You do it. We do it. Let’s face it, everyone eats until they’re about to pop sometimes – especially around the holidays. But did you know that it is actually unhealthy? Packing it in at the holiday table puts your body’s systems on red alert – stressing the pancreas, taxing the liver and making the heart pump harder. But for some Americans overeating isn’t just a holiday occurrence. Many people make overeating an everyday thing which can lead to obesity and increased risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. Over indulgence at meals can even cause you to experience joint pain, sleep apnea and gallstones.
If you tend to overeat, no doubt some well-meaning person has told you to stop eating when you are full. This is not the sage advice we have been lead to believe it is. A feeling of satiety is actually a chemical trigger and it doesn’t happen right when your stomach hits maximum density. Both the feeling of hunger and the feeling of satiety are associated with a gland in your brain called the hypothalamus. The moment you put food or drink into your mouth, chemicals key for giving you the signal that you are full are called into action. Here’s the catch: it takes the brain about 20 minutes to register these chemicals and the chemical levels continue to rise 10-30 minutes after the first bite. It’s safe to say that you are not getting up-to-the-minute information about your level of fullness. So what can you do to prevent overeating?
Many of us were conditioned at a young age to clean our plates and we are still listening to that authoritative voice in our heads when we sit down to eat. A simple trick for being a “good kid” while making sure you are not harming your body by overeating is to use smaller plates. Smaller plates mean easier portion control but this does not mean you should fill a smaller plate with fat and sugar laden foods. What you put on your small plate matters.
Contrary to the implications of the name, low energy density foods are not actually low energy producing. On the contrary, these food pack a powerful nutrient rich punch. Low Energy Density means that the food is higher in weight but lower in calories. LEDF foods contain a lot of water and fiber. Fruits and vegetables are fantastic examples of LEDF foods. They take longer to digest and send signals to your brain that your body is getting the good stuff nutritionally. For example. raw carrots are about 88% water but a medium carrot only contains 25 calories. Carrots also contain vitamin A (from beta-carotene), biotin, vitamin K, potassium and vitamin B6. A plate full of a High Energy Density Food like 8 ounces of french fries, for instance, will give you 34 grams of fat and 0% of your RDA of vitamins A, D or B12.
Now that you know that your hypothalamus is taking its sweet time to get the “full” signal, you can work with the new time table. Chew slowly and put your fork down between bites. Eating mindfully will ensure that you feel satiated long before you are uncomfortably full.
So you’ve finished your smaller plate of food and you’re still not sure if you’re full. Try a breathing exercise. It will give your brain the time to register a sense of fullness and – bonus – it aids in digestion. Try this soft belly breathing exercise.
Knowing when you are truly full is a matter of making mindful choices and adopting new habits. Start today and by holiday time, you can let your family in on the secret of feeling like a walk instead of a nap after your meal.