Tummy troubles: Is your appetite regulator broken?

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | September 21, 2013

Weight loss, for most, is relatively easy. Keeping it off is the tricky part. You follow a plan, you exercise, you shed pounds, you make everyone at your high school reunion jealous dancing the cabbage patch in your size 2 little black dress.

Then you stop following the plan and you get fat again.

There are several theories as to why this happens, most of them to do with brainwashing ala America’s evil corporations or emotional eating caused our tweaked childhoods. While these are valid theories (sorry, Mom and Dad), a small study out of Australia surfaced this week showing a potential direct, physiological reason why it’s so hard for some people to keep the weight off.

According to research out of the New University of Adelaide (the Old University kind of smelled musty and burned too much oil, so they ditched it), a high-fat diet can desensitize the fullness-signaling nerves in the stomach. And as if that weren’t bad enough, leptin, the hormone that typically helps signal satiety, goes wonky too, further damaging the nerves. Long story short, when you spend a lifetime eating greasy junk, you hamper your stomach’s ability to know when it’s full. Keep in mind that this was a study on rodents and lots more research needs to happen before we carve this little factoid onto stone tablets, but it’s still pretty compelling.

Unfortunately, the researchers haven’t figured out whether the nerves are able to heal. (Personally, I think they do. I spent the first 25 years of my life living on corn dogs and cheese, but today I have a pretty good sense of when to stop eating. Of course, it took a good decade to get to that point.)

But if you’re struggling to keep weight off, don’t use this intel as an excuse. Use it as a tool. From now on, think of it this way: Your tummy is to your body what the Hulk is to the Avengers. It’s not terribly reliable and it can really mess things up sometimes, but it’s powerful and it serves an important purpose, so it’s nice to have around.

(Fun fact, much like the Hulk, your stomach actually expands to accept what you put in it–usually up to a gallon. It does not, however, turn green or wear inexplicably expandable purple pants. Usually.)

Luckily, there’s another organ that can step up to (or push away) the plate: your brain. Even if you don’t feel your gut busting in the moment, common sense usually tells us what “too much” is. And if this isn’t the case, there are all kinds of tricks that can help. Here are a few.

1. Don’t go back for seconds. I know Auntie Jim’s garlic mashed potatoes are to die for–but not literally. One scoop is enough.

2. Eat following a healthy hierarchy: fresh fruits and veggies, then lean proteins, then whole grains (optional), then “good” fats, then everything else. If fresh produce makes up the bulk of your diet, it’s hard to overeat because you’re getting lots of volume without lots of calories.

3. Use common sense. Deep fried butter? Seriously? Come on!

4. The Way of the Hand. If you still can’t figure it all out, let Rosie Palmer and her five friends lead the way.

  • A serving of fresh fruit should be about the size of your fist.
  • A serving of lean protein should be about the size of your palm.
  • A serving of fat should be about the size of your thumb.
  • A serving of fresh veggies? Just go for it! 

Of course, there are nuances here, but this is a good start.

5. Follow a guide. Beachbody makes, like, a million programs with, like, a million nutrition plans. (Many which were created by yours truly.) Several of them are designed to be used in the long term. P90X2, in particular, is designed to allow for different nutritional standards, tastes, and calorie levels. If you just can’t take off the training wheels, then don’t! Life’s hard enough as-is. No point in adding extra stress.

If you eat a little more mindfully, and follow a few simple rules, you should be okay. You may not be able to listen to your stomach, but that doesn’t mean your stomach can’t listen to you.

3 thoughts on “Tummy troubles: Is your appetite regulator broken?

  1. Matt G.

    Not only a Hulk image, but the Hulk eating. Awesome. Who’s the grumbling guy, Hawkeye?

    FYI, the links on your new blog template aren’t standing out on my browser (Chrome). I can barely see the difference between them and the plain text.

  2. Denis Faye

    Matt – Yeah, I’d put my money on Hawkeye. He’s probably Paleo, right? I’ll change those links shortly.

    Seth – thanks for the nerd cred! I didn’t know if anyone would catch that.


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