That Full Feeling: Are you Stuffed or Satisfied?
Here it comes, the biggest chow-down of the year: Thanksgiving.
From the days the pilgrims laid out their corn puddings and acorn-stuffed squab, to our modern turkey-centered feasts, this holiday has always been about the food. Our forbears were grateful to have any at all. Nowadays, most of us have too much and not just for the holidays but for all the days.
Yet we look forward to this holiday ,especially, knowing that it brings with it a license to gorge ourselves on treats we don't get most of the year. We know in advance that we will go overboard, and even the most earnest dieters plan for it, affording themselves a "free day" for the annual food fest. It is the rare diner indeed who doesn't fill up at least a little extra on Thanksgiving.
So here's a little satiety awareness experiment that you probably wouldn't normally schedule for a holiday. In fact, on Thanksgiving, most people try to ignore their body's signals of fullness more than usual, because they want to keep eating for the sheer pleasure of the treats.
But if you already know you're probably going to keep eating, go ahead and pay attention to the signals anyway. Eat slowly, really savor those special dishes, and notice when you start to feel your hunger relieved. Then notice when you begin to feel satisfied. See how much it takes before you feel full. And how much more until you feel stuffed. And then just notice how much you keep eating and how your body responds, and whether you still eat when you're actually physically uncomfortable from fullness. Many people report that if they're enjoying a meal, that's just what they do.
Our satiety signals are there all the time, but the fact is that most Americans ignore them much of the time. Some very common cultural factors teach us to ignore our bodies' signals from the time we are very small. A breast-fed baby may turn away from the nipple when he's satisfied, and the mother will typically stop feeding. But if a bottle-fed baby turns away satisfied when there's still some formula left in the bottle, it's more than likely that the nipple will be popped right back into his mouth, essentially overriding the satiety signals that are telling him, "That's enough. You can stop now."
We eat more packaged foods than ever before, and we feel compelled to finish the package, even if it says right on it that it contains two servings. And if we eat out, it's the same thing. Oversized portions are one of the main reasons for the American obesity crisis. We're presented with more food than we should eat, but in a serving--and a setting--that seems to suggest, even demand, that we eat it all.
So we're mostly pretty well prepared to ignore our satiety signals during our annual Thanksgiving gorging. Still, doesn't it ever feel like such a lot of work to get all that food down? It should. Even aside from the sheer quantity you may eat, a typical Thanksgiving meal can rate very high on measures that gauge foods' ability to satisfy our hunger, things like fiber content and glycemic load (the affect a food has on your blood sugar, which can be immediate and uncomfortable, or more gradual and tolerable). The standard Turkey Day fare includes some pretty high-calorie dishes, too.
So on a normal day, we'd eat pretty small quantities of these foods to stay within the healthy calorie count or carbohydrate load of a regular, daily diet, and actually try to avoid getting full on them. It's a meal that sticks, even in small amounts.
A salad starter
Say you begin with a little green salad with some mixed fresh vegetables. Good for you! You've got some fiber there, which should give your gut something to work on, some volume, and probably a lot of water content, all factors that would help add to your feeling of fullness.
Many people serve rolls along with other side dishes. But how filling your bread is depends on the type. Many plain, white, packaged dinner rolls are so highly processed, they have little in the way of nutrients or fiber left in them, so they're basically empty carbo calories. You could eat a lot of those and be hungry for more in a short amount of time. On the other hand, if you're having a hearty, whole-grain bread, you could be getting some good fiber and some nutritional content that will stick to your ribs.
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Plain, mashed white potatoes would normally gush into your blood stream like a glycemic flood, meaning that they'd cause a sharp spike in blood sugar that comes from ingesting simple carbs. But who eats plain mashed potatoes? Fats will reduce the immediate glycemic response to the carbohydrates in your meal. So the effect of that heap of mashed potatoes will be moderated some if you pour on that gravy or butter. It will also have a LOT more calories.
Here again, it depends on the preparation. Sweet potatoes are rich in calcium, beta-carotene, potassium and fiber, so they have more stick-to-the-ribsness than white spuds. But if you melt marshmallow sauce all over them, they'll be rich in sugars and needless calories, too.
Plain, fresh green beans are low in calories and glycemic load, high in fiber and they're pretty much the best source of Vitamin K you'll get. They'd be satisfying even served plain, but a Thanksgiving favorite seems to be to prepare them with cream of mushroom soup and sprinkle fried onion crisps on the top. That's a heavy, high-fat recipe that will sit in your belly for a spell.
A normal portion of turkey should be about 3.5 ounces, about the size and thickness of a deck of cards. White meat has less fat and fewer calories than dark meat and skin, but a serving would have from 25 to 30 grams of protein, which would take your body a while to get through.
If you can't help yourself and you just have to go for seconds, do pay attention to your body this year. Those are foods that will be with it for a few hours. Listen to your body's signals and start to relearn them so that after the holiday is over and you want to control your eating again, it will be easier for you to just stop eating when you've had enough.
You'll probably recognize after your first plateload that you're already pretty satisfied.
And remember, you actually could decide to not have seconds. Or the portions you take to start with could be small enough to leave you room to decide if you'd like more of something. And that could be a small amount, too.
There's no rule anywhere that says you have to keep going until you're groaning. The turkey won't mind if you push the plate away.