Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Secret to Satiety

"I won't stick with it if I'm constantly hungry," I told her. And it was the truth. I had tried every pill, shake, meal replacement bar, point system, supplement, and fad diet that was out there, but as different as they all were from one another they all had one commonality, they all left me wholly unsatisfied. Sitting in my doctor's exam room that day several years ago I was just about in tears because I was so desperate to lose the excess weight and even more desperate to stop feeling like the sluggish, depressed,  and anxious person I had become. I left that day no closer to the elusive answer to how I would finally lose weight and reclaim my health. Even though I was frustrated and bone weary of fighting to figure out how to do something that should have been as simple as inhaling the air we breathe, I didn't give up.

Flash forward to the summer of 2016 when I first watched "Forks Over Knives" and finally made the connection between a whole food plant-based diet, weight loss, and the reversal of chronic diseases. It took me a few years to fully embrace the lifestyle but four months ago I finally committed 100 percent and the rewards have been immediate. Not only have I lost weight (and the journey continues) and gone off insulin and blood pressure medicine, I know that this is a lifestyle change that is sustainable because I am also always satisfied and never hungry. Of course, I get hungry, but what I mean is that I can eat when I get hungry. No, I don't weigh or measure my food. I don't count calories. I don't count fat grams or carbs. I just eat unprocessed (very occasionally minimally processed) whole food plant-based foods that are low in caloric density.

You may be wondering what calorie density is. Basically, it's the measurement of how many calories are in a pound of food (not that you'll always be eating a pound of that particular food) and you use that measurement to serve as a guide to determine how calorically dense the food is, or how rich the food is. For example, non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, greens, and zucchini are about 100 calories per pound or less and beans and legumes are about 600 calories per pound and in between, there are other foods that are low in calorie density such as fruit, potatoes, corn, oats, whole grains, rice, and pasta. These are all foods I can, and do, eat as much as I want until I'm comfortably full. There is one caveat, and I will explain that in a moment. (Take the "calorie density" link above to the FOK's page with a great explanation of calorie density.)

Higher calorically dense foods include avocados at 750 calories per pound, bread at 1,400 calories per pound, nuts and seeds at 2,800 calories per pound, and finally oil at 4,000 calories per pound. I stay away from these foods because they all have such a high caloric density, that eating them would cause me to take in far more calories than I want to while taking up very little space in my stomach, which will leave me unsatisfied and hungry. And I don't want to be hungry. So by sticking with the foods low in calorie density, I stay satisfied because I can eat bigger volumes of food and fill up my stomach. Will I never eat bread or avocado? No, I just avoid them most of the time because I am on a mission to get rid of this weight but I had a half a slice of 100 percent whole wheat, oil-free bread last night and it wasn't the end of the world and I didn't gain any weight. I just know that I can fill up much easier by eating a baked sweet potato than I can by eating a slice of toast and that I'll be taking in a lot fewer calories while doing it.

The one caveat I mentioned earlier is that I sequence my foods. I eat the foods with the very lowest calorie density first before I eat anything else at a meal. I'll save my low-calorie density breakfast item for another post, but for lunch, I almost always start with a very large salad (and I mean large and full of a beautiful variety of vegetables) and for dinner, it's usually a salad, but sometimes it's steamed greens or another roasted or even air fried vegetable. By eating these foods that are low in calorie density but large in volume first, my stomach gets full before I ever get to the foods that are higher in calorie density. So, I fill up on non-starchy vegetables, fruit, potatoes, winter squashes, and legumes in that order.

Now I first learned about this idea of calorie density the summer I watched FOK but I don't think I really understood how instrumental this concept would be in changing my life until I found Chef AJ. She struggled, overcame food addiction, lost weight, and kept it off by following a WFPB diet and adhering to the principles of calorie density. She has written two books, Unprocessed and The Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss and she runs an online weight loss group called the Ultimate Weight Loss Program, of which I am a part. Here's a simple video of her explaining the concept of calorie density that might help you understand where my words may have failed.

So what does a meal look like when following the principles of calorie density AND sequencing? Here's what I might have for dinner in this order: salad which includes a mix of greens that include arugula, spinach, romaine, a super greens blend, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, red onion, cucumber, red and orange bell pepper, celery, and a balsamic vinegarette dressing that does not have any oil in it (remember oil is a very calorically dense food at 4,000 calories per pound and at 120 calories per tablespoon I don't want any of oil has other deleterious effects but I'll save that for another post). I chop my salads using an ulu knife in a wooden bowl to help reduce some of the chewing because this a lot of roughage (which is what we want!) but still, who has time to spend 30 minutes chewing a salad?! Next, I may have one of my recent favorites, a Mediterranean lentil soup with spinach from the Summer 2018 issue of the Forks Over Knives magazine (it has lentils, summer squash, spinach, onion, garlic, and all kinds of other yumminess) ladled over a generous helping of brown rice effortlessly cooked in my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. The very large salad filled up my stomach to a great degree but the soup full of vegetables and broth with the more calorically dense brown rice and lentils give me the satiety I need without an inordinate amount of calories. I'm hitting the jackpot with nutrition and satisfaction without getting a huge payout of calories. And if one bowl isn't enough, guess what? I go back for more.

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