OK, we’re two weeks into the new year, so if you made any resolutions regarding food and fitness, you’re either starting to feel the changes happening, or you’ve already given up. Hopefully, you’re in that first group of folks.
Far be it for us to bestow guilt for any overindulgence during the winter. It’s not like we haven’t done the same thing. We’re expected to overdo it a tad, right?
Nowadays, the holidays seem to have expanded to include everything from Halloween to the Super Bowl (even though that will be less celebratory for fans of the Baltimore Ravens after their disappointing playoff flameout over the weekend). But with New Year’s Day in the rear-view mirror, many folks are endeavoring to do better in 2020 in terms of nutrition, already-failed resolutions notwithstanding.
Everybody knows we shouldn’t indulge too much in calorie-laden delicacies that instantly inflate the waistline. But we do it anyway. That chocolate-coated, peppermint-sprinkled graham cookie is simply irresistible. Our bodes tell us so. And then there are the leftovers. Those myriad ways to use turkey and ham and other holiday staples until they’re all gone.
The result of that eating: A nation of dieters, desperate to lose the last 10 pounds or the first 50, seeks fresh ways to cheat the unforgiving, unyielding, unrelenting math of calories when the calendar flips and the work and school routines return.
Enter “intuitive eating.” The theory here is that your body knows what it is doing when it urges you to indulge. Instead of dieting, just heed the body’s signals, such as feelings of hunger and, of course, fullness. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Should be simple, right?
Researchers tested that theory in a study that pitted calorie-counters against intuitive eaters. The results were, well, intuitive. Those who counted calories lost more weight than those who listened to their bodies. Almost all, however, eventually gained most of the weight back and some of the intuitive eaters ended the six-week study weighing more than when they started, Judith Anglin, an associate professor of nutrition at Texas Southern University, reports. In another study, scientists tested a variation on the theme: Instead of monitoring calories, it suggests, just limit your bites.
Brigham Young University health sciences associate professor Josh West recruited 61 overweight or obese men to test the bite theory. Not surprisingly, 16 dropped out in the first week, the study at the Utah school found. Who wants to keep a running tally of every bite? Or be tempted to wolf down a burger in three bites just to keep the daily tally low? What a perfect way to ruin a meal.
Researchers have tried for years to unravel the intricate biology of obesity. What we know is that the communication between stomach and brain is complex, filled with hormones such as leptin and ghrelin that regulate hunger and satiety, that control cravings and contribute to weight gain or loss.
Scientists have discovered that fat itself sends out chemical messages to the brain, stomach and other tissues. They’ve tried to feather out the exact roles of all these chemicals crisscrossing brain and body in hopes of short-circuiting the ones that lead people to overeat into obesity.
Still, what we know about dieting is what we knew: Calories matter. What you eat matters. How much you exercise matters. Decrease energy input. Increase energy expenditure.
For inspiration, see our story in today’s edition about a 51-year-old Mechanicsville software engineer for a defense contractor who has used that logic to help him shed 50 pounds from what he previously called his “cubicle body.” Bill Dollins he often thinks in terms of “deliverables,” a good or service provided as part of the developmental process in the defense world. Based on that, he made a schedule for improvement — and held himself to it. So far, so good.
Listening to your body is fine, as long as you really listen. There’s no antidote to eating when you’re full or gorging for entertainment. Or as a form of therapy. For folks who have a problem in that regard, it’s hard to remember that food is just fuel. It’s nothing more than that, no matter how delicious or satisfying or comforting.
Fewer bites? Sure. But that won’t help if every one of them is triple chocolate cheesecake.