Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Monday, October 11, 2010

Getting to the heart of holiday eating

Overeating just one time, like at Thanksgiving dinner, alters hormonal balance that leads to more overeating.

Ghrelin, an appetite stimulating hormone produced in the stomach, is increased when our stomach is emptied, and decreases after eating, but when we overeat, the next time ghrelin is released it's released in greater quantities.   This makes us feel more hungry than we usually do.

Leptin, an appetite suppressing hormone produced primarily by fat cells, increases as we eat letting us feel satiated (full and satisfied).  Blood levels of leptin are proportional to body fat; more body fat = more leptin.

How does that work?  If leptin decreases appetite, and the more fat we store the more leptin we have, shouldn't we feel less hungry as we gain weight, and automatically feel like eating less?

That makes perfect sense and is why researchers wanted to create a leptin based obesity drug.  Didn't work.

Turns out the brains leptin receptors become desensitized to loads of leptin being released.

Ghrelin and leptin counter act each other well so long as we don't become overweight.  Being overweight alters the way these hormones work causing us to feel more hungry and feel less satisfied from eating, prompting us to eat more to get that satisfied feeling.

OK, but I'm not going to become overweight from eating one meal, so this doesn't affect me.

In addition to the chronic effect on these hormones from being overweight, the same effect occurs short term after just one high calorie meal.

For up to 72 hours after one high calorie meal the two hormones gang up on your brain causing you to feel unusually hungry the next day. Overeating stimulates us to continue overeating.


Short on sleep?  Less than 6 hours sleep causes more ghrelin to be produced: not getting enough sleep makes you feel more hungry than you actually are.

What does this have to do with Thanksgiving dinner?

Eating a large meal in the evening interferes with sleep quality and decreases sleep time.  Now there are two known influences on increased ghrelin production occurring simultaneously: Overeating and not getting enough sleep.

Can't deny it tastes great while we eat it.  I know I'll enjoy the family Thanksgiving dinner tonight.

So how do we have our cake and eat it too?

The most difficult challenge is not generating the short term will power to eat a little less, it's a long term project that involves a lot of cognitive practice.

It's important to teach ourselves to feel satisfied from eating portions that are healthy.  When we attach a huge reward association with mega overeating we will of course feel deprived when that reward is taken away.

OK.. long term change for how I look at food and feel rewarded from it.  Got it.

So what about tonight? I don't have the luxury of completing that long term goal in the next 8 hours.

  • Drink a couple cups of water within 15 to 20 minutes before dinner.  This will result in needing less food to feel full.
  • One heaping plate of Thanksgiving food is between 1000 and 2000 calories. The average person only needs 500 calories at a meal.  Keep total calories in mind.
  • Fill your plate less.  Hmm.. maybe "fill" is the wrong word here.  Whatever you put on your plate, make sure you can still see the plate.
  • Most veggies are low calorie but have bulk, and excellent nutrient density.  Put more veggies on the plate; go ahead.. make half your plate all veggies!
  • Careful with the calorie dense veggies like potatoes, only a 1/4 plate here.
  • And yes, the turkey and ham only need occupy about 1/4 of the plate, and no, making that 1/4 plate 5 cm high doesn't count.
  • Serve buffet style.  Studies show when we have large serving dishes on the table we eat at, we tend to serve ourselves more.
  • Use smaller plates.  Simple, and it works.
  • Careful with dessert.  The calories in dessert can often be as much as one plate of dinner. Sure tastes great, but does cause us physical harm, and you know the next day you'll regret eating so much.  So have desert, but teach yourself to be satisfied with a healthy amount.

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