Eating breakfast won’t help you lose weight, but skipping it might not either

Originally Posted Here: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-breakfast-wont-help-you-lose-weight-but-skipping-might-not-either-2019041916457

Yet another study has dispelled the popular “you have to eat breakfast” myth, and I’m thrilled. The breakfast cereal aisle is the most nutritionally horrifying area of the supermarket, crawling with sugary carbs in all shapes and flavors, all disguised as health food.

It’s true — eating breakfast is not associated with eating less nor with weight loss, which begs the question: can skipping breakfast help with weight loss?

What does research tell us about eating breakfast?

A plethora of intermittent fasting studies suggest that extending the overnight fast is indeed associated with weight loss, but also more importantly, with improved metabolism. Overnight fasting of at least 16 hours (which really isn’t that extended) allows blood sugar and insulin levels to decrease, so that fat stores can be used for energy. This makes physiologic and logical sense: Our bodies can’t burn fat if we keep filling it with fuel. The idea that having a meal first thing in the morning revs up the metabolism isn’t based in reality.

So where did the “breakfast is good for you” myth come from? Wasn’t it based on research? Yes, but it was not the right kind of research. Observational studies produce interesting observations, and that is all. At the population level, people who regularly consume breakfast also tend to be a healthier weight. That doesn’t mean that breakfast has anything to do with it. It may be that people who regularly consume breakfast also tend to have daytime schedules (no night shifts), or higher socioeconomic status (can afford breakfast), or generally more consistent habits than those who don’t. These are all more important variables associated with healthier weight, and observational studies don’t reveal any of that.

What do the strongest studies say?

So how do you properly study the effect of eating breakfast (or not) on weight? You’d want to conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) evenly dividing participants into breakfast vs. no-breakfast groups, and then measure specific outcomes, like daily calorie intake and weight. RCTs are experiments where you can control for confounding variables, and thus feel more confident about drawing conclusions. (Having said that, RCTs can have other issues, and we’ll go into that.)

Researchers from Melbourne, Australia looked at a number of RCTs on breakfast and weight and/or total daily energy intake, and pooled the results. They found 13 studies in all that met their criteria: they had to define breakfast content and timing, and had to have been conducted in high-income countries (to be more comparable).

Seven studies looked at the effects of breakfast on weight change, and after an average study length of seven weeks, participants who ate breakfast gained 1.2 pounds compared to those who didn’t. This was true for both normal and overweight people. Ten studies looked at the effects of breakfast on total daily calorie intake, and after an average study length of two weeks, participants who ate breakfast consumed 260 calories more than those who didn’t. These results help debunk the notion that skipping breakfast will cause people to binge later. While plenty of studies suggest that eating close to bedtime is associated with obesity, this has nothing to do with breakfast. Are there flaws in these studies?

The authors do point out that the RCTs had flaws. Participants knew what experimental group they were in. The studies used various groups (college students, hospital staff, general public); featured different foods (crisped rice, wheat flakes, oatmeal); and had widely varying follow-up times. The RCT comparing a high-protein, high-fiber breakfast with nothing has yet to be conducted.

Still, in the end, the authors conclude: “While breakfast has been advocated as the most important meal of the day in the media since 1917, there is a paucity of evidence to support breakfast consumption as a strategy to achieve weight loss, including in adults with overweight or obesity.”

What’s the bottom line on eating breakfast?

Having said all this, if you love love love your breakfast, and you’re healthy, then enjoy! If you’re struggling with a metabolic medical problem, consider a breakfast of water, tea, or coffee and then have a healthy lunch. Or, at the very least, try not to eat close to bedtime. Whatever your preferred schedule, try to stretch out the time between meals, and give your body a chance to burn fat. Your metabolism will thank you!

Follow me on twitter @drmoniquetello

The post Eating breakfast won’t help you lose weight, but skipping it might not either appeared first on Harvard Health Blog.


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The heart and science of kindness

Originally Posted Here: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-heart-and-science-of-kindness-2019041816447

Kindness (noun): the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate; a kind act.
— English Oxford Living Dictionaries

Ombudspeople like myself have a unique view of the institutions they serve. Some of us fondly refer to it as the “view from the underbelly” of our organizations. The urgent calls we get aren’t to share a recent act of kindness. Visitors who arrive at our offices often do so feeling under siege from less than kindly forces. We hear repeatedly of our visitors’ desire to be treated with kindness, and of the wish that they could themselves rise above unkindness to be their best kind selves. Here, then, are some thoughts on kindness — how to give and receive it.

Kindness starts with being kind to yourself

Ever notice how much better you treat others when you’ve taken care of yourself? In a pressure-filled environment it’s easy to work through lunch, work through dinner, and respond to emails at 11 pm. But the world often rights itself when we take a moment to breathe, assess what we need, and seek it. (Sleep? A relaxed meal, anyone?)

Be kind to yourself when you misstep, which happens to everybody. Setting upon ourselves may cause collateral damage, making others the target of the anger or frustration or disappointment that we really feel about ourselves. It can feel good to direct these upsetting emotions away from ourselves and onto others, but for how long, really?

Lead with compassion, follow with kindness

Everyone has challenges, many hidden from sight. If you knew that your coworker delivering the curt response to a question or the snarky critique of a project had recently learned of a serious illness in their family, wouldn’t you cut them some slack? And better yet, might you then want to reach out with support? When we are compassionate, we are recognizing our shared human condition. Compassion can guide us to acts of kindness. Maybe we keep our mouth shut instead of calling out the misdemeanor. Or we find a private time to ask if everything is okay. Sometimes kindness is offering to get coffee, or bringing back a cookie from a lunchtime workshop just because.

We feel happier when we act in service to others

A recent study reported on how people felt after performing or observing kind acts every day for seven days. Participants were randomly assigned to carry out at least one more kind act than usual for someone close to them, an acquaintance or stranger, or themselves, or to try to actively observe kind acts. Happiness was measured before and after the seven days of kindness. The researchers found that being kind to ourselves or to anyone else — yes, even a stranger — or actively observing kindness around us boosted happiness.

Choose kindness

While we may not have control over another person, we do have control over ourselves. What does it mean to be our best selves? Isn’t being kind in the mix of choices we have each and every day? We can’t make anyone else be kind, but that doesn’t have to stop us from aspiring to be kind, no matter what.

Give to give, not to receive

The purest form of kindness may have no audience and offer no credit. Kindness to accumulate thanks is self-serving at best. Some may even say it’s an effort to control or make the recipient feel indebted. But when we are kind even if — maybe especially if — there’s no such payback, the rewards may be all the sweeter. I heard a story about someone who learned that a child from a family with very little money really wanted a bicycle. This fairy godparent bought a super nice bike and asked the shopkeeper to write a highly discounted receipt for an amount the family could afford. The family reimbursed the fairy godparent for the receipt price without knowing it cost far more. Now that’s kindness!

We become kinder with practice

So, practice. Aesop, the ancient Greek storyteller, once said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” If random acts of kindness don’t come easily to you, try this challenge: do one small, kind thing each day for someone. Then pay attention to the impact on you. Does it become easier the more you do it? Do you start to notice and act on more opportunities to be kind in your world? Do you start to feel lighter? Kinder?

Kindness begets kindness

Just as a bully of a boss can foster a culture of bullying and fear down the hierarchical line, so can kindness from one help to foster kindness in others. We often take our cues from leaders, coworkers, labmates, and others we live with many hours a day. Why not be the kind person from whom others take their cues? The one who helps people turn to one another in small and big ways that illustrate a spirit of generosity?

Kindness is lasting

When I was a terribly insecure and shy misfit of a college freshman, I was going through the cafeteria line by myself one fall day. When I got to the checkout, the woman at the cash register said, “You have such a pretty face.” Now, over 40 years later, I still remember that unexpected moment of kindness from a stranger. Who do you remember most? And how do you want to be remembered?

The post The heart and science of kindness appeared first on Harvard Health Blog.


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How to handle stress at work

Originally Posted Here: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-to-handle-stress-at-work-2019041716436

If you’re currently working, you probably know what it feels like to be stressed on the job. A must-do project arrives without warning. Three emails stack up for each one you delete. Phones ring, meetings are scheduled, a coworker drops the ball on a shared assignment.

How does your body react to work stress?

Imagine for a moment that your boss has emailed you about an unfinished assignment (a stressor). Your body and mind instantly respond, activating a physical reaction called the fight-or-flight response. Your heart beats faster, your breath quickens, and your muscles tense. At the same time you might say to yourself, “I’m going to get fired if I don’t finish this.” Then to manage your anxiety and negative self-talk, you work late into the night to complete the task.

Over the course of our evolutionary history, humans developed this coordinated fear response to protect against dangers in our environment. For example, a faster heart rate and tense muscles would help us escape from predators. In the modern era, fear continues to serve an important function. After all, the fight-or-flight response can provide the necessary energy to pull an all-nighter and keep your job.

But what happens if you encounter stressful experiences at work every day? Over time, chronic work stress can lead to a psychological syndrome known as burnout. Warning signs of burnout are overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy. Certain work-related stressors are closely linked with burnout. Examples are having too much work or too little independence, inadequate pay, lack of community between coworkers, unfairness or disrespect, and a mismatch between workplace and personal values.

How can work stress affect well-being?

Long-term exposure to work-related stressors like these can affect mental health. Research links burnout with symptoms of anxiety and depression. In some cases, this sets the stage for serious mental health problems. Indeed, one study shows younger people who routinely face heavy workloads and extreme time pressure on the job are more likely to experience major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

High levels of stress at work –– and outside of it –– can affect physical health, too. Repeated activation of the fight-or-flight response can disrupt bodily systems and increase susceptibility to disease. For example, repeated release of the stress hormone cortisol can disturb the immune system, and raise the likelihood of developing autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic stress can also affect health by interfering with healthy behaviors, such as exercise, balanced eating, and sleep.

Work stress can also harm companies or organizations. Burnout reduces job productivity and boosts absenteeism and job turnover, and also leads to conflict between coworkers, causing stress to spread within a workplace.

How can you cope with work stress?

All of us can benefit by learning skills to manage fear and anxiety on the job. Several skills taught in cognitive behavioral therapy may help, including these:

Relaxation strategies. Relaxation helps counter the physiological effects of the fight-or-flight response. For example, progressive muscle relaxation helps reduce muscle tension associated with anxiety. To practice this skill, sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Working from your legs upward, systematically tense and relax each major muscle groups. Hold the tension for 10 seconds; release tension for 20 seconds. Each time you release muscle tension, think “relax” to yourself. This skill and many other relaxation strategies can help reduce symptoms of anxiety. Problem-solving. Problem-solving is an active coping strategy that involves teaching people to take specific steps when approaching a roadblock or challenge. These steps include defining the problem, brainstorming potential solutions, ranking the solutions, developing an action plan, and testing the chosen solution. Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Stress can be exacerbated when we spend time ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or engaging in self-criticism. Mindfulness helps to train the brain to break these harmful habits. You can cultivate mindfulness skills through formal practice (like guided meditation) and informal exercises (like mindful walking), or try mindfulness apps or classes. Mindfulness-based therapies are effective for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Reappraising negative thoughts. Chronic stress and worry can lead people to develop a mental filter in which they automatically interpret situations through a negative lens. A person might jump to negative conclusions with little or no evidence (“my boss thinks I’m incompetent”) and doubt their ability to cope with stressors (“I’ll be devastated if I don’t get the promotion”). To reappraise negative thoughts, treat them as hypotheses instead of facts and consider other possibilities. Regularly practicing this skill can help people reduce negative emotions in response to stressors.

The post How to handle stress at work appeared first on Harvard Health Blog.


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