Can you can think yourself thin?

No, but the right thoughts influence whether you lose weight. It took me a long time to learn this because for a lot of my adult life I was a competitive rower. This involved training 2 or 3 times per day and burning a lot of calories—over 4000/day. I stuffed myself with lots of food. All kinds of food, including healthy stuff like salad and also less healthy stuff like pizza and chocolate cake. For normal amounts of exercise it’s true that you can’t outrun a bad diet, but I was doing more than normal, and I burned it all off.

You can’t outrun a bad diet

When I retired from rowing I thought a bit about diet because some of my friends who retired got fat. I continued training and watched what I ate a bit. Thankfully, I’d learned healthy eating habits from my Mom, who was an amazing cook, so remained and prided myself on being lean and generally healthy.

That all changed when my wife was pregnant two years ago. For 3 months, she was nauseous and wouldn’t finish the food on her plate. I’d been trained as a child to finish what was in front of me, and I don’t like the idea of wasting food. So, after eating all my food, I would eat what she had left. Repeat for three months, and the result was predictable: I gained 5kg (12 lbs). That was 6% of my bodyweight, and my ‘body mass index’ (or BMI) increased to 27, which is considered overweight. It affected me. I couldn’t do some of my favourite yoga poses without feeling my belly squishing into me. Walking up flights of stairs puffed me out more easily, and I felt lethargic.

Walking up flights of stairs puffed me out more easily, and I felt lethargic.

Thomas Schultz/Wikimedia

Brain thinkingSource: Thomas Schultz/Wikimedia

Before reading any further, this blog is about the many of us who are or who have struggled with losing excess weight. Some people don’t eat enough and are underweight—if you are one of them, this doesn’t apply to you, please seek help.

At first, I thought it would be easy to burn the extra fat. After all, I was a disciplined athlete, and am a disciplined scholar. But the extra 5 kilograms was a tough opponent. I tried weighing myself every day, saying no to junk food and tracking my calories. I flirted with a ketogenic diet. All those things would start well, then I would fall off the wagon, binge, and get right up to where I started. I even tried a 10-day fast where I consumed nothing but water. I lost the weight but then binged on all the foods I had been dreaming of while fasting. Two years went by and I had little success.

My light bulb moment was when I started fasting on the (wrong) thoughts about food.

My light bulb moment was when I started fasting on the (wrong) thoughts about food. Instead of fighting the action of getting the chocolate cake, I would consciously direct my attention to something else, like the more lasting pleasure I feel from losing the additional weight. Instead of acting on the feeling of hunger by grabbing some grub, I would think to myself, ‘the feeling of an empty stomach is good, it makes me feel light’.

The fact that thoughts were important shouldn’t have surprised me, since I do mind/body research. Also, it’s common sense that we need positive thoughts to begin the challenging task of returning to or maintaining a healthy weight. To prove this, imagine the opposite—imagine you had the negative belief that you just can’t change. Some people, like those with severe genetic conditions, really can’t change. But the vast majority of us are capable of modifying our thoughts and behaviours, at least to some degree. If you start off with that negative thought, you won’t bother to even start on the path towards a healthy weight.article continues after advertisement

More generally, thoughts or desired precede actions (philosophical caveats notwithstanding). The thought of walking on the moon arose before anyone actually did it, and the thought or desire of eating chocolate cake arose before I did it. Even the thought of fasting on (wrong) thoughts of food occurred before I started fasting on them. So, in a sense, addressing thoughts around losing weight is primary.

As illuminating as it was to me, the idea that thoughts affect whether we lose unnecessary weight has been around for a long time. Psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapyhypnosis, and mindfulness show promising effects for achieving weight loss. Going back even further, fasting from food includes a spiritual dimension that involves fasting from wrong thoughts in HinduismChristianityIslam, and Judaism.

So, it’s not new that thoughts help lose weight. What is new, is that it’s become more important. A quarter to a third of people in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, and many other countries are obese. Latest research shows that obesity is poised to overtake smoking as a preventable cause of cancer in the United Kingdom and United States. Obesity has even been called the ‘World’s Public Enemy Number 1’.

…the journey towards healthy weight begins with the right thought and staying on the right path depends partly on avoiding wrong thoughts.

To be sure, we need more than just the right thoughts to lose weight. We also need knowledge of nutrition and exercise. However, the journey towards healthy weight begins with the right thought and staying on the right path depends partly on avoiding wrong thoughts.


Madigan CD, Hill AJ, Hendy C, Burk J, Caterson ID. ‘Say no’: a feasibility trial of a brief intervention to reduce instances of indulgent energy‐intake episodes.

Lawlor ER, Islam N, Griffin SJ, et alThird-wave cognitive behaviour therapies for weight management: systematic review and network meta-analysis protocol BMJ Open 2018;8:e023425. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-023425

British Library plans new base in Leeds

The British Library is planning to expand its presence outside London, with a new base in Leeds and improvements to its site near Wetherby.

Proposals for the new British Library North were discussed at a recent board meeting, it has been confirmed.

The move would come as part of a wider plan for the library to mark Leeds’ year of cultural celebration in 2023.

Library bosses are also focused on improving its site in Boston Spa, near Wetherby, a spokesman said.

The base in the town is the home of the UK’s national newspaper collection, which comprises more than three centuries of local, regional and national newspapers.

There is also an extensive haul of books, microfilm, sound recordings and electronic resources.

A spokesman said: “The primary focus of our British Library North programme is to invest in the estate on our existing site at Boston Spa, near Wetherby, to expand archival-standard storage facilities for the collections under our custodianship, and to refurbish the staff areas, much of which is outdated.

“These plans are now well-advanced and we are in the process of developing an outline business case for renewed investment in the Boston Spa site.”

Plans for a new British Library North were initially reported in The Guardian on Monday.

The British Library
Image captionPlans for a presence in Leeds after 2023 would be discussed in the coming months, the library said

The spokesman said it was working to expand its culture and learning programme in the run up to the 2023 festival.

Plans for a longer-term presence in Leeds after that would be discussed in the coming months, he added.

Council leader Judith Blake said the library was important to the “cultural, digital and economic landscape”.

Mrs Blake added: “Leeds has ambitious plans for making the most of our cultural strengths as we work with partners towards 2023.

“We are delighted to have a strong relationship with the British Library… and we look forward to working with them in the years ahead, as one of a wide range of organisations who see the opportunities available here.”

First ever black hole image released

In the News

Accomplishing what was previously thought to be impossible, a team of international astronomers has captured an image of a black hole’s silhouette. Evidence of the existence of black holes – mysterious places in space where nothing, not even light, can escape – has existed for quite some time, and astronomers have long observed the effects on the surroundings of these phenomena. In the popular imagination, it was thought that capturing an image of a black hole was impossible because an image of something from which no light can escape would appear completely black. For scientists, the challenge was how, from thousands or even millions of light-years away, to capture an image of the hot, glowing gas falling into a black hole. An ambitious team of international astronomers and computer scientists has managed to accomplish both. Working for well over a decade to achieve the feat, the team improved upon an existing radio astronomy technique for high-resolution imaging and used it to detect the silhouette of a black hole – outlined by the glowing gas that surrounds its event horizon, the precipice beyond which light cannot escape. Learning about these mysterious structures can help students understand gravity and the dynamic nature of our universe, all while sharpening their math skills.

How They Did It

Though scientists had theorized they could image black holes by capturing their silhouettes against their glowing surroundings, the ability to image an object so distant still eluded them. A team formed to take on the challenge, creating a network of telescopes known as the Event Horizon Telescope, or the EHT. They set out to capture an image of a black hole by improving upon a technique that allows for the imaging of far-away objects, known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI.

Telescopes of all types are used to see distant objects. The larger the diameter, or aperture, of the telescope, the greater its ability to gather more light and the higher its resolution (or ability to image fine details). To see details in objects that are far away and appear small and dim from Earth, we need to gather as much light as possible with very high resolution, so we need to use a telescope with a large aperture.

That’s why the VLBI technique was essential to capturing the black hole image. VLBI works by creating an array of smaller telescopes that can be synchronized to focus on the same object at the same time and act as a giant virtual telescope. In some cases, the smaller telescopes are also an array of multiple telescopes. This technique has been used to track spacecraft and to image distant cosmic radio sources, such as quasars.

The aperture of a giant virtual telescope such as the Event Horizon Telescope is as large as the distance between the two farthest-apart telescope stations – for the EHT, those two stations are at the South Pole and in Spain, creating an aperture that’s nearly the same as the diameter of Earth. Each telescope in the array focuses on the target, in this case the black hole, and collects data from its location on Earth, providing a portion of the EHT’s full view. The more telescopes in the array that are widely spaced, the better the image resolution.

To test VLBI for imaging a black hole and a number of computer algorithms for sorting and synchronizing data, the Event Horizon Telescope team decided on two targets, each offering unique challenges.

The closest supermassive black hole to Earth, Sagittarius A*, interested the team because it is in our galactic backyard – at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, 26,000 light-years (156 quadrillion miles) away. (An asterisk is the astronomical standard for denoting a black hole.) Though not the only black hole in our galaxy, it is the black hole that appears largest from Earth. But its location in the same galaxy as Earth meant the team would have to look through “pollution” caused by stars and dust to image it, meaning there would be more data to filter out when processing the image. Nevertheless, because of the black hole’s local interest and relatively large size, the EHT team chose Sagittarius A* as one of its two targets.

The second target was the supermassive black hole M87*. One of the largest known supermassive black holes, M87* is located at the center of the gargantuan elliptical galaxy Messier 87, or M87, 53 million light-years (318 quintillion miles) away. Substantially more massive than Sagittarius A*, which contains 4 million solar masses, M87* contains 6.5 billion solar masses. One solar mass is equivalent to the mass of our Sun, approximately 2×10^30 kilograms. In addition to its size, M87* interested scientists because, unlike Sagittarius A*, it is an active black hole, with matter falling into it and spewing out in the form of jets of particles that are accelerated to velocities near the speed of light. But its distance made it even more of a challenge to capture than the relatively local Sagittarius A*. As described by Katie Bouman, a computer scientist with the EHT who led development of one of the algorithms used to sort telescope data during the processing of the historic image, it’s akin to capturing an image of an orange on the surface of the Moon.

By 2017, the EHT was a collaboration of eight sites around the world – and more have been added since then. Before the team could begin collecting data, they had to find a time when the weather was likely to be conducive to telescope viewing at every location. For M87*, the team tried for good weather in April 2017 and, of the 10 days chosen for observation, a whopping four days were clear at all eight sites!

Each telescope used for the EHT had to be highly synchronized with the others to within a fraction of a millimeter using an atomic clock locked onto a GPS time standard. This degree of precision makes the EHT capable of resolving objects about 4,000 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope. As each telescope acquired data from the target black hole, the digitized data and time stamp were recorded on computer disk media. Gathering data for four days around the world gave the team a substantial amount of data to process. The recorded media were then physically transported to a central location because the amount of data, around 5 petabytes, exceeds what the current internet speeds can handle. At this central location, data from all eight sites were synchronized using the time stamps and combined to create a composite set of images, revealing the never-before-seen silhouette of M87*’s event horizon. The team is also working on generating an image of Sagittarius A* from additional observations made by the EHT.

This zoom video starts with a view of the ALMA telescope array in Chile and zooms in on the heart of M87, showing successively more detailed observations and culminating in the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole’s silhouette. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada, Digitized Sky Survey 2, ESA/Hubble, RadioAstron, De Gasperin et al., Kim et al., EHT Collaboration. Music: Niklas Falcke | Watch on YouTube

As more telescopes are added and the rotation of Earth is factored in, more of the image can be resolved, and we can expect future images to be higher resolution. But we might never have a complete picture, as Katie Bouman explains here (under “Imaging a Black Hole”).

To complement the EHT findings, several NASA spacecraft were part of a large effort to observe the black hole using different wavelengths of light. As part of this effort, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory space telescope missions – all designed to detect different varieties of X-ray light – turned their gaze to the M87 black hole around the same time as the EHT in April 2017. NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope was also watching for changes in gamma-ray light from M87* during the EHT observations. If the EHT observed changes in the structure of the black hole’s environment, data from these missions and other telescopes could be used to help figure out what was going on.

Though NASA observations did not directly trace out the historic image, astronomers used data from Chandra and NuSTAR satellites to measure the X-ray brightness of M87*’s jet. Scientists used this information to compare their models of the jet and disk around the black hole with the EHT observations. Other insights may come as researchers continue to pore over these data.

Why It’s Important

Learning about mysterious structures in the universe provides insight into physics and allows us to test observation methods and theories, such as Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Massive objects deform spacetime in their vicinity, and although the theory of general relativity has directly been proven accurate for smaller-mass objects, such as Earth and the Sun, the theory has not yet been directly proven for black holes and other regions containing dense matter.

One of the main results of the EHT black hole imaging project is a more direct calculation of a black hole’s mass than ever before. Using the EHT, scientists were able to directly observe and measure the radius of M87*’s event horizon, or its Schwarzschild radius, and compute the black hole’s mass. That estimate was close to the one derived from a method that uses the motion of orbiting stars – thus validating it as a method of mass estimation.

The size and shape of a black hole, which depend on its mass and spin, can be predicted from general relativity equations. General relativity predicts that this silhouette would be roughly circular, but other theories of gravity predict slightly different shapes. The image of M87* shows a circular silhouette, thus lending credibility to Einstein’s theory of general relativity near black holes.

The data also offer some insight into the formation and behavior of black hole structures, such as the accretion disk that feeds matter into the black hole and plasma jets that emanate from its center. Scientists have hypothesized about how an accretion disk forms, but they’ve never been able to test their theories with direct observation until now. Scientists are also curious about the mechanism by which some supermassive black holes emit enormous jets of particles traveling at near light-speed.

These questions and others will be answered as more data is acquired by the EHT and synthesized in computer algorithms. Be sure to stay tuned for that and the next expected image of a black hole – our Milky Way’s own Sagittarius A*.

Hundreds set off on new migrant caravan

Thousands of migrants have arrived at the US-Mexico border after travelling more than 4,000km (2,500 miles) from Central America.

They say they are fleeing persecution, poverty and violence in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Many of them say their goal is to settle in the US despite warnings by US officials that anyone found entering the country illegally will face arrest, prosecution and deportation.

Where are they now?

More than 7,000 Central American migrants have arrived at the US-Mexico border after crossing Mexico and parts of Central America, according to official figures released by the Mexican Interior Ministry. They are staying in temporary shelters in the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali.

Frances, a migrant woman from Honduras taking refuge in a shelter with a caravan from Central America trying to reach the United States, dresses her one year old daughter Sujey in Tijuana, Mexico November 20, 2018.
Image captionThe migrants have been given shelter, but Tijuana’s mayor has warned that the city will not be able to provide for them for long

Those now in Tijuana are part of a migrant caravan which left the crime-ridden Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on 13 October. The group, made up mainly of Hondurans, was joined along the way by other migrants from Guatemala and El Salvador.

Map of caravan route

There are also other smaller groups of migrants which have not yet reached the US border. More than 400 are in a shelter in Mexico City and more than 250 are in the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa.

There are also four groups of Salvadoreans who have left their home country since the end of October. They are in different parts of Guatemala and Mexico, heading towards the US border.

In total the number of migrants expected to reach the border is predicted to reach 10,000.

What do they want?

The migrants say they are leaving their respective countries in the hope of building a better future for themselves and their families.

Some say they have been threatened or extorted by criminal gangs operating in their hometowns. Many are travelling with their children whom they do not want to fall prey to the gangs.

Others hope to get jobs abroad which pay enough for them to send money to their relatives who stayed behind.

Many say their dream is to reach the US. Some of them have relatives there already whom they hope to join, others have chosen it as their destination because they think they will earn higher salaries there than in Latin America.

What has been the US reaction?

Long before the first members of the caravan reached the US border, President Donald Trump labelled the migrant caravan as “an invasion”.

Ahead of the mid-term elections in the US, he tweeted dozens of time about the migrants alleging that “many gang members and some very bad people are mixed into the caravan heading to our southern border” and warning that “our military is waiting for you”.

Media captionTrump and the facts about the migrant caravan

On 2 November, just days before the mid-terms, he told voters at a rally that “if you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you’d better vote Republican”.

United States Marines fortify concertina wire along the San Ysidro Port of Entry border crossing as seen from Tijuana, Mexico November 20, 2018
Image captionConcertina wire has been strung across parts of the border to fortify it

He also deployed about 5,800 troops to the southern border to “harden” it, including adding concertina wire to some stretches of the border fence, a photo of which he tweeted on 19 November.Skip Twitter post by @realDonaldTrumpDonald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

The Fake News is showing old footage of people climbing over our Ocean Area Fence. This is what it really looks like – no climbers anymore under our Administration!

View image on Twitter

159KTwitter Ads info and privacy80.2K people are talking about thisReport

End of Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump

Mr Trump also issued an order denying the possibility of asylum to migrants crossing the southern border illegally – but that order has since been halted by a US federal judge.

The US authorities also briefly closed the San Ysidro port of entry to “restrict access to a large group attempting to run through the border crossing”.

On 20 November. US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned that “this administration will not tolerate frivolous asylum claims or illegal entry”.

What are the migrants’ options?

The migrants who have reached Tijuana are considering their options. Most of them set off with the plan of reaching the US and many say they will claim asylum there.

Media captionIsaac’s journey from Honduras to the US is made even harder by his disability

There is a legal obligation to hear asylum claims from migrants who have arrived in the US if they say they fear violence in their home countries.

Those seeking asylum must be fleeing due to a serious fear of persecution. Under international law, these are considered refugees.

If an asylum seeker enters the US illegally, they are still entitled to a hearing of their claim.

But those seeking a better quality of life – even if they are fleeing devastating poverty – are not considered refugees and do not have the same protections.

The alternative is to stay in Mexico. Outgoing Mexican President President Enrique Peña Nieto has said that those wanting to stay would be welcome and offered jobs, providing they agreed to register and comply with Mexican laws.

Migrants queue to register at an employment fair near the US-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, on November 19, 2018
Image captionSome of the migrants have registered and queued at an employment fair to sign up for work

Some migrants have also returned to their places of origin. According to the latest figures provided by Honduran officials, 7,000 Hondurans have turned back during their trek north and returned to Honduras.

Some Hondurans have cast doubt on this figure but Director of Honduras’s National Institute of Immigration Carolina Menjivar has insisted that it is accurate.

How have they been treated along the way?

When the migrants first crossed from Guatemala into Mexico, they were stopped by riot police at the bridge separating the two countries. After an at times tense stand-off, the police let them through.

Many of the Mexican towns where the migrants stopped along the way offered them shelter, food and water. Volunteers dropped off shoes and clothes and cooked meals. A number of musicians, some famous, others less so, also turned up at the camps to entertain the migrants and lorry drivers offered lifts.

But in Tijuana, hundreds of people protested against their arrival holding up signs reading “no to the invasion”.

Media captionAnti-migrant protesters clashed with a pro-migrant demonstrator in the Mexican city of Tijuana

Why did they form a caravan?

Honduras, which has a population of about nine million, has endemic problems with gang violence, drug wars and corruption. The wider region has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

While Central Americans have long fled their homelands for the US and have sometimes joined forces along the way, the organised nature of this caravan is relatively new.

Migrants are often kidnapped by people traffickers and drugs gangs which force them to work for them. A large group such as this one is harder to target and therefore offers more protection.