I was about to write one of my infrequent but famous spoof articles, and the subject was going to be losing weight by dreaming about exercising. For fun, I decided to search the Internet to see if anyone else might have had the same notion. To my surprise, they had. Here’s what I discovered:
To be able to exercise while asleep, one must be able to have a so-called “lucid dream,” which is described as being aware that one is dreaming while dreaming. According to a paper by Daniel Erlacher, 51% of 919 Germans who were questioned said they had experienced at least one lucid dream.
Apparently, some lucid dreamers can also control the content of their dreams.
In the Harvard Business Review, Erlacher says, “In one experiment we asked participants to dream about doing deep knee bends. Even though their bodies weren’t moving, their heart and respiration rates increased slightly as if they were exercising.”
We need to find a group of overweight people who are also lucid dreamers. Finding the former should be easy. If there aren’t enough of the latter, subjects can be taught how to have lucid dreams in only 16 simple steps.
After explaining what a triathlon is, we tell them to dream about doing one every night for the next, say, 10 years. Would that work?
Probably not. A more scientific discussion of whether calories are actually burned while dreaming appeared in a blog called “The Naked Scientists.” Someone asked whether running in a dream burned calories. They explained that while brain metabolic activity increases and a few calories are expended while dreaming, they doubt that there would be any meaningful effects on fitness levels or weight loss. Unless sleepwalking occurred, one of them said, with tongue-in-cheek.
I think the dream scenario is too complicated anyway.
Here’s another potential solution.
An article on CNET is headlined, “You could lose weight while your avatar exercises.” Although that sounds like an exercise program that most couch potatoes could embrace, the study it refers to didn’t exactly show what the headline claimed.
What it did show was that 8 women were recruited to watch animated avatars that they created to exercise and eat reasonable portions of food. The women then “set their own weight loss and exercise goals, tracked their progress using some old-fashioned food and exercise logs” and lost an average of 3.5 lbs over a 1-month period. Whether that weight loss continued for more months or was even maintained was not stated.
So do these shortcuts to weight loss really work? It’s doubtful.
Dreaming about exercising or watching an avatar exercise probably isn’t going to do it. I’m afraid you’re just going to have to eat fewer calories than you burn.
Skeptical Scalpel is a recently retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last three years, he has been blogging at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog averages over 1000 page views per day, and he has over 6600 followers on Twitter.