Spotlight Series: Eli Puterman

We are bringing back our Collaborator Spotlight series! Our first spotlight is Dr. Eli Puterman. Dr. T met Dr. Puterman on the first day of her postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Epel, their mutual postdoc advisor. The scientific and friendship connection was instant, and was followed by multiple papers together and Dr. Puterman later taking on the role of bridesman in Dr. T’s wedding!

1. What is the overall topic/theme that your research addresses?

My research focuses on the effects of long-term physical activity engagement and an acute bout of exercise on psychobiological and immune cellular processes that underlie disease pathogenesis in individuals with chronic distress. I’m currently pivoting to developing and evaluating movement-based programs for children and adults who are underserved, understudied, and marginalized.

2. Tell us about an exciting project you are working on right now.

I am designing a pilot and feasibility study to test the effects of doing aerobic dance for 3 months on psychosocial well being and cellular markers of health in women living with HIV. 

3. What is your favorite paper you have ever written?

My favourite (favourite has a ‘U’ in Canada, Americans spell everything wrong) paper is currently under review so I cannot talk about it. My second favourite paper is, “Lifespan adversity and later adulthood telomere length in the nationally representative U.S. Health and Retirement Study” published in 2016 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. We demonstrated that lifespan adversity, especially psychosocial adversity during childhood, accumulate to predict shorter telomeres in later adulthood. I had a really great time writing that paper because the collaboration with demographers and epidemiologists was truly inspiring. 

4. Is there a particular finding/paper/researcher that really inspired your line of research?

I went to the American Psychological Association annual conference in 2007, held in San Francisco. At the conference, UCSF’s Dr. Elissa Epel introduced UCSF’s Dr. Nancy Adler for a talk on social determinants of health. In that talk, Dr. Adler spoke about the role of subjective social status and lifespan adversity on health, and also focused on Dr. Epel’s primary work on stress and telomeres. I knew at that moment that I needed to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in San Francisco in their group, not just because their science was topnotch, but because their vision for social justice was inspiring. 

5. Since we are all foodies here, what is your favorite comfort food?

You can describe me as a functional eater… I eat to stay alive and have never been a foodie. But if I HAD to state my favourite food, I think it would be burritos. I love Mexican food more than anything. So yummy and spicy! 

Big Congratulations to Jeff Hunger, who just successfully defended his dissertation!

We are incredibly proud to congratulate Jeff Hunger on successfully defending his dissertation! Jeff did his graduate studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara under the mentorship of Dr. Brenda Major, and he will be joining us starting this winter as a DiSH Lab Postdoctoral Scholar!

This is a huge milestone in Jeff’s career, and we could not be more excited for him to join us at UCLA!

Congratulations again, Dr. Hunger!

Congratulations to Dr. Mary Himmelstein, for successfully defending her dissertation!

This past Friday, Mary Himmelstein, DiSH graduate student and collaborator at Rutgers University, officially became Dr. Mary Himmelstein after successfully defending her dissertation! This is a huge milestone in her career, and all of us here at the DiSH Lab are extremely proud of her.

Here’s what Mary had to say:

“It’s been a long and thrilling ride to becoming Dr. H! I couldn’t have done it without the excellent support of Dr. T and my dish lab siblings! I’m looking forward to starting the next chapter and helping to eliminate fat as a dirty word!”

You’re amazing, Dr. H – we can’t wait to see what you’ll accomplish!

Stressed about exams or deadlines? Exercise may help more than you think!


When we get stressed out, it can be easy to let exercise & physical activity fall by the wayside. Even though we know that exercise is great for us, and has more benefits than we could ever list – it takes a lot of effort, and we may not feel so inclined to get up and go to the gym around, say, final exams or deadlines.

However, a new study out of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany provides some convincing evidence that exercise really can help reduce exam-related stress. In the study, the researchers recruited 61 undergraduate students and randomly assigned them to participate in a 20-week exercise program that was timed to finish right around students’ final exams. The outcome variable examined in the study was heart rate variability (HRV), which is a measure of the small variations in time between heartbeats. According to Dr. Richard Sloan, a professor at Columbia University in New York, “the heart is happiest when it’s good to have a lot of heart rate variability.” As predicted, the researchers found that students who participated in the exercise program had HRV patterns indicative of lower stress levels than those of students who were not in the exercise program.

The study is closely related to research by DiSH collaborator Eli Puterman, whose lab at the University of British Columbia studies fitness, aging, and stress. In regards to this new study out of Germany, Dr. Puterman commented that “it’s really exciting to see an intervention that changes the physiological response to stress.”

We agree with Dr. Puterman – these results are very compelling! Exercise has so many benefits for health & well-being, we’re happy to see real-world evidence that it can help us control our physiological responses to stress.

 Check out the original article here! 

Stop Using BMI to Determine Health – DiSH research featured in NPR & LA Times!

Check out the NPR Interview & LA Times articles!

Last week, Dr. T, DiSH Collaborator Jeff Hunger, DiSH Lab Manager Jolene Nguyen-Cuu, and UCLA statistician Christine Wells published a really important paper in the International Journal of Obesity; as it turns out, one of the most common measures of population health, Body Mass Index (BMI), actually misclassifies millions of Americans as unhealthy when they’re not! In many cases, people had healthy measures of blood pressure, insulin resistance, triglycerides, cholesterol, and other factors, but fell into “overweight” or “obese” BMI categories and were therefore classified as “cardiometabolically unhealthy.” On the flip side, many Americans who fell into the “normal” BMI category were actually cardiometabolically unhealthy, even though they were assumed to be healthy based on their BMI.”

In Dr. T’s words: “There are healthy people who could be penalized based on a faulty health measure, while the unhealthy people of normal weight will fly under the radar and won’t get charged more for their health insurance. Employers, policymakers, and insurance companies should focus on actual health markers.”

Of course, BMI is popular because it’s so easy to obtain – all you need is a person’s height and weight! However, Dr. T. argues that getting a more accurate measure of cardiovascular health, like blood pressure, can be easy too, saying “it takes maybe 20 seconds if you have the machine. And so I really think focusing on better health markers like blood pressure is a better way to go about it — particularly when we’re talking about financial penalties.”

To U.S. News, Jeff Hunger explained that “the bigger picture we want to draw from our findings is that the dominant way of thinking about weight — that higher-weight individuals will always be unhealthy — is flawed,” and, that “the general public should try to focus on improving their health behaviors — eating well, staying active and getting enough sleep — and forget about the number on the scale.”

Ultimately, Dr. T emphasized that “we have this laser focus on weight, when this measure of body size doesn’t get under the skin of what healthy markers are. We need to focus on actual health markers, rather than this outdated, very broad measure called BMI.”

This paper has been picked up left & right by the media, check out some of its coverage here!

NPR Interview & Article

Los Angeles Times

Science Daily

U.S. News

UCLA Newsroom

DiSH Lab at SPSP 2016!

This past weekend, the DiSH lab attended the 17th Annual Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Convention in San Diego, CA. We’re extremely proud of how well we were represented at this conference – we had undergraduates, lab managers, graduate students, DiSH Collaborators, and of course, Dr. T. all in attendance!

On Thursday, Jan. 28th, we attended the Social Personality Health Network (SPHN) Preconference, where we learned about weight stigma, mobile health tracking, personality traits tied to health behaviors, and big data. DiSH Grad Student Laura Finch also presented a poster at SPHN!

Laura presenting her poster at SPHN!

Check out what some of our undergraduate research assistants and lab manager Jolene had to say:

“Attending SPHN opened my eyes to just how intimate health and social psychologists are getting with their participants to attain the most salient data for their research, and how our very own DiSH lab is following suit. Psychologists from all over the nation explained how they are utilizing participants’ personal mobile devices to collect self-report and physiological data in response to weight stigmatizing events – something that the DiSH lab has already started utilizing in its Texting and Hashtag studies. Yesterday’s conference revealed to me just how much technology is allowing current research to delve into the depths of the human experience at levels that past instrumentation could not dare reach, and it excites me to know that the DiSH lab is contributing to the forefront of what seems to be the most promising findings health and social research have ever uncovered.” – Megan White

“SPHN was a great experience because we had the opportunity to interact with so many individuals who are professionals in the field of Health Psychology. In addition, the experience provided us insight on new upcoming research conducted by graduate students and faculty from various universities across the United States.” – Grace Nguyen

“SPHN is always a great opportunity to hear about the latest studies on social psychology and health, make connections with some of the field’s leading researchers, and support fellow DiSH Labbers. This year, I particularly loved Brenda Major’s talk on weight stigma, and I was fascinated by how gratitude and mindfulness can have such a significant impact on one’s physiology. I also really enjoyed seeing Traci and her students again and was very proud that we were the one of the only labs–if not the only lab–that had our undergraduate RAs attend. Laura’s poster was great too!” – Jolene Nguyen-Cuu

Towards the middle of the afternoon, Dr. T even led all the SPHN attendees in an energizing group-stretch:

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Dr. T. leading an energizing mid-conference stretch!

The following day, Dr. T. chaired a symposium on “Diet and Exercise in a Social World”. At the symposium, DiSH Graduate Student Angela Incollingo Rodriguez and DiSH Collaborator Dr. Andrew Ward both gave great talks, covered in more detail here. DiSH Collaborator Jeff Hunger also gave a talk over the weekend!

Jeff Hunger giving a talk at SPSP!


Dr. Andrew Ward giving his SPSP talk!


Angela Incollingo Rodriguez giving a talk at SPSP!

At the end of the weekend, the DiSH Lab shared a meal with Dr. Andrew Ward’s students from Swarthmore College. What a nice way to end a weekend of great research and great collaborators!

The DiSH Lab & Dr. Andrew Ward and his students from Swarthmore College.

Spotlight Series: Traci Mann

Here we go with another Collaborator Spotlight:

Dr. Mann has deep roots in the DiSH Lab Family Tree. Not only was she Dr. Tomiyama’s graduate mentor, her friendship and professional collaborations with Dr. Andrew Ward go all the way back to their grad school days at Stanford. On top of that, the DiSH Lab’s grad student Britt Ahlstrom worked as Dr. Mann’s lab manager, and before her, our collaborating student, Jeff Hunger did as well! Needless to say, Traci Mann has played an integral role mentoring and training our DiSH team!


1. What is the overall topic/theme that your research addresses?

My research focuses on the self-control of eating. I am interested in the little things that cause people to overeat or that help them to undereat (if that is their goal).

2. Tell us about an exciting project you are working on right now.

I am writing a book. It will be released in April 2015 by HarperCollins. It is called Secrets from the Eating Lab: the myth of willpower, why diets fail you, and surprising strategies that really work. Janet features heavily in it. (Well, she will, once I write it!)

3. What is your favorite paper you have ever written?

I adore the 2007 American Psychologist paper with Janet (and others) saying diets don’t work. It was an epic process getting that published. But I love how it cuts right through so much bullshit and just tries to say what’s true. I’m also fond of a paper a bunch of us published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year where we show a simple way school cafeterias can get kids to eat vegetables. I think I wrote it in an hour.  When the data are solid, the papers practically write themselves.

4. Is there a particular finding/paper/researcher that really inspired your line of research?

I usually say Herman & Polivy’s work showing people overeating after a diet violation, but lately I am citing Brian Wansink a lot. And I firmly believe the Simmons/Simonsohn paper on p-hacking is the most important paper I’ve read in five years.

5. Since we are all foodies here, what is your favorite comfort food?

Marshmallow Peeps.


Stay tuned for more spotlights on the DiSH Lab’s collaborators.

Introducing our Spotlight series! Andrew Ward

The DiSH Lab is so fortunate to collaborate with an awesome group of faculty and students from around the world and various disciplines. We want our readers to get to know them too through mini Q & A’s! To start it off, here is our spotlight on Dr. Andrew Ward:

Dr. Ward is the chair of of Swarthmore College’s Psychology Department. He is a long-time friend and collaborator of Dr. T’s graduate mentor Traci Mann and we have been lucky to have him in the DiSH Lab during his sabbatical this year at UCLA. This summer, Dr. Ward will share his superb teaching skills with the UCLA community as he will be teaching Social Psychology!

Andrew brighter


1. What is the overall topic/theme that your research addresses?

My primary area of research is on the topic of self-control and the role played by attention in self-regulatory processes. My longtime collaborator, Traci Mann (formerly a faculty member at UCLA, now at the University of Minnesota), and I have explored the implications of limits on attention for individuals’ attempts to control their behavior in a number of domains, including eating, smoking, and aggression. [Stay tuned for a spotlight on Traci!]

2. Tell us about an exciting project you are working on right now.

Currently I am collaborating with DiSH lab members Janet Tomiyama and Angela Belsky on two exciting projects — one looking at the role of SES in dietary food choices and one on negative perceptions of overweight individuals.

3. What is your favorite paper you have ever written?

I’m fond of Ward & Mann, 2000 (JPSP), “Don’t Mind If I Do: Disinhibited Eating Under Cognitive Load,” because it was the paper in which Traci and I first introduced our attentional model of self-control (and because it was the only paper for which I didn’t have to battle reviewers and editors to the death to get published).

4. Is there a particular finding/paper/researcher that really inspired your line of research?

Claude Steele’s work on what he and his collaborators termed alcohol myopia inspired my research on attention and self-control.  Indeed, as an homage, Traci and I called our model attentional myopia.

5. Since we are all foodies here, what is your favorite comfort food?

Bread, mashed potatoes, chili — pretty much anything with carbs.


Stay tuned for more spotlights on the DiSH Lab’s collaborators.