimmune diseases, EGCG has been shown to suppress auto-reactive T cell proliferation. Auto-reactive T cells act against the body, resulting in various forms of autoimmune diseases. EGCG may also help to regulate T-helper cell balance, which may decrease the pathogenesis of arthritic diseases, especially rheumatoid arthritis.3

Type 2 Diabetes Risk
Type 2 Diabetes is sweeping America, and food production practices, availability, and affordability are making it harder for people to access healthy options. The ease of accessing and affording unhealthy foods is increasing the risk of diabetes among populations. Green tea, as well as coffee, has been associated with lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, though the mechanism is unknown and the data inconsistent. However, in a study of 40,000+ people followed for 10 years, researchers found that daily consumption of at least three cups of coffee or tea may lower type 2 diabetes risk.5

Heart Disease & Stroke Risk
In an article published by the American Heart Association, researchers found that people who drank two to three cups of green tea per day had a 14% lower risk of stoke.6 The research on green tea and stroke risk comes on the wake of multiple studies finding links between green tea and heart health. Multiple studies found green tea consumption to lower risk of death from heart attacks by 26% and lower risk of coronary artery disease by 28%.7

Cancer & Tumor Growth
Cancer is a leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease. Green tea has already been shown to be beneficial in preventing the leading cause of death; now studies have now shown that the EGCG may affect transformed cells by inhibiting the growth of certain cell lines, inducing apoptosis, and altering gene expression to prevent transformed cells from becoming cancerous.8

The polyphenols in green tea have shown to work against carcinogens, while the antioxidant effects may reverse endothelial dysfunction in healthy smokers.8 The reversal of endothelial dysfunction in smokers is important because it plays a role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.9

Liver Disease
Green tea’s aforementioned anti-carcinogenic affect may play a role in preventing liver disease. Active polyphenols detoxify reactive oxygen species, preventing oxygen free radicals from destroying hepatocytes and causing oxidative DNA damage. Multiple studies have shown that, most likely via this method, green tea intake can attenuate liver disease or liver cancer.10

Weight Loss & Weight Maintenance
Green tea’s affect on weight loss may be attributed to two components: EGCG and caffeine. Caffeine alone does play some role in increasing energy expenditure, but when combined with EGCG, the mixture stimulates energy expenditure and fat oxidation to a greater degree. This may trigger weight loss, and additional evidence reveals that continual green tea consumption can further help to maintain weight.11

In determining whether or not green tea is for you, the answer is likely yes. While there are risks by way of overconsumption, a few glasses a day has been shown to be beneficial for the all-around healthy person in preventing disease and for the person suffering from various diseases or ailments.

1.Ehrlich SD. Green Tea. 2011;
2.Hamer M. The beneficial effects of tea on immune function and inflammation: a review of evidence from in vitro, animal, and human research. Nutrition Research. 2007;27(7):373-379.
3.Wu DY, Wang JP, Pae M, Meydani SN. Green tea EGCG, T cells, and T cell-mediated autoimmune diseases. Molecular Aspects of Medicine. 2012;33(1):107-118.
4.Kim HR, Rajaiah R, Wu QL, et al. Green Tea Protects Rats against Autoimmune Arthritis by Modulating Disease-Related Immune Events. Journal of Nutrition. 2008;138(11):2111-2116.
5.van Dieren S, Uiterwaal C, van der Schouw YT, et al. Coffee and tea consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia. 2009;52(12):2561-2569.
6.Green tea, coffee may help lower stroke risk. 2013;
7.Green tea may lower heart disease risk. Harvard Heart Letter 2012;
8.Chen ZP, Schell JB, Ho CT, Chen KY. Green tea epigallocatechin gallate shows a pronounced growth inhibitory effect on cancerous cells but not on their normal counterparts. Cancer Letters. 1998;129(2):173-179.
9.Nagaya N, Yamamoto H, Uematsu M, et al. Green tea reverses endothelial dysfunction in healthy smokers. Heart. 2004;90(12):1485-1486.
10.Jin X, Zheng R-h, Li Y-m. Green tea consumption and liver disease: a systematic review. Liver International. 2008;28(7):990-996.
11.Hursel R, Viechtbauer W, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. The effects of green tea on weight loss and weight maintenance: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Obesity. 2009;33(9):956-961.

By Banaz Al-khalidi

Losing weight is hard enough. Keeping it off is even harder. Despite decades of scientific advancement in our understanding of energy intake and energy expenditure, weight regain after weight loss remains a major issue in obesity treatment. What could we be missing in this energy balance equation? Rethinking this problem, I think it is worth asking ourselves whether we live to eat or eat to live. There is a huge difference. Given the abundance of food in our environment, the majority of us will live to eat. But what drives this motivation or simply put, what are the determinants of healthy versus unhealthy behaviors?

Generally, healthy lifestyle interventions including diet, exercise, and behavioral strategies, such as keeping a food log, have proven to be effective for weight loss in the short term. However, participants’ lack of adherence to the intervention coupled with subsistence of unhealthy behaviors result in weight regain in the long term. According to a research on cardiovascular health behaviors and health factor changes in the US population from 1988 to 2008, healthy diet scores changed minimally (from 0.3% to 1.4% between 1999 and 2008), and physical inactivity levels decreased by only 7-10% from 1999 to 2006. Furthermore, by 2020, it is estimated that 43% of American men and 42% of American women will have a BMI of ≥ 30 kg/m2 (i.e., obese category). Despite the established risks and benefits associated with diet and physical activity, it seems that health behaviors tend to be incredibly resistant to change.

A recent report from a panel of obesity experts convened at the National Institutes of Health discussed the issue of weight regain after weight loss. The authors highlighted the problem of behavioral fatigue, in which patients grow weary of strict lifestyle regimens, especially when weight loss declines after the first 6 months. Specifically, the authors mentioned that “Initially, the positive consequences of weight loss (e.g., sense of accomplishment, better fit of clothes) outweigh the cognitive and the physical effort needed to lose the weight. Later, when the goal is to maintain lost weight, the positive feedback is less compared to the effort required to keep adhering to the same regimen. Thus, the benefits no longer seem to justify the costs”. In other words, the costs of adherence to these interventions exceed the benefits as time progresses, and patients seem to justify their behavior by re-thinking about the cost/benefit ratio in the long run. How can we then increase the long-term benefits while decrease the costs associated with weight maintenance?

There is a need to understand what factors allow people to successfully maintain a behavior over a long period of time. In recent years, obesity and behavioral scientists have started to explore strategies that involve incorporating ‘mindfulness’ to promote the sustainability of healthy behaviors. Mindfulness is defined as: awareness of the present moment, and paying attention to one’s moment-to-moment experiences non-judgmentally. This attention leads to a clear awareness of one’s own thoughts as well as one’s environment in that one observes what is happening, but instead of reacting, the mind views these thoughts as inconsequential. This does not mean disconnection from life; rather, the mind is actively engaged and flexible. Mindfulness is not a technique but it is a way of being.

You might ask, what does this have to do with obesity and health behaviors? They’re all related. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have recently become a focus for the treatment of obesity-related eating behaviors. A recent review paper examined the effectiveness of MBIs for changing obesity-related eating behaviors. Of the 21 studies included in the review, 18 studies reported positive results for obesity related eating behavior outcomes. Specifically, mindfulness enhanced self-awareness and self-regulation (i.e. long lasting self-motivation) by improving awareness of emotional and sensory cues, which may be effective for sustaining a behavior in the long term. It’s about acceptance of the moment we’re in and feeling whatever we feel (accepting both positive and negative emotions) without trying to resist, change or control it. Under emotional stress, most of us will try to comfort ourselves by putting something into our mouths, but being aware of the negative emotions, and having greater self-control skills may help us resist the urge to eat large quantities of food or unhealthy food. Thus, greater awareness and self-control skills may help an individual to better monitor and regulate their dietary intake as well as their engagement in physical activity.

When we live to eat, we tend to engage in the act of mindless eating because we tend to see food as a source of reward or entertainment, and we shovel food into our mouths without paying attention to what we’re eating and whether we feel full. However, when we’re more mindful or self-aware (i.e. eating to live), we become more conscious of what goes into our bodies by focusing fully on the act of eating and eating related decisions. The bottom line is mindfulness may help patients identify internal and external eating cues, manage food cravings, and enhance self-regulation and resilience- all factors important to counteract the behavioral fatigue that tends to occur in lifestyle interventions over time. Perhaps, when we’re more mindful, we’ll tune into our bodies instead of our thoughts (i.e., thinking about the costs/benefits), and will start to look at food as nourishment rather than as emotional comfort blanket. It is important to note that research in this area is still preliminary but exploring and understanding the relationship between mindfulness and health behaviors may hold promise for long-term weight management.

By Sheela Sinharoy, Student Blogger

Is weight loss always recommended for obese persons, or are there some individuals for whom weight loss may not be necessary or may even be harmful? In a session on Saturday, Dr. Julie Locher looked at this question in relation to seniors. Given that 14% of Americans – or one in seven – are over age 65, and that this proportion is expected to increase to 20% by 2030, it is important to understand the needs and special requirements of this group.

As the proportion of Americans who are over age 65 increases, so too does the prevalence of overweight and obesity. According to Dr. Locher, approximately 35% of older persons are obese. Many of these individuals experience co-morbidities and functional limitations, which are often associated with or impacted by obesity. However, the effects of weight loss treatment in older adults have not been extensively studied.

The benefits of weight loss in older adults are similar to those found in the general population, including reduced markers of inflammation and improved cardiovascular health. As co-morbid conditions increase with age, weight loss may address some of these conditions. Especially when weight loss occurs through a combination of diet and exercise, research has shown that muscle quality and physical function also improve, as does global cognition.

At the same time, some studies have found being overweight to be potentially beneficial. For older adults in particular, a number of studies indicate that being overweight yields no extra risk of mortality, and in fact, may be associated with a lower risk of mortality than being normal weight. Obesity is also associated with increased bone mineral density and decreased osteoporosis as well as with decreased risk of hip fracture.

In addition, weight loss in overweight seniors carries certain risks. First, intentional weight loss is associated with a loss of bone mineral density. Also, weight cycling – when individuals lose and then regain weight – may be a more serious concern with older adults because of their different body composition. When seniors regain weight, it is disproportionately fat, especially abdominal fat, compared to lean muscle. This is associated with higher cardiometabolic risk and an increased risk of disability and mortality.

Even among older adults, needs may differ between sub-populations. For example, as the proportion of older adults continues to rise, the fastest-growing segment is those ages 85 and over. These individuals may require a different therapeutic approach than younger seniors, and improving physical function and quality of life may be more important than obesity treatment.

As some providers move increasingly toward personalized medicine, this may be one more way in which recommendations and a therapeutic approach may need to be tailored to the individual patient. Depending on their bone health, metabolic health, and a range of other factors, doctors may decide that weight loss is not always the best approach for obese older adults. For some seniors, the risks of weight loss may in fact not outweigh the benefits.