Why You’re Gaining Weight Suddenly, According to Doctors and Dietitians

Photo by Malte Mueller/Getty Images

It’s understandable when you gain a few pounds after vacation or if you break your ankle and spend six weeks propped on the sofa bingeing obscure British cooking shows (and the chocolate scones to go with them).

But when you can’t zip your jeans for no freaking reason at all — you swear you’re not eating any more or exercising any less — it can feel like there’s some dark magic at play. You may find yourself standing on the bathroom scale, screaming into the void:

“Why am I gaining weight?!”

Deep breath. You got this.

Most likely, there’s something in your life that’s shifted just enough to make a difference, but not so much that you’d notice, says Alexandra Sowa, MD, an obesity specialist and clinical instructor of medicine at NYU Langone Health. “I see this all the time — you may not step on the scale for a while, and you feel like you haven’t changed anything, and all of a sudden you go to the doctor’s office and notice you’ve gained 10 or 20 pounds,” she says.

But that doesn’t mean it’s your destiny to go up another size every year. Here are some of the most likely reasons for unexplained weight gain, and how to stop it in its tracks.

Your insulin levels may be out of whack.

If you’ve been battling weight issues for a while and none of your efforts are moving the needle, make an appointment with your primary care doc or a weight-management physician, who can assess you for insulin resistance or prediabetes. (Your doctor can also test you for hypothyroidism, in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormone, slowing down your metabolism and potentially leading to weight gain.)

“Insulin is the hormone that signals the body to pull glucose out of the bloodstream and store it in the muscles, liver, and fat,” explains Tirissa Reid, MD, an obesity medicine specialist at Columbia University Medical Center and Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. “But when you’re overweight, the cells don’t recognize the insulin as well, so the pancreas has to pump out more and more — sometimes two or three times the normal amount — until the cells respond.”

(This is also common in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome — a condition in which the egg follicles in the ovaries bunch together to form cysts.) These high insulin levels keep the body in storage mode and make weight loss more difficult, says Dr. Reid. The beginning of this road is insulin resistance — when your pancreas is working overtime, but blood sugar levels are still normal.

All that extra work wears out the pancreas until it can barely do the job of keeping the blood sugar in normal range. Left unchecked, insulin resistance can lead to prediabetes, in which blood-sugar levels are slightly elevated; if that’s not treated, you can develop full-blown type-2 diabetes.

What you can do: The most effective way to reverse this trend is to eat a diet low in refined carbs and added sugars, and to become more physically active, since muscles respond better to insulin after exercise, says Dr. Reid.

She recommends either investing in a fitness tracker or simply using the one that comes with your phone. “People hear you need 10,000 steps each day, which sounds intimidating, but you can also use it just to see where you’re at and make doable increases,” Dr. Reid says. “If you’re at 2,000 steps, try to go up to 2,500 a day next week and continue to increase.”

Swapping to foods with a lower glycemic index (GI) — which means they’re digested more slowly, keeping blood-sugar levels steady — is also important for controlling your insulin levels. Dr. Sowa recommends these lower-GI food swaps: riced cauliflower instead of white rice; zucchini spirals or shirataki noodles (made from plant fiber) instead of pasta; and pumpernickel or stone-ground whole wheat bread instead of white bread or bagels.

Stress and exhaustion are throwing you off.

If you’re up at night worrying about your aging parents, your hormonal teens, and the general crappy state of the world, this can affect your metabolism. “Stress and lack of sleep can cause a cascade of hormonal changes that change your metabolism and affect your sense of hunger and fullness,” Dr. Sowa explains.

Stress pumps up the hormones ghrelin and cortisol, which increase your appetite and can make you crave carbs; at the same time, it dials down the hormone leptin, which helps you feel full. Not surprisingly, a recent Swedish study of 3,872 women over 20 years found that the more stressed you are by work, the likely you are to gain weight. Stress also affects your ability to get a good night’s sleep, and we know that lack of sleep can also throw off your metabolism rates and hunger cues.

What you can do: It’s easy — just fix the world and make everyone around you kinder and more sane.

Hm, maybe not. But you can manage your stress by downloading a free app such as Pacifica, (now Sanvello) which can help you work toward personal goals such as thinking positively and decreasing anxiety by sending you meditations and visualizations to do throughout the day. To sleep more soundly, you already know you should put down your phone, computer, and iPad an hour before bedtime, but new research shows that shutting out all light — including that sliver of moon through your window — can help with both sleep and metabolism.

A study at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that after subjects spent just one night of sleeping in a room with dim light, insulin levels the next morning were significantly higher than those who slept in complete darkness, potentially affecting metabolism rates. So consider investing in some good blackout curtains.

Your allergy pills are to blame.

“We’re not 100% sure why, but it’s believed that histamines, chemicals produced by your immune system to fight allergens, have a role in appetite control,” says Dr. Reid. That means that “antihistamines may cause you to eat more,” she says. A large study from Yale University confirmed that there is a correlation between regular prescription antihistamine use and obesity. Dr. Reid points out that some antihistamines such as Benadryl also cause drowsiness, which could make you less apt to exercise.

What you can do: If you suffer from seasonal allergies and are constantly taking antihistamines, talk to your allergist about alternative treatments such as nasal steroid sprays, nasal antihistamines (which have less absorption into the bloodstream, and therefore less effect on hunger), leukotriene inhibitors such as Singulair, or allergy shots, suggests Jeffrey Demain, MD, founder of the Allergy Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska.

He also says that managing your environment — using a HEPA filter, washing your sheets frequently in hot water, keeping pets out of your bedroom — can help reduce the need for allergy meds. While you’re at it, do an inventory of any prescription medications you’re taking that are known to cause weight gain (including certain antidepressants, beta blockers, corticosteroids, and the birth control shot) and discuss with your doctor if there are equally effective alternatives that don’t affect weight, says Dr. Reid.

Your portions are probably bigger than you think.

Anyone who’s ever sat in a vinyl booth staring down a bowl of pasta big enough for a toddler to swim knows that portion sizes in America are ginormous. But research from the University of Liverpool published last year found that after being served large-size meals outside the home, people tend to serve themselves larger portions up to a week later, meaning supersizing appears to be normalized, says Lisa R. Young, PhD, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim.

Even if your home-cooked portions have crept up only 5% over the last few years, that can be an extra 100 calories a day, which adds up to more than 11 pounds a year, says Lawrence Cheskin, MD, chair of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University. And the official measure of what’s a “serving” isn’t helping.

“The FDA standards for how many ‘servings’ are in a package of food are based on how much food people actually eat, not how much you should eat,” Young explains. For example, to reflect the growing appetites of the American people, a serving of ice cream was increased last year from 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup. More realistic, perhaps, but still more calories than many of us need.

Here’s what to do: First, Young suggests you spend a few days getting a reality check on how much food you’re actually eating at each meal. “When you pour the cereal in the bowl in the morning, pour it back into a measuring cup. What you thought was 1 cup might actually be 3 cups, especially if you’re using a large bowl,” she says.

Also, instead of relying on a government agency (or the chef at your favorite restaurant) at to tell you how much to eat, learn to listen to your own body, says Young. “Serve yourself just one modest portion on a small plate, and when you’re done, wait 20 minutes,” she says. It takes that long for the hormones in your belly to reach your brain and tell it you’re full. If you get to 20 minutes and your stomach is grumbling, have a few more bites.

You’re eating the right thing, but at the wrong time.

Let’s say you switched jobs recently, and dinner is now at 9 p.m. instead of 6:30. Or your new habit of streaming Neflix until the wee hours also involves snacking well past midnight. Even if you’re not eating more, per se, this change might account for the extra poundage.

There’s a delicate dance between your circadian rhythm (the way your body and brain respond to the daily cues of daylight and darkness) and your calorie intake that can mean that same sandwich or bowl of fro-yo that you eat at lunchtime may actually cause more of a weight gain when eaten at night.

A 2017 study at Brigham & Women’s Hospital found that when college students ate food closer to their bedtime — and therefore closer to when the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin was released — they had higher percentages of body fat and a higher body-mass index. The researchers theorize that this is because the amount of energy your body uses to digest and metabolize food drops as your inner clock tells it to get ready to snooze.

What you can do: There are a few life hacks to keep the late-night snacking to a minimum. Dr. Sowa suggests you commit to writing down every bite you eat after dinner: “Whether it’s on a sticky pad or on an app, keeping track of what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, and how you’re feeling when you eat it will hold you accountable for the calories, and it will also help you figure out if you’re truly hungry or just bored,” she says.

She also suggests capping off your evening meal with a brain-and-heart-healthy tablespoon of Fish Oil. “It’s a healthy fat that coats your stomach and makes you feel less hungry later,” she says.

Your “healthy” food is packed with calories.

You could be eating the cleanest, most organic, dietitian-approved variety of plant-based, or ethically farmed food, but that doesn’t mean the calories evaporate into pixie dust when they go in your mouth.

And in fact, research has shown that when you’re eating something healthy — avocados, salad, yogurt, whole grains — part of your attention to fullness tends to turn off. “Even when you’re eating healthy foods, you really have to pay attention to your hunger and satiety signals,” says Véronique Provencher, PhD, professor of nutrition at Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada.

“In several studies we have found that when we perceive a food as healthy it creates a bias in our own judgment, and we think (consciously or not) that we can eat more of it, no problem. We think a salad is healthy, so we feel we can eat as much as we want with as many dressings or toppings as we want.”

What you can do First of all, treat eating like going to the theater, and turn your phone off — and turn away from the computer or TV screen. “We have found when you are eating and working on your computer or watching TV or on a screen you are disconnected from hunger and satiety clues,” says Provencher.

Something else that may help, other experts say, is to become more aware of portion sizes and what’s in your food. Try the Weight Watchers app, which helps you sort out questions like which “healthy” yogurts are full of sugar and calories, and how much avocado you should spread on your toast.

Weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — before deciding to go on a diet, we invite you gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.

Your age might be a factor.

Each birthday you celebrate brings on one undeniable change: your basal resting metabolism (the rate at which your body at rest burns the energy you take in from food) slows down. “It’s not a dramatic drop,” says Dr. Cheskin. “But as you age, you’re probably also getting less active and more tired, and your body tends to lose muscle mass, which burns calories more efficiently than fat.”

So even if you’re eating the exact same amount of food as you did when you were younger, your body is simply not burning it off as effectively as it did during the glory days of your 20s.

Here’s what to do: You can only budge your BMR a little, but there are a few things you can do to make the math work in your favor. The first is to build up your calorie-burning muscle, says fitness expert Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of sports science and physical education at Huntingdon College. “Keep up cardio three times a week for 30 minutes, but add challenging weight training on top of that,” she says.

Olson recommends these exercises that can be done at home. Start with what you can do and build up to 2 sets of 12 of each, every other day.

  • Chair squats: Sit of the edge of a chair with arms crossed; stand up and sit back down for one rep.
  • Triceps dips: Sit on the edge of a chair, supporting yourself with your arms, slide off, walking your feet out in front of you a few steps; with knees bent and body below the seat, bend elbows; press up until arms are straight. (Use a chair without wheels!)
  • Push-ups, from your knees, or full push-ups, if you can.

Another metabolism-boosting strategy: Replace some of the carbohydrates in your diet with proteins, which take more energy to digest, therefore burning off more calories through diet-induced thermogenesis, as well as making you feel fuller for longer.

Dr. Sowa suggests you eat about 100 grams of protein over the course of the day, filling your plate with lean chicken, fish, shrimp, or plant-based proteins such as garbanzo beans, tempeh, and edamame, to give your meals more metabolism bang for your buck. This may only add up to a weight loss of a few pounds a year, but combined with exercise, the cumulative effect can be significant, says Dr. Sowa.

Marisa Cohen is a Contributing Editor in the Hearst Health Newsroom, who has covered health, nutrition, parenting, and the arts for dozens of magazines and web sites over the past two decades.

By : Marisa Cohen  Good Housekeeping

Source: Why You’re Gaining Weight Suddenly, According to Doctors and Dietitians

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4 Signs of Burnout In Your Teen and How To Help Them Through It

MyTutor for Parents

They’ve been hearing about exams for ages. So it’s no surprise that lots of teens are feeling overwhelmed by the time exam season rolls in. To help you spot burnout in your teen, we’ll go over 4 signs to look out for– plus 4 ways you can support them through it, so they can get back to feeling their best.

Signs of teen burnout

  1. They’re not sleeping or eating well.
  2. They’re a lot more irritable.
  3. They want to spend all their time alone.
  4. They’ve lost interest in things they normally enjoy.

1. They’re not sleeping or eating well.

Exam anxiety can have a negative knock-on effect when it comes to your teen’s physical health. Thoughts like, ‘I’m going to fail,’ or ‘I have to do well or I won’t get into a good uni,’ can keep them up at all hours. Sleep is so important to their wellbeing, so you want to nip their worries in the bud.

As a parent, you’ll know the tell-tale signs of when they’re not getting enough sleep. Do they look tired? Are they falling asleep in class, or at strange times of the day? Are they more irritable than usual?

And when they’re stressed, their appetite can take a hit, too. Are they skipping meals? Leaving lots of food on their plate? Or, are they eating tons of junk food? Under-eating, and overeating are both red flags when it comes to their wellbeing–and it might mean they’re feeling overwhelmed.

2. They’re a lot more irritable.

If they’re lashing out or having meltdowns, they might be feeling the pressure. Teenage years are prickly anyway, with their brains going through lots of changes. But if you’re seeing a big difference in their mood during exam season, it could be a sign of burnout.

They might have gaps in their learning, and they’re lashing out  because they’re just not getting it. Or, they’re overworking because they’re worried they’re not good enough. Whatever the reason behind their stress– there’s a good chance they’ll take it out on those around them.

3. They want to spend all their time alone.

What makes spotting burnout trickier with teens is that they like to spend more time on their own anyway. But when they’re not seeing friends and keeping to themselves more than usual, it might be a sign that they’re having a hard time.

There are behaviours you can look out for. Like if they’re lying in bed staring up at the ceiling, or at their screens for hours at a time– it’s a good idea to check-in to see what’s going on.

4. They’ve lost interest in things they normally enjoy.

Hobbies and interests are so important to your teen’s wellbeing. It helps keep them balanced. But if they’re pulling away from the things they love– like football practice or even just watching their favourite shows, it might be a sign they’re overworking.

How you can help them get through it

It’s completely normal for you to worry when your teen’s going through a stressful time. But there’s still lots you can do as a parent to help them along. Exam season is a bit like a marathon, and it takes regular self-care to make it to the finish line.

  1. Have regular chats to check in.
  2. Help them build down-time into their schedules.
  3. Give them advice on managing their screens.
  4. Reach out for support.

1. Have regular chats to check in.

Having regular time together makes it easier for your teen to open up. Dr Louise Egan, a child psychologist, says it’s important to find out why your teen is working themselves so hard. Do they think they’re not good enough? Are they worried about what you think?

Spending regular time with your teen means you can get a better picture on why they’re so anxious. ‘There’s no quick fix,’ Dr Egan says. But if you put your teen in the driver’s seat by asking them, ‘What can I do to help?’ you might be surprised by how they open up. And with lots of chats and encouragement, you can help them work out a more balanced relationship with their revision.

2. Help them build down-time into their schedules.

A revision timetable can help your teen to stay on top of things. It means they can relax too, since they’ve scheduled their study time. To make their day-to-day more balanced, they can slot in fun activities.

Encourage them to include things like, ‘trip to the cinema’, or ‘catch-up with friends’ into their timetable. If they’re still stressed about spending time away from revision, let them know how breaks actually help their brain learn better.

Here’s something you can share with your overworking teen:

3. Give them advice on managing screen time.

Screen time is not all bad– in fact there are lots of helpful learning resources they can tap into while they’re revising. But, screens can have a negative effect on their wellbeing too, by getting in the way of sleep. And when they’re not sleeping well, it affects everything–from their mood, to how they study and learn.

Encourage them to have a break from their screens 1-2 hours before bed. And if they just can’t part with their phone, have them change the settings to night time mode, so that the blue lights are at least switched off.

4. Reach out for support.

There are times when they just need a helping hand from an expert. Whether that’s with a tutor (if their anxiety comes from learning gaps), or with a healthcare professional– there are people and organisations here to help teens.

Here are a few good resources to tap into, recommended by the NHS:

Of course, advice from experts is always handy, but you know better than anyone else if your child’s struggling. With a few of these tips plus your encouragement and support, your teen can get through exams feeling calm and confident.

Source: 4 signs of burnout in your teen– and how to help them through it | MyTutor

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Stress Eating? Here’s How To Train Your Brain To Crave Healthy Foods

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: Stress can make us eat more and gain belly fat. But you can also retrain your brain to crave healthier food when you're stressed.(Linnea Bullion For The Washington Post)

Concerns about inflation, the economy, the lingering effects of the pandemic and other global crises have caused stress levels in the United States to surge to new highs. For some people, that stress is showing up on the scale.

There are many biological mechanisms that explain why stress and anxiety can cause people to pack on unwanted pounds. In some cases, gaining weight can itself become a source of stress and stigma that fuels further weight gain.

While we can’t eliminate every major source of stress in our lives, we can control — to some extent — the impact it has on our bodies. Scientists have found that there are ways to alleviate stress and retrain your brain to improve your diet and prevent stress-induced weight gain.

How stress promotes belly fat

Our bodies evolved to secrete the stress hormone cortisol when our brain senses danger. Cortisol elevates your heart rate, blood pressure and blood-sugar levels. In the short term, cortisol protects you from immediate threats by sending your body into fight-or-flight mode. But when your job, finances and other circumstances ratchet up your stress levels on a regular basis, it can lead to chronic cortisol elevation.

One side effect of cortisol is that it promotes body fat, especially belly and visceral fat, which is a particularly toxic kind of fat that surrounds internal organs. Studies show that people with higher cortisol levels tend to have a higher body mass index.

If you constantly grapple with stress, it can send signals to your body to accumulate fat, said A. Janet Tomiyama, the head of the Dieting, Stress and Health Lab at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“Even if you don’t change a single thing that you eat, the fact that you are stressed is going to promote fat deposition,” said Tomiyama, who has studied the mechanisms behind stress and obesity.

Why a stressed brain makes you eat more

In laboratory studies, scientists have found that administering synthetic versions of cortisol to people causes them to eat substantially more calories than people who are given a placebo. That’s in part because cortisol reduces your brain’s sensitivity to leptin, also known as the satiety hormone, which regulates your appetite and makes you feel full.

In one study of department store workers, people ate more sugar, saturated fat and overall calories when they had to work long, demanding shifts compared with when they worked less stressful shifts with lighter workloads.

Even stress from activities we enjoy can lead to overeating. In one study, researchers followed ardent football fans in different cities. They found that fans whose NFL teams lost on Sunday consumed more calories and saturated fat the next day. Fans whose teams won ate less food and saturated fat the following day. The scientists found similar results when they looked at the dietary patterns of French soccer fans.

Chocolate, candy, ice cream and other comfort foods alleviate stress in part through their effects on the brain. They activate reward regions such as the nucleus accumbens, flooding them with dopamine, the hormone that promotes pleasure, and other neurotransmitters.

Some people find that in stressful situations their appetites plummet. Scientists are not quite sure why stress leads some people to the cookie jar and not others, but weight appears to play a role. Some studies suggest that insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, which is more common in people with obesity, may spur changes in brain activity that intensify food cravings in response to stress.

How to retrain your brain to combat stress eating

While you can’t always reduce the stress in your life, you can retrain your brain to want better foods when you’re stress eating.

In a study published last year, Tomiyama and her colleagues recruited 100 adults with elevated stress levels and split them into two groups. Everyone was trained to do a daily, six-minute stress reduction exercise called progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing your muscles from toes to head. You can find an example of it here. This deep relaxation technique has been shown in studies to reduce stress and anxiety.

But members of one group were assigned to eat a serving of fresh fruit such as sliced pineapple, honeydew and pears, about five minutes into each of their daily progressive muscle relaxation sessions. After one week of this, the researchers found that eating just the fruit alone made the participants feel less stressed and put them in a better mood. By pairing the fruit with a relaxation exercise, their brains began to view the fruit as something that reduced their stress levels — essentially turning the fruit into comfort food.

“Anytime two things happen at the same time your mind creates a connection between them,” Tomiyama said. “By pairing relaxation and fruit together, your mind starts to see them as the same thing. After a while, you won’t even need to do the six minutes of relaxation: All you’ll need to do is eat the fruit, and you’ll get that same relaxation benefit.”

Tomiyama offered a few tips for those who want to try this.

  • Choose a type of fruit that you don’t eat often, such as star fruit, kiwi or mango. If fresh versions of these fruits are too expensive or inconvenient, use frozen fruit.
  • Try this exercise at different times of day and at different locations in your home or office. If you always do this at your kitchen table, it will only work at your kitchen table.
  • At times when you are feeling stressed or anxious, reach for your “comfort fruit” instead of a bag of potato chips.

“This is a way to hack your comfort eating habit for good,” Tomiyama said.

Source: Stress eating? Here’s how to train your brain to crave healthy foods. – The Washington Post

Critics by:  Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Foods can help tame stress in several ways. Comfort foods, like a bowl of warm oatmeal, boost levels of serotonin, a calming brain chemical. Other foods can cut levels of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that take a toll on the body over time. A healthy diet can help counter the impact of stress by shoring up the immune system and lowering blood pressure. Do you know which foods are stress busters?

All carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin. For a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, it’s best to eat complex carbs, which take longer to digest. Good choices include whole-grain breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals, including old-fashioned oatmeal. Complex carbs can also help you feel balanced by stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Dietitians usually recommend steering clear of simple carbs, which include sweets and soda. But in a pinch, these foods can hit the spot. They’re digested quickly, leading to a spike in serotonin. Still, it doesn’t last long, and simple carbs can also spike blood sugar, There are better options. So don’t make these a stress-relieving habit; you should limit them.

Oranges make the list for their wealth of vitamin C. Studies suggest this vitamin can curb levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system. In one study of people with high blood pressure, blood pressure and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) returned to normal more quickly when people took vitamin C before a stressful task.

Too little magnesium may trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress. One cup of spinach helps you stock back up on magnesium. Don’t like spinach? Other green, leafy vegetables are good magnesium sources. Or try some cooked soybeans or a fillet of salmon, also high in magnesium.

To keep stress in check, make friends with naturally fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon and tuna, can prevent surges in stress hormones and may help protect against heart disease, depression, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). For a healthysupply of feel-good omega-3s, aim to eat at least 3.5 ounces of fatty fish at least twice a week.

Drinking black tea may help you recover from stressful events more quickly. One study compared people who drank 4 cups of tea daily for 6 weeks with people who drank another beverage. The tea drinkers reported feeling calmer and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after stressful situations.

Pistachios, as well as other nuts and seeds, are good sources of healthy fats. Eating a handful of pistachios, walnuts, or almonds every day may help lower your cholesterol, ease inflammation in your heart’s arteries, make diabetes less likely, and protect you against the effects of stress. Don’t overdo it, though: Nuts are rich in calories.

One of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure is to get enough potassium, and half an avocado has more potassium than a medium-sized banana. A little bit of guacamole, made from avocado, might be a good choice when stress has you craving a high-fat treat. Avocados are high in fat and calories, though, so watch your portion size.

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The Art of Eating Well in Antarctica

In 1916, when a Chilean ship rescued a group of shipwrecked British explorers on a failed attempt at the first land crossing of Antarctica, the men were on the brink of starvation. They’d resorted to gathering limpets and seaweed to eat with stewed seal bones. By the time the Chilean crew gave them a full meal, the men’s stomachs had become so atrophied that many of them fell sick.

Antarctic cooking has come a long way since then; just ask Carol Devine and Wendy Trusler, the authors of The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning, a cookbook-memoir that recounts their Canadian–Russian cleanup expedition from 1995 to 1996, with a combination of recipes, journal entries, and photos. In the resourceful hands of Trusler, the team’s resident cook, Antarctica’s icy landscape became home to steaming honey oat bread and bubbling pots of cheese fondue. And from their Russian hosts and generous neighbors on the nearby Chilean, Chinese, and Uruguayan bases, she and Devine learned a thing or two about international cooperation—and how to make a mean pork dumpling.

During the Southern Hemisphere summer that spanned from 1995 to 1996, a motley crew of 57 volunteers—“including teachers, retirees, a judge, a music industry executive, two writers, a Dutch travel agent, and an amateur cartoonist”—arrived in small, rotating groups to clear nearly 30 years of garbage. As Devine writes, “In Antarctica, waste doesn’t decompose.”

The team was led by Devine, the founder of the Volunteer International Environmental Work (VIEW) foundation. Volunteers traveled by ship from the southern tip of South America to Antarctica’s King George Island, a 90-percent glacialized island that houses Russia’s Bellingshausen Station. The station’s researchers and crew were generous hosts, and became their friends.

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To provide tasty fuel for weary volunteers, Devine hired Trusler, a visual artist and cook who had gained a reputation for culinary magic from her work feeding tree planters in Northern Canada. In a windowless room, Trusler built a kitchen with a stove on loan from the Canadian Arctic Program. There, she churned out meals from shipments of dry and canned goods, frozen meat, and fresh produce that she stored in a makeshift cold cellar. The results were delicious, including cinnamon buns, Ukrainian cabbage rolls, and frozen chocolate cream.

In 2012, almost 20 years after their austral summer, Devine and Trusler published The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning, drawing on recipes Trusler had studiously collected, as well as both women’s photos and journal entries. Gastro Obscura talked with Trusler and Devine about limited-resource cooking, international generosity, and why Antarctica is “more relevant than ever” today.

What were the biggest challenges you faced cooking in Antarctica? And what do you think you learned from them?

Wendy Trusler: We had everything delivered at one time, [so I had to] make sure I had provisions from December till March…So when all this food came in one shot, I was like, okay, what are we going to do with that? Fortunately [thanks to] the generosity of the Russians, I was able to use their freezer, which was like a 15-minute walk from where we set up our kitchen…Also there was a shed behind the building that I worked in. I had the guys clear out all the equipment and that became like cold storage. It turns out the Antarctic is the best place to set up a kitchen, at least at that time of year, because it hovered between maybe just under zero and plus five [degrees Celsius, or 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit]. So it was perfect for a cold cellar.

Carol Devine: The stove was always smoking…I was worried about health and safety. Is [Wendy] going to get lung damage from this? And the food had a smoke flavor.

WT: One of the [Russian] guys made this widget or something that stopped the flow of or regulated the gas flow so it was burning properly.

In the past, explorers have struggled to survive in Antarctica. What was it that enabled you to eat so well?

CD: First, we recognize that we were privileged and things have changed in Antarctica. . . . But—and she probably won’t say this of herself—Wendy is incredibly resourceful and doesn’t waste. … I think the food and the recipes reflected resourcefulness, but also fun and play. We’d joke: There’s a bird, the skua. And the skuas steal food, and they’re a really nasty bird. Wendy would be like, “Okay, a ship’s coming. I’m going to go ‘skua’ us some alcohol and plunder.” She would be like, “We gotta grab opportunities!”

WT: [These skills] helped me during COVID. I prided myself at the beginning of COVID, where there were really long lineups for food outside of stores and things like that, and you wanted to limit the amount of time you were in the store, I shopped for a month or I could go for five weeks without having to go shopping [laughs]. I bought the live lettuce and I planted it in dirt and grew my own lettuce, and would just sort of plan turnover meals, which is something I did in Antarctica, too.

Both of you have mentioned how much food meant to people or how much it always can mean to people. So, in the particular context of Antarctica, the place you were staying, and the volunteer work, what did meal time mean to folks? Why was it important?

WT: We would get a different team every four to five days…we had a very short time to make a team coalesce and to make people feel comfortable. . . . I thought [mealtime] was an opportunity to make people come together. So one of the first meals I would do would be make-your-own something or other: make your own pizza, or we’d have fondue—something that was hands-on, that they needed to communicate with each other.

book is filled with descriptions of your breaking bread with the staff of other bases on the island. Are there any moments that stick out to you in particular?

WT: [One time], the Chinese cook wanted to come and learn how to make bread. And it was interesting because it’s not really something that is part of their diet. And then I said, “I want to learn how to make Chinese dumplings.” And when I went over to that kitchen, it was so amazing. I was transported into China. They have this huge butcher block and it was this giant wok, set over this really interesting stove that I would never have worked with…I had a dinner in their very ornate dining room, which had silk screens and a mahogany table… I feel like what we did or what I did down there, going from base to base, rekindled my sense of wonder.

Have you been in touch with anyone who has used the book in sort of a limited-resource context since it was published?

CD: Several people have bought the book to give it to their friends who want to be a cook in a tree-planting camp. And then we know that friends have bought it for Antarctic cooks. We know the book has multiple uses. I’ve spoken to kids around the world about Antarctica. One of my favorite questions was, ‘can you order a pizza to Antarctica?’

I’m guessing the answer is no.

CD: The answer is no.

In the book, a volunteer describes Antarctica as a place with “many countries and no borders.” I was wondering if you could talk more about what you learned from that environment.

WT: What I love about remote sites anywhere is you’re forced to rely on one another… to remember what it is to be good to one another, what it is to be a good neighbor. Just because you’re so isolated and you have no one else that you can turn to other than who’s beside you. And I like to carry that with me in what I do now…The generosity and sharing with one another, being curious about one another, sharing your food, storing it well—all that sort of stuff that we cultivated down there can be cultivated anywhere by anyone.

CD: Antarctica, and even these bases, is a lesson in how at least rich and middle- income countries have to share resources, to use everything until its final day. Antarctica is more relevant than ever.

Source: The Art of Eating Well in Antarctica – Gastro Obscura

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Restricting Calories Leads To Weight Loss, Not Necessarily The Window of Time You Eat Them In

1

Results of a new weight loss study were published this week, leading to headlines proclaiming intermittent fasting “isn’t a magic diet trick after all”.The researchers aimed to test whether adding a restriction on what time of day you were allowed to eat (or not) to the usual low calorie (or kilojoule) diet led to greater weight loss compared to just following a low calorie diet. They recruited 139 adults whose average weight was 88 kilograms and age 32 years.

The participants were randomised to follow either the low calorie diet that had reduced their usual daily energy intake by 25%, or the same low calorie diet with the addition of a time period during which they were allowed to eat in an eight-hour window between 8am and 4pm each day.This approach is called “time-restricted eating” or a “16-hour intermittent fast”. Both groups received support from health coaches to follow their diets for 12 months.

Results showed that after one year, people in both groups lost 7-10% of their baseline body weight. While the low calorie group lost an average of 6.3 kilograms, the low calorie plus time restricted eating group lost 8 kilograms. Although there was a 1.8 kilogram difference between the groups, it was not a statistically significant difference.

Participants in both groups also had better blood sugar and blood fat levels and improved insulin sensitivity, but again there was no significant differences between groups.

1. It wasn’t based in the US

Most intermittent fasting studies have been conducted in the United States. This trial was done in China and recruited people in Guangzhou, so it provides important data using a culturally sensitive, prescribed calorie restriction over 12 months.

2. It showed small extra time restrictions on eating don’t make much difference

In their normal lives, the participants in Guangzhou had a usual window for daily eating of about 10.5 hours. Studies in other populations, particularly the US, show about 90% of adults have an eating window of 12 hours, with only 10% of adults having an overnight fasting period greater than 12 hours.

For more than 50% of people in countries like the US, the overnight fast is less than nine hours, meaning they eat over a 15 hour time period each day. So in the current study, the time restriction on eating was only minor – at about two hours less per day than what’s usual for people in China. This would not have been too big a difference from usual.

The researchers also reported that in China, the biggest meal is usually eaten in the middle of the day, so that was not influenced by the time restriction. In countries where the evening meal is the biggest or people snack all evening, then time restriction may still be a beneficial way to reduce intake.

A 2020 review of 19 studies that used time-restricted intermittent fasting found it was an effective treatment for adults with obesity, leading to greater loss of body weight and body fat, with significantly lower systolic blood pressure and blood glucose.

3. It showed support is imperative

Both groups in this trial were given a lot of support to adhere to the kilojoule-restricted diet. They were provided with one meal replacement shake per day for the first six months, to make it easier to follow the kilojoule restriction and help improve adherence to the diet.

They also received dietary counselling from trained health coaches for the 12 months of the trial. They received dietary information booklets that included advice on portion size and sample menus. They were encouraged to weigh foods to improve their accuracy in reporting kilojoule intakes and were required to keep a daily log with photographs of foods eaten and the time, using the study app.

They also received follow-up calls or app messages twice a week and met with the health coach individually every two weeks for the first six months. In the second six months, they continued to fill out their dietary records for three days per week and received weekly follow-up telephone calls and app messages and met with a health coach monthly. They also attended monthly health-education sessions.

This was a lot of support and is very important. Receiving long-term support to achieve health behaviour changes typically achieves a weight loss of 3–5% of body weight, which significantly lowers risk of weight-related health conditions, including a 50% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes over eight years.

4. Even with good adherence, individual weight loss varies

Individual weight loss responses were very variable, even though adherence was high in this trial.

About 84% of participants adhered to the prescribed daily calorie targets and time restricted eating period. Weight loss at 12 months varied from 7.8 to 4.7 kilograms in the low calorie only group, and 9.6 to 6.4 kilograms in the low calorie plus time-restricted eating group.

As we have seen many times previously, this study confirms there is no one best diet for weight loss. It also shows small decreases in the window of time you’re eating probably won’t make a difference to weight loss.

By:

Laureate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

.
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