Most of us celebrate the many festivals that we have in our countries. All of us will, of course, be eating. So, in this post, I thought I would give you the science behind eating and overeating, in your search to get the body you want.

If you know me, you know I am not skinny but neither am I fat. A little on the stocky side, I guess. But, while I might make it look easy that I am not overweight or obese, it’s not!

I watch what I eat. I eat desserts but only in small portions. I try to avoid artificial sweeteners, artificial coloring and preservatives in my food. On top of that, I go out of my way to avoid so-called natural sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup. I often eat 6-8 pieces of fruit a week plus lots of vegetables.

How to get the body you want

Sometimes, two or three times a week, I do eat like a glutton. The question is “How can I get away with it?” For one, I eat great 80% of the time, so I can afford to splurge.

So, what can you do to keep the waistline where you want it? I’ll get to the answer in a moment. First, you should know the science behind weight gain many adults experience.

At each developmental and maturation age, your body and brain are trying to help you survive. If you are a female you don’t need a bit of extra fat at age 10, but by puberty, your body tries to add some, since child-bearing is a possibility. Extra fat helps ensure a food source for the pregnant mom.

So why would your body try to add fat when you’re over forty, past the likely childbearing years? The answer is…  it doesn’t try to do that! If anything, your body is trying to get leaner as you grow into middle age.

Here are the top myths and the truths to help you get back to your slim and sexy self.

1. Myth: Sleep is bad for your weight.
Truth: Get more sleep.

As you age, your hormone fluctuations can mess with your sleep schedule. Three of these hormones, ghrelin, leptin and cortisol, influence appetite.

Woman sleeping

When you do not get enough sleep, ghrelin rises, which increases hunger, and leptin drops, which promotes feelings of fullness. These differences in ghrelin and leptin levels are likely to increase your appetite, causing you to gain weight. (Taheri et al.).

But it gets worse!

Less sleep promotes increases in cortisol, which promotes lust for “comfort foods” – those high-fat bombshells that sink your day. Get 6-8 hours of sleep a night and your weight will begin to re-regulate itself (Motivala et al.).

Who would believe that you can get the body you want just by sleeping a little longer!

2. Myth: Stop snacking.
Truth: Make healthy snacking easier.

What? Yes, it’s true. You can eat as much as you want… but only certain foods. So make them easy to get and easy to eat. It’s much more expensive to buy a package of pre-cut celery and carrots. They charge double the price compared to raw celery or carrots in bulk. But, if you eat them for snacking, you’ll end up saving the money by eating less junky, pre-packaged, high-fat convenience foods.

Eat small servings of mixed nuts as a snack. Why?

You get better satiation and you’re likely to eat less at mealtime. Plus, the artificial sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup are well known to be linked to obesity (Bray et al.), thus making it difficult for you to get the body you want.

3. Myth: Eat desserts at home (to save money).
Truth: Saving money makes you fat, so eat desserts out at restaurants.

A recent study sheds light on this. Fatty or sweet foods (those hedonic foods, including desserts and other foods you consider a treat) trigger the numbing, mindless action-pathway to eat even more. (Foo and Mason).

Your brain makes overeating tasty foods so irresistible even in the face of opposing cognitive and motivational forces. Have a plan of what you’ll eat, even if others around you eat the high calorie or high-fat foods.

In short, “comfort foods” keep you well above feeling bad and put you in a numbing euphoria. Plus, when you’re around others while out in a restaurant, social pressure plus higher serotonin or dopamine might induce one to eat more! How can you combat that? You can’t easily do it, so make your meal out your one treat for the week or month and enjoy!

But at home, never keep big sweets (cake, chocolate bars, ice cream, pie, etc.) around. Never buy hedonic foods for home storage. Make ice cream (Ben and Jerry and Hagen-Daz, etc.) as well as every other goody, something you have to go out for. It’s OK to treat yourself weekly or monthly. But any more than that and you have got a problem! Do not store any comfort foods in your home.

4. Myth: Meat makes you sleepy.
Truth: It’s the wine and the desserts.

When you eat a carbohydrate-rich meal, there is an increase in serotonin, which involves functions such as sleep onset, pain sensitivity, blood pressure regulation and control of your mood. The more carbohydrates you eat, especially snacks, pastries and desserts, the more relaxed and sleepy you become. Meat, in contrast, contributes more amino acids that reduce serotonin. (Wurtman et al.).

So, stay off carbohydrates if you need to stay awake after lunch. Worse yet, many carbohydrate-rich foods also contain fat (e.g. ice cream, cookies, potato chips) which will lead to weight gain.

5. Myth: The feeling of hunger is physical.
Truth: It’s all in your brain. Retrain it to ignore or postpone hunger.

Start using mind over body strategies. There are 3 nasty things that happen in your brain that make you eat too much.

First, I just mentioned in the myth above: hedonic foods make you desensitize to eating more hedonic foods. [Hedonic foods are pleasure foods like cakes, chocolates, cookies, donuts, potato chips, etc.]

Second, eating can be just as addictive as drugs or gambling. The signs of eating addiction? They are a “loss of control” over your eating and it starts to affect your overall well-being.

Third, when you get slightly hungry (plus a little stressed), your brain says, “Search for food and eat!” The next time that happens, say to yourself, “I do notice I’m a bit hungry. But I won’t die. Maybe a glass of water would be good. I can wait until I can eat some healthy foods later.”

Do this over and over and over, week after week. The more you train your brain, the better you’ll get at ignoring your hunger signals. It’s brain training and it can be tough-going to get the body you want.

6. Myth: It’s all about self-control.
Truth: It’s more about strategy.

You may wish you had better self-control over your eating habits. Many of the new researchers tell us it may be more a matter of strategy instead. Read The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.

One strategy is “make it easy to succeed“. For example, do you currently have 3-4 healthy snacks in your fridge or cupboard? If not, you’ll eat junk foods. Have you cleaned out all your junk foods? If not, why not? In short, make it easier to eat well, than it is to eat badly.

Have you made it easy for you to exercise? For example, I love to walk. But I noticed that whenever the outside temperature is 33 degrees C and above, I would tell myself it’s too hot to walk. Now I know it’s all in my head. I have now made it easy for me to go for a walk even in the hot sun: I simply wear a hat.

Make exercising so ridiculously easy, you don’t mind doing it 4-5 days a week. And remember, you don’t have to exercise for hours. Just do 45-60 minutes of intense exercising, then cool down and call it a day. Intensity is as, or more, important than duration (unless you’re a marathoner or an athlete).

Avoid feeling guilty for making food mistakes or failing to exercise. That’s the worst emotion for making changes. If you mess up, just forgive yourself and move on.

To get the body that you want

So, the question is, “When will it be important enough to feel younger, look good, and get the body you want?” How about now?

Let’s review: I get my 6-7 hours of sleep every night. I snack frequently on fruits and nuts. I avoid artificial sweeteners. I learned to notice my hunger and postpone my eating. I exercise on most days. And I don’t feel guilty when I don’t obey my rules.


References

  • Bray, G. A., Nielsen, S. J., Popkin, B. M. “Consumption of High-Fructose Corn Syrup in Beverages may Play a Role in the Epidemic of Obesity.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2004.
  • Foo, H., Mason, P. “Analgesia Accompanying Food Consumption Requires Ingestion of Hedonic Foods.” Journal of Neuroscience, Oct 2009.
  • Jensen, E. “How to Get the Body You Want in 90 Days.” Adapted with permission.
  • Motivala, S. J., Tomiyama, A. J., Ziegler, M., Khandrika, S., Irwin, M. R. “Nocturnal Levels of Ghrelin and Leptin and Sleep in Chronic Insomnia.” Psychoneuroendocrinology, May 2009.
  • Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T., Mignot, E. “Short Sleep Duration is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index.” PLoS Medicine, 2004.
  • Wurtman, R., Wurtman, J. “Carbohydrate Craving, Obesity and Brain Serotonin.” Appetite, vol 7, 1986, pp 99-103.
  • Wurtman, R., Wurtman, J. “Brain Serotonin, Carbohyrate-Craving, Obesity and Depression.” Obesity Research, vol 3, Nov 1995, pp 477S-480S.