Enjoying a Splurge

July 15, 2011 in fiber, Fitness, Food and the Brain, General, Health, Weight Management by Mary Ireland

Well thank goodness that after Dr. Grandma spilled the beans on my brownie binge at a July 4th party, Michelle Obama had a burger, fries AND chocolate milk shake at a burger shack this week. This takes some of the pressure off of me, because I only had a few brownies too many.

Both examples present the opportunity to point out that when a person goes on a healthy eating plan, that doesn’t mean they will never eat another high-calorie, nutritionally depleted meal again. Perhaps this is why so many people are reluctant to change their eating habits – they feel as if they will never get to eat another brownie, burger, bag of fries or chocolate milkshake again.

I think that having an occasional splurge is a good thing – or at the very least, not a really bad thing. Most of the time when I mindfully splurge, I wonder why I really wanted the food in the first place because it doesn’t taste as good as I had imagined that it would. (I have to admit though, that those brownies were really, really good.)

The multiple-day – vacation splurge – the kind that Dr. Grandma talked about in her post – isn’t all that bad either, but as she points out it is important to bring it to a close, get back on the healthy eating plan and shed the excess pounds gained. I have personal experience with these vacation splurges. I refer to the overeating extravaganza that occurs when the Ireland clan gets together as the “Ireland Feeding Frenzy.” At first I would try to not participate, but I was a dismal failure.

David Kessler talks about this phenomenon in "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite". He points to research that indicates when people have easy access to a variety of foods that are high in sugar and fat, the biological system that is designed to maintain energy balance can go awry. Kessler, talks about “incentive salience” – the desire activated by cues, for something that predicts a reward. This is what the availability of food high in fat, sugar and salt does – it stimulates our reward systems and takes over our behavior. For me, it is humbling to think about having the same response as one of “Pavlov’s dogs.”

Therefore it is not surprising that nutrition researchers from UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health found that having access to neighborhood grocery stores or larger supermarkets alone did not make a significant change in dietary habits. “Living near fast-food restaurants seemed to increase the amount of fast food consumed by lower-income males, but findings were mixed across other groups,“ said Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD, the study's senior author. Researchers concluded that no single approach will improve Americans' diets or stem the obesity epidemic.

Dr. Grandma’s latest post (referenced above) gives some great multi-pronged approaches for getting back on your eating plan. Before attending the July 4th party, I did a few things based on Dr. Grandma’s suggestions to help mitigate the potential damage from the party.

  • I drank several glasses of water to make sure that I was hydrated. This serves to ensure that my sensation of being hungry is not really thirst. Also, research findings published in the "Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism"suggests that people may be able to increase their metabolism by increasing their water intake. According to the study, drinking a little over 2 quarts of water per day would augment energy expenditure by about 95 calories.
  • I had a big plate of steamed broccoli and kale before I went to the party. I wanted to ensure that I got nutrients I probably wouldn't get at the party. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t hungry when I went and I wanted some fiber in my system. Fiber is known to slow down the fat absorption by moving the food more quickly through your system before all the fat can be absorbed. Fiber also slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
  • I had an extra challenging workout. I think that working out really hard reminds me that I like feeling in shape and how few calories I burn during the workout compared to how many calories I can eat from brownies I can eat.

I wish that I had followed one of the tips in "Lose Weight WITHOUT Dieting (Animal Kingdom Workouts)": to put the food that you are going to eat on a plate and eat at the table. At the party I wasn’t going to go back to the table and eat my brownies, but putting them on a plate where I could see exactly how many I was going to eat would have made a difference. Also, moving to another location where the brownies weren’t accessible would have been a wonderful idea.

There are a lot of ways to get your eating under control. Dr. Grandma has many great tips for ways to avoid the allure of the overeating at gatherings. You will continue to find our thoughts and ideas about this subject in these posts and other areas of the website. I think that the most important thing is to make the decision to improve your health and your life by living a lifestyle that supports a normal body weight. Start by taking baby steps. Know that you will be able to eat your favorite foods – just maybe not as frequently or in the same quantities. Open your mind up to the fact that Good Health Can be Yummy. Give Dr. Grandma’s recipes a try. You will be pleasantly surprised.