Foiling the Midnight Snack Attack

On-line weight loss programs, calorie-counting apps, and even Nintendo DS weight-loss coaching games are nothing new. But a novel gadget released this month by a Brazilian “diet reeducation program” takes the tactic to a whole new level.

Enter the Virtual Fridge Lock – a high-tech security device designed to foil late night fridge raids!  Subscribers to the Meta Real program can sign up to receive a giant red magnet. They then stick this on their fridge and synch it to their social networks. Once the lock is activated, the device sends a wireless alert to all their social networks whenever the fridge is opened.  By harnessing the power and speed of social media, the idea is that on-line friends will talk you off the dietary ledge by posting words of advice and encouragement. Or if your friends aren’t the supportive type – there’s always the public shame and humiliation approach.  Either way, the Virtual Fridge Lock is meant to help you stave off the midnight munchies and pass on that slice of pizza.

And while the Virtual Fridge Lock is only available to Meta Real clients, there’s a similarly humiliating app available free of charge to the general public: Aherk! offers a “self-blackmailing service” that encourages weight loss in three easy steps.

First, the dieter defines their weight loss goal. Second, in the words of their website ‘you put your ass on the line’ by uploading an unflattering picture of yourself to the site. And lastly, after your goal deadline expires, your on-line friends vote on whether or not you achieved your goal.  If, if their opinion you failed, the picture will be posted to Facebook.

Is public shaming is the key to weight-loss success or is it just a social media marketing sham?  Although, research shows that those trying to lose weight do better with a support network or buddy, we suspect there’s nothing like being publicly outed in front of your friends on Facebook and Twitter to keep you on the straight and narrow.

Taking on Tanorexia

If you were in the US last week, you’ll recall that you couldn’t turn on the TV or download a news story without being reminded of the latest in the saga of the “tanorexic” mom Patricia Krentcil.

In case you somehow missed this news, let me recap very briefly.  New Jersey native, 44 year old Krentcil, was accused of taking her 5-year-old daughter to a tanning booth after school officials noted the child’s severe sunburn.  She was then reported to social services, arrested and charged with second-degree child endangerment

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, and for the record we think they are mainly wrongs, one thing is clear – the leathery Mrs Krentcil has a serious addiction to tanning.

Most of us watching this train wreck of a story unfold, simply want to know why.  Why would someone do that to themselves? Why would you think this looks good? Why oh why?

Well, according to researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center, people who frequently use tanning beds may be spurred by an addictive neurological reward-and-reinforcement trigger, They found that tanning produces endorphins – the brain the chemicals that provoke feelings of happiness.

This could explain why some people continue to use tanning beds despite the increased risk of developing skin cancer. About 120,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. People younger than 30 who use a tanning bed 10 times a year have eight times the risk of developing malignant melanoma. And although public knowledge of these dangers has grown, so has the regular use of tanning beds.

While most people use tanning beds only occasionally, around 10% of indoor tanners use tanning beds for more than 20 hours a year and are motivated not only by their desire to improve appearance but also because it makes them feel relaxed.

To examine what lures frequent tanners to tanning beds,  researchers studied 14 people who used tanning beds 8 to 15 times a month. During tanning sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays, participants spent part of the time in a normal tanning bed and part of the time in a tanning bed that did not emit any UV radiation. The beds were equipped with special filters that made them appear indistinguishable. On Fridays, participants were offered the chance to use the tanning bed of their choice – either one bed for the whole session or a combination of the two. Although the tanning beds looked identical, frequent tanners were not fooled. Out of the 12 people who chose to tan on Fridays, all but one selected the UV-emitting bed for the entire session. What’s more, tanners felt more relaxed and less tense after using a UV tanning bed than they did after using a dummy tanning bed.

Using tanning beds has rewarding effects in the brain so people may feel compelled to persist in the behavior even though it’s bad for them,” said Dr. Bryon Adinoff, professor of psychiatry at the Veterans Affairs North Texas Health Care System.

Participants were also administered a compound that allowed scientists to measure brain blood flow while they were tanning.  What they found was that the brain activity and corresponding blood flow patterns were similar to those seen in people addicted to drugs and alcohol.

However, just as moderate drinkers can enjoy alcohol without being addicted, not all those who go to tanning salons are addicted to UV light.  As always, all things in moderation…except of course your comments on this post, which are, as always, very welcome!