Lack of sleep can contribute to overeating and weight gain

The Sleep-Weight Connection

This blog was first published on Aspartame.org on November 28, 2016

If you’ve been gaining weight and not getting enough sleep lately, some new research suggests the problems are very likely connected. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that people who didn’t get enough sleep consumed an extra 385 calories the following day. A 2.5 ounce bag of potato chips or a banana nut muffin can provide that many calories.

That’s enough extra calories to gain one pound every 9 days! While sleep deprivation has its own health consequences, the potential weight gain from consistently not sleeping enough is also a concern.

How Are Food Choices Affected by Lack of Sleep?

In this study, the researchers reviewed 11 other studies made up of 172 participants and compared people who didn’t get enough sleep (3.5 – 5 hours/night) to people who got adequate sleep (7 – 12 hours/night) and what the subjects in each group ate afterwards. What they found was that the sleep deprived people didn’t necessarily eat more, but they did choose foods higher in fat and lower in protein, with about the same amount of carbohydrate. The additional calories in the food choices of the sleep deprived people resulted in weight gain since they weren’t using those calories with increased physical activity.

The studies in this review were not designed to explain why people change their food choices following sleep deprivation, but the answer may lie in the reward center of the brain. The results of another study of sleep deprived adults showed greater activation in areas of the brain associated with reward when subjects were exposed to food. This suggests they would be more motivated to seek food when sleep deprived. Another study found higher levels of a lipid in the bloodstream known as endocannabinoid, a naturally produced compound that binds to the same receptors as the active ingredient in marijuana. Activating this part of the brain has been shown to make eating more pleasurable and result in a greater desire for palatable food.

How is Appetite Affected by Lack of Sleep?

 Another proposed reason for the change in food choices by sleep-deprived people is a disruption in their hormones that control appetite, or the desire to eat. The natural circadian rhythms, or biological clock, of the body regulate our sleep-wake-feeding cycles to 24 hour periods. When those cycles are thrown out of sync by external influences, such as staying awake too long, other biological functions of the body are affected. Studies on sleep deprived people have shown they have reduced levels of leptin, a hormone that produces satiety, and increased levels of ghrelin, the hormone that regulates hunger. The change in these hormones in sleep deprived people supports their reports of having an increased appetite, even though they shouldn’t be hungry.

 How Does Food Affect Sleep?

There’s one more twist to the sleep-weight gain story worth mentioning. When certain foods or beverages are eaten at night, they can interfere with the ability to fall asleep, or stay asleep. That can leave you feeling tired the next day. When you feel tired during your waking hours, you may turn to foods and beverages that will help you stay awake, such as those containing caffeine or high amounts of added sugars. This eating and drinking is not in response to hunger, but a way to temporarily become more alert. It not only introduces unneeded calories, but can create a vicious cycle of being overstimulated during the day, and unable to sleep well at night.

While there are still a number of unanswered questions, the evidence is growing that sleep and weight gain are connected. Fortunately, the solution for many people may be as simple as pulling down the shades, powering off all screens and turning out the light for a good night’s sleep so you can wake up ready to start the day with your appetite under control.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.

Hunger and appetite are not the same

Hunger versus Appetite: Learning the Difference is Key to Weight Management

This post was written as a guest blog for SplendaLiving.com. You can read the original post here.

I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

When I hear people say they don’t use low calorie sweeteners because they believe they’ll lead to food cravings, I’m always surprised. When I want something sweet and chocolaty I just reach for a dish of sugar free chocolate pudding or cup of no added sugar hot cocoa because they always satisfy me, and with far fewer calories than if I went for the full sugar version!

I have used a number of different no and low calorie sweeteners in my life, and continue to use them, and have never experienced anything close to a craving when eating a food or drink containing them. My experience is confirmed by studies that show people did not report increased appetite when given food and beverages sweetened with sugar substitutes.

All of the discussion over whether these sweeteners can really make us eat more, or want to eat more, got me thinking about just how complex our eating behavior really is. After reading this brief summary I think you’ll agree there are more triggers to food cravings than sweeteners.

Learning to Eat

Human beings come into the world with two basic drives that control when we eat: hunger and satiety. Hunger makes us seek food and satiety keeps us from thinking about it again until we are hungry again. You can see these innate mechanisms at work in any healthy newborn baby.

We do not start out life knowing what to eat. We must be taught what is edible and how to feed ourselves. These lessons are shaped by many things. Think about how your own food choices have been influenced by your family food traditions, religious dietary practices, health beliefs, food labeling, cost, advertising, peer pressure and serving sizes, just to name a few. Our exposure to the many factors that shape our own eating behavior begins at birth and continues throughout our lives. These influences are part of every food decision we make.

Separating Our Wants from Our Needs

Now let’s get back to those internal signals, hunger and satiety. When a wide variety of good tasting food is readily available virtually all of the time, external forces can easily override the internal signals that tell us when to eat and how much. If that happens often enough we soon have a difficult time telling the difference between our hunger (a physiological need for food) and our appetite (a psychological desire to eat). If you’ve ever ordered a delicious dessert right after eating a three course meal then you know how your appetite can get the best of you!

Ignoring our internal signals of hunger and satiety can also explain why some people think drinking a diet soda can make them overeat. Here’s what may really be happening: if someone is hungry and grabs a can of diet soda instead of getting something to eat, they will still be hungry soon after they finish the soda. Since a serving of diet soda has little or no calories, it’s like drinking a glass of water. The longer they ignore the feeling of hunger the greater the likelihood that they will overeat when they finally get some food because by then they are really hungry. But that is not the fault of the diet soda; it was hunger all along!

These are just some of the examples that illustrate how complex human eating behavior is compared to other animals. Our individual eating behavior is also unique when compared to other people, whether family members, friends or folks we’ve never met around the world. You could say no two people eat in exactly the same way.

That is why I do not believe low calorie sweeteners, such as SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener (sucralose), can make us eat more or crave sweets. But it’s reassuring to know there’s plenty of scientific evidence that shows low calorie sweeteners do not stimulate appetite or food intake and don’t cause weight gain. In fact, millions of people use them every day to help with weight management, but when people overeat, there are a million other reasons why.

 

Having too many food choices can result in overeating if we make the wrong decisions in the grocery store

Can Too Many Food Choices Lead to Obesity?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original blog here.

HAVING TOO MANY FOOD CHOICES CAN RESULT IN OVEREATING IF WE MAKE THE WRONG DECISIONS IN THE GROCERY STORE

The average grocery store in the U.S. now has up to 60,000 different items in stock. That’s good news if you’ve always wanted a mango chipotle salad dressing, but for most of us that’s just too many food choices. And research shows that choice overload may actually be contributing to the obesity epidemic.

I like grocery shopping since I’m in the food and nutrition business. But with the expanding number of products for sale, it now takes me a lot longer to do it. Supermarkets are where food manufacturers showcase their latest and greatest products, so everything that fills the shelves is of interest to me. How else could I possibly know there are low sodium olives and braised beef flavor with sweet potato dog treats?

But for most people, food shopping is a chore – a dreaded chore. The more people you have to feed, the more dreaded it is because the pantry never remains stocked for very long. And each trip back to the store involves another round of decision-making as you take in all those choices.

A simple shopping list is not enough to help you win the battle against too many food choices.

Food Choice and Hunger

No matter how much you may like macaroni and cheese, it would soon lose its appeal if you had to eat it over and over again (toddlers excluded). Research shows that appetite declines, regardless of physicalhunger, when limited to eating the same food day after day. This loss of interest in food is also seen in people who have lost their sense of taste.

The other side of that coin is called hedonic hunger. That is when you eat more than you physically need because you can move from one food to another to get a new taste sensation. Our enjoyment of food over-rides our sensation of satiety. That’s what happens every time we order dessert immediately after a meal.

When food shopping, we are not literally consuming everything we put into our carts, but we are “setting the table” for what we might consume once we get that food home. How well we make those decisions can contribute to overeating.

Overchoice and Overeating

Careless Decisions: Overwhelmed by having to make so many decisions you grow mentally tired of evaluating all the choices. To simplify the process you may ignore important information (price, nutrient content, health claims), make an impulsive decision or don’t choose at all, even if it’s something you really needed. That is how you leave the store with a familiar brand of cereal instead of the high fiber, low sugar one you meant to buy.

Incomplete Decisions: You make a decision but are not satisfied with it because you don’t know if you saw every possible choice, and fear there may have been something better. Your enjoyment of that food is diminished by a feeling of uncertainty about what you may have missed and you are likely to eat more of it trying to become satisfied. That is how you can polish off a half-gallon of low fat ice cream in a few days so you can go back to look for more options.

Irrational Decisions: The availability of so many tempting choices can over-ride your rational, decision-making process and make it easier to select foods for other reasons, such as to reward yourself or satisfy emotional needs. That is how you arrive home with so many items that were not on your shopping list.

To avoid poor decisions when food shopping, my advice is to:

  • always have a list
  • never shop when hungry
  • pay in cash

What works for you?

Eating regualr meals makes it easier to control food chocies

Breakfast Myth: Skipping Breakfast to Save Calories

This blog was written for the Bell Institute for Health and Nutrition. You can read the original post here.

After writing my last post about Making Time for Breakfast I realized it covered just one of several reasons given by clients for not eating in the morning. Since there are so many others I thought it would be useful to put together a short series on the Top Myths for Not Eating Breakfast.

Many people believe that if they do not eat breakfast they will consume fewer calories by the end of the day and lose weight. This is one of those ideas that looks good on paper, but might not work out as planned.
Besides all of the nutritional benefits of eating breakfast, starting the day with a meal may help improve weight management. In fact, it is one of the most common behaviors shared by the 10,000+ people who make up the National Weight Control Registry.
In reality, this belief in “calorie saving” can sabotage the unknowing dieter and can even lead to weight gain and frustration. Here are the proof points needed to help you dispel the myth that skipping breakfast= weight loss.
BELIEF
I will eat less by the end of the day.
REALITY
A recent study suggests that those who skip breakfast may end up eating more when they finally eat, and could make less healthy, more high-caloric choices.
BELIEF
Not eating for 15 hours or more will make me lose weight faster.
REALITY
Your metabolism is likely regulated by the amount of fuel supplied to it throughout the day. Choosing not to refuel after an overnight fast, may slow down your metabolic rate and affect weight loss.
BELIEF
I like to have plenty of calories left at the end of the day so I can eat all I want.
REALITY
Hunger is a signal from your body that lets you know you need to eat. You also get a signal that tells you when you’ve had enough so you can stop when you are satisfied. If you learn to respond to these two internal cues, you will be less likely to eat for other “external” reasons and may have an easier time managing your weight.
Two new anti-obesity drugs have been approved this summer giving consumers more help with weight loss

3 Anti-Obesity Drugs Now Available in U.S.

This post was written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original post here.

TWO NEW ANTI-OBESITY DRUGS HAVE BEEN APPROVED THIS SUMMER GIVING CONSUMERS MORE HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS

After 13 years with only one Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved pill for weight loss available in the U.S., the agency added two more anti-obesity drugs to the arsenal in the past 30 days. Qsymia is the latest.

I covered the Belviq when it was approved last month. Before that, Xenical was the only option. It received FDA approval in 1999, then became available in a lower dose as the over-the-counter drug Alli in 2007.

What does this recent flurry of activity in the world of anti-obesity drugs mean?

To the 68 percent of American adults who are either overweight or obese (that’s more than 23 million people) it means hope. Hope that one of these drugs will help them win the battle they fight every day with overeating. They still have to learn to make better food choices and be more physically active – no pill can replace that – but maybe, just maybe, one of these prescriptions will make it easier.

Obesity is a complex disease with multiple causes. No single treatment will work for everyone. Since each of these drugs functions in a different way, one could be better for you than another.

If you tried weight loss pills in the past and didn’t get the results you expected, you may want to try again. If you’ve been afraid to try them before, keep an open mind. It’s a hard battle to win alone.

FAQ About the Anti-Obesity Drugs

How do they work?

  • Some have a single mode of action, others have a combination of effects. They may:
  • Suppress appetite
  • Increase metabolism
  • Block absorption
  • Increase satiety
  • Stimulate alertness

How much weight can I lose?

FDA approval is based on studies that show weight loss is greater using the drug than can be achieved from just diet and exercise alone. Weight loss varies for each drug and with one’s ability to comply with the diet and exercise recommendations, but range from 5-10 percent.

How long must I take them?

Each of the available drugs must be taken daily to maintain results. They are not a cure, but a treatment that must be continued for the rest of one’s life.

Do they have side effects?

As with most drugs there are risks associated with their use, but when taken as recommended the benefits are expected to outweigh any risks for most people.

Can anyone take them?

Most are approved for adults only. Some are restricted if pregnant, when taking certain medications or if suffering from other conditions. These concerns must be discussed with your physician.

Some related blogs:

  • My post on last month’s anti-obesity drug: New Weight Loss Drug Wins FDA Approval
  • Some thoughts on what obesity is not: Reflections on Obesity and the Weight of the Nation
  • Why obesity isn’t our biggest problem: Metabolic Syndrome is Worse than Obesity

 

Parents can play a major role in preventing childhood obesity

Childhood Obesity: 5 Things Every Parent Should Know

This post was written as a guest blog for Family Goes Strong. You can read the original post here.

PARENTS CAN PLAY A MAJOR ROLE IN PREVENTING CHILDHOOD OBESITY

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the United States over the past 30 years. It affects children in every state and from every socioeconomic group. As of 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. were overweight or obese.

When a problem becomes that prevalent there is a danger of not taking it as seriously as we should. But the risks of obesity are too great to ignore. Preventing excess weight gain in children may be the most important way we can protect their health and quality of life.

With more than 30 years of experience helping families deal with childhood obesity, I know there is no simple solution to this problem. But there are some things every parent should know as they consider their options.

5 Things You Need to Know About Childhood Obesity

1. Your child’s relationship with food is established in the first five years of life

When solid foods are first introduced to a child between the ages of 4 and 6 months, they begin their relationship with food. For the next year parents must learn to interpret the subtle signals their children use to express how hungry they are and what they like until they can tell you themselves. The goal is to allow the child’s internal sensation of hunger to govern how often and how much they eat. Their evolving taste preferences should allow them to accept and refuse different foods without threat of punishment or reward. If this is done consistently, in an eating environment where no bias or judgment is expressed about any food, children will grow to trust their feelings of hunger and appetite by the time they start school.

2. What is eaten at home is more important than what is served at school

Children spend far more time eating at home or out with their parents than they do in school. What children experience during meals with their family is far more important than the institutional feeding that goes on in schools. If parents don’t like the selections available on school menus, they can pack a lunch for their child to eat instead. But if a child is being exposed to new foods in the cafeteria that are not available at home, they have no choice but to eat what is served at home.

3. Weight loss in parents is the biggest predictor of children’s weight loss

A recent study looked at 80 parent-child sets with an overweight or obese 8-12 year old in each. The participants were assigned to one of three different programs to help their child lose weight. Features of the three programs included having the parents change the home food environment, limit what the child ate, and lose weight themselves. The researchers found parents’ weight loss was the only significant predictor of children’s weight loss. These results are consistent with other research showing how important the example set by parents is to successful weight loss in their children.

4. Genetics are a factor in obesity, but age of onset is more important

There is no test we can take at birth to tell us who will become overweight or obese as an adult. If one or both parents are obese, that does increase a child’s risk of also becoming obese, but it is not inevitable. Research from the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center of Cincinnati found that being obese during the teen years is a stronger indicator of who will be obese in adulthood than being obese in early childhood, regardless of whether the parents were obese. Preventing obesity in adolescents is one of the best ways to prevent obesity in adults.

5. Treat overweight and obesity in your child as a health concern, not an image problem

All children need to learn how the food they eat and their level of activity can affect their health. The conversation should be the same for an overweight child and one who is not, just like talking about the importance of wearing seatbelts and getting immunized. When the focus is on staying healthy, not appearance, your child is less likely to develop emotional issues about their weight.