Are you having fun yet? -The role of framing in weight loss

There is nothing more frustrating than feeling like you’re not getting the desired results after making a real effort to keep hitting the gym and cutting back on the junk food. However, if this has ever been you, you are definitely not the only one, and a recent study from Cornell University may have done a key finding in answering this weight loss mystery: you forgot to have fun!

The study points at the importance of “framing” – how do we really feel about exercise? The three Cornell researchers found that people who look at exercise as a chore, and not as something that is fun to do, have the tendency to both eat more and to eat more unhealthy after completing a workout.

This finding was made among the college’s administrative staff members, who were all given a map and asked to complete a specific route with occasional stopping points along the way. The participants were either explicitly told that the purpose of the study was to exercise, or they were given an MP-3 player and told that the purpose was to assess the clarity of the music at the different stops. After completing the route they were offered a variety of different food, both on the unhealthy and healthy end of the food scale. The subjects in the exercise group ate significantly more unhealthy food than the subjects who were listening to music, and they also consumed significantly more food overall.

Why do we tend to make poorer food choices after a workout we didn’t enjoy? The researchers suggest that if people see exercising as an exhausting chore they feel an impulse to reward themselves after a hard workout, but if they had fun while working out on the other hand, this need doesn’t seem to emerge.

In conclusion: whatever you do, have some fun with it! This will help you eat better and in the long run reach your weight goals. Changing how you feel about exercising might seem hard, but try to bring that smile to your face. Listen to music, run in a beautiful place, do the activities you enjoy, or work out with a friend – anything that makes the workout seem less like a chore is likely to help you make those good food choices, and as an added bonus it will probably make your day better as well! Check out the article here.

Another paper from Dr. T!

More great news here in the DiSH lab! Dr. T’s paper, written in collaboration with Dr. Lowry, on evaluating the effectiveness of BodPod in individuals at the lower end of the BMI distribution, just got published in the PLOS ONE journal! The BodPod is a neat device that lets you estimate body fat percentage. But is it accurate at the extremes of body size? This paper suggests that, especially for very thin individuals, it might not be.

Read the full study here!

“How am I doing?” – Why tracking your goals might be harder than you think

Does eating a carrot do more good than eating a doughnut does bad? That is what people tend to think when they’re on a diet, at least according to these researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder. They call their finding the “progress bias”, and what it basically means is that people tend to over-exaggerate the positive and downplay the negative when they’re considering how their doing in terms of goals and progress.

Especially now that the new year is here, a lot of us have made the vow that this will be the year where we finally start losing weight, saving money, or begin exercising. Engaging in behaviors that help us get closer to the goal, so called goal-consistent behaviors, feel like big accomplishments, while behaviors damaging to the goal, might not feel like they are equally negative. One of the many reasons why the process of dieting can seem so maddening could be that we think we have made all the right changes, but still we don’t see the desired results. This study points to one of the reasons why: maybe we aren’t as successful in working towards our goals as we think we are. Statistics suggest that as many as 45% of Americans made New Year’s resolutions this year, and also that the majority of these people will fail. Apparently we find it all too easy to close our eyes to the bad and only focus on the good, leaving us with an unrealistic idea of how we are doing. No wonder dieting is so frustrating!

Are there ways to overcome the progress bias, one might ask? “Monitor, monitor, monitor”, Margaret Campbell, one of the lead researchers, says. “For example, dieters need to pay close attention to calories in and out – both aspects – during this tempting time to keep from falling prey to the bias”.

If that is not really your thing though, it helps to know that the bias might be a motivator to some, as we are bound to have some relapses during times of change, and this helps us from lingering on our failures and look at the bright side. Check out the article here to get the full image of what else this bias might do!

Aaron RA blogs: It’s the Little Things that Matter

We are often told that in life it is the little things that matter, and this saying applies readily to health psychology. In two studies, one conducted right here in the DiSH Lab and another one in Sweden, it was found that using negative language and stigmatizing overweight individuals was directly correlated with weight gain.

Here in the DiSH Lab, a study was conducted recently which found that being labeled as “too fat” in childhood was a significant predictor of obesity in early adulthood (almost a decade later). In a related study in Sweden, researchers found that a significant increase in BMI was associated with individuals with severe obesity who were also stigmatized for their weight in the health care setting.

These studies underscore the idea that these “little things” like labeling and the language we use to describe others are not so little after all. Just being told you are overweight, or having your weight spoken about in a negative light, is correlated with weight gain in the future, and that doesn’t help anyone. In order to curb this problem, maybe it is time to start using more positive language and thinking about how what we say and how we act towards others really can affect them in the long run. In addition, more research being conducted on stigmas, body image, and the effects on weight could bring about very helpful information about how these issues relate to one another.


Blog by Aaron Lapidus

Another Day, Another Paper!

Dr. T’s latest paper, Weight Bias in 2001 versus 2013: Contradictory Attitudes Among Obesity Researchers and Health Professionals, just got published in the Obesity Journal! This study indicates that weight stigma is still widespread today. However, there’s hope for the future, as some forms of weight bias have declined since 2001.

Be sure to check it out, along with other recent publications found here!

It’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week!

According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), weight stigma is “what a person experiences when weight bias is internalized as being ‘deserved’.  This occurs frequently today, resulting in larger people feeling shame, anxiety, depression, and self-hatred. These diminish a person’s body esteem and motivation for self-care.” 

That being said, weight stigma is a highly prevalent and serious problem, making it critically important that people learn more about this weight-based discrimination. Luckily, to help spread the word, this week is BEDA National Weight Stigma Awareness Week! Click the link here to see what else BEDA has to say. In addition, if this topic interests you, be sure to also check out the following papers on weight stigma by Dr. T!

-Tomiyama, A. J. (2014). Weight stigma is stressful: A review of evidence for the Cyclic Obesity/Weight-Based Stigma Model. Appetite, 82, 8-14.

In 1 Bite: Weight stigma feels bad, but could it even result in weight gain? Dr. T constructs a model to explain this vicious cycle.

-Tomiyama, A. J., Epel, E. S., McClatchey, T. M., Poelke, G., Kemeny, M. E., McCoy, S., & Daubenmier, J. (2014).Associations of weight stigma with cortisol and oxidative stress independent of adiposity. Health Psychology, 33, 862-867.

In 1 Bite: Can weight stigma get under our skin? This study examines the relationship between weight stigma and biological stress and long-term cellular aging.

Dr. T on Comfort Eating

We are all guilty of using food for comfort at one time or another. But does comfort eating actually work? Amazingly, it really does!

In the words of Dr. T:

“Comfort-eating rats showed dampened biological stress reactivity in a stress system called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. Sustained over-activity of the HPA axis is associated with poor health, and these studies suggest that comfort eating is playing an important role in managing an organism’s stress levels.

The implications of this are enormous. If comfort eating functions in the same way in humans (the human literature is in its infancy, but my research and that of others offers preliminary evidence that comfort eating is associated with dampened HPA activity), then we need to substantially shift the way we think about stress eating.

Stress eating is currently treated like a villain, a negative health behavior that we should intervene to eradicate at all costs. The science of comfort eating, however, indicates that we may be engaging in this behavior for very good reasons, and that eating that brownie might mitigate the negative health effects of stress hormones—which may be even more harmful in the long-term than a few extra calories.”

Click here to check out what else Dr. T has to say on comfort eating! It’s highly relatable and also at the top of the RWJF Human Capital Blog today! Go Dr. T!!

Angela at #APS14SF

What is DiSH lab doing this weekend? Some of our team traveled north to San Francisco, CA to attend the Association for Psychological Sciences 26th Annual Convention. As part of a fun foodie symposium focused on challenging lay theories about eating, Angela C. Incollingo Belsky gave a talk titled Profiling personalities of long-term calorie restrictions: Why dieting may not be the cure for the “obesity epidemic,” where she discussed the individual differences potentially underlying successful dieting in a unique group of long-term calorie restrictors. Her results show that the CR participants are more likely to have psychosocial profiles demonstrating high future time orientation and low hostility and neuroticism. These results suggest that dieting may be a viable weight loss option for only individuals with certain personality traits, thus dieting might not be the most effective way to cure the obesity crisis.

Taking Angela’s talk into consideration, it is important to realize that dieting isn’t for everyone and we shouldn’t blame the failed diet on the dieter but rather question for what type of person dieting is even a recommendable option. You can read more about this study and the results here.



National News Coverage on DiSH Research!

What’s all the buzz about? Our fabulous DiSH lab team: Dr. T and Grad student Jeff Hunger! The recent publication of their article “Weight Labeling and Obesity: A Longitudinal Study of Girls Aged 10 to 19 Years” captured the attention of major news outlets from all around the world.  Huffington PostHealthfinder, Yahoo News India, LA Times, Reuters Health, Canada News and Science Daily are just a few that covered their study.

We’re going national! And it’s a good thing that we’re reaching people who are not only from the United States. Many people do not understand the long-term effects of weight labeling and it’s correlation with obesity. Often times, parents and such, engage in negative feedback such as calling their children “fat” and hoped that it might act as a motivator to help them lose weight. However, results from  Dr. T’s and Jeffery Hunger’s study indicates that young girls who are called or labeled “too fat” are more likely to be obese ten years later.

The study looked at 2,000 young girls at age 10 and followed them over nine years. Over half of the girls were labeled “fat” and reported that of those remarks, 60 percent came from family members and 40 percent came from friends and teachers. It seems that weight labeling is an independent predictor of weight ten years later.

So stigmatizing weight isn’t going to help people lose weight. What then should parents, family, and friends say instead of labeling their loved ones as “too fat?”

In the words of Dr. T:

“I think the focus of the conversation needs to change. Right now, we have a laser focus on weight instead of health, but many studies show that weight is a really imprecise indicator of actual health. Parents can talk to their child about adopting healthy behaviors without once mentioning weight.”

For more information, watch Jeffery Hunger’s live interview with Huff Post!

SF, Get Ready for DiSH Lab!

The DiSH lab team traveled up to San Francisco this Wednesday to attend the American Psychosomatic Society (APS) 72nd annual scientific meeting! DiSH lab grad student, Laura Finch, presented a poster on “Emotional Eating Behaviors Buffers Psychological Stress in Black and White Girls” on Thursday. And our DiSH lab’s manager and incoming student, Angela Incollingo Belsky, will be presenting her poster on “Clues To Maintaining Calorie Restriction? Psychosocial Profiles of Successful Long-Term Restrictors” on Saturday. Also, before we forget to mention, Angela’s poster received a Newsworthy Abstract distinction! So congrats to our grad student and lab manager for representing and disseminating our lab’s research! Go DiSH lab!

Click the link here to see the PDF of the APS program and abstracts.