Most of my clients sign up to work with me because they're concerned about "overeating" - emotional eating, too big portion sizes, mindless eating, eating till stuffed, binging, impulsively eating, etc.
In most cases, overconsumption is a direct result of deprivation. You can read more about the science behind why in my post on The Dieting Pendulum. But for the purpose of this post, all you need to know is that if you're physically hungry, any and all hopes of intentional, moderate eating will go out the window. I think we all know this from experience 😉 So stop blaming overeating on your willpower. More likely, it's your low blood sugar. What I've found working with clients is that when we address physical hunger, many of those problems of overconsumption resolve themselves. Or at the very least, preventing excessive hunger acts like a windshield wiper so we can see what else is left and address that.
A big part of hunger prevention is eating regularly throughout the day. The other big part, which I'm focusing on in today's post, is eating filling meals that keep you satisfied until your next meal or snack.
For your brain and our body to feel satisfied, you need a few things. First, you need some physical stretch in your stomach, which signals nerve stretch receptors in the stomach to tell the brain that it's full. You also need blood glucose in a normal range. Low blood glucose triggers a primal drive to eat, usually craving sugary foods to bring glucose up fast. Your brain's fullness detector also responds to hormones, like cholecystokinin, that suppress hunger. Also, to maintain that feeling of fullness for more than a few hours, you need food that's going to hangout in your stomach a bit. That's one of the reasons why smoothies, even ones that hit all the previously mentioned fullness markers, still leave me hungry an hour or so later (liquids leave the stomach faster than solids).
A trick I teach my clients for how to plan a meal that keeps you full is remembering the "three musketeers" - fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Then there's produce, who I guess can be D'Artagnan because we're going to force this metaphor to work. Each one of these nutrients/foods plays a different role in satiety. By including all three of these macronutrients, plus produce at each meal, it ensures real satisfaction.
When we eat fat, it triggers our body to release cholecystokinin, a hormone that signals the release of digestive enzymes that digest fats, and also suppress hunger. Elevated levels of blood fatty acids, the breakdown product of fat, also signals hunger suppression.
Of the three macronutrients, protein takes the longest to digest and leave the stomach. This affects ghrelin, another hunger hormone that responds to how empty or full the stomach is. As with fats, elevated blood levels of amino acids (breakdown product of protein) also signals satiety.
Carbohydrate breaks down and is absorbed into our bloodstream as glucose. Rising blood sugar releases insulin, which suppresses hunger. It also shuts down the hunger hormones that are released in response to falling or low blood sugar.
Produce (i.e. fruits and veggies) help provide volume to fill the stomach, since they've got a lot of water weight. Produce also provides filling fiber that slows digestion and keeps blood sugar levels nice and steady.
So if you're planning or preparing a meal, make sure you've got the whole gang there. Fat? Check. Carbohydrate? Check. Protein? Check. Produce? Checkity check!
As you were reading this, you may have noticed how different diets use a lot of one type of fullness signaling to trick your brain into not feeling hunger. I remember going through school, my professors were really big on "volumetrics," essentially how to eat a large volume of food for not a lot of calories by including lots of produce and not a lot of fat. Then there's those high protein/fat, low carb diets, that don't give much volume or help with keeping blood glucose steady, but can feel really filling in the short term.
I see a lot of the same mistakes in meal planning/preparation. For example, making a lunch salad of greens, veggies and protein with dressing, but no source of carbohydrate. Throw some fresh fruit or a scoop of brown rice/quinoa on there, or serve some bread or crackers on the side. In the morning, I see a lot of people having oatmeal with fruit, but it really needs some fat and protein to round it out, so throw a handful of nuts or a scoop of nut butter on there. I also see a lot of people go heavy on protein at dinner with just a little bit of veggies on the side, but for most, it would be more filling with a smaller portion of protein and more veggies, plus a source of carbohydrate.
Hope you find this helpful! After reading this, can you identify any instances of overeating because you're simply hungry? Let me know if you'd like more advice on the blog about meal/snack planning and I'll be sure to work that in!
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