COVID Curves: The Weight Loss Challenge
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Donuts, pizza and chocolate chip cookies were a constant temptation in our office, like many others around the country. Exercising was the countermeasure. Then came the Covid Pandemic. The gyms closed, and even the beaches and hiking trails closed for a time. Adiposity slowly crept upon us, and the “Covid Curves” covered our bodies. We decided to fight back, so our office challenged each other to a weight loss competition over the next two months. The plan is not just to lose weight quickly, but to do so safely and in a way that would be sustainable.
It is important to take a scientific approach to weight loss. First of all, eating and satiety have both a reward component and a physiological component. It is essential to understand both components in order to achieve lasting results. Health is more than food we eat and the calories we burn; it is a mindset. The reward or hedonic component has to do with the intrinsically addicting quality of many types of food. For many, quickly digested sugars and refined carbohydrates are highly addictive, and often trigger a frenzy of consumption that is beyond the body's physiological needs or mental willpower. Triggering foods in our office place include donuts, chips, cheesy snack food, cookies, ice cream and pastries. These triggers will be removed from the office. Foods with fiber and a decreased density of sugar and carbohydrates will likely trigger less of a feeding frenzy. We will make sure to share our lunch time together so that the social support can fulfill our drive for positive reinforcement.
There is a classical experiment that comes to mind when discussing the choice of foods and timing of supplements to achieve weight loss. The Garcia Effect includes that observation that the taste of food is rapidly learned to be aversive if there are gastrointestinal consequences such as nausea. This effect may be used to curb craving by taking whatever aversive nutritional supplement or medication we normally take after one of the main meals. Consider taking that fish oil supplement, for example, that makes you just a little nauseated and bloated after one of the meals. That strategy may just be enough to evoke the Garcia Effect. Some medications such as topiramate which may be prescribed as an off-label use for cravings may also be best taken just after a meal.
Then we have to contend with the physiological side of eating and satiety. First of all, it takes at least fifteen minutes or longer for the satiety mechanisms to quench craving. The obvious strategy is to eat very slowly. Take at least a half hour to one hour to eat and don’t just cram something down before attending to the next business demand. Likewise, breakfast should not be something on the run. Sit down and eat slowly. Portion control, filling up with water, choosing high fiber and protein foods are all strategies that may help somewhat. Alcohol beverages, fruit juices and sugary coffee concoctions are stealthy sources of extra calories that may be replaced with water.
It is a bit early to recommend certain probiotics for weight loss but experimentation with rats demonstrate that certain strains of bacteria in the gut will promote weight gain and others will promote weight loss. In humans, there have been claims that probiotics with Lactobacillus fermentum and lactobacillus amylovorus may promote weight loss. Nutritional supplements that have shown in human trials include the water soluble fiber, glucomannan. Mixed results have been obtained with medium chain fatty acids including coconut oil as a means of helping with weight loss. Cayenne pepper, chitosan, green tea, caffeine, glutamine have all been used for weight loss with variable results.
On the exercise side of the ledger, we will adapt fat burning routines that may be done while maintaining social distancing including using a stationary bike, weights and stair walking.
The winner of the weight loss challenge will not just be one who loses the most by the end of the competition. If we adopt strategies that will keep weight off in the long run, we all win.
Sheldon Jordan MD