Have you ever found yourself grazing on a bowl full of food, eating mindlessly, thinking about something else, and suddenly realizing you´ve eaten the whole thing? It´s happened to an awful lot of us and the sad thing is many people cannot seem to be able to stop with this self-destructive behavior. Obesity epidemic is prevalent in several developed countries with USA on the top and UK right behind, and although we all realize it´s time to change, it´s not always that easy. Appetite is driven by hormones and when the wrong foods are consumed over a prolonged period of time, it can impair these hormones´ proper functions. So you become seemingly hungry and think about food more than is healthy; you go home, stuff your mouth with all that was left in the fridge and a few minutes later, you can´t believe you did it again. You´re depressed and just plain sad and it makes you want to eat even more. You tell yourself you´ll eat clean small portions more frequently the next day, then end up “cleaning up the fridge” again and start to think, “How can I stop this?”
DON´T eat breakfast!
You´re probably telling yourself it must be some kind of a typo or a joke but it isn´t. While eating breakfast can give you energy for the day and keep you going until lunch, for some, it can create a binge-eating downward spiral. There is a substantial group of people for whom the popular phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” just doesn´t work. Many of us wake up very early and just don´t feel like eating anything at 5AM. Then, there are those who have so much work to do that they forget to eat, and lastly, those who need to push back their desire to eat to prevent piling up on calories. The point is, when you wake up, clean your teeth, go to work and have something to focus on, you don´t actually feel the need to eat. You still have enough energy to perform properly at work and to think straight, and since your hormones haven´t been triggered yet, you can focus completely on work. If you feel like it´s unhealthy, think about it this way: When there was war, people starved for weeks and were still able to run away and hide, protect their children, or fight for their country. Our bodies will handle 40 days without food, what we need is water and air in the first place. Moreover, as we´ve already mentioned in the article “Feed/Fast – the revolutionary diet,” reduction of calorific intake and even fasting decreases the specific growth hormone which results in improvement of immune system, thus prevention of diseases. So if you´re worried about not eating breakfast, just don´t be! This way you won´t feel hungry until lunch and end up eating less in a day than you normally would. Plus, your stomach will shrink down a bit so you will create a need for smaller portions and lose weight easily.
Rethink the carbs
Carbohydrates are an intricate topic. Everywhere you go you can see labels with “wholegrain,” “low-carb,” or “sugar-free” on them. The intention is good – we want to reduce the sugar intake as such and replace the simple sugars with complex carbohydrates. However, many grocery items that we eat on a daily basis that seem to be healthy actually contain a whole lot more sugar than we would believe. A random fruit juice bottle we picked at a store contained 2g more sugar than a can of the popular fizzy drink. It is important to realize that sugar or fructose are contained in so many food items, that we should really start reading the labels and study the ingredients carefully. To explain why carbohydrates are so substantial in preventing overeating, we will use Dr. Lustig´s lecture in “Skinny on obesity” series. Dr. Robert H. Lustig is a well-known endocrinologist from San Francisco, California, who´s gotten famous thanks to his video lecture “Sugar: The bitter truth” and several food documentaries where he starred to promote his theory about fructose causing obesity. In this particular series, he explains how carbohydrates can confuse our bodies to eat more and gives a few tips on fighting this phenomenon.
Firstly, it is all about the hormones – when you eat a high-carb food, your insulin levels fly up and over time, impair the ability of a hormone leptin to signal that we´ve had enough. You´ve certainly experienced that when you ate a chocolate bar and felt like having something salty for a change like spaghetti with Bolognese sauce or fries, or even roasted peanuts. These are not actually salty though – it´s carbohydrates hiding behind the protein, so when you eat the spaghetti, your insulin spikes up, and immediately, you feel like having a cheesecake or a chocolate mousse. The problem is many times we know that we´re not hungry anymore but the craving is so strong it´s impossible to resist it. Fortunately there is a way to overcome this - with fiber. The way it works is that when you eat high-carbohydrate food, your insulin goes up and so does the blood sugar. The result is as described above – you´re feeling hungry and craving high-carb foods. When you add fiber (or eat food with high fiber content), the insulin response will slow down and blood sugar will be released to your bloodstream slowly. In the end, you´ll feel full and satisfied. So pack up on fiber and if you cannot resist that spaghetti Bolognese, sprinkle some seeds on it or drink a soluble fiber drink along with it.
Keep calm and enjoy your food
As we already said, it´s all about hormones. When you´re stressed, your cortisol level goes up and increases the blood sugar - again. It can be very helpful since it´s supposed to give us energy when released in stressful situations. In cavemen times we needed cortisol to get into our glucose stores and provide energy to e.g. run from a mammoth or a tiger when chased. However, now there are no mammoths or tigers around, we still have that hormone working for us even though the situations we´re perceiving as stressful are no real danger to us. So the cortisol level spikes up, the blood sugar level spikes up accordingly, and you have to eat something before you go crazy. When you eat such food, you don´t really enjoy it but eat it fast and greedy and there comes the problem: When your stomach is empty, another hormone called ghrelin is released to signal that you need to fuel up. When you eat a certain amount of food, it goes down and signals you are no longer hungry, thus don´t need more. But your brain says “give me more.” Why is that? Ghrelin only represents your physical needs for nutrients but not satiety. If you want to feel satisfied after eating, you have to eat slowly or wait at least 20 minutes for the food to get to the end of your intestine where a hormone called peptide yy is released and signals to your hypothalamus that you are now satisfied with the portion of food you ate. Since it is immensely difficult for humans to control their appetites only by the power of will, this is the only way to physically help your body handle the stress and keep your hormones down. One good tip to eat more slowly and not give up is, take another bite on your fork or spoon only after you´ve swallowed the bite before. It´ll take you longer to eat the usual portion up to the point of realization you don´t want or need more.
Overeat on healthy food
We know it´s easy to say “eat slowly for 20 minutes” when an average adult is happy to find 10 minutes to actually take a bite of a sandwich on the go. Sometimes you´re just glad you´ve eaten literally “something” that felt like food and you just don´t have time to eat a proper meal, or maybe you are so stressed you´re not even aware of the fact you have food in your mouth. Maybe you´re procrastinating but instead of a healthy dinner you keep finding yourself staring blankly into the computer screen chewing whatever you could find. These situations come and go but if there are too many of them, you may end up gaining weight and losing your health. To prevent this, prepare a whole bunch of healthy nutritious foods and keep it near you in case you need to munch on something. It doesn´t matter if it´s fresh nuts and seeds, wholegrain sandwich with turkey breasts and spinach, or a big bowl of chicken soup (for your soul). Important is to have the healthy options available and use them when needed. It is still not recommended to eat 3 liters of chicken soup a day but it´s still better than piling on pounds from chocolaty treats or even fruit.
Lastly, we found a recommendation to eat from “blue plates” or with cutlery of so-called cold colors (blue, grey, violet, or even black) to suppress appetite and we must say it actually has some scientific evidence. To be sure it works though, you´ll have to try it yourself. Maybe you can put the chicken soup into a blue bowl and besides breakfast, you won´t feel like eating lunch either… :D
by Katarína Vicová
Aronson, D. (2009). Cortisol – its role in stress, inflammation, and indications for diet therapy. Retrieved from: http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml
Fuller, A. (n.d.). [picture]. American traditional Christmas foods. Retrieved from: http://www.drew-fuller.com/american-traditional-christmas-foods.html
UCTV Prime (2012). [YouTube video]. The skinny on obesity (extra): Four sweet tips from Dr. Lustig. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAqcbQByeec