Want to control your weight? Treat food as information.
Posted January 10, 2011
Now that the holidays are over, you really want to control your eating—forever. One useful way is to see food as information, as a series of messages given to the body.
So look at your body the way many physicists do—as a giant information processing machine. Give your body the right information, and you can really start to control eating.
Here are just a few ways to do that:
Time Your Eating Right
If food is information, then time your eating right. There’s a lot more insulin around in the morning than in the evening. Allowed to eat just one meal a day, people who ate in the morning lost weight, while people who ate in the evening gained. To control weight, breakfast like a king, sup like a pauper. Weight loss is also easier when people habitually eat breakfast. Parents who eat breakfast have less weighty kids.
Eating at night may not only help gain weight, but as researchers at the University of Surrey have shown, increase lipid and glucose levels far above what is seen during the daytime. Shift workers have bigger guts and higher mortality rates for a reason.
The Medium is the Message
There are many other meanings to food—how it looks, how it’s prepared, whom you eat with. Where, when, what, how fast, and why you eat can change everything. Here are just a few informative facts to whet your appetite:
Bulk Matters. Give people 2000 calories of food, first with “normal” meals, next in meals stuffed with lots and lots of fiber and leafy greens. Dining on the fiber rich meals, people eat 400 calories less. Reason—supposedly the brain interprets the bulky meal as meaning there’s enough food around.
Salad before or after the meal? You want to eat the salad before—it takes more time to eat, gives the brain the twenty minutes it needs to appreciate how much bulky food is in the gut, and may help prevent bloating post-meal.
The Phantom Tollbooth Effect. In that classic children’s book, you eat a full meal, follow with dessert, and suddenly you’re hungry again. Through insulin related hypoglycemia and other hormonal effects including effects on leptin and ghrelin, eating sugar can make you hungry even after a full meal. Most fast food restaurants know this well, and are not unhappy that desserts further increase appetite.
Is all sugar just sugar? No. Americans eat 145 pounds of government subsidized high fructose corn syrup every year. Though his findings are controversial, Daniel Lane at Johns Hopkins University argues that fructose’s effect on the brain is to increase hunger, while glucose decreases it. Fructose delivered to the liver increases overall body fat production, unlike glucose. And …
Don’t eat dessert first. Eating high sugar-content food at the beginning of a meal increases metabolism, and your ability to ingest and process more food. You literally possess more energy to digest food and store it—particularly in places you don’t want.
Size Matters. The size of plates (and portions) matters—put the same meal on smaller plates, and people eat less.
TV or not TV? Watchers of TV eat more, up to 71% more if glued to their program.
Color your dining room differently. in a recent study, people in a blue dining room ate 33% less than people eating in a red or yellow room. Bottom line—the environment in which you eat changes how you eat, how much, and what it does to your waistline.
Some Other Food Rules
Michael Pollan has done us a service with his bestselling Food Rules. Here are a few variations on his rules than can be used to control weight:
Dine, don’t feed. Food is information, but it’s also love, culture, pleasure, entertainment, and spirit. Lots of people pray before they eat, and it’s not a bad idea to view how food is grown with awe. William James wrote his great book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, over a century ago. Consider your own life’s tome—your Varieties of Food Experience. Eating can be a peak experience if you do it right, making dining a special personal/social event—a series of brief vacations.
Change food’s effects by going FAR. Should you sit in your chair after you eat like your elementary school teacher told you? No—it’s probably a great way to add fat to your belly. Try this instead—a daily rhythm of Food, Activity, Rest. After you eat, move around for at least a few minutes. Even moving around the kitchen or talking or pacing on a cell phone should slow your digestive process. That prevents the glucose and insulin peaks that may quickly add belly fat. And besides changing your waistline, there’s an added bonus—you’ll help prevent gastric reflux disease, which unfortunately afflicts many of us.
Learn to rest. The average person will gain weight if they sleep less than six hours a night. Rest, like food, is information, and rebuilds the body on a vast and fast scale. How fast? According to researcher Ana Maria Cuervo at Einstein Medical School, you essentially get a new heart every three days; your gut lining cells last all of one day.
So combining food and rest properly can make a huge difference to how much you eat, how much you weigh, and what you look like.
The Right Directions
You want to give your body the right kinds of directions for the food you eat, directions that will change the way you look and feel—and how much you weigh. Don’t just choose your parents wisely—choose the right information. Your body will be glad you did.
Dr. Matthew Edlund, M.D., M.O.H., is an internationally recognized expert on rest, sleep, and body clocks. His books include The Body Clock Advantage, Designed to Last, and Psychological Time and Mental Illness. His new book, The Power of Rest, shows that rest is a skill that rebuilds, renews, and rewires mind and body, and can increase productivity, health, and pleasure. For more information, visit his website, TheRestDoctor.com. You can also subscribe to his new Fitcast via the iTunes Store.