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Congress should care about IMF

The elephantine spending bill just passed by the U.S. Congress includes, among its numberless provisions, a measure that’s shamefully overdue. Since 2010, Washington’s paralysis has blocked badly needed changes at the International Monetary Fund. The bill will let them go forward.

This is good news. It serves U.S. as well as global interests. But the protracted delay draws attention to a deeper problem, still unresolved: Rather than lead the IMF in its vital work, the U.S. continues to settle for the role of glum bystander.

An effective IMF is an essential tool in promoting global economic stability. It can support governments that lose access to financial markets, demanding fiscal and other reforms in return. It’s also a forum for international policy coordination and analysis. These roles assume enormous importance in times of global systemic stress. Its record isn’t flawless, and further changes are needed, but nobody who’s given it a moment’s thought questions the fund’s necessity.

The U.S., out of negligence rather than calculation, has said it isn’t much interested in having an up-to-date IMF and can’t be bothered to recognize the new standing of China and other big emerging economies. The sum of Washington’s thinking on the IMF is, in effect: “Who cares?”

Doesn’t the spending bill put this right, finally? Better late than never? That would be generous. Buried along with who knows what else in the mammoth bill, the IMF provisions have not been properly debated or explained to voters. The case for an effective, adequately resourced and well-run IMF is compelling, and the U.S. government should be making it, the better to modernize and lead the institution.

Bloomberg View, Dec. 22

Every bite you take matters

Every day dieters are bombarded by flashing alerts and wheedling pleas from command centers in brain and stomach.

You know you shouldn’t indulge too much in calorie-laden holiday delicacies that instantly inflate the waistline. But then there’s that urgent signal that you must try that chocolate-clad peppermint-sprinkled graham cookie. Just a nibble. Come on. Or that velvety key lime pie. Or that hipster delicacy, fresh homemade buttermilk biscuits with your favorite cholesterol-rich toppings, such as ginger sage sausage and cheddar cheese.

Result: A nation of dieters, desperate to lose the last 10 or the first 50, seeks fresh ways to cheat the unforgiving math of calories.

Enter “intuitive eating.” The theory here is that your body knows what it is doing when it urges you to indulge. Instead of dieting, just heed the body’s signals, such as feelings of hunger, and of course, fullness. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Simple.

Researchers tested that theory in a recently published study that pitted calorie-counters against intuitive eaters. The results were, well, intuitive. Those who counted calories lost more weight than those who listened to their bodies. Almost all, however, eventually gained most of the weight back and some of the intuitive eaters ended the six-week study weighing more than when they started, Judith Anglin, associate professor of nutrition at Texas Southern University, tells us.

Conclusion: Argh.

In another study, scientists tested a variation on the theme: Instead of monitoring calories, just limit your bites.

Brigham Young University health sciences associate professor Josh West recruited 61 overweight or obese men to test the bite theory. Not surprisingly 16 dropped out in the first week. Who wants to keep a running tally of every bite? Or be tempted to wolf down a burger in three bites just to keep the daily tally low?

What a perfect way to ruin a meal.

Upshot: Intuitive eaters “do improve their psychological well-being and have less body dissatisfaction, but they don’t necessarily lose weight,” Dr. Lisa Neff, assistant professor of endocrinology at Northwestern University Feinberg Medical School, tells us.

Researchers have tried for years to unravel the intricate biology of obesity. What we know is that the communication between stomach and brain is complex, filled with hormones such as leptin and ghrelin that regulate hunger and satiety, that control cravings and contribute mightily to weight gain or loss.

Scientists have discovered that fat itself sends out chemical messages to the brain, stomach and other tissues. They’ve tried to feather out the exact roles of all these chemicals crisscrossing brain and body in hopes of short-circuiting the ones that lead people to overeat into obesity.

Still, what we know about dieting is what we knew: Calories matter. What you eat matters. How much you exercise matters.

Chicago Tribune, Dec. 24

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