Get Your Hunger Under Control

Leading up to Thanksgiving, most of us start a marathon of eating...

The holiday season is a time when lots of folks regularly overindulge in food. But we justify this by telling ourselves, "It's just for the holidays. I'll eat healthy again once they're over."

Well, the holidays are officially over. Are you back to eating normally? Or are you still snacking on junk food every day?

The truth is that, after all the rich, fatty, sugary foods of the holidays, our appetites are still primed to crave more food than we really need – or want – to eat.

So how did we get here? And what can we do about it?

It turns out there's a pattern of behavior that tends to emerge when we have a plethora of food options at our fingertips. It's called the "smorgasbord effect," and it was first studied in 1956 by French physiologist Jacques Le Magnen.

In his research, Le Magnen fed rats an abundance of one single flavor of food. He found that the rats ate until they were full. But when he repeated the experiment with four different flavors of food, he found that the rats ate about three times more than the normal amount.

A more modern version of this theory is called "sensory-specific satiety." It highlights the experience of declining pleasure in a food that has been eaten compared with an uneaten food... meaning, basically, that we love variety.

And it's the variety that often causes us to eat excessively, like Le Magnen's rats did.

But the problem with that is key to where we find ourselves now. All of this pleasure we've drawn from eating decadent food has begun to override our natural hunger regulation.

Now, overeating occasionally is not a huge problem. It may cause you some discomfort, but it's not likely to have serious long-term effects.

However, chronic overeating poses some serious threats to your health, like developing obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

But not to worry. I have a few tricks up my sleeve to help get your hunger back under control...

1. Eat slowly. A large 2018 Japanese study found that folks who reported eating slowly (instead of moderately or quickly) had a 42% lower risk of obesity in a five-year period.

It makes sense. Taking your time to eat allows you to produce the hormones needed to trigger the feeling of fullness before you overeat. It takes about 20 minutes for all the chemicals in your stomach to tell your brain you are at full satiety. So, meals should last at least 20 minutes.

Now, there's no good measure for timing a meal to see if you're eating slowly or quickly. But a good trick is to pay attention to your chewing.

I'm not talking about a few chews and then swallowing, as many of us do. I'm talking about chewing each bite 20, 30, even 40 times before swallowing.

Dutch researchers found that chewing small bites of food for nine seconds sends a signal to your brain to feel full sooner. People who take large bites of food and only chew for three seconds consume 52% more food than people who take smaller bites and chew longer.

Chewing mindfully means taking your time. Try setting down your utensils in between bites and pay attention to how you feel and how the meal tastes. And take breaks between bites. A good conversation or a beverage will help – I love to have wine with my dinners out with friends.

2. Stop at 80%. Natives of the Japanese island Okinawa follow a rule for dining called "hara hachi bu." It translates to "eat until you're 80% full."

What people who practice this philosophy do is limit their calorie intake.

Our bodies need calories for energy. But eating too many calories (more than your body burns) leads to weight gain. Excess body weight limits your mobility and puts unnecessary strain on your joints and organs. Becoming overweight isn't the only danger... As we mentioned, consuming too many calories can also lead to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

And since it takes time before your brain registers that you're full, if you stop at 80% full, in 20 minutes you're likely to feel 100% full.

And while you're at it, don't snack later on, either. The Japanese study on eating slowly also noted that avoiding snacks after dinner as well as not eating within two hours of your bedtime reduced the risk of obesity.

3. Try the "5:2 diet." A study in the American Journal of Cardiology found fasting just one day a month can cut your risk of heart disease by 58%. The belief is that fasting shrinks fat cells and prevents insulin resistance. This helps lower your risk of heart disease and even diabetes.

A few of my friends have tried the 5:2 fasting diet. That's where you eat a regular diet five days a week, and then on two nonconsecutive days you cut your calorie intake to about 25% of what you normally consume.

Personally, I fast a few times a month. I like to sip water and hot herbal teas on these days. I also make sure to cut back on vigorous activity those days and instead read, walk, and meditate.

So do what I do and break your overeating habit before it becomes more problematic. Eat slowly, stop eating when you're 80% full, and give periodic fasting a try.

And if you'd like to read more about the importance of nutrition and fasting, our Retirement Millionaire Top 12 Tips for 2024 issue is coming out next month. In it, we discuss these topics – and others – to help you take action for a healthy year. It's free for subscribers, so keep an eye on your inbox. And if you're not already a subscriber, don't miss out... Click here to sign up today.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 23, 2024