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Fat Cells and Hunger

  • Eating

More proof that appetite, metabolism and weight loss don’t function the same way for all of us. I make this point as often as I can to drive home your uniqueness and to encourage you to quit comparing your process and progress to other people’s. Comparison is one of the worst aspects of dieting—you know, that “What do you eat and how much did you lose?” discussion—and the reason that “normal” eating works because it respects your individual appetite. So, on to the scientific evidence.

Studying appetite, Terry Maratos-Flier, M.D., an obesity researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and her team have reached this conclusion: ”Fat cells produce leptin, a hormone that at low levels suppresses appetite. But excess and full fat cells make so much leptin that the ‘I’m full’ signal doesn’t work well any more.” This is one explanation for overweight people who say they honestly don’t know when they’re full. In this case, they may try to pay attention to body signals, but their appetite regulation system may not be sending the right ones. I don’t believe that every overweight overeater has leptin problems, but I bet that many people have them and don’t know it. Therefore, I heartily encourage folks with longstanding, seemingly intractable overeating/overweight problems to get their leptin tested.

The best way to make sure you know when you’re full is to slow down eating. Yeah, no news flash, but if you’re not doing it, you won’t recognize when you’ve had enough. Even “normal” eaters and folks who possess the right amount of leptin overeat when they’re distracted or eating too quickly. So stretch out meals, use a timer, alternate between speaking and eating, make yourself sit down at meal times, turn off the TV, move away from your computer, or set aside your book. Take smaller portions and see if they satisfy you. Go back for a tiny bit more if you need to. Keep asking yourself if you’re still hungry, not if you’re full.

Start problem solving about what you can do to prevent overeating even if your hormones aren’t working right. Okay, you even may be hungrier than other people. That’s real, but every problem has solutions. Rather than get on the pity pot about how hard it is for you to identify fullness or lose or keep weight off, put your energy into figuring out what you can do about your individual metabolism. These are not impossible changes to make. Your unique appetite problems may make eating trickier than it is for others, but a victim mentality about your difficulties won’t help you resolve them. Right now, take a minute to identify five behaviors to change or adopt to stop before you eat too much.