Nature makes us crave fat and flavor. David L. Katz, MD, says we can outfox our will-weakening urges.
If your body isn't inclined to part with its padding, don't lose hope. You may be able to outsmart your genes. "Just knowing that an obstacle exists is part of the solution," insists David L. Katz, MD, author of The Way to Eat. Here are a few of his strategies for overcoming the barriers to weight control.
Obstacle:We are wired to binge-eat. Prehistoric humans didn't know when the next meal would come, so it made sense to consume as much as possible every time food was plentiful. That's why skipping meals today backfires. "It activates a fear response in your body that says you're about to starve, urging you to binge as soon as you start eating again," says Katz.
Strategy: Spread your calories out during the day in small, nutritional meals. By bringing healthy foods with you (Katz suggests yogurt, dried and fresh fruits, multigrain breads), you take control of what you're going to eat before you feel—either physically or psychologically—that you're going to go hungry for too long.
Obstacle: We are designed to get tired of one taste, and if that's all we have, we eventually stop eating. But should another flavor come along, we are tempted to keep chowing down. In ancient timees, this mechanism (called sensory-specific satiety) made sure our bodies obtained a variety of nutrients. No it encourages us to go out of control at buffets.
Strategy: Snack on only one flavor at a time. The worst thing you can do is stand in front of the open fridge and cruise the contents, because you're stimulating numerous taste centers and the food keeps tasting good bite after bite. (If you're dying for chocolate, eat a little piece, or some nonfat chocolate sorbet. Don't try to outsmart your craving by having cereal, because then you're likely to go for some crackers, then a banana—and end up scarfing down the chocolate anyway.) Also, develop a flavor theme at meals: citrus, for example, in which the sauce on your fish and the dressing on your salad have the same lemony overtones. Have a sandwich for lunch; not sandwich, chips and a cookie. And avoid buffets.
Obstacle: We are programmed to love fat. It was the best possible fuel for Stone Age humans—calorie-dense, easily stored, long-lasting.
Strategy: The less fat you eat, the less fat you'll want. Try skim and low-fat dairy products, and when baking, substitute fruit purees for fats and evaporated skim milk for heavy cream in recipes. It takes a few weeks, but you really can retrain your tastes to prefer the lighter versions. A follow-up study of participants in the Women's Health Trial found that those eating a diet of only 20 percent fat developed aversions to the high-fat foods they used to prefer.
Obstacle: We have an innate preference for familiar foods—a safeguard left over from prehistoric times, when unfamiliar foods could turn out to be poisonous. This is why we find the dishes our mothers fed to us as children comforting. Unfortunately, these foods—macaroni and chees, cookies and milk—are good for the sould but bad for the waistline.
Strategy: Katz insists you can get used to any new taste if you move slowly. Experiment with fruits and vegetables you haven't tried and with different ways of preparing those you have; use familiar spices and condiments for a link to you favorite tastes. And remember that you—not the vending machine—are the boss.