Monday, February 9, 2009

It is how you eat, not what you eat

The favourite line of attack of weight loss programs and experts (now there’s an oxymoron – weight loss expert) is that you should watch what you eat. This is followed with a list of what you can eat and a list of what is taboo. The latter list comprises of whatever is popular hatred at the time – carbohydrate foods, fatty foods, white foods, processed foods. More recently, there is research suggesting that how you eat is having a significant effect on your weight, with rapid eating being associated with overweight.

Slow down, eat less
Over 3000 adults were asked whether they ate until they were full (chockers) and whether they ate quickly (speed-eaters), or if they did both.

There was a strong association between how the subjects ate and the chance of them being overweight. The authors of the research were reluctant to say the level of risk, but it appears that the chockers group and the speed-eaters group were one and half to twice as likely to be overweight. If they were both a chockers and speed-eater then they were around three times more likely to be overweight, with the odds being slightly higher in women.

This research supported previous research in the area that linked rapid eating to fullness to portliness. One limitation of any research is basing your results on a survey. When you ask people about their eating habits, they are likely to lie, giving answers closer to the socially accepted norm. Even if this was the case here and less people admitted to being a chocker or a speed-eater than in reality, then the results even more strongly hint that eating quickly until you are full is not great for the waistline.

Hara hachi bu
It’s Japanese. The best translation is “eat until your stomach is 80% full”. Try it. It is not easy in a society that offers more food than you need, encourages you to try a bit of everything on offer and expects you to eat until you need to loosen your belt for comfort. With practice, hara hachi bu will make you feel better, sleep better, think better, and may provide the added bonus of weight loss. Hara hachi bu is critical if you attend a conference, or any time you are offered “free food”, as over-eating makes you less inclined to stay alert.

What does it all mean?
Making you focus solely on what you eat sounds like an easy solution, yet so many of our long-standing eating habits could be having a greater influence on how much we eat. If you eat until you are full, or even overfull, you are likely to eat more that you need. If you eat quickly, you do not allow time for the satiating hormones to signal your brain that enough is enough. If you are a “plate cleaner”, or eat for psychological comfort, then you are adding more factors to the over-eating equation. That’s why we hand out diet books and diet plans: it’s dogmatic and so much easier than discussing our relationship with food.

Reference: British Medical Journal 2008; 337: a2002 doi: 10.1136/bmj.a2002


John Denton - Denton And Associates said...

Glenn, I have just had an excellent trip to the USA and whilst there - I confess: I ate until I was chockers! The meals were so delicious and SO BIG! I have put on weight! My Mum taught me to eat everything on my plate (it's her fault!). What amazed me was how much the locals eat (generalising). Breakfast at the hotel: people ate scrambled eggs, sausages, fried potatoes, bacon and then piled pancakes and maple syrup ON TOP! Needless to say, most of those people were HUGE. My "chockers limit" was way less than their's! My goal is to frop 6 Kg in two months. Regards, John Denton

Glenn Cardwell said...

Thanks for your comment John. When you have breakfast at a hotel, the underlying thought could be "I need to eat as much as I can now because there may be a famine at 10am", but it is more likely to be a case of "the more I eat, the better value for money I get". Humans make a great case study. Glenn