Everybody loves good hacks. There are ways to lose weight that have nothing to do with diet or exercise. While insulin is the main driver of obesity, there are many useful hacks that may help make good food choices.
Here are my top 8 weight-loss hacks:
8. Meal order
When we are very hungry, we naturally gravitate towards the foods that are most satiating. That big plate of pasta, the bread, the French fries all look extra appetizing when we are hungry. These foods are very calorically dense, so your brain will naturally be drawn towards them when very hungry. So one simple way to hack the system is to arrange foods that are healthier and put them up front.
What you should do is to drink plenty of fluids at the start of the meal. Many times that you think you are hungry, you are actually thirsty. So start the meal with a large glass of water. Alternatively, drink a nice hot cup of broth at the start of your meal.
Secondly, eat your vegetables before your main meal. This fills up the stomach with nutritious vegetables making you less hungry for what follows. These foods are naturally less stimulating to insulin and far less fattening than what would normally follow. Vegetables have lots of bulk that fill up the stomach and activate stretch receptors to signal that you are full.
When we eat a multi-course meal, it is often the soup and salad courses that are served first. We don’t usually eat the French Fries first and then followed by the salad. However, if it was all served together, that is what many people would do, since the fries looks better to us when we are hungry (higher caloric density). Eat your salad first.
7. Eat slowly
There is a lag between starting a meal and feeling fully satiated. If you eat very quickly there is no time for your body to register that you have just eaten and therefore are not hungry any longer. One simple hack is to make sure that you eat slowly. Chewing food thoroughly is another way of slowing down your mealtimes.
In the early part of the last century, Horace Fletcher (the Great Masticator) popularized a method of weight loss called Fletcherizing where each bite of food was chewed 100 times.
It was very popular for a while, and turned out to be quite successful. However, it was very time consuming. This likely led to its ultimate decline as a weight loss method. Who has the patience to make each meal last 1 hour?
Every so often, somebody tries to revive poor old Fletcher’s methods. There are diets that make you time your bites. One bite of food every 5 minutes. Chew each bite 50 times. They all have the same goal of slowing down your eating. The problem is that they are too successful, and because it takes so long, people don’t stick with the program.
Nevertheless, it still has value as a hack. We’ve all experienced this ourselves of course. During a particularly slow restaurant service, for example. We have likely all had the experience that after finishing soup, salad and appetizers, that if there is a great delay in the food, that we are already full by the time the main course arrives. So, space out your meal.
You don’t need to take an hour per meal, but at least slow it down deliberately. Once again, the opposite tends to happen when we are hungry. We wolf down our food.
6. Never shop when hungry
This is rather self-evident. When we are hungry, we will gravitate towards easily digestible calorically dense foods. I don’t buy cookies very often. Probably the only times I have done so in the last 5 years is when I’ve gone shopping hungry. Even though I know what is going on, I still find it difficult to resist. Luckily, by knowing this, I can make adjustments to my schedule so that I am shopping after I’ve eaten.
5. Use a smaller plate
The smaller plate size helps convince our brain that we are finished eating. Adults tend to use external cues to figure out when to stop eating. Interestingly, it does not work on children, who rely mostly on internal cues.
As we get older, we lose many things – our innocence, our looks, our hair. We also lose the ability to listen to our own bodies when telling us to stop eating. We also have been trained by years of eating everything on our plates to rely on these external cues to tell us when to stop eating. Children will stop eating whenever they are full. Adults will keep eating until everything is done. Luckily, we can use this to our advantage now, and use smaller plates for serving.
4. Out of sight, out of mind
Keep all snacks and other unhealthy foods out of sight. Hunger is a state of mind. We might not be hungry, but the sight and smell of delicious food may make us hungry. This is not some kind of voodoo, but well described phenomenon of the cephalic phase response, as I’ve written about previously. So, the simplest thing to do is keep things out of sight. While fasting, it is easiest to stay out of the kitchen entirely.
3. Eat only at mealtimes
Perhaps the biggest error is believing that eating constantly will make you thin. The only reason we believe this is because everybody tell us this all the time. But think about it. How does eating all the time keep you slim? That’s like saying that washing your hands all the time makes you dirty. Or spending money all the time makes you rich. Here’s the breaking news. Eating all the time will make you fat, Sherlock!
A related hack is to eat only at a table. This gets to the point of mindfulness eating. We shouldn’t eat out of habit. We should eat because we are hungry. Or because we are enjoying the meal. Eat because you want to eat. Not automatically. This, of course, happens all the time. Eating in the theatre. In front of the TV. Everytime we pass a donut shop. If you are not hungry, do not eat. It won’t make you thinner. In fact, if you ignore the hunger, it will soon pass as your body ‘eats’ your own fat.
2. Get a good night’s sleep
Obesity is a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric one. That is how sleep deprivation can cause weight gain. Because it can mess up our hormones leading to weight gain. After all, sleep deprivation carries no calories nor carbs. However, the fact that poor sleep leads to obesity is well accepted. Any theory of obesity that cannot account for this is incomplete.
The hormone in question here is not insulin, however. It is cortisol, the stress hormone. Excess cortisol will make you fat just as surely as excess insulin. Since many of us are sleep deprived, getting a good night’s sleep is good advice for everybody.
This does not automatically mean you need to sleep for 8 hours a day, though. Some people need much less than that and trying to force more sleep in is also detrimental.
My #1 hack for weight loss
Just don’t eat. In other words, intermittent fasting. It’s natural. It’s free. It’s simple. You can do it anytime, anywhere. You can do it for as long as you want (if you have excess weight to lose).
Does it work? Of course. If you don’t eat, you’ll lose weight. Guaranteed.
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His book The Obesity Code is available on Amazon.