You’ve just eaten an amazing meal. Your favorite food, beautifully prepared, every bite was a pleasure, and you even had dessert. You push back from the table and sigh. You are STUFFED, and boy does it feel good. Yes, your pants are feeling tight, it’s kind of hard to breathe, but the overall sensation is one of plump, pleasant warmth. Isn’t it great to feel full?
Our brains evolved in a world where calories were uncertain and often scarce. It’s no surprise that we have reward hormones tied up with the stretch receptors of our stomach. In the wild, when we had a chance to eat it was a good strategy to not just consume the necessary amount to survive, but to put a little extra in the bank in case the next meal didn’t come so easily.
A stuffed lion takes a break after a big meal. You know this feeling!
When your stomach is not only full, but actually stretched out past its normal size, your brain rewards you with the warm glow of feel-good hormones. Your survival instinct is telling you, “Hey! Do more of that!”
In the modern world, we’ve been doing a lot more of that. The World Health Organization’s last data roundup found that 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight, and 13% were obese. In this day and age, many more people die from complications due to overeating than starvation. We’ve triumphed over nature. Good job big brains!
Imagine someone offered you a pill that put you in a dream state, frolicking through clouds and feeling amazing day and night. The catch is that on this medicine you'd actually be lying in a hospital bed in a vegetative state all day long. Not many people would take the pill. We know there's more to life than the pursuit of simple physical pleasure. In the same way, eating to complete fullness every meal is ultimately a bad deal. You gain mass, you become sluggish, and all that baggage starts to interfere with the other things you want to do.
There are lots of tips about how to stop eating until you’re overfilled. Chew more. Use smaller plates and utensils. Eat until you’re “not hungry” rather than “stuffed.” Hara hachi bun (the Japanese phrase meaning “Eat until you’re 80% full”).
This is all good advice, but if you still have trouble with overeating, there’s a deeper, more fundamental shift you can make.
Learn to love the sensation of being empty.
You know this feeling. It’s been a few hours since you last ate, and that meal wasn’t very big. Your stomach feels compact, your tummy feels flat. You feel light and lively. Your body isn’t diverting resources to digestion, so you have a clear, calm energy. When you take a drink of cool water you can feel it go all the way down, tracing the contours of your stomach walls. You’re focused and sharp. You’re in the zone. You’re empty!
Isn’t that empty feeling great? It’s your reward for not overdoing it at the dinner table and keeping your portions under control. It’s just as wonderful a feeling as being full. Learning to appreciate empty is a game changer when you’re working on portion control!
This advice to learn to love feeling empty comes with a LOT of baggage. Being empty doesn’t mean that you’re underfed, under-fueled, or suffering. It doesn’t mean you’re losing weight or getting skinny. It 1000% doesn’t mean engaging in disordered eating.
All that “being empty” means is that you’ve correctly calibrated your portions and have met your energy needs. You ate enough to stay active, alert, and happy, and are coasting into the next meal or snack ready to eat again.
You shouldn’t be feeling strong hunger pangs, or finding yourself having obsessive thoughts of food. If that’s what you’re feeling, you’re not empty, you’re energetically negative, aka, starving. Being starving is ok once in a while (like an unexpectedly busy day when you don’t have a chance to eat), but is a very poor strategy for fitness and even poorer for your mental health.
When you’re the good kind of empty, you’ll find you don’t experience much hunger except in the half hour before your next meal. This quiet, anticipatory hunger is also pleasant in its own way. Your digestive and metabolic systems are all getting in position to make the most of the food you’re about to eat. And as a bonus, when you come into a meal empty, the smells, flavors, and textures are greatly enhanced. If you’re a food lover, you owe it to yourself to allow times to run empty.
You can, with this ONE WEIRD TRICK!
Yes, it’s possible to eat so much that you feel full, but within an hour be back to running on a lean, empty stomach until your next snack or meal. The secret? Vegetables!
People spend a lot of time wondering how this vegetable compares to that vegetable, but the truth is vegetables are all just about the same.
As an example, let’s say you go wild and make a vegetable dish that has one whole carrot, one whole squash, one bell pepper, one onion, and an entire head of broccoli. This is going to be a MASSIVE amount of food, filling up a large bowl to the very top. But you’re dedicated and you eat the whole thing.
This vegetable dish will come out to about 200 Calories (including a small amount of oil for cooking or baking). That’s less than a small order of fries (220 Calories), a 20 oz soda (230 Calories), or a “healthy” Clif bar (240 Calories). And yet, you are going to be STUFFED! (Much more full than eating the fries, soda, or energy bar). You’ll push away from the table with your belt feeling tight, and a warm glow of having a feast.
Then the magic happens. Of all that mass you just ate, 90% was water. Within 45 minutes, your stomach will have whooshed all that water through your system and your kidneys will be dutifully filtering and preparing it to exit the system. A few bathroom breaks later and you’ve gotten rid of the vast majority of what made you feel full, and your digestive system is calmly breaking down the small amounts of sugar, protein, and fat remaining (aided by all that helpful fiber!)
The end result. 90 minutes after that gigantic vegetable dish you’ll be feeling the lean, focused, light sensation of being empty. And by the time your next meal rolls around, you’ll be pleasantly hungry and ready for more.
What a loophole! This is why we LOVE vegetables at Kenzai, and make them the centerpiece of every meal. It’s not hard to control your portions when you can eat plate after plate of the RIGHT foods and still stay light and lively. No one ever got a food coma from a serving of vegetables!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder