3 unexpected ways to help you lose weight

After all the hullabaloo generated by my passing on the accurate but controversial information that exercise will not help you lose weight, I thought I should give equal time to the other side, and discuss several things that appear to help enhance efforts at weight loss.

Sleep

Although I’m not aware of any formal studies documenting this, I can report from personal and professional experience that the value of sufficient sleep of adequate quality is pretty darned important for optimal functioning of the human body. People who don’t get into the deeper stages of sleep because their airways collapse when they inhale (obstructive sleep apnea) basically live their lives in a state of chronic sleep deprivation. Among other things, this requires increased sympathetic tone (chronic low level activation of the fight-or-flight system, for you non-medical types) which raises blood pressure, and activates other stress hormones, which probably stimulate appetite.

As far as weight loss goes, I’ve noticed that my weight loss is directly proportional to how much sleep I’m getting. Sure, it’s an n of 1, but if nothing else, the more hours you’re asleep, the less time you have to hang out in the kitchen and stuff your face while standing at the fridge.

Chocolate

That’s right: it looks like people who consume one ounce of dark chocolate daily (not much, to be sure) lose more weight than people who do not, given the same caloric intake and exercise output. It’s entirely possible, though, that limiting oneself to just a single ounce a day is a proxy marker for people with more willpower, who are therefore going to do better with overall caloric restriction. Whatever; pass the dark chocolate kisses, and don’t say I never said you couldn’t eat anything good.

Vitamin D

Humans are able to produce vitamin D from sunlight. However since we’re all supposed to stay out of the sun so we don’t get skin cancer, we all get vitamin D deficient instead. Regarding weight loss, recent findings show both that older women who are vitamin D deficient may be heavier than those who are not, and that vitamin D levels before beginning a diet predict weight loss success.

I’ve been checking vitamin D levels in my patients more or less routinely for about two years now, and using accepted cutoffs of 30 ng/ml for adequate and 20 ng/ml as deficiency (20-30 is “insufficiency”), I find my patient population divides roughly one third into each of those groups (ie 1/3 are >30, 1/3 are between 20 and 30, 1/3 are <20). What does this actually mean for health? Some people I respect believe that most people with levels above 20 are perfectly healthy, and they think the recent emphasis on repletion and supplementing is overkill. My take is that even though we may not yet understand all the intricacies of vitamin D metabolism, especially the role(s) it may play in areas other than bone, muscle, and calcium metabolism, it can’t be good to be low. Supplementation is cheap and safe (toxic is over 100; the only person I’ve seen in that range was taking 10,000 IU a day (vs 1000 or 2000), and her level was only 101). Unlike my overly cautious friend, I see no downside to getting everyone at least to 30.

So there you have it; some other things to try for weight loss in addition to eating less. Now please excuse me while I go grab a little dark chocolate, wash it down with a glass of milk*, and take a nap.

*Actually, milk only has 100 IU of vitamin D per eight ounces. Given that I find most people (at least at my latitude) need 1000-2000 IU daily, milk is a pretty inefficient way to get your D. But it read better than washing the chocolate down with a little gelcap.

Lucy Hornstein is a family physician who blogs at Musings of a Dinosaur, and is the author of Declarations of a Dinosaur: 10 Laws I’ve Learned as a Family Doctor.

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  • http://twitter.com/NCBeernut Scott

    Do you think the association between Vitamin D deficiency and higher weight could be confounded by the likelihood that people who are more physically active are outdoors more, leading to more sunlight exposure and therefore, more active Vitamin D? It seems this is the more likely association. The role of Vitamin D is to promote absorption of calcium and phosphorus and is necessary for bone formation/growth/repair. The only other functions I am aware of relate to immune function and muscle strength. When it comes to weight loss, it just doesn’t seem as likely that there is a causative effect, but rather, people who are healthier just absorb more rays.

    • http://twitter.com/DrSherryPagoto Sherry Pagoto

      Scott, your hunch is supported by our lab’s data which shows that physically active people actually do spend more time outside in the sun and also use less sun protection (thereby increasing their risk for skin cancer). This would support them having a higher dose of Vit D –especially given they are less inclined to use sun protection than their inactive counterparts. I would be very cautious about assuming causality from the correlation data on Vit D and body mass index, given there are so many factors that may be driving that relationship. I don’t think the research is compelling enough to advise obese patients that taking vitamin D will help them lose weight. My fear would be that they would put hope into the vitamin and then possibly less effort into the lifestyle changes that we know have an impact—eating less and exercising more. There is just no way around it.

  • http://twitter.com/DinoDocLucy Lucy Hornstein

    Except that in temperate latitudes and above, especially during winter, there isn’t enough UV radiation to produce much vitamin D from sunlight. I’ve been doing levels on my patients for about 3 years now, and it’s surprising how little correlation there is between measured Vitamin D levels and reported levels of sun exposure.

    I think there’s more going on with Vitamin D than we know about yet. in any event, it can’t possibly be good to have low levels. I recommend 2000 IU daily for just about all my adult patients.