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FULL: A Life Without Dieting

by Michael Snyder, M.D.

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Much is made of the word satiety in diet circles, and it's very confusing. Satiety is a concept that is open to interpretation. In the eating world, we can be satisfied and still eat a brownie. Satisfaction allows us to slow down; it does not necessarily make us stop. But "full" is another story. When we are full, a primal, prehistoric characteristic that exists in all of us takes over. We cannot ignore full. To do so is uncomfortable. Full is not open to interpretation or negotiation.
Just as each one of us is hard wired to feel hungry, every one of us is hard wired to feel full. Our innate circuitry for fullness has been encoded in human genes for millions of years. We tend to think about keeping our stomachs happy, but we should really be focusing on our brains--our ancient, reptilian brains--because that's where true fullness resides. Contrary to what seems logical, you are not full when your stomach is full; technically, you are full when your primitive brain believes that your stomach is full and tells you that you're full.
An exceedingly ancient structure that sits in the middle of your head, the hypothalamus is unlike most other (more sophisticated and advanced) brain regions, and has maintained a striking similarity in structure throughout the course of human evolution. The hypothalamus does more than simply control hunger and serve as your psychological eating center. It helps to think of it as the health maintenance organization of your entire body, a kind of headquarters for maintaining the body's preferred status quo, sometimes referred to as homeostasis or "balance."
One of the most important jobs of the hypothalamus is to link the nervous system to the hormonal system. This is possible through the help of the pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure that dangles off the bottom of the hypothalamus and which actually secretes those behavior-altering hormones as dictated by the hypothalamus.
Speaking of hormones, a lot has been written about ghrelin and leptin in recent years, the two appetite hormones that play a supportive role in our feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin gives the green light to go and leptin emits the red light that wants you to stop. Upon reaching fullness, fat cells secrete leptin to transmit the "whoa" report to your hypothalamus so you can slow down and eventually avoid taking another bite. When leptin was first identified, many scientists thought they had hit the jackpot: the skinny hormone. A flurry of experiments soon followed to capitalize on leptin's potential power over obesity. But upping leptin levels doesn't appear to help people shed weight. We have much to learn in this field. For now, a critical takeaway is that fullness originates in the stomach but culminates in the deepest part of the brain. Zeroing in on these two "bookends" to the full story can afford you a big advantage in taking control.
It takes about 20-30 minutes after you start eating for the conscious part of you to acknowledge you're full. If we are not mindful of this event, we can eat through any reasonable sense of fullness and experience discomfort and malaise as a result.
Tools are critical to our success in so many areas of our life. Why would we think that we don't need such help with our weight-loss efforts? We need tools to give us an edge over that primitive, reptilian brain that constantly seeks fullness, and that is constantly confronted with an abundance of food.

Tool #1: Be Full with Less
Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, chips, crackers, doughnuts, bagels, baked goods. I know you can eat a lot of this "white stuff" because it's physiologically easy to do. Gram for gram, they contain more calories than other types of foods and their ingredients don't work well with your body's biology to signal when you've had enough--that is, they don't tell your brain that you're full soon enough.

Tool #2: Full on Fiber
A growing body of scientific research continues to prove the benefits of fiber for heart health, disease prevention, and weight control. Women need to get at least 25 grams of fiber per day; men should aim for 30 grams a day. Some studies suggest that consuming an extra 14 grams of fiber per day may cause the body to absorb 10% fewer calories.

Tool #3: Stop and Think
"Mindful" eating is easier said than done. But one of the keys to being more aware of your eating habits and that elusive feeling of fullness is to honor the steps of digestion. Every meal or snack should allow you to experience thinking, smelling, tasting, chewing, and swallowing. All of these steps happen before one calorie is absorbed by the body, but they are critical components of the process. For this reason, I do not advocate the routine use of shakes as regular meal substitutes. They can go down easily and be loaded with calories.

Tool #4: Don't Fear Fat, but Don't Add Fat
Fat intake is not the enemy. Some fats are so important to your existence that they are called "essential fats." My rule is to eat normal amounts of fat in your everyday life. It's fine to cook with olive oil, but avoid eating a bag of full-fat chips or fried foods with any regularity. A handful of walnuts, which are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, is better than a handful of fatty crackers with a block of full-fat cheese.

Tool #5: Drink More Water
Water intake is a critical component of any weight-loss strategy. Aim to drink about 52 ounces per day as a bare minimum. Next time you are hungry, drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes. Then see if you're a bit less hungry. The average American consumes 50 gallons each year of sugar-sweetened beverages. No wonder cutting just one regular soda a day will melt away 20 pounds in a year.

Tool #6: Eat More Often
We've known for some time now that grazers--those that eat small meals and snacks throughout the day, as opposed to eating three big meals--have an easier time keeping their weight down. Regular meals every 3-4 hours that are between 300 and 500 calories help keep the metabolism humming, and trigger the body to use good calories for fuel and give up the fat. This also trains the brain to feel full all or most of the time.

Tool #7: Sleep it Off
A study published by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2005 showed that sleeping fewer than seven hours a night corresponded with a greater risk of weight gain and obesity.

Tool #8: Full Planning
The best time to plan a meal is when you're full. Just by planning your foods, the what and when of your eating, the better you will do. And by eliminating spontaneous snacking (impulse eating) you will better control your weight and nutrition. Remember, a meal is what you plan; a snack is what you grab.

Excerpted with permission from Full: A Life Without Dieting ©2011 by Michael A. Snyder M.D., published by Hay House, Carlsbad, CA. Available in stores or visit www.hayhouse.com

Related Info:
Dr. Andrew Weil on Eating for Optimal Health
Dr. Ed Bauman on Healthy Weight Loss
Confessions of a Reformed Emotional Eater
The Skinny on Weight Loss Products
More Vegetables, Please!
Sugar: Toxic Invader #1
Dr. David Kessler on taking control of our food choices
Barry Sears, Ph.D. on weight loss and the Zone Diet
Dr. Elson Haas on diet and nutrition

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