Listen…Your Brain is Trying to Tell You Something…

Think back to the time when you were a child.  I’d be willing to bet most of us were highly encouraged (read: forced) to clean our plates at the dinner table.  Often times we’d go back for seconds, stop eating halfway through, and be told about the starving children in China, and that we mustn’t waste anything.  Down the hatch it went.

On the other hand, if you were to have grown up, in say France, you would have been encouraged to eat until you are just satisfied, not stuffed.  In many countries, meal time is a time to relax and enjoy what’s on your plate.  There is no pressure to stuff yourself past the point of still feeling comfortable. 

A 2006 study examined the eating habits of 133 French and 145 Americans.  The French seemed to have a better understanding of their internal cue to stop eating, while the Americans paid more attention to an external cue: when their plate was cleared.  It’s clear that many Americans ignore the subtle signals the body gives to indicate fullness.  Years of being told we must eat everything we take has taken its toll on our psychological processes.

Finding that common ground between hunger and being stuffed may be the key to managing our growing weight problem, permanently.  Food psychologist Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindless Eating suggests that the obese have a more difficult time picking up on those internal cues that suggest we should stop eating because we are rapidly approaching the “I’m stuffed” feeling.  By paying careful attention to our satiety, we are able to fully enjoy whatever comes after a nice meal, be it sleep, fun, or just sitting on the couch relaxing.  Nothing is more uncomfortable than a bloated stomach and the feeling of, “why the hell did I eat all of that?”.

America’s weight problem is the result of many causes, but one in particular is the culture of fad dieting millions of people adopt.  Yoyo dieting greatly restrict calories, thereby decreasing our fat stores which causes decrease appetite suppressing hormones.  From here, our hunger skyrockets, our metabolism slows to a crawl, and our satiety indicators become difficult to recognize.  Everything we see looks good to us.  Going to the grocery store during a time like this can be an absolute disaster.

The key to avoiding these pitfalls?  Fill your stomach up, but not in the way you traditionally have.  You need to eat slightly smaller meals, in greater frequency throughout the day.  Don’t subscribe to the, clean-your-plate mentality.  Learn to subscribe to the, I’m-pleasantly-full mentality.  Pay very careful attention to your internal indicators and remember that the feeling of fullness lags about 15 minutes behind what you put in your stomach.  Eat meals slowly and give yourself time to adjust to the food you have consumed. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you can binge on your 5-6 meals a day.  These meals still need to be healthy or you will have a harder time realizing the internal indicators, as well as losing any weight.  A study showed that mice who gorged themselves on goodies high in saturated fat had a diminished sensitivity to insulin, as well as appetite suppressing hormones.  The mice would eat much more than they actually needed to because their bodies were thrown off by the high fat foods they were consuming.  Keep this in mind when you plan your own diet.  If you overindulged on various high-fat foods and unhealthy options over the weekend, you may be setting yourself up for failure during the week.  Everything in moderation.

Another interesting point researchers discovered, was that WHAT you eat during times of extreme hunger plays an important part in how your brain responds to food stimulus in the future.  If you have a big bowl of chocolate ice cream to satiate your hunger, your brain will learn to associate pleasure with chocolate ice cream.  Over time, you may require more and more chocolate ice cream to satiate yourself and have that same feeling of pleasure from eating; kinda like crack!

On the other hand, you can play a trick on your brain by eating healthy foods when you are “starving”.  Your brain will learn to associate satiety and the pleasure associate with eating, with healthy options.  Eat that handful of almonds 10 times in a row and your brain will start to crave almonds, not cookies, when that mid-day snack craving creeps up.

Another important piece of the puzzle is the necessity of fiber in your diet.  In addition to helping lower bad cholesterol levels, keep us regular, and flush fat from our system, fiber helps us achieve a feeling of fullness.  Some experts recommend you should eat 35-55 grams of fiber a day during a period of weight loss.  For periods of maintenance, 25-35 grams of fiber should do.  Keep in mind that you can overdo it with the fiber, which can result in vitamin and mineral loss.  Try not to exceed 55 grams in a given day.

Some helpful tips that aim to help you feel full and lose weight include:

  • Add something crunchy to the top of a salad.  Studies show that more chewing may result in a faster feeling of fullness.
  • Substitute half of a bowl of pasta with cannelloni beans to up your fiber intake for the day.
  • Try mixing wheat bran into things like oatmeal, pudding, yogurt, and baked goods.
  • Eat when you are hungry, but stop midway through your meal and wait 10 minutes before taking another bite.  More often than not, you won’t want that bite after stopping.

Ultimately, the ability to stop eating before you are stuffed comes down to willpower and discipline.  Try using the above information in your journey to weight loss.  Something to ask yourself the next time you are eating, “How much more do I need to eat to adequately nourish my body?”.  Most times, you will realize you don’t really need that 3rd serving of macaroni and cheese, or that 4th piece of chicken.  Follow the lead of the French, and realize that meal times should be savored and enjoyed.  Slow down, relax, and savory what you are putting into your mouth.  Remember, the only prize for joining the clean plate club may be a bloated waist line and excess body fat.


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