CHICAGO --- For lunch, Joy Hesemann loved to dive into a platter of deep-fried, crunchy chicken tenders with a side of ranch dressing. At night, she'd fry up ground beef for Hamburger Helper or another boxed meal for her family's dinner. Later, she'd plop in front of the TV or computer screen and rip into a bag of Oreos or potato chips.
"I knew I was constantly overeating and eating the wrong things, and I wasn't exercising," admitted Hesemann, 27, an administrative assistant from Streamwood, Ill. "I wanted to change, but I needed some motivation."
That came in the form of a new research study at Northwestern University investigating innovative ways to rehabilitate people with lousy health habits. The prerequisites: a chummy relationship with saturated fat but no acquaintance with fruits and vegetables; leisure time spent gazing at a TV or computer screen, along with an "allergy" to exercise.
In other words, a typical American lifestyle.
"That was me," Hesemann said. She signed up.
The study was designed by Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, to make change as easy as possible.
Spring knows it's overwhelming for someone with a raft of unhealthy habits to overhaul an entire lifestyle. So she wants them to just change two unhealthy behaviors to see if the others will tag along. Sort of a buy two, get two free sale. Her method is based on the Behavioral Economics Theory used by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman.
She's also helping these fat-food-loving couch dwellers flip their lifestyles with an arsenal of high-tech tools including a specially programmed Palm Pilot to monitor eating and exercise; virtual visits with a personal coach and an accelerometer which straps around the waist to record the intensity of their movements. (You call that a brisk walk")
Participants are assigned to eat more veggies and fruits or cu
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