Hunger and Fullness Cues, and the Story of Hyper-Rewarding and Hyper-Palatable Food
Written on December 11, 2013 at 6:47 am, by Eric Cressey
Today's post is an excerpt from The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide, written by Precision Nutrition's Brian St. Pierre; this guide is available as part of the "gold package" version of the product. This section has received a lot of positive feedback, so I thought I'd share it as an example of what you can expect.
Eating Slowly and Only Until Satisfied
Many of us eat far too quickly. And, at each meal we expect to eat to the point of fullness. Unfortunately, eating in this manner – quickly and until full – will always present challenges to your performance, health, and body composition goals. This is true even if you eat the right foods (though eating mostly whole, minimally processed foods makes it much easier to tune into these powerful appetite cues).
Learning to tune into and follow your hunger and fullness cues will be paramount to your long-term success. It will teach you to slow down, to listen to your body and its needs and to stop eating when you are satisfied, not full. This is actually one of the most important skills you need to build for long-term nutrition success.
Why is this so? It takes about 20 minutes for our satiety mechanisms to work. What this means is that the signal from our gut takes time to get to our brain. So, if you eat quickly, it is more than likely that you will eat far more in that 20-minute window than you need, and before your brain can tell you that you have eaten enough. Regardless of food quality and macronutrient composition, over-eating is over-eating. Unless you are trying to gain weight, learning this skill is critical (and even then it is still critical, because you won’t be trying to gain weight forever).
An excellent goal is to aim for about 15-20 minutes per meal, at a minimum. If this is too big of a change for you, simply aim to take a little longer for now, slowly stretching out your meals until you are able to reach that 15-20 minute mark.
To do this, simply utilize the following strategies:
• take a seat when you eat
• turn off the TV and eliminate distractions (though some light reading can be okay)
• take smaller bites
• chew your food more completely
• put your fork down after every few bites
• drink some water
• share some witty banter with your dining partner(s)
Slowing down your eating will help in many capacities. When you eat slowly, you tend to eat fewer calories with each meal (because your brain has time to tell you enough has been eaten), drink more water (improving hydration status and health), improve digestion (because it starts in the mouth), and tune into your hunger and fullness cues more effectively.
Hyper-Rewarding and Hyper-Palatable Food
This is also one of the reasons that eating mostly whole, minimally processed foods is so powerful. When you eat these whole foods, which tend to be fibrous, full of water and tasty (but not overly-so), your brain is also better able to signal to you that you have eaten enough.
However, when you eat highly processed foods, they tend to be what are called hyper-palatable and hyper-rewarding. In essence, what happens when you eat these foods, is that your brain becomes over-excited, and it can’t “hear” the signals coming from your GI tract on how much food you have eaten, which delays the signal telling you enough has been consumed. This leads to over-consumption, addictive-like behaviors, obesity, inflammation and diabetes.
While a full discussion on hyper-palatable and hyper-rewarding foods is outside the scope of this resource, just realize that food products have been specifically engineered to get you to eat a lot of them. Food companies have a limit on how much of their product can be purchased; this limit is called the human stomach. The only way to increase sales is to get you to eat more.
And they do this by systematically testing exactly how their foods affect our hedonic and reward systems in our brains. Basically, think of it like this: hyper-rewarding foods are foods that you will strongly seek out. Your brain has associated them with awesomeness (because they over-stimulate and over-excite your reward centers in your brain), so you will go to great lengths to find them and consume them. Reward is what drives you to find a food (among other elements).
On the other hand, hyper-palatable food is food that tastes so good at that moment that you eat more of it than you should, even if you aren’t hungry. It’s like Thanksgiving. You have already eaten a ton, and are stuffed – but then the pies come out. You put some in front of you and you eat a whole big slice, maybe two. The hyper-palatability of the pie over-excites the hedonic (or pleasure) centers of your brain, so you ignore satiety cues and eat even though you aren’t hungry. Where reward drives you to seek out food, palatability dictates how much you eat in a sitting (again, among other elements).
While these two elements are intertwined, they aren’t always together. For example, let’s say you want ice cream. Your brain knows how delicious it is, and associates it with an awesome time. So you seek some out (reward). But, when you start eating it, it is not very good. You take a handful of licks – because you did pay for it, after all – but you discard half of it. That element was palatability, or in this case, lack thereof. If it had tasted like the ice cream your brain was envisioning, you would likely have eaten it all, even past the point of fullness.
You might be wondering how exactly these processed foods can be so palatable and rewarding. This is because food companies carefully manage three elements:
• sugar (or refined carbohydrates)
These three elements rarely exist in nature together, but when combined with other chemical additives and flavor enhancers, they create foods that our brains never evolved to handle. They override our satiety mechanisms, screw up our hunger and fullness cues, and generally cause us to make poor food choices and overeat.
With all of this in mind, this is why I so highly recommend eating mostly real, whole, minimally processed foods. They tend to provide normal levels of palatability and reward, and because of their high water content and fibrous nature, make it easier to eat them slowly, chew them fully, and stop when you are satisfied, but not full.
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