Playtime and Friends Improve Weight Loss

25 Apr
Window view before take-off of Southwest planes.

Southwest Airlines' Spirit magazine's April 2012 issue included two articles--one about playtime and the other about weight loss camaraderie--that mirror our efforts with the Diet Drop project.

When my husband and I were flying back from New Jersey to LA, I couldn’t sleep or reach my book so I read the Southwest Airlines’ magazine, Spirit (April, 2012, issue). Two articles caught my attention and reflected some of the goals and philosophies we share on Diet Drop. The first article is, “It’s Called Play,” which, in a nutshell, states that playtime at any age is essential to a health and creative thinking; and the second is, “Dynamo, Mississippi,” which parallels our emphasis on companionship and how it can greatly increase long-term weight loss success. Read on for more insights and highlights from experts that mirror our efforts with Diet Drop.

The article, “Play,” which encourages stepping away from normal critical thinking habits to explore new ideas, seems to be a growing trend for current media focus. Just other night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the author of, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” Jonah Lehrer, was describing how our brains, when we hit a block during a project, need to step away from the issue at hand and go relax in some way (exercise, shower, drink a beer, watch a cartoon, etc.) in order to allow our brains to make new, creative connections between ideas that had previously eluded us. These topics made me think about the benefits that Diet Drop has been offering Vita, myself, and apparently my husband as well, who told me last night that all of my cooking modifications (healthier combinations and portion control) have caused him to lose more than 10 pounds in the last few months (and trust me, he’s not deprived in any way). My immediate reaction was, “At least it’s working for you,” before I quickly checked my jealousy and told him how happy I am for him, which I truly am. It makes me feel good to know that the creative ways in which Vita and I have been using our discussions about health and weight loss to explore new recipes, better understand eating habits, and motivate each other to be healthier and more active is not only working for us but also other people around us (hopefully more than just our husbands, dear readers). And since my husband has had such good results, I’m a little more optimistic that our next weigh-in–next week!–will bring more good news than bad.

Playtime in the kitchen and outside are essential to having fun while losing weight…and maintaining that weight loss. One of the best parts about the Diet Drop project for me has been trying out new recipes with healthy ingredients. And usually when I’m testing out new ideas in the kitchen, I end up standing for an hour or two, which is a good calorie-burning activity. Having such a great anti-diet diet buddy like Vita makes tackling new cooking challenges and getting out of the house for some fresh air much easier and more frequent. When she and I were out on her photo shoot the other day, I hardly realized we’d been walking and hiking for nearly two hours because we were having fun and not focusing on the workout itself. And through our conversations and this blog, we are learning to better recognize and incorporate these new habits into our lives.

Favorite quotes and tips from, “It’s Called Play:”

  • “Play-deprived adults can learn big lessons [about play] backed by the latest science: One: Fancy toys, programmed activities, and ‘enrichment’ don’t hold a candle to a kid’s (or kitten’s) own improvising. Two: Unsupervised activity of the kind that terrifies modern, safety-obsessed parents can be good for developing brains as well as bodies. Three: Outdoors trumps indoors, fitness-wise.”
  • “Dr. Stuart Brown, an acclaimed medical researcher who founded the Institute for Play, conducted a study on murderers….Brown discovered that ‘the absence of play in their childhood was as important as any other single factor’ that distinguished the murderers from normal people….People have fun, Brown says, to ‘make cognitive connections.’ Play, in short, makes us more flexible and adaptable.”
  • “We need play in our lives in much the same way that we need sleep.”
  • Fun Facts About Playtime for All Ages: Laughing is good for kids and adults because it releases feel-good chemicals call endorphins while suppressing stress hormones and strengthening the immune system. Crouching may be hard for your knees, but varying your position helps improve blood flow, which can improve cardiovascular health. Walking without seeing (blindfolded) helps improve the proprioceptors–the nerve endings that help us wtih balance and speed up our reaction time. Cooperative play helps us keep up our teamwork skills. Playing outside lessens the likelihood of nearsightedness and depression. Describing a stick as something other than a stick builds presentation skills. Playing pretend spurs improvisation, and helps us learn how to connect factors that may seem irrelevant; this, in turn, helps us gain fresh insights in our work.

The “Dynamo” article is about a woman who used her ingenuity and creativity to mobilize her entire town and start a movement to get Mississippi off of the list of most obese states (it has held the #1 spot for the last seven years). Linda Fondren, the community activist whipping everyone into shape, watched her sister die of cancer and diabetes. It was part of what inspired her to open a gym. She used “social persuasion” to help motivate others, instructing her staff to work out with every woman who came in, knowing that if they had fun–the keyword is fun!–with each other, working out wouldn’t be a chore but would be something they could stick with. This is something that is working for me and Vita. I have become much more committed to staying accountable to making healthy choices because I know we share this common goal and we’re having fun together with it. Using her successful gym as a platform, Fondren pestered her local city officials and launched the Shape Up Vicksburg campaign, which included city-wide walking events, weigh stations around town, nutrition classes in schools, commitments from public figures to lose weight, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings at the hospital, “Biggest Loser” style weight loss challenges, and free gym classes. Her efforts prove not only that one person can make a difference, but also that all of these methods worked and helped people lose weight and improve their health…while having fun doing it. After many months, the town lost a collective 17,000 pounds!

Highlights from the article, “Dynamo, Mississippi:”

  • “With an adult obesity rate of 34.4%, and a child and adolescent obesity rate of 21.9%, [Mississippi] also has a high rate of related illnesses; 11.8% of the population has diabetes, and 34.8% suffer from hypertension.”
  • “Regardless of fitness level, walking seemed to be the great equalizer. ‘Not everyone will hop around,’ Linda says, hopping around. ‘What everyone likes to do is walk. Anybody can walk.'”
  • “‘It’s not so much about tracking the pounds; it’s about prompting the action, getting communities to move so that we are all helping each other. Because if we’re not helping each other, my goodness, we might as well hang it up.’ That group approach is one part of success, says Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., professor at Tufts University and the director of the John Hancock Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention. ‘When you bring like-minded people together, the network can be much more effective. That’s a key element,’ she says.”
  • “After eating better and working out, [elementary school teacher Amy Wilkes] saw her cholesterol drop to just under 100 points. Her doctor cut her medication dosage in half. ‘I can see, numerically, the difference that it’s making in my life. There are tangible results,’ she says.”

With all this fun evidence in mind, I invite you to do like Vita and I did: Find a friend and get started making small daily choices that will add up to improved overall health. And let us know how it goes! We all need the reinforced encouragement!

Good luck! And stay healthy, my friends. :)

–Michelle

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2 Responses to “Playtime and Friends Improve Weight Loss”

  1. thelovecatway April 27, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Men seem to be able to gain or lose multiple pounds at the drop of a hat when they want, while we women struggle and sacrifice for every single inch. I have a young daughter, so playtime comes easily in this house, but any adult can find fun ways to play – WII active video sports; music/dancing while cooking or cleaning; walking, hiking, or swimming outside; even letting the inner child out to swing on a swing or splash around in the rain… the possibilities are endless!

    • Diet Drop April 27, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

      You’re so right! Women’s bodies are designed to retain weight for obvious reasons guys don’t have to worry about. I love the ideas you listed and finding fun calorie-burning everyday activities…and maybe a Wii for Christmas. :) –Michelle

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