By Carolyn O’Neil, MS RD, author of The Slim Down South Cookbook and nutrition advisor to Calorie Control Council
Lose weight while you sleep! You may have heard health claims such as this connected to nutritional supplement or fad diet advertising. Well, it turns out that there may be some truth to the promise that getting a good night’s sleep can help with weight management. Research presented at the annual Food and Nutrition Conference (FNCE) of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics held in Nashville, Tennessee this year included studies on the effect of sleep deprivation on food intake. Bottom line: the less you sleep the greater your odds of weighing more.
Registered dietitian Devon Golem, professor at New Mexico State University explained that lack of sleep can disrupt the hormonal regulation of appetite leading to increased total calorie intake and intake of high-fat, high-sugar foods.
“When you’re exhausted you’re not making the best decisions about what to eat,” said registered dietitian Tamara Melton, program director and clinical instructor at Georgia State University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You might seek out high calorie comfort foods or snack often to stay awake. Plus you may be too tired to exercise.”
Another excess calorie source: when most sleepy folks reach for caffeine they’re not ordering black coffee. It’s more likely to be the higher calorie specialty coffee drinks with cream and sugar. Choose low calorie sweeteners and fat free milk to lighten up coffee drinks that perk you up.
Melton said asking patients about their sleep patterns is an important part of a nutrition appraisal. “People are trying to look at all things in their life that affect their health holistically.”
How much sleep is healthy? According to the National Sleep Foundation adults should get between seven to nine hours. Meanwhile, the national daily average is six and a half. “Sleep deprivation is an epidemic in the US,” said Katherine Finn Davis researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Shedding Light on Shedding Weight
The continuing battle against rates of obesity in the US was a big focus for nutrition professionals at FNCE. There’s good news and bad news here. “I think we’re at a turning point,” said Dr. William Dietz of George Washington University. “In the last ten years we’ve seen no significant difference in the incidence of obesity.”
Some states including New Mexico and Mississippi have even seen declines in obesity rates. “It’s sort of leveled off,” said Dr. James O. Hill, Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. “Is it something we’re doing right? I don’t even think we’re close to knowing.”
Hill pointed out that while diet and exercise plans work well to help people lose weight, the real challenge is helping them keep it off for the long haul. “We are wildly successful at losing weight but also wildly successful at gaining it back.” So research on obesity treatment has turned to the psychological components of mindset and motivation to help dieters find their individual purpose for weight loss goals. “It’s like a light switch going on,” said Hill.
Co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry, which follows over 6,000 people who’ve lost weight and kept it off permanently, Hill is the author of State of Slim. He says weight control is no longer a simple math problem of balancing calories in with calories burned through physical exercise. Anyone who’s ever walked on a treadmill and seen how long it takes to rack up 100 calories will be happy to hear this. Hill said, “There are so many positive side effects of physical activity. Exercise does way more than burn calories. It helps regulate appetite and metabolism. It’s more than calories in and out.”
Restaurant menus boosted fruit and veggie dish options by 28 percent
In other good nutrition news presented at FNCE, fruit and vegetable offerings on restaurant menus are up 28 percent since 2010. But, registered dietitian Elizabeth Pivonka of the Produce for Better Health Foundation says overall consumption of fruit and vegetables in the US has sadly declined seven percent since 2010. Not to be disheartened she says there are pockets of improvement, “Millennials are eating more vegetables than five years ago.”