A place in the sun: Naples, Florida, metro area tops U.S. in well-being for fourth year straight

April 19, 2019

There’s no place like home, especially if you live in Naples, Florida. For the fourth straight year, the Sunshine State’s Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island metro area has rated tops for “well-being” out of 156 communities nationwide, based on data collected in 2017 and 2018 as part of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index.

With a total well-being index score of 65.7, Naples is the ne plus ultra; followed by Salinas, California (64.5) ; Boulder, Colorado (64.5); Santa Rosa, California (64.2); and Ann Arbor, Michigan (also at 54.2).

Rounding out the top ten are Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida (63.8), Fort Collins, Colorado (63.8); Lancaster, Pennsylvania (63.7); North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida (63.6); and Ashville, North Carolina (63.6).

The Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index is calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 represents the lowest possible well-being and 100 represents the highest. The score for each metro area is based on how it stocks up within each of the five essential elements of wellbeing:

  • Career: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals;
  • Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life;
  • Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security;
  • Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community; and
  • Physical: Enjoying good health and enough energy to get things done daily.

In most cases, a difference of 1.0 to 2.0 points in the Well-Being Index score of any two areas represents a statistically significant gap and consists of meaningful differences in at least some of the five elements of well-being. Each city reported is represented as the broader metropolitan statistical area, as defined by the federal government.

The Well-Being Index score for the Naples metro area, though remaining the highest nationwide, has slipped from 67.6 for 2016-2017 to 65.7 in 2017-2018, a drop that parallels a significant two-year decline in wellbeing nationally.

Each of the top five cities for 2017-2018 has frequented the list of the top 15 well-being cities numerous times in prior years.

Highlights for top-ranking cities in specific areas of well-being in 2017-2018 include:

  • Boulder, a longtime pacesetter nationally in physical well-being, was the top U.S. city for the second year in a row for this element. The state of California provided the second- and third-ranked metros: Salinas and Santa Rosa.
  • McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, topped the nation in career well-being, marking the fourth year in a row that the city has been among the highest five nationally.
  • Naples residents have the highest social well-being, edging out Montgomery, Alabama and fellow Floridian city, Ocala.
  • After Naples, the top metro areas in financial well-being are Ann Arbor, Michigan; and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California.
  • Community well-being is highest in the Naples, Asheville, and Fort Collins (Colorado)metros

On the other end of the spectrum, the Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula metro—which garnered the third-lowest ranking in 2016-2017—had the lowest overall well-being nationally for the first time in 2017-2018; supplanting Fort Smith, Arkansas-Oklahoma and Canton-Massillon, Ohio, neither of which reached the minimum number of completed surveys required for reporting this period.

Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, Pennsylvania came in second lowest, its lowest rank ever measured; followed by Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pennsylvania. The South Bend, Indiana-Michigan metro was among the lowest 15 cities for the second straight year.

The Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula metro was among the lowest three areas for career, financial and physical wellbeing, while Tulsa (social and physical) and Rockford (community and physical) were each among the lowest three in two areas of wellbeing. New Orleans-Metairie, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama joined Gulfport with the lowest financial wellbeing.

Learn more about where your area fall on the list by consulting the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index .

Research contact: @Gallup

Coming clean: Americans actually ‘like’ this household chore

April 18, 2019

When it comes to tackling household chores, most people can identify a favorite task (or at least one they can tolerate), as well as a job that they would happily relinquish, according to findings of a survey of more than 1,000 Americans conducted by Clorox.

While favoring any chore feels like a stretch, some chores (such as vacuuming) certainly beat others (e.g., mopping), in terms of the amount of time and labor required to get them done.

Asked about their favorite task, more than one-third of respondents (37%) said they preferred doing the laundry, according to a report by Real Simple magazine.

The study—named “The Dirt on Spring Cleaning: American’s Top Cleaning Confessions”—also found that many homeowners were partial to cleaning the kitchen (chosen by 32%). And their least-favorite task? Organizing and dusting bedrooms, which is highly rated by only 11% of the survey cohort.

Clorox’s new survey shared a slew of other juicy cleaning facts: Most people are either Clean Freaks or Scramblers when it comes to tidying up, though Emotional Cleaners also are relatively common.

Fully 31% of respondents admitted that they never deep-clean their homes—or do it rarely—and 27% said that their microwave is splattered with unknown food.

Amusingly enough, a whopping 78% concede that they hide clutter or messes, mostly in a bedroom or closet, when cleaning in a rush.

The survey reveals that 93% of U.S. homeowners. are bothered by mess and dirt: Almost nobody likes living in a cluttered or dirty home. But how everyone tackles that mess can reveal a lot about different personalities and preferences—and maybe the key to a harmonious household is finding someone who will tackle the chores you like the least, and vice versa. Who knew cleaning could be so romantic?

Research contact: @Clorox

Too much information (TMI) is now a worldwide problem

April 17, 2019

Are you media-bashed? Are there just too many tweets, hashtags, news reports, Facebook comments, curated photos, streaming videos, surveys, petitions, and emails for you to process in a day—and more coming all the time?

You have plenty of company—based on findings of a study conducted in Europe by the Technical University of Denmark, Technische Universität Berlin, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and University College Cork; and published by the journal, Nature Communications.

Indeed, researchers have found that our collective attention span is narrowing due to the negative effects of an overabundance of social media, plus the hectic 24-hour news cycle to which we exposed.

What’s more, collectively, sociologists, psychologists, and teachers have warned of an emerging crisis stemming from a  fear of missing out (FOMO), the pressure to keep up-to-date on social media, and breaking news coming at us 24/7. So far, the evidence to support these claims has only been hinted at or has been largely anecdotal. There has been an obvious lack of a strong empirical foundation.

“It seems that the allocated attention in our collective minds has a certain size, but that the cultural items competing for that attention have become more densely packed. This would support the claim that it has indeed become more difficult to keep up to date on the news cycle, for example.” says Professor Sune Lehmann from DTU Compute.

The scientists have studied Twitter data from 2013 to 2016, books from Google Books going back 100 years, movie ticket sales going back 40 years, and citations of scientific publications from the last 25 years. In addition, they have gathered data from Google Trends (2010-2018), Reddit (2010-2015), and Wikipedia (2012-2017).

When looking into the global daily top 50 hashtags on Twitter, the scientists found that peaks became increasingly steep and frequent: In 2013 a hashtag stayed in the top 50 for an average of 17.5 hours. This gradually decreases to 11.9 hours in 2016.

This trend is mirrored when looking at other domains, online and offline–and covering different periods. Looking, for instance, at the occurrence of the same five-word phrases (n-grams) in Google Books for the past 100 years, and the success of top box office movies. The same goes for Google searches and the number of Reddit comments on individual submissions.

“We wanted to understand which mechanisms could drive this behavior. Picturing topics as species that feed on human attention, we designed a mathematical model with three basic ingredients: “hotness,” aging, and the thirst for something new.” says Dr. Philipp Hövel, lecturer for applied mathematics, University College Cork.

When more content is produced in less time, it exhausts the collective attention earlier. The shortened peak of public interest for one topic is directly followed by the next topic, because of the fierce competition for novelty.

“The one parameter in the model that was key in replicating the empirical findings was the input rate— the abundance of information. The world has become increasingly well connected in the past decades. This means that content is increasing in volume, which exhausts our attention and our urge for ‘newness’ causes us to collectively switch between topics more rapidly.” says postdoc Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

Since the available amount of attention remains more or less the same, the result is that people are more rapidly made aware of something happening and lose interest more quickly. However, the study does not address attention span on the level of the individual person, says Sune Lehmann:

Our data only supports the claim that our collective attention span is narrowing. Therefore, as a next step, it would be interesting to look into how this affects individuals, since the observed developments may have negative implications for an individual’s ability to evaluate the information they consume. Acceleration increases, for example, the pressure on journalists to keep up with an ever-changing news landscape. We hope that more research in this direction will inform the way we design new communication systems, such that information quality does not suffer even when new topics appear at increasing rates.”

Research contact: @DTUtweet

Autism rates ‘erupt’ in New Jersey

April 16, 2019

Researchers at Rutgers University have discovered that preschoolers in New Jersey have the highest incidence of autism ever recorded in the United States, according to an April 15 report by News-Medical.net.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today.

Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School who was responsible for running the study—in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in New Jersey—has revealed that, among four-year-olds, the rate of autism increased by 43% between 2010 and 2014; with one out of every 23 four-year-old boys being diagnosed with autism.

Zahorodny said that the increasing rates of autism in children in the Garden State show no signs of slowing, noting, “The explosive rate of autism is impossible to ignore. There’s no let-up. I really don’t understand why the rate is going up in this way.”

Risk factors associated with ASD incidence include advanced parental age, maternal illness during pregnancy, genetic mutations, and premature birth.

“These are true influences exerting an effect, but they are not enough to explain the high rate of autism prevalence,” Zahorodny said.

“There are still undefined environmental risks that contribute to this significant increase—factors that could affect a child in [his or her] development in utero or related to birth complications or to the newborn period. We need more research into non-genetic triggers for autism.”

Possible symptoms of autism in preschool-age children include delayed speech development, rejecting physical gestures of affection, avoiding eye contact, showing little interest in interacting with other children, or preferring to play with toys in a repetitive manner over engaging with imaginative play.

Children who are diagnosed with autism by their fourth birthday are often diagnosed early because they present moderate to severe symptoms of autism and catch the attention of pediatricians and early childhood educators. One in 35 children in New Jersey is diagnosed by this milestone.

The study analyzed data from the health and special education records of 129,354 children who turned four between 2010 and 2014, along with 128,655 children who were 8 years old during the same period.

The data for New Jersey was sourced from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM), a network that has monitored rates of autism diagnoses for almost 20 years.

Along with researchers in New Jersey, researchers in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin analyzed health records of almost 71,000 children.

Disparities in ASD prevalence were also highlighted by the study, with the prevalence of ASD in four-year-old white children standing at 7.7 per 1,000 children in Missouri (2014), but 29.3 in New Jersey (2014). Data for black children in New Jersey showed a prevalence of 24.7 per 1,000 (2014), and prevalence in Hispanic children was 28.2 per 1,000 in New Jersey (2014).

Zahorodny deemed the results to be “consistent, broad, and startling,” believing that “It’s very likely that the next time we survey autism among children, the rate will be even higher.”

Research contact: zahorodn@njms.rutgers.edu

Try Good Housekeeping’s 30-day mental health challenge!

April 15, 2019

You’ve heard of ice-water challenges, dietary challenges, and social media challenges—but the most popular competition right now is all about your mind and stress. Searches for 30-day mental health challenges have increased by by 668% over the past year, Pinterest recently revealed.

Do these mini, month-long resets actually work? They can, but you have to approach them the right way, Helen L. Coons,  clinical director of the Women’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Service Line at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, recently told Good Housekeeping magazine.

“We know that small, realistic, and attainable steps help us sustain good health behavior,” she said. “So if we think that we’re going to lose 50 pounds this week, we tend not to do it, but if we think … ‘I’m going to skip the cookie today,’ that’s a good start. Same thing in mental health.”

The magazine’s editors teamed up with Dr. Coons to create a 30-day mental health challenge that aims to help you leave you feeling calmer and happier at the end of the month. Even better: You don’t need to spend a lot of money or have tons of free time to participate.

Before starting the challenge, GH recommends that participants position themselves for the best results by following four core guidelines:

  • Don’t think it’s selfish: “When we’ve taken good care of ourselves, not only do we have more energy for others, but we tend to be more focused and more present,” Dr. Coons advises.
  • Tap a friend:When we share our goals, we do better. Get a group of two, three, or four friends, for added accountability.
  • If you miss a day, don’t give up:The goal isn’t to be perfect. Even if you just do 25 or 15 days, that’s still an improvement from the previous month.
  • Keep it up afterward:Improving your well-being is an ongoing process, so adopt one or two new habits that changed your mood for the better.

Now, take a look at the activities below—one for each day of the next month, no matter when you start.

The upcoming month is all about focusing on self-care and finding ways to make physical and mental health a bigger part of your life, which may sound like a lot but in practice is pretty simple. The editors have designated one easy task per day, so that participants won’t feel too overwhelmed.

1. Do a deep breathing exercise: Count backwards from ten, breathing low and slow. Try it before a meeting, in the car, or before you greet your kids or partner after a long day.

2. Catch up with a good friend: Having a strong social support system is linked with a reduced risk of depression and high blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

3. Schedule something to look forward to: Plan a fun day later this month, whether you sign up for a cooking class, plan a mother-daughter movie marathon, or use the weekend to go on a mini road trip.

4. Donate or recycle something you never use: Visit givebackbox.com to download a free USPS shipping label, pack up your donations in an empty Amazon box, and it will go directly to Goodwill.

5. Do 30 minutes of yoga: Women who took twice-weekly yoga classes experienced a bigger decrease in chronic stress compared to a control group put on a wait-list, found a 2016 study published in the journal Cogent Psychology.

6. Plan a healthy meal: It’s no secret if you eat well, you feel well.

7. Ask for help with something: Tap into that support system for some assistance where you feel spread thin. After all, it takes a village.

8. Listen to your favorite happy music: In the car, in your home, in the shower…. Bonus points if you sing along.

9. Take 10 minutes to read: Either good stuff or junk! 

10. Go for a walk at lunch: Walking for 30 minutes in a natural or urban environment is linked with reducing stress hormone levels and improving mood, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

11. Budget 20 minutes of spa time: Whether it’s a manicure or a blowout, do whatever makes you feel good. “Not because of the superficial nature of it,” says Dr. Coons, “but when we tend to feel good about how we look, that also helps our well-being.”

12. Practice a favorite hobby: Coloring, doodling, and drawing all increase blood flow to the reward circuit in the brain, according to a 2017 study out of George Washington University, but do whatever creative activity brings you joy—knitting, jewelry making, you name it.

13. Let yourself get distracted by a movie: Go out or queue something up at home.

14. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier: Getting enough sleep can improve your mood, memory, and immune system, according to the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine.

\15. Drink water instead of alcohol or soda today: You’ll save money and avoid empty calories. Win-win.

16. Schedule a game night: Enjoy some friendly competition around a game board.

17. Set a mini goal: Make sure you eat breakfast every day this week, or find a friend sign up for a 5K with you.

18. Cross a lingering item off your to-do list: You know that doctor’s appointment you’ve been meaning to make for months?

19. Compliment someone: Put a little good karma into the world.

20. Plan a night in with friends: Gossip, laugh, eat, drink.

21. Try a 5-minute meditation: Download a free mindfulness app like Headspace and you can do it anywhere when you have a spare moment.

22. FaceTime with a family member: Just seeing Grandma happy will probably make you happy.

23. Do something outside: Walk the dog or find an empty bench to soak up some sun. Or look at the moon and stars before bedtime.

24. Book a date night with your partner: If you’re single, no problem. Call up a friend who appreciates you and plan something fun instead.

25. Unfollow negative people on social media: Those influencer accounts who make you feel any bit less-than? See ya, won’t miss ya.

26. Say no to something: Take a task off your calendar or move it to a more convenient or less stressful time.

27. Have a phone-free night at home: The blue light emitted by your screen can mess your with sleep hormones, so putting the tech away early will not only let you catch up on a new book, but also help you fall asleep faster.

28. Watch a silly video that makes you laugh: Remember, it’s the best medicine.

29. Write down something good that happened today: Even if you’ve just had the worst day, jot down what you’re grateful for instead.

30. Adopt a new habit: Reflect back on the past 30 days and think about making a change. Should game night become a weekly occurrence? Did going to a walk at lunch make feel that much ready to take on the rest of day? The month may be over, but you can make your favorite activities a regular, lifelong thing.

Research contact: @goodhousemag

A new way to ‘head off’ allergy symptoms: Immunotherapy is seen as breakthrough treatment

April 12, 2019

If you are one of the 50 million people in America who suffers from seasonal allergies, you probably don’t need anybody to tell you that pollen season is here. You have been sneezing and sniffling and scratching for weeks. But what you might want to hear about is a new immunotherapy treatment in the form of a tablet that has been identified as a promising alternative to over-the-counter medicines and injections.

According to an April 11 report by ABC-TV’s Good Morning America, the new immunotherapy treatment is seen by many professionals as a breakthrough in allergy treatment. A survey by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has revealed that 73% of allergists are now offering these tablets as an effective at-home regimen.

There are typically a couple of ways in which allergy sufferers can “head off” their symptoms, according to ABC News’ Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton—either by controlling their environment (reducing the allergens that cause symptoms) or by trying medications that will block allergic responses.

In comparison to these short-term solutions, the new tablets change the immune system’s response to allergens. Patients take increasing doses of the allergens to help build up tolerance.

Indeed, the new tablet immunotherapy could be a good option for those who are already taking the immunotherapy shots, as they offer similar benefits in the form of relieving symptoms, according to Ashton.

The biggest difference between the two is that you can administer the tablets at home rather than having to go to the doctor’s office, although tablets are medication that needs to be prescribed by a doctor.

The only bad news is that, while allergy tablets do not require repeated visits to a doctor’s office, they do require strict compliance and may require up to three years of use to work.

The tablets also cannot be used by all patients, including those with severe or uncontrolled asthma. Additionally, the tablets will only take care of individual allergens, so you would need to take one tablet for each allergen that you react to. By comparison, shots are capable of taking care of multiple allergens at once.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved allergy tablets so far for only four allergens.

Research contact: @DrJAshton

Light pollution: The dark side of keeping the lights on

April 10, 2019

If you look at a NASA picture of the Earth at night, most of the world—with the exception of such areas as North Korea and central Africa —is ablaze with artificial lighting. Now, scientists are having “a lightbulb moment” about the effect of this nearly ubiquitous illumination on natural life on the planet—and the news is not good.

In fact, researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johnannesburg, South Africa, have found mounting evidence that increases in “light pollution” have resulted in a range of negative effects on all life on earth.

Light pollution is the excessive and obtrusive illumination produced by humans at night. This light is from artificial sources—mainly, from residences, offices, street lamps , billboards, and car headlights.

There are two types of light pollution: point source, which is light directly from a source; and skyglow, which is the combined and accumulated effect of point source lighting that spreads through the atmosphere. This is the slight glow one can see on the horizon if looking towards a city from a rural area.

Almost one-quarter of global land area on Earth is now under light-polluted skies, according to Bernard Coetzee, a conservation scientist at the Global Change Institute  of the University of Witwatersand. What’s more, 80% of the world’s population now lives under light polluted skies—meaning that fully one-third of humanity no longer can see the Milky Way.

This is a modern problem: Apart from the soft glow of celestial light, it is remiss of us to forget, Coetzee says, that 50% of the Earth always used to be, at any moment in time, in total darkness.

Where there are sunlight cycles and moonlight cycles, many species rely on them to time their behavior, activity, and sleep patterns; as well as when to mate and when to feed.

But now, the spatial coverage of light pollution is large, and its intensity is increasing—causing negative effects, among them, a disruption in the natural light cycles that species are cued into. These include changes in time partitioning such as singing, activity, and foraging in animals; or altering individual health.

And there is increasing evidence that lighting has negative effects on human health, as well, Coetzee reports. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates human sleep patterns and is expressed under light. Changes in light regimes away from day-night cycles caused by light pollution means that it can disrupt this vital hormone’s natural expression. This problem has been linked to obesity, reduced sleep quality, and impaired memory. In addition, because melatonin is an antioxidant that can remove free radicals, the disruption of its expression by artificial light may increase cancer risk.

A recent review in the journal, Science has outlined five key strategies to reduce lighting globally, which will not necessarily compromise its benefits. They are:

  • The introduction of light to previously dark areas should be avoided.
  • Lighting should be at the lowest usable intensity.
  • Lighting should only be used where it’s directly needed and shielded where possible.
  • Lighting should only be used when required.
  • Lighting should be “warmer”—meaning more orange colors should be used rather than in the harsh white spectrum.

“Given the extent and severity consequences, the dearth of light pollution research in Africa is a surprising oversight,” Coetzee comments, noting, “Africa still remains one of the least light-polluted continents, but this is rapidly changing with the expansion of lighting infrastructure, which it is closely tied with economic development. This is especially true for rural areas that may increasingly gain access to electrical grids and LED lights.”

While many Africans may still see the Milky Way, the expansion of lighting infrastructure is imminent. As with other global change drivers, the continent is at an important juncture to ensure that its economic trajectory does not compromise its human and environmental health. How best to do so for light pollution still remains to be decided.

Research contact: @BernardScience

Taking sides: Sleeping on your back could be bad for your unborn child

April 9, 2019

Research spearheaded by a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, England, has found that pregnant women can significantly reduce the risk of a stillbirth by sleeping on their left or right sides—but not on their backs, because that position reduces blood flow to the fetus.

In the United Kingdom, there are about nine stillbirths a day—which works out to about one in every 225 births. The findings of the new study, published on The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine website, now will be incorporated by the NHS into its Saving Babies’ Lives advisory “care bundle” for pregnant women.

Dr. Tomasina Stacey , a reader of Midwifery Practice at the University of Huddersfield, carried out her doctoral research while based at University of Auckland in New Zealand—investigating whether sleeping position could be a factor in causing stillbirths. She concluded that the small proportion of pregnant women who sleep on their backs did run a higher risk of losing their babies, because the weight of the uterus can reduce blood flow to the baby.

Her findings from this initial exploratory study were described in an article published by the British Medical Journal.

And since Stacey’s study was the first to report maternal sleep-related practices as risk factors for stillbirth, it triggered further research—culminating in a large-scale international project that gathered data from 851 bereaved mothers and 2,257 healthy pregnant women in New Zealand, the UK, Australia, and the USA.

The chief finding: After the 28th week of pregnancy, “back sleeping” increases the risk of stillbirth by 2.6 times. This heightened risk occurred regardless of the other known risk factors for stillbirth.

The NHS care bundle states: “In later pregnancy (after 28 weeks), it is safer to go to sleep on your side than on your back”. It advises practitioners to “encourage women to settle on their side when they go to sleep or have a day-time nap, rather than on their back. A woman who wakes up on her back shouldn’t worry, but should settle to sleep again her side.

Sleeping position remains an important strand of Dr. Stacey’s research. It originated when she and a team at the University of Auckland—including her PhD supervisor Professor Lesley McCowan—were investigating the relatively high rates of stillbirth in New Zealand.

“We decided to look at a range of modifiable risk factors and this was one of them,” said Dr Stacey, further noting, “The next phase is to ensure that there is consistent advice from healthcare professionals and we will be looking to see if there are ways of helping to support women to sleep in the side position.

“Only a small proportion of women will be affected,” continued Dr Stacey. “But the studies that we [conducted] following the first findings suggested that women were quite happy to change their going to sleep position if it was better for their babies.”

Research contact: T.Stacey@hud.ac.uk

Consider ‘intuitive eating’—a food plan that involves self-discovery and no calories to count

April 8, 2019

Just how much advice do we need about the food that we eat? Is it carcinogenic? Will it cause heart disease? Does it have too much fat or sugar? Will it give you gas?

Or do you just want to sit down and have a meal and stop worrying about it?

Recently there has been an increased focus on the concept of “intuitive eating,” according to a report by Newsweek—and the idea is appealing to all of us who have been stressing out in the kitchen.

Intuitive eating has been popularized by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who first published a book on the subject (Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works) in 1995 and then developed a related website.

The thing about intuitive eating is that there are no rules. According to Tribole, “Intuitive Eating is not a diet or food plan. Period. There is no pass or fail, therefore there is no ‘blowing it.’ Rather, it’s a journey of self-discovery and connection to the needs of your mind and body.  There is nothing to count:This includes no counting of calories, carbs, points, or macros.“

The goal of eating intuitively is to listen to your body and allow it to guide you on when and how much to eat, rather than being influenced by your environment, emotions or the rules prescribed by diets, Newsweek reports, noting that the concept is similar to mindful eating, and the terms are often used interchangeably.

Mindful eating involves developing an awareness of internal hunger and satiety cues, and making conscious food choices. It emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the emotional and physical sensations experienced while eating.

Unlike many other diets, intuitive eating encourages you to eat what you want; no food is off-limits. While some may expect this to lead to eating more high-fat or high-sugar foods, research suggests that this is not the case. Advocates of intuitive eating suggest that the more you restrict yourself, the more likely you are to binge later.

Indeed, Health magazine recently covered the dietary concept and said it relies on ten principles—among them:

  1. Reject the diet mentality: Stop dieting and stop believing society’s messages that quick-fix plans can deliver lasting results.
  2. Honor your hunger: Eat a sufficient amount of calories and carbohydrates to keep your body “fed” and satiated. Learn to recognize these signals in your own body.
  3. Make peace with food: Once you finally have given yourself permission to, say, have a doughnut for breakfast, you may realize that you only wanted it because it was forbidden.
  4. Challenge the food police: Ignore the voices in your head that tell you it’s good to eat fewer calories and bad to eat dessert.
  5. Respect your fullness: It’s important to eat when you are hungry—and just as important to stop when the hunger cues are no longer present.
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor: “Most people have never asked themselves the question, ‘What do I like to eat? What feels good in my body?” Tribole says. Bring the pleasure back to eating.
  7. Honor your feelings without using food: Extreme emotions can cause over-eating; but so can boredom. Being more mindful with your food and your emotions can help you sort out the overlaps.
  8. Respect your body: Do not strive to meet unrealistic expectations about how much weight you can lose or what size jeans you can squeeze into.
  9. Exercise: It’s not about finding the exercise that burns the most calories; but about finding a way to move that sustainable and that you enjoy.
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition. Eating intuitively still should involve consuming more fruits and vegetables than ice cream. But at the same time, a diet doesn’t have to be perfect to be healthy.

In terms of weight loss, Newsweek advises, it is not yet clear that intuitive eating is more effective than calorie restriction. Results from observational studies found that people who ate intuitively had a lower BMI than those who didn’t. However, since people who restrict may do so because they already have a high BMI, it is difficult to determine the true effect intuitive eating has.

Also, results from intervention studies with overweight or obese people are not clear.

For example, one review found that of the eight studies assessed, only two noted a reduction in weight from intuitive eating. In a more recent review, weight loss was seen in only eight out of 16 studies. And out of the eight, weight loss was statistically significant in only three.

Unlike other diets, the focus of intuitive eating is not on weight loss but rather on addressing the reasons why people eat. So, even if its effectiveness as a weight-loss method is uncertain, it could still provide benefits by promoting healthy eating behavior.

This possibility has been supported by research suggesting intuitive eating may lead to a reduction in binge-eating symptoms and eating for external and emotional reasons. Intuitive eating is also associated with greater positive body image, body satisfaction, positive emotional functioning and higher self-esteem.

Finally, a recent study found that higher levels of intuitive eating predicted lower eating disorder symptoms, compared with calorie-counting and frequent self-weighing. This is a contrast to typical restrictive dieting, which has been associated with an increased risk of disordered eating, one that may be greater for those who also experience symptoms of depression and low self-esteem.

While more research needs to be conducted to establish if intuitive eating can lead to weight loss, the positive effects on mental health and healthy eating behavior are promising.

Research contact: @Newsweek

Brain tingles: First study of its kind reveals physiological benefits of ASMR

April 5, 2019

It’s a phenomenon that is trending on social media, but is rarely discussed elsewhere. Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is described by most who experience it as a tingling, warm, relaxing sensation that starts in your brain and spreads throughout your body. It is triggered by a variety of subtle stimuli, such as whispering or the sound of crinkling paper—and researchers are now finding that it may benefit both mental and physical health.

In the first study of its kind into the physiological underpinnings of ASMR, researchers from the UK’s University of Sheffield and Manchester Metropolitan University have found that people who experience the phenomenon have significantly reduced heart rates compared to those who do not.

And it truly is a phenomenon: Today, there are more than 13 million ASMR-triggering videos on YouTube—and they range in subject matter from  medical examinations to haircuts and massages, to (strangely enough) towel-folding tutorials. Viewers say they watch the videos to relax, relieve stress, or sleep better.

Dr. Giulia Poerio, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, comments, “Lots of people report experiencing ASMR since childhood and awareness of the sensation has risen dramatically over the past decade due to internet sites such as YouTube and Reddit.

She notes, “Our studies show that ASMR videos do, indeed, have the relaxing effect [that has been] anecdotally reported— but only in people who experience the feeling.”

In one experiment, for example, the researchers studied the physiological changes that occurred when participants watched two different ASMR videos and one control (non-ASMR) video in a laboratory setting. Half of those who took part in the study were recruited because they identified as experiencing ASMR, while the other half were recruited as age- and gender-matched controls who did not experience ASMR.

The results demonstrated that those who experience ASMR showed significantly greater reductions in their heart rates when watching ASMR videos (an average decrease of 3.14 beats per minute) compared to those who do not. They also showed significant increases in positive emotions including relaxation and feelings of social connection.

Dr. Poerio remarked, “What’s interesting is that the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness.”

In another experiment, over 1,000 participants completed an online survey after watching a selection of ASMR and control (non-ASMR) video clips—stating how frequently they experienced ‘tingles’ and their emotional response to each video. Those who experience ASMR were also asked also answered questions about their common ASMR triggers and general experiences of ASMR.

Dr. Tom Hostler, a lecturer in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “The online study found that people who get ASMR reported feeling both more excited and more calm, as well as less stressed and less sad after watching ASMR videos, compared to people who don’t get ASMR.

“It has been widely anecdotally reported that ASMR helps people to relax, but ours is the first published experiment to show these changes in emotion. We also showed that it wasn’t just watching videos in general that had this effect, as ASMR participants didn’t respond to the ‘control’ videos we showed them in the same way.”

The paper, “More than a feeling: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is characterized by reliable changes in affect and physiology” has been published in the journal, PLOS One

Research contact:  g.poerio@sheffield.ac.uk