Expert Commentary: Kenneth J. Heinrich, M.D. 10/23/2009

This article touches on some important points related to healthy eating.  It is true that psychological factors play an important role in our eating patterns – when, what, and how much we eat.  There are many chemical factors at work as well.  For instance, the hunger we feel at the end of a complete meal when the dessert tray is brought around is related to the endocannabinoid system.  This is the same system in our body that is stimulated when exposed to marijuana and explains the insatiable appetite that often accompanies use of that drug.  That’s right, just the sight of sweets at the end of a meal can affect the same areas of our brain as the drug itself and cause us to suddenly experience more hunger and crave that chocolate cake.    

Variety as described here can be a double edged sword.  It has been shown that the more flavor in a given meal, the more satisfying it can be.  On the other hand, there is also evidence to show that too much variety can stimulate a person’s appetite.  This is part of the reason that we often feel very hungry when faced with a buffet.  Therefore, for people looking to restrict their calories, it’s helpful to have only a few different food choices but to use plenty of spice.  We tell our patients that when they find themselves at a buffet, a helpful strategy is to first fill up on green salad and then make one more trip for about 3 food items.
 
It is true that alcohol alone can increase our appetite.  Mixed drinks, most beers, and even wine contain additional carbohydrates.  This will further exacerbate the hunger that accompanies alcohol.  Limiting alcohol consumption can help significantly.

There is very little doubt in my mind that focusing on reducing carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates (sugar, white bread, white pasta, white rice) is important.  Equally important is the need to increase protein in our diets.  Eating protein helps to satisfy us, leading to fewer calories eaten throughout the day.  This is one of the reasons that starting the day with protein is so important.  Increasing protein intake is also crucial for maintaining muscle during weight loss.  Muscle maintains your metabolism whereas fat will lower your metabolism.  Too often, we see patients who have been on many different diets and lost significant amounts of muscle along the way.  This loss of lean body mass often leads to more weight being regained due to a slower metabolism.    

Before beginning any attempts at weight loss we recommend contacting your primary care physician or a qualified Bariatric Physician (specialist in medically supervised weight management).


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