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Eat for Success: Hints from the Winners

June 17, 2010

dinosaurs2

First, let’s look at one of the wrong ways to eat, as demonstrated by the dinosaurs called sauropods, who are, incidentally, now extinct. According to an uncredited article at Alpha Galileo, researchers at the University of Bonn, Germany, unraveled a conundrum about these ancient creatures. In order to get enough nourishment, an animal of that size would need to eat for 30 hours every day, an obvious impossibility.

The scientists came up with an answer: these dinosaurs were into fast food. No, they didn’t nosh on fries and pork rinds. Their food was fast because they didn’t bother with any of that chewing nonsense, but swallowed everything straight down. Martin Sander of the German Research Foundation explains the process:

Chewing helps to digest the food faster. By the grinding process it is broken down and at the same time its surface is enlarged. This way the digestive enzymes are able to attack the food more easily… But chewing requires time — a resource that becomes scarce with increasing size.

So, the long-necked, small-headed dinosaurs solved this by bolting down their food whole, following up with a digestion process that had probably lasted several days. This is the opposite of what we should do, because we want to have efficient digestion, and we don’t want to be quite that massive.

Also, we want our bodies to produce serotonin, which makes us feel good. A study reported on by Libertas Academica journal earlier this year suggests that gum-chewing and other forms of recreational mastication are unconscious efforts to self-medicate by stimulating the brain’s favorite anti-depressant chemical.

This post might have been called “How to Eat,” but we thought, “Heck, people would just skip over it, because everybody knows how to eat, especially kids who acknowledge their food addiction.” It’s funny on the surface, but don’t turn away too hastily. A lot of well-meaning people talk about what to eat — apples are better than doughnuts — yeah, yeah, yeah. The experienced talk about how to eat. Of course, not every strategy works for everyone, and it never will, but there are some tricks that actually do work for people.

We’ve talked about childhood obesity and stress before, drawing from information given by kids themselves, which is found in Overweight: What Kids Say. Turns out, some of the successful weight-losers among them are also fans of chewing. A 13-year-old girl named Erika recommends eating a little and chewing a lot, and 14-year-old Ashley says it works for her, too.

Under stress, when we can’t fight or flee, we sometimes turn to displacement activity, of which chewing is a perfect example. We can capitalize on that natural tendency by stocking up on foods that provide a lot of crunching action, but don’t contain many calories, like carrots, celery, and other fresh veggies.

Brian, age 15, lost more than 40 pounds through a healthy compromise. Rather than trying to totally resist the urge to eat, he would give in to it — but no matter what he was craving, he would eat a piece of fruit instead. Some kids find the self-discipline to stop, every time they are about to eat something, and cut it in half, saving the rest for another time. And Rina, a young woman who weighed 313 pounds at age 14, and, two years later, weighed only 130, reminds us,

It’s not what you eat, it’s how much you eat.

Yes, and it’s also how you eat. An older teenage girl suggests cutting up an apple into very small pieces, and eating them slowly, one by one, with a fork. The same young woman also says a craving can be satisfied by eating just two bites of the dangerous food, very slowly, and chewing it very well. Another girl substitutes gum for food, drinks a lot of water, and brushes her teeth right after dinner, which causes her to skip dessert, presumably because it would be too much trouble to brush her teeth all over again. Whatever works!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Dinosaur Research: Chew and Stay Small,” Alpha Galileo, 05/11/10
Source: “Environmental Health Insights,” La-Press.com, 01/18/10
Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,” Amazon.com
Image by EverySpoon, used under its Creative Commons license.

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