Comfort foods = feel good, at least at first
Comfort foods: sugar, candy, cake. We generally feel great while eating them. When we are feeling sad or have a bad day, eating them temporarily makes us feel better. The reason that we feel better is that these foods release the hormones serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which are our happiness hormones. So it’s no surprise that when we do feel sad our first reaction is to turn toward food, specifically the food that has made us happier in similar situations. We’ve learned over our lifetimes that our comfort foods are a quick and easy fix to move us toward a better mood and alleviate the stress from our day.
However, when we are working toward long term health, and fitness, this habit of eating highly palatable, calorically dense, nutrient sparse foods works against those long term goals. In fact, it even works against long term mood and happiness. In short, it’s a brutal cycle of feeling the need to eat foods that make you better in the moment but make you feel awful in the long term as they erode your health and fitness levels if over consumed. Given how stressful modern life is, and how easy those foods are to overconsume (by design), it is no surprise that our journeys toward health always seem to be detoured by stress and the accompanying stress-eating.
Feeling good, and feeling full, by turning up the volume
There is good news though. It is possible to create some of the same feelings without overindulging in foods that will likely lead you in the opposite direction of your goals. While the digestive system is incredibly complex, and there are all sorts of hormones being released depending on what you eat, I’d like to focus on just one particular aspect: the gastric stretch. The gastric stretch isn’t an advanced yoga pose, instead it is literally what happens when your stomach is so full that it begins to stretch out. When that happens, hormones are released and sent to the brain, and one of those hormones is the happiness hormone, dopamine, which I previously mentioned when talking about comfort foods.
In order to maximize the total body response from the gastric stretch, you would want to eat both high volume and high fiber foods, as well as eat them as slowly as possible. This part is currently a theory rather than a fact (yes, we don’t yet know everything about the human body!), but he idea is that eating too quickly doesn’t allow the “intricate hormonal cross-talk system enough time to work”.
So in the end, simply making more healthful choices and managing your portions isn’t enough for long term satiety. You’ll want to be mindful of how slowly you are eating and incorporate foods daily that stretch out your stomach at every meal.
How can you eat more slowly? Some things that I’ve tried (with success) are
- Really taking the time to chew, taste, and enjoy the food.
- Switching from my dominant hand to the other hand. You don’t want to do this all of the time though, as it can lead to brain fatigue!
- Using chopsticks. Make a game out of it or it can be frustrating if you’ve never used them before! You can also get kid’s chopsticks to start out.
Foods that turn up the volume
What foods will help you accomplish a good gastric stretch without blowing your calorie budget?
Here is what I just recently had for dinner. It’s a giant bowl of salad, and is around 650 calories. It includes chicken breast, lean ham, low fat cheese, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, shredded cabbage, shredded carrots, and garlic! That phone is an iPhone 5c for reference!
The below are higher volume foods that are generally low in calories for how much satiety they provide!
- Soups! Broccoli soup via Gordon Ramsey or Propane Fitness
- Beans/legumes (my favorites are lentils, black beans, and kidney beans!)
- Turnips, potatoes (regular and sweet!)
- Eggplant and/or zucchini
- Meat slop! We keep a few dozen servings of this in our freezer at all times!
- Protein fluff – one of the only things on earth that makes me uncomfortably full
- Cauliflower (Try making cauliflower rice for added versatility)
- Check out this list of what 200 calories look like, ordered by low calorie density first! Please ignore the caloric beverages.
- Last but not least, any green, fibrous vegetables. A big salad with some broccoli slaw on top in addition to your regular meals will certainly fill your stomach up quickly!
So, if you are struggling with feeling full and have a dependence on high sugar, low nutrient comfort foods to battle your stress, give the above tips a try! Please let me if these help you!
Featured image courtesy of Nelson Sosa and used under a Creative Commons license.