Winning the diet-game by manipulating food palatability

If your main challenge during dieting is being bored by your meals, you’re winning the game.

What makes dieting hard?

There are many things that make dieting a challenging process: the monotony of the diet, missing eating certain foods, the restricted freedom when we eat out, dealing with social pressure when trying to stick to your diet, just to name few. 

However, fighting these largely comes down to getting your mindset right – with the right attitude there isn’t much in the way of ploughing through these challenges.

When it comes to hunger however, it’s a much different story – the urge to eat is one of the most powerful biological drivers that exists for humans. 

Being bothered by hunger isn’t just a matter of mental weakness – when it gets bad enough, every inch of your body motivates you for one thing only: to eat.

Now, with enough willpower and grit, you can resist the temptation to eat even in the fact of the most ravenous hunger, but as Maslow’s hierarchy illustrates, the more essential the human need, the more difficult it is to fight it.

Resisting sexualt temptations when horny? Hard but quite doable. 

Saying no to food when hungry? Very hard. 

Refusing to drink when thirsty? Exceptionally hard.

 Holding your breath when you’re about to drown? Near impossible.

Keeping hunger at bay

We all know that eating higher fiber, higher volume foods and a high protein diet is advantageous when trying to diet. The more we can slow gastric emptying (the passage of food through our digestive tract) and the more the food we eat stretches our stomach, the more satiated we will be while being in an energy deficit. 

There is one factor however that often gets overlooked: palatability.

Food palatability and your appetite

Palatability – the tastiness of food – is one of the key drivers of your appetite. The more you like something, the more you’ll want to eat of it.

The converse is also true: the less you like the foods you eat, the lower your desire to eat it for non-hunger reasons.

How this comes handy during fat-loss is quite self-explanatory: if you don’t love the meals on your menu, the lesser the temptations will be to eat for reasons other than true, physical hunger (like boredom, sadness, stress).

If the foods you’re eating are satiating enough to keep you physically full but not so flavourful that you would have a strong urge to keep eating them past your caloric allowance, you will have a much easier time keeping your appetite under control.

So if it tastes good, spit it out?

This obviously doesn’t mean that you should hate your meals during dieting – in fact, ideally, you will like eating every meal you have. You just don’t want to love them. 

So how do you strike this sweet-spot? 

Tough to give objective definitions here, but if an hour before each meal you’re already salivating and thinking about the incredible culinary experience you’re about to have, and you’re busting a tear at the end of your meal that you don’t get to eat another spoonful, you may be trying to squeeze too much enjoyment out of the low calories you get to work with. 

Simply put, if you’re really struggling to get lean, ask yourself: could I lower my level of entertainment from food in exchange for more satiety?

Many times the answer is yes.

Leanness and dieting-history plays a big factor

One thing to keep in mind is that there are obviously degrees to all of this.

 If your first milestone goal is to go from 35% body-fat to 20%, you most certainly won’t have to apply the same rigor as someone who wants to go from 15% body-fat to 10% (let alone someone who wants to go from 10% to 7%.)

Body-fat is one of the key regulators of leptin levels in the brain, which plays a key role in modulating your appetite and hunger levels. The leaner you are, the more tricks you’ll need to pull to outsmart your hungry brain. 

Not only that, but what you perceive to be tasty and palatable greatly depends on your body-fat levels, as well as cumulative energy balance:

ask someone who’s been in a hefty calorie surplus for months what they think of a broccoli and tuna salad, and they will likely start to gag. 

Ask the same question from someone who has been cutting in a 1000 calorie deficit for the last 3 months and they will start salivating. 

So if you’re currently obese or seriously overweight, you can probably make incredible strides even if you load up on the sweetest fruits, most flavourful smoked meats and even snack on some healthy stuff while watching a football game. 

If you’re at a moderate body-fat percentage and just want to clean up your act a little, you may need to go for somewhat lower calorie, more filling options, whereas if you’re already very lean and want to get shredded, you may need to strategically pick even blander foods to keep yourself sane. 

Put another way, will you ever see someone remaining obese because they are eating too many tasty fruits with greek yogurt?  I haven’t.

One the other hand, will you see people that can’t go from 12% body-fat to 10% for the same reason? Certainly.

Conclusion and philosophical outlook 

It might sound overly bleak and non-compassionate to suggest that if you want to get lean, you may need to give up on the enjoyment of food.

However, we need to keep in mind that while our fitness lifestyle needs to be as sustainable as possible, certain time periods can call for unsustainable measures. Just as a prolonged energy deficit is inherently unsustainable, it can be appropriate to use unsustainable tools to facilitate that.

The monotony and the blandness of the diet can eventually take its toll on you of course, but the survival rate of a boring but satiating diet is still much better compared to a fun but hunger-inducing diet.

As a commenter very eloquently put it: 

Long term strategy: Eat satiating foods

Short term: Eat bland foods

Very short term: Starve

My summary of the article, once again: If your main challenge during dieting is being bored by your meals, you’re winning the game.

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