Outwitting your appetite
Our powerful urge to eat has biological, psychological and environmental underpinnings, making it easy for most of us to gain and very hard to lose weight.
Our sensations of hunger and fullness are governed by complex hormonal and nerve signals generated both in the intestines and brain. Our bodies are also very efficient at accumulating fat and holding on to it. In our food-rich, sedentary society, the ability to be a calorie-storing machine has a downside. Many of us can’t rely on our natural sense of hunger and fullness to guide our eating – we have to outwit biology by managing hunger.
• Don’t get ravenous. A sense of deprivation and restriction trigger a loss of control. Since it takes 20 minutes for the brain to receive a signal that you’re satisfied, you need to eat slowly and chew fully, while savoring flavor, texture and aroma.
• Do choose filling foods. Foods that have a lot of water (soup, fruit, vegetables) are more filling than dry, dense foods (like pretzels, bagels and crackers.) High-fiber foods, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, also help you feel full longer. They’re digested slowly and don’t cause the blood-sugar spikes. Refined grains, sugars and starchy vegetables are laden with calories and also stimulate your appetite. Healthful fat (olive oil, for example) and protein (lean meats and low-fat dairy products) also makes you feel full.
• Do satisfy your senses. Smell, taste and other sensory factors influence fullness more than actual quantity of food consumed. Smell your food before eating and consume food while it’s hot so you take in the vapors.
• Don’t stress-eat. Chronic stress can trigger food cravings by depleting levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. If food is your drug of choice, get help.
• Do keep track. Keep a food journal with not only what you eat but who you ate it with, how you felt, your relative level of hunger and fullness before and after each meal. That way, you can start identifying patterns.
• Do monitor alcohol use. Alcohol increases hunger and inhibits the satiety signal.
• Don’t pile on pounds. If you see yourself gaining, stop and take it off before the tasks becomes too daunting.
Source: “Outwitting Your Appetite,” Consumer Reports on Health, September 2004.
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