Why Giving Up Diet Soda Should be Your New Year’s Resolution



With 2018 right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about making New Year’s resolutions. While it can be tempting to commit to as many positive changes to your lifestyle as you can imagine, it can be overwhelming to try and address too many areas of concern all at once. Instead, set manageable goals, stay focused and take one resolution at a time. Doing so will be of benefit whether you’re someone who gets excited by the idea of making resolutions — or someone who lowered your New Year’s expectations a long time ago.

A Great Resolution to Get Started

If getting healthy is one of your main goals for 2018, we suggest starting with a New Year’s resolution to give up soda — specifically, diet soda. While diet soda may appear to be a healthy choice on the surface, it’s actually quite the opposite. Below are some of the main reasons you should remove diet sodas from your diet.

Artificial Sweeteners Have Negative Effects on the Body

Artificial sweeteners possess a greater intensity of flavor than real sugar. Consuming products that contain artificial sweeteners, such as diet soda, can gradually dull our senses. The result? Naturally sweet foods, such as fruits and vegetables, stop tasting as appetizing.

Additionally, artificial sweeteners have been shown to have the same effect on the body as sugar. Like sugar, these artificial sweeteners trigger the release of insulin, sending your body into fat storage mode and leading to weight gain.

Drinking Diet Soda Can Lead to Weight Gain

Just because diet soda is calorie-free doesn’t mean it will help you in your weight loss efforts. In fact, researchers from the University of Texas found that, over a 10-year period, diet soda drinkers experienced a 70 percent greater increase in waist circumference compared with those who didn’t drink diet soda. Even worse, study participants who drank two or more diet sodas a day experienced a whopping waist circumference increase of over 500 percent.

Drinking Diet Soda is Associated with an Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found that drinking just one diet soda a day can increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome by 36 percent. Metabolic syndrome is the term used to describe a group of conditions — including high blood pressure and elevated glucose levels — that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Diet Soda Has Zero Nutritional Value

In addition to not consuming any calories when you drink diet soda, you’re also not putting any nutrients into your body. And your body needs nutrient-rich foods to stay healthy and function optimally. Replace diet soda with beverages that offer actual health benefits, such as antioxidant-rich green tea and mineral water.

Conventional wisdom to the contrary, there’s nothing healthy about diet sodas. Stop relying on their empty promise to help you slim down and stay fit. Make avoiding diet sodas your number one New Year’s resolution. You’ll begin feeling better before you know it. And, with those improvements, you’ll be that much more prepared to take on your other resolutions — one by one.

Artificial sweeteners are not as sweet as they seem

artificial sweeteners

For years, people have used artificial sweeteners to lose weight. Once they begin a diet, they switch from consuming sugar to using products such as aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda) and steviocide (Stevia) in hopes of satisfying their sugar cravings without interfering with their weight loss efforts.

But do artificial sweeteners really help with weight loss? According to a recent ABC News article, they don’t. In fact, studies show the opposite: Over time, artificial sweeteners are actually linked to weight gain.

Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Gain

Thirty studies from the Canadian Medical Association Journal that followed groups of people using artificial sweeteners over several years have recently been newly reviewed. The new analysis of these studies looked at the long-term heart health, stroke incidence and blood pressure levels of more than 406,000 people who said they use artificial sweeteners in place of sugar.

Instead of finding that consuming artificial sweeteners had positive effects, the analysis found that regular consumption of these sweeteners was associated with:

  • Modest long-term increases in weight and Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Higher risk of obesity
  • Higher risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Higher risk of stroke

Even people in studies that took place over a shorter period of time did not show any consistent weight loss after six months.

Why Artificial Sweeteners Don’t Help Weight Loss Efforts

In the ABC News article, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ chief women’s health correspondent, states that any sweetener can trigger the same response from the brain, whether it’s regular table sugar, honey or an artificial sweetener. Ashton says that all sweeteners trigger the reward centers in our brains, ultimately leading us to want more — so we end up eating more.

When people use “diet” products like sodas, food or sweeteners, they tend to eat more calorie-heavy foods as a “balance.” The medical world has known for quite some time that artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain, and some experts believe that the chemicals in artificial sweeteners may create a reaction in the human body that causes weight gain.

What does this mean for people looking to lose weight? It’s pretty simple. Forget the “diet” foods and drinks and focus on learning proper portion control and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Spices with health benefits

spices with health benefits

Do you use spices regularly in your cooking? If not, you should start. Here’s why.

The Benefits of Using Spices

Not only do spices add a ton of flavor to your food, but they offer great health benefits. Here are a few ways spices are good for your health:

1. Aid Weight Loss

Spices can help to increase your metabolism, helping you to lose weight. For example, studies have shown that capsaicin (found in chili peppers), may cause the body to burn extra calories for 20 minutes after eating.

2. Improve Heart Health

Research has shown cultures that eat spicy foods have a lower rate of heart attack and stroke. This may be because chili peppers can reduce the damaging effects of bad cholesterol (LDL). Additionally, the capsaicin in chili peppers may fight inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease.

3. Protect Against Cancer

According to the American Association for Cancer Research, capsaicin has the ability to kill some cancer and leukemic cells. Also, turmeric (a spice found in curry powder and some mustards) may slow the spread of cancer and the growth of tumors.

4. Protect Against Diabetes

Inflammation and high blood sugar levels both largely contribute to diabetes. Spices can improve blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation, helping to prevent or improve diabetes.

5. Improve Your Mood

Spicy foods increase your body’s production of “happy” hormones, like serotonin, which can help lessen stress and mild depression.

How to Get Spices into Your Diet

Small amounts of both dried and fresh spices can provide health benefits, so don’t worry if you’re not a spicy food person!

Below are some easy and delicious ideas for using spices in your cooking:

  • Put some slices of ginger or a pinch of cumin in a cup of hot tea
  • Add chopped chili peppers to soups, stews and chili
  • Coat shrimp in cumin and coriander and then sauté
  • Grate fresh ginger into vinaigrette
  • Add red pepper flakes or chopped ginger to stir-fry dishes
  • Make chicken curry
  • Sprinkle ground ginger on cooked carrots
  • Add cumin to brown rice or red lentils
  • Sprinkle ground cloves on applesauce or add to quick bread batters
  • Sprinkle turmeric* on egg salad, add to a chicken or seafood casserole or add to water when cooking rice

*To absorb 2,000 percent more turmeric, pair it with black pepper

Start with the suggestions above and then let them inspire you to experiment with your own ideas. In no time, you’ll be a pro at using spices in cooking and will enjoy the great taste of your food, as well as the added health benefits.

Can you be obese and still be healthy?

obese and healthy

Obesity is a widespread condition in the U.S. About 35 percent of women and 31 percent of men are obese, meaning that their body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher.

In recent years, some people have said that it’s possible to be healthy and obese at the same time. The reasoning for this is that certain obese people don’t show the metabolism changes that usually come with obesity.

According to a new study from the University of Birmingham, however, the idea that a person can be both obese and healthy is a dangerous myth.

“Healthy” obesity is a myth

In the past, doctors relied on measurements like blood pressure and cholesterol levels to say whether someone was healthy or not. Some obese people don’t have the elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels that you might expect for someone of their weight.

But the University of Birmingham study, which followed the health records of 3.5 million people for 20 years, shows that these seemingly healthy numbers don’t mean that these people are actually healthy.

Obesity increases risk of heart disease and stroke

Contrary to claims of “healthy obesity,” this University of Birmingham study showed that obese people are greater risk for certain diseases.

Compared to people with a normal weight and a healthy metabolism, obese people are at a 49 percent increased risk of heart disease and a whopping 96 percent increased risk of heart failure.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, the health effects of obesity go beyond heart disease. Obesity has also been linked to cancer, liver failure, spine pain and even mental disorders, such as depression.

According to Dr. Dirk, this study is very important because it ends the myth that a person can be obese and still be healthy. “Obesity is a real medical condition in which which your body is not working effectively for you,” says Dr. Dirk.

The best solution is to tackle the core problem of weight. Making changes to your lifestyle, particularly changes in diet and physical activity, can do the trick. However, for some people, obesity surgery is the best and most realistic option.

“Surgery helps make good nutrition and exercise work better for you. It’s all about making you a healthy person,” Dr. Dirk says.

If you’re ready to take the next step towards living a healthy life, schedule an appointment with Dr. Dirk today.


New study shows lack of fitness connected to risk of heart failure

heart failure

According to a new study from UT Southwestern, reduced cardio-respiratory fitness in individuals with high body-mass index (BMI) is responsible for heart failure.

For years, we have known that individuals who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk for health problems. “Morbid obesity is a medical condition that affects the entire body,” says Dr. Dirk. One of the problems obesity can cause is heart disease.

Now, we have a better understanding of the link between a high BMI and heart trouble. This study found that a low level of fitness — not obesity itself — is the direct cause of heart failure.

In the study, which included 20,000 individuals, doctors found that low cardio-respiratory fitness (meaning the health of the heart, lungs and circulatory system) accounted for 47 percent of the risk of heart-failure hospitalization associated with increased BMI.

The study also found that once low cardio-respiratory fitness is accounted for, changes in BMI do not have a significant association with heart failure risk.

In other words, because low cardio-respiratory fitness (not high BMI) is the direct cause of heart problems, individuals can reduce their risk of heart problems by getting more physically fit. If they do that, changes in BMI (a.k.a. losing weight) have minimal effect on the risk of heart problems.

Because of this finding, the doctors conclude that the “priority should be placed on improving cardio-respiratory fitness over decreasing BMI.”

However, as we’ve discussed on this blog many times, fitness often goes hand in hand with weight. Overweight and obese individuals tend to have less energy, making it harder to do regular physical exercise. Without regular exercise, overall cardio-respiratory fitness declines. And, as the study shows, low cardio-respiratory fitness results in increased risk for heart failure.

Dr. Dirk recommends regular physical activity — along with a low-carb, high-protein diet — for losing weight and keeping it off. However, losing weight and keeping it off also lends itself to regular physical activity, because the body is in better shape to handle the stress of exercise.

It’s important to remember that overweight and obese individuals are at greater risk for other health problems in addition to heart disease.

“Obesity is a total body condition,” says Dr. Dirk. “Beyond heart failure, it can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, acid reflux, sleep apnea, joint pain and even cancer.”

Because high BMI is associated with a range of health problems, it’s important to address the root of the problem by losing weight with a healthy diet, regular exercise and, if needed, additional help through weight loss surgery.


Studies Show Obesity Causes a Range of Problems for Your Body — Even Your Brain

obesity and brain health


It’s a well-known fact that obesity can have a wide range of health impacts. We’ve discussed many of these issues on this blog, including how obesity can reduce your lifespan, increase your risk of cancer and cause cardiovascular and musculoskeletal problems.

But did you know that obesity also affects your brain? There is a small but growing body of evidence that shows that obesity can have detrimental effects on your most vital organ.

The Link Between Obesity and Brain-Related Problems

In recent years, scientists across the world have conducted studies to determine how obesity affects the brain. Their emerging conclusion is that obesity can cause a range of problems for the brain.

These include:

  • Memory deficits
  • Age-related brain degeneration, including the development of neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s Disease

Memory Deficits

Studies show that obesity is linked to brain shrinkage and memory deficits. In a University of Cambridge study, researchers found that a higher a participant’s BMI (body mass index) was, the lower they performed on memory tasks.

This could be because obesity may actually affect the structure of the brain. A Boston University School of Medicine study found that individuals with excess fat tend to exhibit lower overall brain volume.

Brain Degeneration

Besides memory deficits, obesity could also have an effect on brain aging. Another study, which utilized brain scanning, showed that being overweight or obese corresponds with a greater degree of age-related brain degeneration.

Our brains change during the natural aging process. As we become older, the brain loses white matter and shrinks. Studies have shown that obese people have less white matter in their brains compared to normal-weight individuals.

The Relationship Between Obesity and the Brain

The changes that obesity prompts the brain to undergo may also fuel obesity in turn.

Dopamine is a chemical that occurs in the brain and causes us to feel pleasure. One study found that individuals with higher BMIs have a lower concentration of dopamine receptors. In other words, the brain is unable to process the chemical that tells it to feel happy.

That means that people who are obese may not feel pleasure after eating meals of normal proportions, causing them to overeat to feel satisfied.

Past studies have also shown a link between memory and eating habits. Put simply, if someone doesn’t remember eating, they’re more likely to eat. Because obesity may have a detrimental effect on memory, scientists hypothesize that memory deficits can result in overeating among people who are already obese.

Because obesity and brain function are highly complex phenomena, scientists are still determining the precise relationship between obesity and brain problems.

While many questions still remain, Dr. Dirk says, “There is no question that obesity accelerates and worsens various medical conditions and thus can be considered an ‘age accelerator.'”

What Can You Do To Fight Obesity?

While the science is still unsettled, it is very likely that obesity has a negative effect on the brain, and it is certain that obesity causes a range of other problems for the body.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. According to Dr. Dirk, “The simplest way deal with obesity is to prevent it. But if you’re already overweight or obese, you should actively work to reverse it with good nutrition and exercise. If nutrition and exercise fail to produce meaningful results within one year, it’s time to consider your obesity surgery options.”

3 Strategies for Breaking Bad Habits

breaking bad habitsIf you’ve tried to lose weight in the past, you know that much of the process has to do with breaking bad habits. It might be hard to resist a morning doughnut or pass up the vending machine at work, but implementing these small changes can make all the difference when it comes to losing weight and reducing your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

So how can you change your unhealthy habits? Read on for three strategies to help you kick those bad behaviors.

Write it down

Keeping a record of the dates and times you partake in your bad habits can be the first step to stopping them. Not only will you be more conscious of your daily habits, but you may also be able to identify triggers. For example, you may realize that you only pick up candy bars in the checkout line when you’re grocery shopping before dinner. Now you can make a point of only shopping after you’ve already eaten so you won’t be tempted to snack.

Tell someone your goals

Telling someone you spend a lot of time with, like a significant other or a co-worker, that you are trying to kick a bad habit gives you some measure of accountability. Knowing that someone is there to call you out when they notice you’re indulging in your habit goes a long way toward stopping that bad behavior.

Reward yourself 

A fun way to kick a bad habit is to set a series of small goals that contribute to your larger overall goal. Every time you achieve one of these small goals, reward yourself with a healthy treat, such as a pedicure or a trip to your favorite store. For instance, if you’re trying to quit smoking, reward yourself for every month or two weeks you go without a cigarette.

Weight loss isn’t all about stopping bad habits — it’s also about building healthy new habits. If you’re ready to start a healthier lifestyle, get started with Dallas weight loss surgeon,  Dr. Dirk today.

What’s causing the rising price of insulin?


We talk a lot about the harmful effects of obesity on this blog, but today, we’re going to do a deep dive into one in particular: diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease that is generally treatable with insulin injections. In America alone, more than 29 million people suffer from some form of diabetes, and the majority of them take some type of insulin daily.

Insulin prices have risen over the years. In fact, they have almost tripled since 2002, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The spike could be attributed to many factors, like the variety of types of insulin, many of which claim to be newer or better formulas. While Dr. Dirk agrees this might be the case, he says there’s another factor affecting the supply and demand of the marketplace.

“Obesity, which is directly responsible for diabetes, has increased significantly, so it stands to reason more insulin is needed,” Dr. Dirk says.

Patients’ demand for those newer and better drugs doesn’t help matters.

“To reduce cost, diabetics can go back to the early days: small doses with frequent insulin injection, good nutrition, daily aerobic exercise… unfortunately, that advice is rarely given in today’s modern medicine,” Dr. Dirk says. “Blaming drug makers for providing what the public has asked for is just not smart.”

So what is the high cost of insulin? According to the study, the average diabetic spends $736 per year on insulin alone, not counting other diabetes-related medications or any other healthcare costs associated with the disease.

On top of the $736, the cost for diabetics also includes the time it takes to give these injections, constantly monitor blood sugar levels, make doctors’ appointments and all that comes with having a chronic disease.

But what if there were a way to cure — rather than just treat — diabetes?

“If diabetes has affected your health and you have tried everything else,” Dr. Dirk says, “the time has come to consider diabetic obesity surgery as a cure for diabetes.”

While the cost of obesity surgery can be a deterrent, for those with diabetes, it can be the most financially responsible option

How does a pregnant mother’s obesity affect the health of her baby?

pregnant obesityThe saying “a baby changes everything” isn’t just an adage. For most women, it’s a fact. Finding out that you’re pregnant changes everything from your morning routine to your spending habits.

But a recent study shows there is something’s else that needs to change before the baby is even conceived. The mother’s health is a direct influence on the baby’s health, and the weight of the mother-to-be plays a large role in the baby’s likelihood for survival.

In fact, the study showed that “among normal-weight moms, about four in 1,000 babies die after birth; among moderately obese moms, that rises to nearly six babies per 1,000 and among morbidly obese moms, it’s more than eight babies per 1,000 live births.”

While the numbers might seem small, they were consistent across the study and even across the causes of death, including SIDS and congenital abnormalities.

Though it is a sad subject to talk about, Dr. Dirk knows it is a serious one for many of his patients.

“As an obesity surgeon, I have patients who have surgery with me to make it easier to become pregnant,” Dr. Dirk says. “I tell these patients that after surgery, they can have healthy pregnancies and minimize weight gain.”

Weight gain during pregnancy is easy to overdo — many moms start “eating for two” as soon as they get the news. In reality, Dr. Dirk says a weight gain of only 20-25 pounds is healthy, and only during the last two months of the pregnancy.

Doctors can have a hard time counseling patients about the pregnancy risks of obesity. If a patient doesn’t indicate they plan on a pregnancy, it can be awkward to bring up the impact of being overweight on pregnancy months or even years before the patient is even considering a baby. On the other hand, once a patient is pregnant, it is hard to counsel them on their weight when there are so many other factors that play into having a healthy pregnancy.

Ultimately, maintaining a lifestyle that keeps your weight in check with nutritious eating and aerobic exercise is always the way to go.

“Obesity is a serious health issue at any time of our lives,” Dallas Weight Loss Surgeon, Dr. Dirk says.

Will reducing sugar in drinks help fight obesity and diabetes?

obesity and diabetes

When it comes to losing weight, there’s a prevailing belief that if you just work hard enough, cut down on sweets and focus on your weight loss goals, the weight will fall off. While it’s true that’s a great plan, what if the government stepped in to help?

That’s what a recent study from the United Kingdom proposes. New research published in the medical journal Lancet calls for the UK government and the food industry to team up to reduce the amount of sugar in sweetened beverages over time, which the study shows could lead to fewer cases of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The plan would reduce sugar and sweeteners by less than 10 percent year over year, an “imperceptible” amount. In 5 years, sugar would be down 40 percent, which the study says would leading to a drop of more than a quarter of a million new cases of type 2 diabetes over the subsequent two decades.

Dallas Bariatric Surgeon, Dr. Dirk,  says this plan is not the best, but the core idea is an obvious one — of course a reduction in calories would lead to fewer cases of obesity. On the other hand, it would not do much for those already overweight.

“Once obese and diabetic people reduce their sugar intake, there is only a small (2 percent) reduction in obesity and diabetes,” Dr. Dirk says. “What that means it is important not to become obese or diabetic. Once a person enters either diagnosis, there is a very small chance of curing those conditions by just reducing sugar consumption alone.”

The study was based on a salt reduction program that is credited with lowering stroke deaths by 42 percent in just eight years. Now, the success of the salt program is slowly being implemented in other countries.

Whether this strategy would work or not, it would make products healthier, theoretically without losing sales or upsetting customers. Stopping new cases of obesity is an honorable goal, and it could assist those already obese in efforts to lose weight. For the most part, however, they would have to go back to basics and put in the hard work it takes to drop the pounds.

“If diabetes and obesity are part of your life right now, make a change, reduce the total amount of sugar (carbohydrates) you consume every day combined with daily aerobic exercise,” Dr. Dirk says. “If that does not help, it is time to think about your obesity surgery options.”