Volume 14, Number 11
According to the Mann Lab at the University of Minnesota, the human body is not a proponent of weight loss. Restrictive dieting will result in preoccupation with food, and more pleasure with food consumption. Hormonal changes that occur with dieting will result in a decreased experience of fullness, and one’s body will become more efficient at storing fat. Metabolism slows. Self-control will be reduced. If a person wants to gain weight over the long term, going on a restrictive diet may prove to be an effective strategy. Needless to say, the $70 billion industry in the United States that is focused on diet plans and products likely is not fond of the research of Traci Mann, PhD, a social and health psychologist.
Also known as the Health and Eating Laboratory, research produced by the Mann Lab suggests that addressing the obesity epidemic is more a matter of promoting healthy behaviors and changing the societal environment than focusing on weight reduction. Dr. Mann emphasizes that stigmatizing obesity increases stress so that people who are overweight have less willpower, eat more, and avoid physical activity. She also points out that among persons who are physically fit, reductions in life expectancy due to weight are minimized if persons eat five or more servings of vegetables/fruits each day, exercise at least 12 times each month, don’t smoke, and minimize use of alcohol. Making healthy foods more accessible leads to increased consumption of such foods, while making unhealthy foods more inaccessible leads to decreased consumption.
In the public health arena, Dr. Mann advocates that broadcasters be mandated to have at least as much time devoted to healthy food advertisements as is devoted to unhealthy food ads. Except in very tall buildings, maximum elevator speeds could be slowed as a means to incentivize stair usage. Not surprisingly, she would support legislation to restrict sales of large sugar-sweetened drinks. She would also minimize attention to weight as a marker of health in favor of attention on fitness, glucose, heart rate, and blood pressure.
If vegetables are in competition with foods that are less healthy but experienced as tastier, vegetables will consistently lose. Therefore, Dr. Mann is a proponent of a “veggies first” practice in which vegetables are eaten first and without other foods on one’s plate. She and her research collaborators have found that when children were presented with carrots at a lunch table before any other food was presented, children consumed more than four times as many grams of carrots than they did when carrots were offered along with other food.
It is better to expend one’s self-control on developing healthy habits and increasing cues for healthy behavior, than on following a restrictive diet or limiting intake at the dinner table. Healthy behaviors can be put in positions of advantage, such as the stairs being faster than the elevator, or vegetables being the first available food at mealtime. Even in the absence of weight loss, regular physical activity, reducing stress, and healthy nutrition clearly benefit health.
Paul J. Hershberger, Ph.D.
… is a clinical health psychologist. He is Professor, Director of Research, and Director of the Division of Behavioral Health, Department of Family Medicine, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.
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