Yûma looked down into his clay bowl, piled with heaps of stir-fried vegetables and fatty chunks of pork. Whisps of aromatic steam rolled up into his face.
Though his stomach rumbled, Yûma felt calm and content. His wife, children, grandchildren, and great-granddaughter were tightly packed with him around the dinner table.
“Hara Hachi Bu” said Yûma’s wife. The family responded all together, “Hara Hachi Bu.” Then, they dug in.
This cultural and communal adage can be heard in the evening hours all around Okinawa. It’s one of the reasons why the people of Okinawa don’t battle obesity, have the lowest rates of illness from heart disease, cancer, and stroke, and enjoy the longest life expectancy on the planet. As a sort of pre-meal prayer, Okinawa families pause and remind each other to, “Eat until you’re 80% full.”
If you want to beat obesity and live healthily until you’re one hundred, take a tip from Yûma and train your body to stop overeating. Here are 3 tips that will make portion control possible.
If you’re worried that Yûma and all the other Okinawans are chronic undereaters, we need a quick brush-up on Anatomy and Physiology.
As you eat, your stomach stretches. Then, stretch receptors in your stomach pick up the phone (the vagus nerve that connects your gut to your brain), and say, “There’s enough food down here that we’re stretched thin.”
As the food moves from your stomach to your small intestine, your brain gets another call: “Hey Brain, it’s Small Intestine. It looks like we’ve got enough nutrients to satisfy the body’s needs and refuel energy stores.”
The problem is, this brain-gut cross-talk isn’t instant. It can take 15-20 minutes for the sensory systems in your gut to send signals to your brain saying it’s reached fullness.
Eating quickly is like asking your spouse to tell you when to take your exit, and then flying down the interstate at 120 miles per hour. If you eat too fast, you’ll speed past your stopping point.
So, go slow, join the table. Turn off distracting devices. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the meal. Let your gut talk to your brain, and give your brain enough time to talk back.
That scrumptious crunch. The way it melts in your mouth. A delicious dusting of powder left on your fingertips. Many processed foods were literally designed in a lab to make them irresistible.
There are some sinister food scientists out there. And the junk food industry has hired them to keep you hooked.
In prehistoric times, sugar, fat, and salt were so rare that we gorged on them when we found them to increase our chances of survival. After decades of research, the snack industry has carefully and deliberately engineered snacks heavy in these three ingredients in order to hack your hard-wired instincts.
Food scientists know that you will crave a food more if it leaves a dusting of powder on your fingertips or if a chip makes a loud crunch sound as you chew it. They know that you’re more likely to pick up a bright red, orange, or yellow package. They’ve marked the exact amount of sugar that makes your body experience pleasure without signaling that you’ve had enough. They’ve found out that foods with multiple flavors are more addicting.
Here’s the scariest snack fact of all. “Rapid meltdown” is a strategy used by the food industry to increase how much you eat. Foods that melt down to nothing in your mouth, like cheese puffs, don’t register in your brain like other foods. Your tongue receives an explosion of calorie-dense flavor, and then, poof, the food is gone and your brain is searching for where it went. Oh there it is, must have dropped it back in the bag. You reach for another cheese puff, and the magic trick repeats.
Today, more than half of all calories consumed in the U.S. come from these highly processed foods, and rising obesity rates have exploded in tandem with the packaged snack industry. So outmaneuver the mind-games and skip the snack aisle. Stick with whole foods. I’ll tell you why next.
In 1985, psychologists Polivy and Herman discovered something that caught national attention. In their laboratory, they found a strong diet-binge link. In their words, “By supplanting physiological regulatory controls with cognitive controls, dieting makes the dieter vulnerable to disinhibition and consequent overeating.”
In simpler terms, Polivy and Herman found that when someone tries to control their eating by using their thoughts and willpower instead of listening to their body’s natural signals, it can lead to a loss of control and result in them eating too much. Restrictive dieting precedes overeating.
We all can relate. When we cut our calories down too far, willpower eventually runs out. We snap and eat whatever high-calorie food we can snatch the fastest.
Overeating can be our body’s cry for help. If we’re nutritionally depriving ourselves, either by eating too few calories for too long or cutting out a macronutrient altogether (I’m looking at you, carnivore diet!) our survival instinct shoves its way into our driver’s seat. Thankfully, something inside us is more concerned about our wellbeing than our waistline.
As we work to lose excess body fat and maintain a healthy weight, our physical, mental, and emotional health depends on sufficient nutrients. Providing your body with what you need, even while losing weight, will help you overcome overeating.
Yûma doesn’t hit the gym. You won’t find him sporting sweat bands or touting dumbbells. He doesn’t know how to snatch or count reps. But he is the boss of his belly. He eats what his body needs and no more. He eats slowly, disregards Doritos, and fuels his body with satisfying whole foods.
Still not sure that diet is all that important? Can’t an extra workout burn off that big mac? You’ll be surprised to learn that diet is 80% of your weight loss battle!
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