ACSM weight loss

Losing Weight: ACSM Experts Explain What Works

It’s TV. No, it’s cars. It’s fat. No, it’s sugar.

Last night in San Diego, the opening speakers at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) annual meeting showed just how tense the debate about obesity has become.

Keynoter James O. Hill, from the University of Colorado, called out TIME magazine and journalist Gary Taubes who separately have reported that a lack of physical activity has nothing to do with the world’s expanding waist line.

And John M. Jakicic, PhD, from the University of Pittsburgh felt he had to defend himself from an ACSM past president Steven Blair who has argued that people should focus on fitness (as in stamina) and not worry about weight. “Dr Blair is not going to like me,” he said.

Jakicic pointed to research he and others have done showing that physical inactivity and obesity can both worsen your health — independent of each other.

He cited unpublished results for the Look AHEAD trial, of which he was one of the investigators. Weight loss was a better predictor of heart disease than fitness in that trial, he said.

Hill said the simple formula of total calories consumed minus calories expended — and not any one evil ingredient — determines weight.

But more important, Jakicic and a couple of other University of Pittsburgh researchers explained how that study and others are pointing the way to weight-loss strategies that really work.

The most successful of these combine goals for diet and physical activity with strategies for changing behavior.

The speakers didn’t dwell on the specifics of how much to eat and how much to exercise. (Check out the Look AHEAD webpage and the similar Diabetes Prevention Program for some ideas of what worked in these studies.)

Mindfulness for Weight Loss

But they did talk about the trickiest part: How do you change behavior?

People who are most successful in maintaining weight loss are those who have good “body image/self worth, flexible restraint and autonomous motivation,” said Kelli Davis.

People who are most likely to regain weight tend to think in rigid all-or-nothing terms, she said. They’re impulsive, have trouble planning ahead and seem to be losing weight because someone else told them to do it.

In other words, people are less likely to stay slim “when they feel like they should or have to rather than because they want to,” she said.

How do you switch from a weight-gain to a weight-loss mindset? Davis advocated the use of mindfulness meditation.

Instead of trying to master your weight with “skill power and will power,” she said, become more conscious of how your brain works. Don’t judge yourself for wanting another helping of mac and cheese. Just notice that impulse, and think about where it’s coming from.

How to Be Mindful

She didn’t go into a lot more detail. (The presentations were aimed at healthcare providers rather than us regular folks. ) But Harvard University’s health website offers this “starter kit” for using mindfulness in weight loss:

  • Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes, and take that time to eat a normal-sized meal.
  • Try eating with your non-dominant hand; if you’re a righty, hold your fork in your left hand when lifting food to your mouth.
  • Use chopsticks if you don’t normally use them.
  • Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun’s rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.
  • Take small bites and chew well.
  • Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” Do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.

Mindfulness may help with exercise routines and sports as well, though there’s less research on that.

If you want to get started with a mindful meditation practice in general, you might want to try these audio clips from the University of California Los Angeles mindfulness website.

Trimming your belly, it turns out, may begin with taming your mind.

3 thoughts on “Losing Weight: ACSM Experts Explain What Works”

  1. I’ve read this article talking about “dark” fat and “white” fat. It states that dark fat kills off white fat in some way. Is this true? You can read the article here:

    1. This is a really interesting area of research. I took a quick look at the peer-reviewed literature. A recent review in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology ( confirms that dark fat cells do exist, and that they burn energy. It doesn’t look like they “kill” white fat cells, but white cells might become brown cells. And people with more brown cells are leaner. It’s too early to say whether any type of diet can increase the number or activity of brown fat cells. But there is some promising research into capsinoids, which are chemicals resembling capsaicin, the chemical that makes hot peppers hot. Here are a couple of other interesting articles on the topic:

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