In two weeks, all gyms will be packed with people attempting to fulfill their New Year’s resolutions, whether it’s to lose 20 pounds by the end of the year or to just get back in shape.
We’re looking for two enthusiastic readers, one male and one female, to take on a weight-loss challenge of their own for the month of January. Each guest blogger will work with two local trainers, who will draw up a month-long plan to help meet the bloggers’ fitness goals. The trainers will continue to offer free consultation to the bloggers throughout the month to help them stay on track.
Location: Columbia Heights
Profession: Hill staffer and bartender
Self-described activity level: After competing as a Division I athlete in college, I continued to maintain a high level of activity by running half and full marathons. In January 2010, I successfully lost 25 pounds by keeping a food diary on DailyPlate.com while training for a half marathon. Unfortunately, somewhere between the 2010 NYC Marathon and the 2011 National Half Marathon, I lost not only my motivation to run—but also my discipline when it came to eating responsibly. I quickly gained back the 25 pounds I’d lost and have found it difficult to get back into a routine. As it stands, my current activity level is fairly sedentary. I am hoping to use this food diary to kick-start my training for the National Half Marathon in March, and to secure lifelong health and wellness.
Profession: Advertising Account Executive.
Self-described activity level:“Slightly above average. I ran my second half-marathon last month, but have been a little sluggish with my workouts since then. I love to bike ride, and I try to walk as much as possible during the workday—to get lunch, to run errands, or wherever I need to go."
Don’t tell Lisa Byrne you’re too busy to exercise. Up until five months ago, that’s what she thought, too. In addition to her full-time job as a social media marketing lead at Network Solutions, she ran her own social media consulting firm and launched @DCeventjunkie, a popular Twitter account for DC nightlife, as a Web site in February. Nights on the job meant attending catered events, and when she came home, she would often order in pizza, too tired to cook or exercise.
“I knew how to eat healthy, but I would just have whatever I wanted,” Byrne says. “If there was a gourmet hamburger, I’d have it with fries instead of a salad.”
But Byrne knew she had to make a change—or several. She had restless nights and noticed that she wasn’t able to multi-task and focus as well as before. In Miami, where she had lived for five years, Byrne had worked with a personal trainer, practiced yoga or pilates twice a week, and found time to train for a half marathon—even while executing six weddings each weekend as a catering sales manager. When she moved to DC in January of 2007, she had fallen out of her routine.
“It’s a happy-hour city. There was always something to do,” Byrne says, adding that the cold weather didn’t help her motivation after years of running outdoors in sunny Florida. “But I said to myself, ‘If I have to put up less content and attend fewer events, then okay.’ I didn’t feel 33. I knew I had to re-prioritize my health.”
“Are you crazy? You’re a personal trainer. You look fine,” her clients in Columbus, Ohio, all said.
At five-foot-nine and 162 pounds, Blind knew she had no need to be displeased with her body, but she felt like she had lost control of her own life while catering to her own clients’ needs. “I looked just fine and normal, but I wasn’t happy with my physique. I knew I could take it further.”
Her unhappiness with her physical body also spread to her mental well being. Once a self-described “happy kid,” Blind felt she had lost her positive, contagious energy, and people close to her started to notice. It was around this last New Year’s when Blind’s sister confronted her. “I can tell you’re not happy,” she said to Blind. “What’s going on?”
“I wasn’t happy,” Blind admitted. “I always said that I was never going to be that person who was just content in life. People liked my energy, and I wanted to feel like that inside, too.”
What would you say if I told you there’s a way to turn fat into muscle? Too good to be true, right? Not so fast—new research from the National Institutes of Health shows that it might be possible.
In new findings published in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers at NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases discovered a process that turned energy-storing white fat in mice into energy-burning, muscle-like brown fat. The results are both surprising and exciting, with real potential for treating obesity and type 2 diabetes in humans—a serious problem: Nearly 26 million children and adults in the US are living with diabetes. Type 2 is the most common form of the disease.
Let’s break it down: Everybody has both white and brown fat. The former is for calorie storage—in other words, an energy reserve—and too much leads to obesity; it’s we traditionally think of as body fat. Brown fat is used to insulate the body and regulate body temperature. Similar to muscle, capillary-rich brown fat is made up of cells containing a higher number of mitochondria, which contain iron and actually burn the calories stored in white fat.
In the NIH study, scientists discovered a way to cause white fat in mice to develop more mitochondria, turning it brown and causing it to burn instead of store calories. They did it by reducing the function of a cell-growing protein called TGF-beta. Without the protein, the white-fat cells began to turn browner.
Limiting the function of the protein is admittedly complicated—it involves genetic engineering and the use of a TGF-blocking antibody that entails a laundry list of immune-system-compromising side effects. But if the technique can be translated to humans, it could be a watershed in the fight against obesity and related conditions such as type 2 diabetes. NIH researchers are working on a new approach aimed at limiting the side effects.
Profession: Economist by day, food blogger by night.
Self-described activity level: “Nothing to boast about. I go salsa dancing once or twice a week and walk everywhere. I quit my gym after having a personal trainer for six months and then unsuccessfully trying to keep up with the exercise on my own. When I found out I was doing the Food Diaries, I ordered a set of Zumba DVDs from QVC. I’ve taken Zumba classes before and liked them, but had a hard time committing to giving up ten Tuesdays in a row for one specific activity.
“A word about my eating ‘situation’ before we get started. Because of my food blog and doing some freelance recipe testing and development, I think about food 90 percent of the day. On top of that, I’m lucky to be invited to dine at new restaurants or meet new chefs and taste their menus. As luck would have it, the five days I decided to use for my food diary were packed with eating out. That’s not always the norm, but does happen occasionally.”
Researchers at Harvard University conducted a 20-year study that confirmed what you probably already knew: If you consume potato chips, sugary drinks, and red meat—even in moderation—on a regular basis, you’re going to gain weight. What makes the study interesting is that it tracked exactly which foods cause long-term weight gain, and, down to decimal-point accuracy, exactly how much they contribute.
Published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study looked at data from over 120,000 men and women who participated in government-funded surveys beginning in the 1970s. They were able to mine data from as far back as 1986, the first year for which detailed information on diet, physical activity, and smoking habits were available. Then they analyzed the participants’ progress every four years, tracking weight gain and looking for lifestyle choices that might influence it, including how much television they reported watching, how much sleep they got, what they ate, and how active they were.
Their findings? Participants gained an average of 3.35 pounds every four years. The biggest culprit was potato chips, which accounted for 1.69 pounds for those who ate them every day. Potatoes (1.28 pounds), sugary drinks (1 pound), and unprocessed red meat (.95 pounds), such as slabs of beef, pork, or lamb, also made the list. Perhaps not surprisingly, participants who daily ate vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt gained less weight.
Profession: Receptionist and meeting planner for a small DC office.
Self-described activity level: “Generally, I’m pretty active. I run (OK, jog) outside at least once a week and get to the gym another two to three times a week. I run for between 20 and 40 minutes then sometimes do some weight lifting. Right now, I’m trying to lose around 30 pounds through Weight Watchers, enough to get to my healthy BMI.”
10:15 AM: Wake-up. It’s Memorial Day. Gotta love long weekends.
10:20: I grab a banana and a glass of ice water. I once read it’s important to eat right after waking up to get your metabolism going. The light breakfast and water were also in anticipation of a gym trip . . . but my significant other and I decide lay out at the pool instead.
11:30: Drank about a half of my Camelback water bottle at the pool. Plus I ate two zucchini muffins. A weird snack, I know, but I made a batch from a Weight Watchers recipe.
1:30 PM: We go out to lunch at a neighborhood cafe. Two diet cokes, a few chips and guac, and half an individual-size veggie pizza. I really attempted to stay healthy on the pizza and ordered it with broccoli and whole-wheat crust. The server said the menu lies and they do not have whole-wheat crust available—ever. Anyway, after I got the pizza, I put half in a to-go box immediately. It’s a strategy I’ve never used before, but a very smart idea!
5:30: Had two beers while visiting with friends. I turned down piña coladas and strawberry daiquiris though. So hard considering it was 95 degrees today. Ahhhh.
6 PM: Dinner time! Our friends’ family put out quite the spread: hot dogs, hamburgers, salads. Wow. There goes my remaining points for the day. I managed to do all right though: one hot dog, a scoop of macaroni salad, and two scoops of fruit salad. Yum!
9 PM: Re-hydrated from the hot day with a big glass of water.
A diet you’ve probably never heard of has been ranked named Best Overall Diet by US News & World Report: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health actually developed the DASH to lower blood pressure, but US News’s panel of 22 experts liked its “nutritional completeness, safety, and ability to prevent or control diabetes.” Though not specifically designed for weight loss, the DASH diet could trim waistlines. And the guidelines are easy to follow, too: Eat fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins, and cut back on salt.
The idea is that if you’re eating the right kinds of foods, you’ll get nutrients like fiber, potassium, calcium, and protein that fight high blood pressure and, when consumed in the right proportions, could help you drop some pounds. The DASH guidelines, which help you determine how many calories you should consume based on age and activity level, are here.
The three diets that share the second-place spot in the overall rankings are Weight Watchers (“a smart, effective diet”), the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet (“good at promoting cardiovascular health”), and the Mediterranean diet (“eminently sensible”). Weight Watchers took the top spot in two subrankings: the Best Commercial Diet Plans and the Best Weight-Loss Diets.