As a personal trainer I have client’s ask me daily on my top strategies when it comes to nutrition and with good reason… Without a proper nutrition plan your goals whether for fat loss or hypertrophy are doing to be harder to come by! Fortunately for the members of our Sydney CBD and Chatswood gym’s, Clean Health Fitness Institute personal trainers are taught weekly the latest cutting edge strategies on nutrition to help our members.
Successful fat loss diets require the dieter to create and maintain a caloric deficit (put simply, energy consumed is less than energy burnt). Hunger is the enemy when it comes to dieting. Research has found that not being hungry is the most important predictor of successful weight loss. Without hunger, dieting would be as easy as just consciously deciding to eat less.
Unfortunately, weight re-gain is common amongst dieters…
“Despite overweight people’s investments of effort, time and money in losing weight, virtually all non-medical approaches to weight loss are characterized by eventual weight regain, usually within several years” (Lowe, 2012)
Now lets have a quick look at the statistics:
- Overall prevalence of obesity has doubled in the last 30 years
- As of 2012, 63% of Australians were classified as Overweight or Obese
- 2/3 of US adults are considered overweight or obese
The health risks associated with overweight and obesity include the following:
- Type II Diabetes
- Heart Disease – causes 4 out of every 10 deaths in the US
- High Blood Pressure – 1/3 of Americans have high blood pressure
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (excess fat and inflammation in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol)
- Some types of cancer, including breast, colon and kidney
Whilst I can’t possibly hope to cover the multitude of reasons behind this increase in overweight and obesity, overeating is clearly one factor that stands at the heart of the problem.
So what causes us to overeat? According to Stephan Guyenet, a prominent Obesity researcher, we’ve evolved to be driven toward calorie dense, non-toxic food in an energy scarce ancestral environment. However, we now live in a society where most of the food is at a level of reward/palatability that our species has never encountered before. We’re surrounded by it, and everywhere we turn, someone is jockeying for our attention, trying to get us to purchase his or her food.
The following food properties favor eating:
- Calorie dense
- Absence of bitterness
These preferences are innate. Back when humans were hunter-gathers, it makes sense that we would favour foods that are highly calorie dense and highly palatable, given the sporadic nature of eating. Humans could have gone days or even weeks without much food, meaning they had to capitalise when they were able to eat. Our genes haven’t changed greatly since those times, yet our environment couldn’t be more different. Today we have an abundance of highly palatable, calorie dense, convenient food everywhere we turn.
To illustrate how easy it is to over-consume food, I provide you with the results from a study titled “Spontaneous Overfeeding with a ‘Cafeteria Diet’ in Men: Effects on 24-hour Energy Expenditure and Substrate Oxidation”. Ten lean individuals were recruited and their daily energy requirement for weight maintenance was calculated. They were then placed in a metabolic ward setting where the only food that was available were from two large vending machines containing a variety of prepared foods of known calorie and nutrient compositions. Examples of the types of food include muffins, pancakes, scrambled eggs, cheeseburgers, apple juice, soda etc. Over the course of seven days, participants in the study gained an average of 2.3kg. The participants were consuming on average 60% more than their baseline energy requirements.
So the palatability and caloric density of foods can make us over-consume. But what other factors affect our appetite?
- Sleep – Sleep regulates everything, including your appetite. Sleep deprivation can also cause a reduction in your metabolism. So, having poor sleep patterns can result in an increased appetite and a slower metabolism – causing what is known as the ‘energy gap’.
- Decision Fatigue – Your ability to override what your instincts are telling you is what is known as ‘executive function’. Executive functioning is an intensive process that fatigues with use. This is generally why people experience a loss of will power later in the day. They accumulate decision fatigue throughout the course of the day and are then prone to binge eating at night.
- Social Effects – Not only does eating in social settings create a distraction from the food, which will make you less mindful of how much you have eaten (see point below.), the implied social norms also play a large role. For example, if your eating company orders salads, low calorie foods and forgo alcohol, you are much more likely to follow suit.
- Mindfulness & Eating Speed – Put simply, if you are not focused on your food, you will eat more of it. This is why research has found people eat more in front of distractions such as T.V’s and lop-tops and when eating out socially. The research surrounding eating speed is far more mixed, but eating speed and mindfulness are highly correlated. You are far more likely to mindful of your food if you take time to chew your food properly and savour the taste of it.
- Hunger Entrainment – Hunger has a circadian rhythm and as a result you tend to get hungry at times you would normally eat. This is why people often experience increased hunger after exercise. It is not the exercise itself that is making you hungry. Actually, research has found that exercise has an appetite suppressing effect. However, post-workout is a time we always tend to eat, so we get hungry in response to this.
- Body Fat % – The less body fat you have, the hungrier you become. This is why dieting becomes increasingly hard the leaner you become.
So, with this in mind, here are some of the top tips I give my clients to prevent over-eating and control appetite…
- Eat slowly and mindfully – Turn off the television, close down the laptop; take time to enjoy your food.
- Prioritise your sleep – The importance of good sleep is a topic too large to cover here but to emphasise the point here are some adverse effects of sleep deprivation: Increased cortisol production; reduced testosterone production; increased appetite; increased insulin resistance; poorer nutrition partitioning; decreased cognitive functioning and overall decreased well-being. Some quick tips to ensure good sleep: Regular sleep and waking patterns (even at weekends); cool room temperature; very dark room; limited exposure to electronic equipment in the hour or so before sleep.
- Avoid decision fatigue – By limiting the number of decisions you have to make regarding your diet. Prepare food in advance or order pre-made food from the numerous meal-delivery companies that are now in existence. Ensure you shop from a grocery list and never go shopping hungry.
- Get Into Routine – The body craves routine. Try to eat meals at roughly the same time every day to avoid hunger pangs. A good rule of thumb is all meals to fall within a 2-hour window.
- Stay well hydrated – Drink no less than 3 litres of filtered water per day!
- Avoid Proximity – Keep snacks (especially the ones you find highly palatable) out of reach and don’t keep any food in your kitchen that you don’t intend on eating.
- Avoid ‘cheat meals’ and stop viewing food as a reward – If you view Saturday as ‘Pancake Saturday’, you spend the rest of the week thinking about the pancakes you are going to eat on Saturday. Find other ways to reward yourself. Also, by eating a ‘cheat’ food you make it more salient in your memory and increase cravings for that food. The best way to reduce cravings for a food is to starve it, rather than indulge it.
- Focus on eating foods that provide a high level of satiety – These foods have a high volume (few calories per 100g – the apposite of calorie density), are high in fibre & water, are high in protein and have a high viscosity (i.e. are more solid than liquid). For example, chicken breast is far more satiating than whey protein. Foods that tend to be highly satiating are Quark, Cottage Cheese, Casein, Pumpkin, dark (green) vegetables, blackberries, peaches, plums, strawberries and grapefruit, all of these and more are available for selection in the iNutrition Pro software that we use with our personal training clients in our Sydney CBD and Chatswood gym’s.
In summary, over-eating in today’s environment is increasingly easy. I hope that some of these tips will enable you to empower yourself to make better decisions and take control of your health.