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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December, 2003, 01:22 GMT
How to avoid being a glutton
Feasting is not good for your health
As many of us know to our cost that stuffing down huge quantities of food at Christmas may seem like a good idea, but the reality is somewhat different.

Not only will over-indulging during the festive season pile on the pounds, it can leave you feeling bloated, suffering from indigestion, and, if you are unlucky, having to deal with gastric problems.

But unfortunately, for an increasing number of people over-eating is not just confined to Christmas, it has become a way of life.

This has lead to an epidemic of obesity, and many associated health problems.

BBC News Online examines how best to ensure that you don't become a victim of your own stomach.

Gluttony is nothing new. In fact, it was such a problem in the Roman Empire that Emperor Augustus enforced severe laws against extravagant menus or exorbitant spending on food.

But there are less Draconian ways to avoid falling foul of temptation.

The best way to avoid pigging down vast quantities of food in a single, rushed sitting is to actually concentrate on what you are eating.

Many people simply shovel huge amounts of food into their mouth, and gulp it down without paying it more than the most cursory regard.

Maybe it's not surprising then, that they find it deeply unsatisfying - and as soon as they finish one mouthful they want more.

However, research suggests that savouring the flavour and sensation of the food, and making sure you chew it slowly and thoroughly is not only a more pleasant experience, it will make you feel satisfied far more easily.

Saliva contains a digestive enzyme call amylase. If you retain your food in the mouth longer, the enzyme has more chance to start the process of digestion.

It takes 20 minutes for your brain to recognise that your stomach is full, so if you rush your food, you can end up eating far more than you really need.

Monty Python animation
Over-eating can make you feel bad
But this is not a problem if you mull over every mouthful.

Taking it slowly also lightens the load on your digestive system.

It is also good idea to focus on eating - and eating without distractions such as the television - at meal times.

When you engage in other activities while you are eating, your blood supply will be distracted to other areas of your body, leading to inadequate blood supply for your digestive system.

As a result, you might be unable to handle digestion, absorption and nutrient assimilation efficiently.

More is less

It is also true that the more you eat, the more you want to eat.

You should try to eat only when you are hungry.
Amanda Wynne
Constant overeating will gradually increase the size of your stomach due to excessive stretching of the stomach muscles.

Eventually, you will need to eat much more to feel satisfied.

However, this does not mean that you can't solve the problem - given a little bit of will power.

Amanda Wynne, a nutrition expert at the British Dietetic Association, said: "You should try to eat only when you are hungry. There are so many reasons why people eat, for instance in celebration, or because of stress, or boredom.

"In fact, a lot of people who over-eat don't get to the point where they feel hungry because they are always consuming a lot of food, so they lose touch with their hunger sensitivity.

"But just because you have a tendency to over-eat doesn't mean that you will always be that way."

So, waiting until your body tells you that it needs food is a good idea. However, it is not a good idea to put off eating until you are ravenous - you tend to gobble down food, and increase the risk of over-eating.

A good rule of thumb, some say, is to stop eating after the first "burp". This is your body's language telling you that you are full.

According to traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, we should eat only eat to about three-quarters of our actual food capacity. What is less clear, however, is exactly how you measure this.

Dr Ian Campbell, chairman of the National Obesity Forum and author of the website Fatmanslim.com, said: "Stopping while you are slightly hungry was regarded as good manners in days gone by, and there may be some sense to it."

Regular meals

A massive Christmas lunch may sound like a good idea, but you would be much better eating more lighter meals throughout the day.

The symbol of Yuletide indulgence
Some experts believe that it is healthier to eat five very small meals a day than opt for the traditional approach of three big meals at breakfast, lunch and teatime.

But opinion on which is best is somewhat split.

However, it is best to try not to eat until the previous meal has been digested. For most people this means three to six hours.

As Dr Deepak Chopra says in his book "Perfect Digestion": "If you snack throughout the day, your digestive tract is never able to properly process the food you have eaten."

Amanda Wynne is not convinced that sticking to a set number of meals a day is necessarily the right approach - but she is sure that a big indulgence in the evening is wrong.

"Eating relatively little all day and then bingeing in the evening is not good at all for blood sugar levels," she said.

"The key is to make sure that you eat regular light meals, have moderate portion sizes and eat the right things.

"For instance, some sugary, processed foods release a big sugar rush, but then your blood sugar comes down, and you feel hungry again.

"It is best to eat foods with a low glyaecemic index such as wholegrain cereals, green vegetables, nuts and pulses. These foods are absorbed more slowly and are more likely to leave you feeling satisfied for longer."


Two mince pies, with cream, and a share of the chocolate box after dinner can add 1,000 calories to the day's total.
Dr Ian Campbell
It is also important to try to be realistic.

If you absolutely love cheese, then there is no point in trying to give it up completely because the chances are you will fail.

The best approach is to eat a lot less of it - and not to feel guilty when you do.

Above all, moderation is the key. As Amanda Wynne says: "We developed genes in the past which enabled us to put weight on very easily to preserve ourselves through times of starvation.

"But we no longer have times of starvation, instead we have an over-abundance of high fat, high sugar, energy dense foods, and so it is easier than it has ever been to over-consume."

Dr Campbell, meanwhile, believes that snacks are the thing that can cause most damage.

"Two mince pies, with cream, and a share of the chocolate box after dinner can add 1,000 calories to the day's total.

"Do that over the whole holiday season and you can join the majority who put one or two pounds every Christmas.

"When all is said and done enjoying Christmas, and family mealtimes is the most important thing - but it pays to enjoy it, and stay healthy."


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