But if people already know this, and it’s that simple, then what is it that’s keeping so many people from losing weight?
One of the biggest culprits is appetite. Historically, humans have been able to survive times of famine by living off fat stores. This means that during times of plenty, humans had to eat food in a quantity that didn’t merely support daily activity, but also allowed us to make deposits in our energy banks—our bellies, love handles, and thighs. To go out and take on the arduous task of finding and preparing food, we needed a physiological stimulus, something that got us off our duffs and out of our caves or mud huts. Thus we developed an appetite, a desire to eat that is regulated by a complex interplay of the brain, digestive tract, and several of the body’s other organs and systems.
Our appetite is one of the reasons we’ve been able to survive as a species for as long as we have. It’s also the reason we can’t keep ourselves from eating cookies if we know they’re in the house. To be victorious in the battle of the bulge, you need to learn how to manage your hunger. Here are three natural ways.
1. Fill ‘Er Up
In her book Volumetrics, Dr. Barbara Rolls explains how eating low-calorie, bulky food satisfies your hunger as well as (or almost as well as) eating a similar volume of food with higher calories. For example, eating two cups of mixed vegetables is going to fill up your belly and satisfy your hunger at a level comparable to two cups of chocolate candy, but at a fraction of the calories. This is quite a claim, but she backs it up with her own peer-reviewed research. Also, a 1998 study observed that men who ate soup (a food that has a low calorie-to-volume ratio) immediately before lunch not only ate fewer calories at lunch, but also fewer calories at dinner. (Himaya, Louis-Sylvestre; Appetite; April 1998)
Eat foods with a high fiber and water content, such as vegetables, fruits, and soups. Replace processed grains with bulkier whole grains. And get most of your protein from lean sources rather than their fatty equivalents.
2. Get Some Z’s
A 2004 study measuring the relationship between sleep and obesity found that getting adequate sleep plays an important role in maintaining a healthy weight. Researchers reported a relationship between short sleep duration and a high body mass index. (Mignot, et al, PLoS Med, 2004; 3:e62) Specifically, researchers found that a lack of sleep is associated with higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that promotes hunger, and lower levels of leptin, a hormone that promotes satiety.
Get eight hours of sleep a night, maintain a regular sleep schedule whenever possible, and try to keep sleep disruptions to a minimum.
3. Tame the Taste Buds
In his book The Flavor Point Diet, Dr. Jonathan Katz explains that our appetites are greatly influenced by the flavors in our foods. He claims, based on his own original research and on the research of other scientists, that when we eat a particular flavor we stimulate the appetite, and we will then feel hungry until our brain’s “flavor meters” are satisfied.
Katz explains that each basic flavor—salty, sweet, sour, bitter and savory—triggers a unique appetite meter in the brain and that this meter is unsatisfied until a certain amount of that flavor is consumed. Tasting that first bite of salty food makes you hungry for more salt. Likewise, the first taste of sugar makes you hungry for more sugar. Conversely, not eating a certain flavor keeps that flavor’s meter in the “off” position, where it does not stimulate the appetite.
You won’t feel satisfied from a meal until you reach what Katz describes as the “flavor point,” when you no longer want any more of any flavor. The more flavors in a meal, the more flavor receptors there are that must be satisfied and thus the more potential for you to overeat. (Remember the last time you stuffed yourself at a meal, when you couldn’t eat another bite or you’d explode? Remember when you then somehow made room for dessert?)
Processed foods often combine several flavors. For example, sweet breakfast cereals often contain liberal amounts of salt and salty potato chips often contain surprisingly high amounts of sugar. Katz asserts that food manufacturers combine flavors in this way to make you and me hungrier, so that we in turn eat and buy more of their product.
Skip the buffet, because all of the flavors will fool you into feeling hunger, even after a second or third plate. Experiment with flavors by organizing your meals according to flavor themes, such as eating whole-grain pancakes, light syrup and fruit for a sweet breakfast one morning and lean ham and eggs for a salty breakfast another morning. Pass on the dessert tray. And cut down on processed foods—don’t let food companies fool you into eating more than you need or truly want.