UNC professor outlines simple strategies for managing weight

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 26, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — An associate professor for nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill mapped out ways to manage weight during the sixth annual Appetite for Life Academy lecture series held at the North Carolina Research Campus.
“In order to manage your weight today it takes active thought and preparation,” said Dr. Deborah Tate, associate professor of nutrition and health behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”
Tate said inventions like drive-thru windows and television remote controls make it easier for people to skip physical activity.
“From the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night, you can calculate the amount of energy that is saved during your day due to modern conveniences,” she said.
Tate said people are eating out more often than they did years ago, which means more calorie consumption due to larger portion size and temptation to eat things that might not be healthy.
“Everywhere we go we are sort of bombarded with these very highly delicious foods,” she said. “Our environment can be toxic.”
That’s why the contestants on the hit NBC television show “The Biggest Loser” have so much success.
“They go away, leave their normal lives,” Tate said. “They have all day to exercise and they are fed very highly delicious healthy food in appropriate portions.”
Tate said a study found contestants take in an average of 1,300 calories and do 3.1 hours of vigorous exercise each day.
“It’s a very carefully controlled environment that’s producing these weight losses,” she said. “They are the same people when they go to the ranch as they were at home.
“They have the same genetics, same dieting history and same willpower, what’s different is the conditions.”
Tate said since normal people can’t change their environments that drastically, they need to focus on small behavior changes.
The first step, Tate said, is tracking behavior.
That includes the type and amount of food consumed and physical activity.
Another way to track is by weighing daily.
“We are now finding a lot of research that suggests that you need to weigh yourself frequently in order to understand if something is working or not working,” Tate said. “People can use the scale as an instrument or a tool to help guide their behavioral choices.”
In order to be successful, Tate said people should weigh every day on the same scale first thing in the morning.
“Keep a graph of your weight and look for trends,” she said. “Use it like a gas gauge in your car, don’t make judgements.”
When it comes to methods to actually losing weight, Tate said the type is less important than adherence.
She said when researchers compared WeightWatchers, Atkins, The Zone and other diets, they found that a consistent amount of weight loss among participant who actually complied with the plan.
“The bottom line messages from the research so far shows overall calories go down and that’s how the weight loses are produced,” she said. “All of the diets have fewer calories than the typical American diet.”
Tate said it’s better for people to find a diet that they can follow instead of trying to do something extreme that could be difficult to follow.
“Pick one that you think you can stick to,” she said.
Tate said another option is portion-controlled meals like WeightWatchers’ Smart Ones, Nutrisystem, Lean Cuisines and Jenny Craig.
“Many people don’t like to do self monitoring, so eating some portioned controlled meals reduces errors and guesswork,” she said. “They know what to eat and it’s pre-measured.”
Research also suggests eating more slowly could help people cut calories, Tate said.
In a controlled study, those who ate a meal in 30 minutes versus 8.6 minutes consumed an average of 67 fewer calories.
Tate said people can slow eating by using smaller utensils, taking smaller bites, pausing between each bite or simply setting a timer.
Those who drink water 30 minutes prior to a meal, also tend to eat less, Tate said.
“These are simple strategies that may help people reduce overall calorie intake,” she said.
When it comes to physical activity, Tate said maintaining a weekly activity level equivalent to walking 225 minutes or more is associated with optimal weight management. That equates to 45 minutes of exercise five days a week.
“If it’s hard and you can’t quite imagine doing 45 minutes all at one time you can break that up into segments during the days,” she said. “Get some form of activity five days a week, it doesn’t have to be walking, it can be anything that gets your heart pumping.”

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