I often stress that the issue of weight loss and eating is much more complicated than people realize.
Most people attempt weight loss in too simplistic a fashion, making themselves more vulnerable to failing. As long as diet groups, clinics and other providers approach weight loss as just a matter of strict dieting they will be missing the target and continuing to set consumers up for more repeated disappointment. And these consumers will believe — wrongly — that the fault is theirs.
To demonstrate my point, let's talk about just one aspect of managing our eating and weight: satisfaction. Feeling satisfied with what we eat is critical to weight loss and weight management because if we don't feel satisfied our body will continue to crave more food than we need. If the weight-loss plan we put ourselves on ends up (sooner or later) leaving us wanting, we have no chance of staying on it or anything resembling it for long — leading to just another in, perhaps, a long line of failures.
Most people are familiar with the fact that it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to get the message that we've had enough to eat, making it important that we not eat too quickly. This is just a small detail in the complex, yet amazing, workings of our alimentary system (all the body workings and structures involved in nourishment).
In my teaching, I describe how important it is to use all of our senses while eating in order to not overeat. The body depends on all the senses to send the signals necessary for us to feel completely satisfied and stop eating. When we eat mindlessly and fast, we deprive ourselves of this wonderful signaling system that helps us manage our weight naturally.
Mary Roach's book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal teaches more about the amazing physiology of the alimentary tract and how important every inch of it is to our health and satisfaction. Here are a few interesting points from her book:
• Chewing: By the time the brain registers that the stomach is full, the thorough eater will have consumed fewer calories than the fast eater. So, if you're trying to lose weight and you've noticed or have been told that you eat quickly, you may want to focus on learning to slow down. It's also true that the slower eater gets more enjoyment from less food. The "food shoveler" dumps food down his or her throat so fast it's as if the brain has to say, "Pass that by me again. I didn't quite catch that." In the pursuit of taste and enjoyment, the rapid eater has to throw more and more food down before finding satisfaction.
• Swallowing: Apparently swallowing is also essential for feeling satisfied with what we eat. As a matter of fact, swallowing food we've just chewed is so important to feeling satiated that if we don't swallow it the body can't get rid of the urge to complete the eating process. Eating isn't eating to the body without swallowing. One way we know this is from studies of people who have lost their ability to swallow. Roach points out, interestingly, that even people with eating disorders prefer to avoid calories through purging methods or starvation, rarely choosing to chew food and spit it out.
• Sound: Humans seem to like crunchy foods. And the snack industry knows this. They focus a great deal on making relatively nonnutritive snack foods as crunchy as possible so we'll eat more of them. Perhaps, it is thought, humans evolved to like crispy, crunchy foods because the sounds signal freshness (such as the difference between a fresh apple and a decaying one). But if we combine lots of texture with high nutrition, we'll feel more satisfied and become healthier with what we eat.
• Capacity: Apparently it's a myth that people with bigger than normal stomachs are more likely to be obese. There appears to be no significant difference in the organ's size between non-obese and obese subjects. According to Roach's research, we again find out that "it is hormones and metabolism, calories consumed and calories burned, that determine one's weight, not holding capacity." So, it's not that the obese person has to eat more to be satisfied due to a bigger stomach. Satisfaction is more complicated than that.
If we keep certain facts about our bodies in mind and accept them, we can use the body as a partner in our efforts to manage our weight and health. Functions that we normally take for granted, such as chewing, swallowing and using our senses while eating, can naturally help make eating a more enjoyable, satisfying and controllable activity.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at [email protected]