There’s a lot of talk these days of “obesity genes” or other hereditary factors that might promote weight gain. So it’s no wonder that some of us may be thinking, “I’m just destined to be fat.”
And sure, genetic factors do predispose some of us to become fatter than others.
“But for most Americans, heredity need not be destiny,” asserts Dr. Jay Kenney, Nutrition Research Specialist at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “The primary reason that growing numbers of Americans are seriously overweight is our Western industrialized environment.”
We drive rather than walk. We choose elevators over stairs. And we wolf down Big Macs instead of fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains, and prudent portions of lean meat. We live in a society, in short, that promotes excessive calorie intake and body fat accumulation, even in those of us who have only a weak genetic predisposition to put on weight.
To reverse this pound-producing trend, what’s most important is how we live, not how we are wired.
Here are the top two strategies for losing weight permanently, taught in our “Biology of Weight Control” class at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
A key strategy for achieving permanent weight loss is regular exercise. And contrary to popular belief, walking several miles a day will not increase your appetite to any great degree. Walking several miles daily is, in fact, a win-win situation. Your appetite will stay pretty much the same, and you’ll burn several of the calories you are eating, both of which translate into successful, long-term weight loss.
Here’s a real motivator: If you burn an additional 300 calories each day by exercising (that’s about three miles of walking daily), you could easily lose 30 pounds within a matter of weeks or months.
2. Increase the amount of satiety you get out of your calories.
Traditionally, weight-loss strategies have focused on reducing caloric intake by restricting portion sizes or counting calories. But these limited portion sizes leave most of us hungry – and unsatisfied. In research, people often report that they were doing pretty well with their “diet” but didn’t really feel satisfied, so they began to eat more. Sometimes, they’d become so ravenous they’d binge on rich, calorie-dense foods like ice cream, cookies, pizza, and chips. (Sound familiar?) What they’re lacking is satiety.
Satiety is the flip side of hunger. The more satisfied, or satiated, you feel after eating a meal or snack, the less hunger you’ll feel, so the less likely you’ll end up at places (like the local drive-thru) you don’t want to be.
Satiety is also a measure of how long it takes for you to become hungry after you’ve eaten a meal. Does your meal fill you up, in other words, for one hour? Two hours? Three hours? The longer it “sticks to your ribs,” the more satiety that meal has.
Interestingly, a higher calorie intake does not necessarily mean a higher level of satiety. Oh sure, if you ate an eight-ounce can of calorie-rich peanuts, you’d feel full – and you probably wouldn’t need to eat again for a few hours. But you can achieve the same level of satiety on a lot fewer calories. Indeed, research has shown that satiety does not depend solely on the number of calories in a meal.
To get the most satiety on the fewest amounts of calories, follow these six simple steps:
1. Reduce the calorie density of the foods you eat.
Foods with a higher calorie density, like Sausage McGriddles, dry cereals, dried fruits, and potato chips, generally provide less satiety, per calorie, than foods with a low calorie density, like hot cereals, fresh fruits, and potatoes.
Here’s one way to think about it. With a Sausage McGriddle, you’re taking in about 100 calories per bite, and in just five bites that McGriddle is gone, which means you’re still hungry, ready to order another McGriddle, plus hash browns.
With a breakfast like hot whole-grain cereal, fresh fruit, and a veggie-rich egg-white omelet, you’re taking in only about 10 to 20 calories per bite, which means you can eat to your heart’s content and still not even come close to the calories in one McGriddle.
2. Increase your consumption of foods with a greater volume.
Popcorn, for example, has pretty much the same calorie density as corn chips (the fat-free variety), but you’re getting a lot more volume with the popcorn than with the corn chips. The popcorn fills up a big bowl; the corn chips, a fairly small bowl. Opt for the popcorn. It’ll give you more satiety.
3. Eat only when you’re hungry. (And when you do eat, don’t stuff yourself.)
Research has shown that the same snack provides more satiety if eaten when you are hungry than when you are not. It’s so important to listen to your body. Here’s the Dr. Jay “test”: “Odds are you’re truly hungry if you’d eat a plain baked potato.”
When you are no longer hungry, stop. People who eat when they are not hungry (“I’m so full, but here comes the dessert cart”) almost always choose foods with very little satiety per calorie, and these are the most fattening foods of all.
It is also important to not fight hunger. You don’t want to go hungry for long periods of time. Starving yourself can all too easily lead to binges.
4. Avoid liquid calories.
Studies have found that sugar in a solid form (jelly beans) provides more satiety for a given calorie level than when it’s dissolved in water (coke). Optimally, “eat” your water. Increase your intake of foods rich in water, like fruits and vegetables. Rather than drinking fruit juice, eat your fruit. Peel an orange. Finish off a big crisp apple. Snack on carrots. These whole foods are not only low in calorie density, they also tend to make you feel satisfied longer than liquid calories or foods with little or no water.
5. Avoid foods high in fat, sugar, or refined grains.
Research has found that foods with more protein, starch, and fiber provide more satiety per calorie than foods high in fat, sugar, and refined grains. Whole-grain bread, for example, is 50% more filling than white bread.
Among the least filling foods are cakes, doughnuts, and cookies, all high in fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. Per calorie, potatoes are six times more filling than croissants.
6. Increase the amount of fiber you get per calorie.
Studies have found that foods with more dietary fiber tend to make people feel satisfied longer than foods with less dietary fiber. A number of studies have shown that, compared to low-fiber foods, high-fiber foods consumed at breakfast or lunch can significantly reduce food intake at the next meal.
Caution: Watch out for added fiber. Many dry cereals, for example, promote their fiber richness but much of their fiber (with names like inulin and polydextrose) is supplemental. It’s been added to what is essentially a refined cereal. Scientists do not know if these supplemental fibers have the same proven benefits as the intact fiber in whole grains.
Bottom Line: Get your fiber from foods naturally rich in fiber, like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.
One way to eat more high-fiber foods is to have fun experimenting with new foods. At the grocery store – or even while dining out – try a new fruit or vegetable each time. Cruise your local farmers’ markets for seasonal delights. Ask the farmers, as well as folks shopping alongside you, for cooking tips.
Add your newly found favorites to different dishes, including soups, salads, pastas, and stir fries. You’ll never get bored.
- Heredity is not destiny. Just because you may have inherited the tendency to store body fat efficiently does not mean you are destined to become fat.
- Growing scientific evidence suggests that the most effective strategy for reversing the trend towards increased body weight in the U.S. is a combination of regular exercise and an eating plan that provides more satiety per calorie. An ideal weight-loss eating plan is one rich in fiber-filled, naturally low-fat foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, and limited amounts of lean animal protein foods such as nonfat dairy products and most seafood.