Do you want to eat healthier, in order to feel and perform better? But after a few days of eating moderate portions of real unprocessed foods, you find yourself binging down snacks like an unsupervised kid on a birthday party - often sabotaging weeks of progress.
In this article, you will learn how you can both get and stay lean, by cutting back on your trigger foods and thereby cravings - based on what I called your binging personality.
What is a trigger food
To prevent overeating you need to know your trigger foods, or scienficially called "Hyperpalatable" foods. These are foods that hits the 'sweet spot' in your mouth and immediately tell your brain to have more, even if you are full.
Steven Witherly is a food scientist who has spent the last 20 years studying what makes certain foods more addictive than others. In his excellent report “Why Humans Like Junk Food”, Witherly explains how food companies could spend millions of dollars designing the perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that excites your brain, and keeps you coming back for more.
These factors can make processed foods incredibly tasty and desirable to our human brains. This is causing the “snowball effect” created when one little cookie bite quickly becomes one box of cookies.
You have probably experienced eating an energy bar with just a 100 calories, only to make you more hungry - and start typing in fast food near me in google maps.
Trigger foods can vary from person to person. What triggers one person to overeat will differ from someone else. It all depends on what I call your “binging personality”. (Yes, I am working on getting that into the dictionary.)
From my experience you have 2 types of eaters: Moderators & Bingers.
Eating Personality: Moderators vs Bingers
• “Moderators” can have a few bites of some tasty snack and then stop eating. These people often have naturally small appetite, and don't really need to monitor their calories to stay relatively stay fit year around. Yeah, I know its annoying. These people can succeed with less rigid and more flexible diets. Put another way, they have fewer “trigger foods” that can cause compulsive overeating. We often label these people with good genes, but when you look more closely - they usually just naturally eat less.
• “Bingers” on the other hand will eat the whole bag of chips as soon as the bag is open. Then continue with the chocolate, then finish off with the ice cream.
These people will do better with a bit more restrictive diet containing more rules and structure, like for example intermittent fasting. Here you eat fewer, but slightly bigger meals. And avoid all trigger foods, when you are fasting. Personally, this is my category. Once I start eating snacks, the snacks are gone.
But if I never start snacking, the snowball never starts rolling. If this sounds like you, then not buying or having any “trigger foods” around you is the best thing you could do. I call this method the “Don’t Start the Binging Snowball”-diet. Also, it is why intermittent fasting works so well for me.
When I am "fasting" for 16 hours per day, there are no trigger foods that can start a binging snowball. And I rarely eat that much more during my daily 8 hour time window. And what triggers someone to overeat can even differ between you and me. If you can stop eating after one slice of pizza, but can’t control yourself around chocolate, does it make sense to completely ban pizza? Of course not.
And before I cover the common trigger foods, just want to say I never ban foods - I simply restrict them to once or twice per week.
Limit trigger foods and avoid overeating:
#1 Limit white (or fast absorbing) carbohydrates.
First and foremost, this means avoiding sugars and heavily processed foods like cake, candy, chips, sugar drinks, cereals - you know what I am talking about. These foods provide little nutrients and quickly can lead to binging.
You should further gradually replace high-starch carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and white pasta with more complex and low-starch carbohydrates like oats, beans, sweet potatoes or bulgur. Not because these white carbs are evil, nor even necessarily have more calories than their more “whole grain” counterparts.
In his book, the 4 hour body, Tim Ferriss coined the term going from a low carb diet to a slow carb diet. Essentially, cutting back on carb sources that spikes your insulin the most, while still eating lots of "slower" and more complex carbs. So when choosing whole-grain bread over white bread, it does not spike your insulin as much, and you get a more stable source of energy making you feel full longer, while also providing more useful nutrients.
Don’t underestimate a calorie craving brain’s ability to short-term overrule your long-term desire for fat loss. Your body is designed to survive - and if it thinks it needs more calories to survive, its going for it.
#2 Avoid foods with more than 5 ingredients, or ingredients you cannot pronounce.
The more ingredients in a packaged food, the more highly processed it probably is. Avoid these products and stick with their more natural counterparts. Similarly, to this, you can use the “outer ring” strategy to avoid processed and packaged foods at the grocery store. On the outer ring of the store you will generally find more fresh whole foods like fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs etc.
Furthermore, your body uses more calories to digest less processed foods. So even eating the same number of calories per day, shifting from only eating processed foods to only whole grain foods, could increase the number of calories burned each day with over 100 calories. Put another way, that is the equivalent of running 1.5 km each single day.
#3 Avoid the buffet effect
A few years ago a clip went viral of a guy called the "fish and rice cake guy". It was a bodybuilder who was asked, about his diet he answered; he ate fish and rice cakes for every single meal.
Now that, is of course overly restricitve, and not very sustainable - but the rationale behind this strategy is avoiding the "buffet effect", where you eat yourself full on 1 taste, but once you start eating another taste your taste buds will start craving more of that taste, until it is full of that taste as well.
That is why many people with normally quite moderate eating habits, can loose full control at a buffet, as your body wants to eat itself full on all the different tastes. So, for each dinner opt for 1 type of protein, like salmon or chicken, 1 type of carbs - like potatos or brown rice - and a simple salad or veggies.
If all this sounds too difficult or restrictive, relax. If you eat real unprocessed foods 80 % of the time, the remaining 20 % will cause little harm. Flexibility is after all essential to enjoying life. However, people tend to get the order of the 80/20 rule mixed up.
Q&A: “But I am still hungry! What can I do?”
Here are 5 quick tips you can implement right now.
1. Stay hydrated: The first tip is the easiest and most obvious, yet still often forgotten. Staying hydrated throughout the day has various benefits, including reducing your feeling of hunger. In fact, the hunger you think you feel, is actually dehydration. Since the human body contains between 50 to 70 % water, dehydration, even to a small degree, can drastically reduce your performance and well-being.
Depending on your size, environment and activity levels you should drink between 2 – 4 liters of water each day. Think plain water is boring? Simply “spice” it up. Sparkling water with added lemon can be a great aid during low-calorie periods.
2. Get up and move: Exercise doesn’t always cause hunger; it can also curb it. Also, if you go outside for a run, those delicious cookies on your counter are out of sight, and thereby out of mind. In general, the busier you are, the less mental capacity you have left to think about your cravings.
3. Eat more protein: High protein foods will increase your satiety after a meal. Include one of the recommended protein sources in each meal. When you think you crave sugar, what your body actually crave is more protein. So, aim for 1.5g - 2g of protein per kg of your lean bodyweight.
4. Black Coffee: Black coffee has great appetite suppressant effects while still containing zero calories.
5. Increase fiber intake: One of the ways our brains determine fullness is the physical stretching of the stomach. Foods high in fiber, such as vegetables and whole-grains, help stretch out the stomach and signal to the brain that you’re full.
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