Our pesky genes make it easy for us to put on weight and hard for us to take it off!
Our genes haven’t change at all since the days when we were hunting, gathering and generally spending most of our time finding our next meal. Food wasn’t plentiful like it is today. Our genes evolved to encourage us to eat a lot of tucker every time we were able. They also predisposed us to like sweet, fatty, salty foods: basically, energy dense foods. Our brains reward us for eating those foods by releasing opioids. It’s easy to develop cravings or become addicted to those foods, because only those foods will produce the same reward response that you crave. You can also derive comfort and satisfaction from feeling full, so we tend to eat a lot until the stomach stretches enough to switch off the ‘hungry’ hormones. If you get used to that full feeling, then only a stomach that full will produce the same satisfaction. Eat a smaller meal and it doesn’t do the job.
It’s easy to see how we have ended up with a large percentage of the population being obese. It’s also understandable that with a lot of weight loss approaches, like Weight Watchers, you still get to eat ‘your favourite foods’, because it’s difficult to shake off a predilection for the energy dense stuff.
So what can you do about it?
First of all, you can still feel full and swell your stomach by eating energy sparse foods. Vegetables and salad are great for that, some fruits, beans, pulses and so on. You can fill your face, feel very full and still not overconsume.
Second, try to eat food that is more slowly digesting. Some of the urge to eat instantly gratifying or energy dense foods comes from the low blood sugar that follows the previous sugary meal. And just to be clear, ‘sugary’ means any food that acts to all intents and purposes like sugar on the bloodstream. That includes bread, white rice, white potato, cakes, biscuits, pastries and so on. Most of the time it means refined foods. If you choose more slowly digesting unrefined foods then you can substantially reduce the high-low cycles and associated cravings. Lean protein, wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, pulses, beans – almost anything unprocessed or with a high liquid content – will generally achieve this.
“But I still crave my chocolate/ice cream/crisps/biscuits etc.” I know, it’s definitely a challenge. I notice it around Christmas after a few indulgences, and it is a challenge to shake it off!
But you can definitely educate your palate and change your taste buds to generate the same reward response, the same comfort and satisfaction, from healthier, more calorie sparse foods. Here’s what to do
- Buy a stock of healthy foods that you can substitute for the naughty stuff. For example, if you like sweet food, try strawberries, apples or oranges. Substitute fruit juice for whole fruit. If you like salty stuff, try salted edamame for example.
- Ditch the energy dense food. When you have a craving, use the substitute food. To start with you could sweeten your food with Truvia or similar. Raspberry ice-yog sweetened with Truvia is calorie sparse and does a great job stimulating the reward centres of the brain.
- Start choosing slowly digesting foods at meal times. Have plenty of vegetables whenever you can. Drink more water.
- Educate your taste buds to like healthy unprocessed food. You may not like vegetables to start with, but please persevere. The general view seems to be that if you try a particular food 10 times, then you will come to enjoy it. If a baby turns its nose up at a particular food you can, allegedly, persuade her to like that food by getting her to try it up to 10 times. This has worked for me. I learned to love vegetables this way. Previously I used to smother them in sugary salty ketchup! As another example, I used to turn my nose up at olives and nuts. I didn’t touch them for years until recently. I now love them. In this instance, this liking didn’t come from trying and trying again. It came from having a palate that was not habitually over stimulated by sweet or salty foods, so that I was able to appreciate the subtleness of flavour in those foods. My taste buds are attuned to more subtle flavours these days and I derive comfort and satisfaction from, and feel rewarded by, all the healthy foods that I eat. Note that you will find it difficult to educate your palate, or your baby’s palate, if the intensely flavoured processed foods are still part of the diet.
I’ve got lots more I could say on this topic, and lots of handy tips, but in the interests of brevity, I’ll leave it there. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more or have any questions.