Dear Lifehacker, Over the holidays, I let my food consumption get out of control. Now I'm trying to get my appetite back to normal, but my stomach's stretched out and I'm hungry all the time. What can I do? Signed, Too Hungry for Healthy
I think we've all been there, especially after a long December's worth of binging. If eating what used to be a normal amount doesn't seem to fill you up after all that indulgence, there's plenty you can do to reset your system and get back to normal, and most apply to better controlling your intake, whether or not you're recovering from a month-long binge.
Your sensation of hunger and fullness are less about your stomach than you may think; in fact, both feelings are a function of your brain's lateral hypothalamus. When your blood sugar drops, your blood sends a message to your hypothalamus that you need food, and you feel the sensation of hunger. When your glucose level increases, your blood sends another message to your hypothalamus, and this you feel the sensation of being full. Your stomach, however, also has "stretch receptors" that signal your brain when your stomach's filling up.
If you eat too quickly, the theory goes, you're not giving your body's feedback loop enough time to recognise that you're full, and you'll overeat before you feel full. So for starters, slow down your eating.
Participants in a recent nutrition study were separated into two groups: One group ate their lunch without distractions; the other played solitaire on their computers while eating. The results: "Distracted individuals were less full after lunch, and they ate significantly more biscuits in the taste test than did nondistracted participants." The takeaway: Distracted eaters are more likely to overeat. Photo via The Daily What.
Drink A Glass Of Water Before Eating
This advice is old enough that almost everyone's heard it before, but it's also backed by research: Drinking one or two glasses of water before you eat is an effective appetite control method that anyone can use. According to the folks who performed the study, "water may be so effective simply because it fills up the stomach with a substance that has zero calories. People feel fuller as a result, and eat less calorie-containing food during the meal." Basically you're giving a jump start to the feedback loop provided by your stomach's stretch receptors.
Eat Several Smaller Meals
Diets regularly recommend eating five or so small meals a day rather than three big meals. The major claim is that it boosts your metabolism (your body's digestion engine is always churning to digest), but it also helps level out your appetite a bit. This is easy enough to understand from personal experience—most of us are more likely to binge when we've let ourselves get very hungry. After denying yourself food for hours, your much more likely to go overboard when you do eat. The key is balance: You can only get away with eating several smaller meals during the day if you're spreading out your calories. LiveStrong has a nice little guide to getting your intake right.
As an added bonus, dieters who stick to several meals a day do a better job at sticking to their diet because the more consistent energy you get from your several meals actually helps you exert more self-control.
Whatever diet you choose, there's no getting away from the reality that the only way to lose weight is by ending each day with a calorie deficit. If you burn more calories than you take in, you'll lose weight. Take in more calories than you burn and you'll gain weight. But that's not the end of the story. According to a 2008 study, aerobic exercise (like running on your treadmill) increases the level of appetite-suppressing hormones while decreasing the level of appetite-stimulating hormones.
As I said, most of this applies just as well whether or not you're trying to recover from your December binge, but a few of these simple tricks in appetite suppression should help anyone looking to get their appetite under control in the new year. For those of us suffering from post-holiday belly distension, a glass of water and eating more but smaller meals seems like a good first course of action. Photo by Sonya Green.
Hope that helps! Cheers, Lifehacker