Weight-loss Plateau: Part 4

Have a plan ready when you hit a weight-loss plateau!

Part 4: Make better food–Eat foods that increase satiety, not just fill the belly; fight the umami war!

This is the fourth in a five-part series of posts about what I do when I hit a weight-loss plateau.

Here are the things that I do when I hit a plateau:

  1. Affirm your commitment to comprehensive lifestyle modification.
  2. Reassess my dietary approach – reduce calorically dense foods!
  3. Increase my exercise regime – think outside the gym box!
  4. Make better food–Eat foods that increase satiety, not just fill the belly; fight the umami war!
  5. Watch empty calories–Reduce nutritionally insufficient foods; watch alcohol intake!

As opposed to a “diet” which almost always produces temporary weight loss, lifestyle modification is a process that you need to work on every single day for the rest of your life! My lifestyle modification journey started on June 23, 2003, when I bumped into heart disease and I have maintained between a 60 and 80 weight loss for those 17 years now. I have an on-going conversation with about 20 pounds that comes and goes depending on how life circumstances affect my willingness and ability to adhere to my lifestyle modification plan. When I stall, I go back to where I started and tweak my lifestyle modification plan using the five-step process we are discussing. Remember that an effective lifestyle modification plan is comprehensive, realistic and actionable. Your commitment is steadfast and unchanging, but your plan is dynamic and has to be based on your willingness and ability to change, given what is going on in your life at a particular moment in time. A stall, or plateau, may indicate that your willingness level and ability to follow through have changed. This happens all the time, and if you are not able to be completely honest with yourself and adapt your plan to fit present life circumstances, you will fail; end of story, full stop, done! As part of my comprehensive commitment to lifestyle modification, failure is not on the table as an option, so I change my dietary approach and exercise regime to take into account present life circumstances that affect my willingness and ability to change. Bruce Lee says that we need to “be like water…if you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot; it becomes the teapot.” If your plan is static and unchanging, you will fail, period.

Last week I discussed Douglas Lisle’s book The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force That Undermines Health & Happiness which deals with why this is all so hard. Dr. Lisle discusses how the environmental context in which our bodies developed is different from the environmental context we live in today in 2020. We are living a “life out of context.” The Pleasure Trap is presented as a hard copy book, e-book, audio-book and even as a lecture on DVD. If you want to be successful at this, knowing what you are fighting against is more than just interesting and makes this material essential reading! I have been reading, watching and listening to this material since Dr. Lisle created it, and it is on my desk at this very moment as I write!

After affirming my commitment in step one, I bring my dietary approach and exercise regime back into synch with my willingness and ability to change given my present life circumstances in steps two and three and then look at what I am specifically doing with food in steps four and five.

The basic deal with making food with less salt, fat and sugar in it is that, for me, if it doesn’t taste good, I am not going to eat it. It is that simple! Making food without large amounts of salt, fat and sugar in it is hard work, that’s a fact! Remember that’s a graduate of arguably the best cooking school in the world with 44 years of professional hands-on experience talking! I had to go back to the drawing board and learn how to cook this stuff, and you will have to do that too. I didn’t learn it in a minute, and neither will you, so give yourself a break and start learning a new way to not only eat, but cook!

Sometimes my work schedule gets overwhelming, or I just get lazy and don’t cook appetizing food; yep, it happens to me too! Besides making appealing food, you need to pay attention to what is satisfying, and the foods that satisfy us will surprise you.

The fancy word for satisfaction with food is “satiety.” Dietitians have studied this and created something called a “satiety index” which is a list of foods with a corresponding fullness factor. In a 1995 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the results showed boiled potatoes with nothing added was far and away the most satisfying food tested! Simply boiled potatoes were 33% more satisfying than the next satisfying food on the list and more than three times more satisfying than white bread, which was close to the center of the list! The 12 foods providing the most satisfaction and fullness for the most prolonged time were boiled Potatoes, fish, oatmeal, oranges, apples, brown pasta, beef, baked beans, grapes, whole grain bread (other than wheat), whole wheat bread and popcorn. The 12 foods providing the least satisfaction and fullness were French fries, cold cereal, white bread, muesli, ice cream, potato chips, yogurt, peanuts, candy bars, doughnuts, cake and croissant.

In the lifestyle modification business and an empty stomach searching for satisfaction is a dangerous thing! Pay attention to foods that provide fullness for the most prolonged time and stay away from foods that offer less satisfaction.

One of my favorite eating strategies for increasing satiety is to consume more soup. Barbara J. Rolls, Ph.D. Professor of Nutritional Sciences and the Helen A. Guthrie Chair in Nutrition at The Pennsylvania State University has studied this more than anybody.  In 1999 Dr. Rolls published a paper in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal (FASEB Journal) that found greater satiety and 27% fewer calories consumed after eating a soup-based starter as opposed to the same foods as a casserole with a glass of water. This study was relatively small and somewhat limited, but the results were significant. That same study met the criteria for inclusion in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical nutrition that same year. These data were confirmed, and their implications expanded in a more extensive 2007 study that found “preloading,” or consuming soup in a variety of forms before a meal, reduced overall calorie intake for both men and women ages 18-45. Not only does soup seem to give some general sense of increased satisfaction, but that satisfaction can be quantified.

If soup does not figure in your lifestyle modification dietary approach, then you are missing out on the biggest science-based weight loss secret out there!

Get “umami,” or the savory “meaty” flavor profile, into your food to make it tasty for the modern pallet! Umami, along with sweet, sour, bitter and salt make up the five basic tastes we recognize. Umami is what makes a rich meat sauce or soup satisfying to your palate, and without umami, your food will be less pleasing. The umami taste comes from the presence of the amino acid glutamate, which is typically present in high-protein foods. Although it sounds like monosodium glutamate, it is not to be confused with MSG, but it does hit many of the same taste receptors and increases flavor and satisfaction in many the same ways that MSG does. Smithsonian Magazine has an excellent article on umami entitled “It’s the Umami, Stupid. Why the Truth About MSG is So Easy to Swallow.”

Many foods have umami, and cooking with them will make the meals you make more satisfying and increase the chance that you will remain on your chosen diet. Here is a list of some items with high levels of umami in them.

  • Mushrooms; especially dried mushrooms
  • Onions; especially caramelized onions
  • Tomatoes; especially dried tomatoes or the reduced fresh tomatoes chefs call “concassé.”
  • Tomato sauce, paste, and ketchup
  • Seaweeds
  • Soy-based products like natto, miso, and soy sauce
  • Kimchi
  • Green and black tea
  • Bonito flakes (dried tuna flakes used to make dashi)
  • Potatoes
  • Lotus root
  • Garlic
  • Green peas
  • Corn

You can also use condiments and concentrated pastes to increase the umami in your food. Some of these items have a lot of sodium, but you only use a minimal amount in large batches of food. I use the following items all the time at Hometown Café, and nobody can say that my food is salty unless you are very sensitive to sodium. All of the following items are available at Gene’s Grocery store right here in Smith Center! If you are interested in making your food taste better, please get these items at Gene’s; ask for assistance if you can’t find them on your own. It is wonderful to have a store that will stock some of the condiments we need to please support Gene’s and purchase these items from them!

  • Better Than Bouillon bases (no-chicken & no-beef vegan bases now available with the other soup bases at Gene’s)
  • Marmite (available now among the other yeast items at Gene’s)
  • Bragg’s Aminos (Look for this with the soy sauces)
  • Kitchen Bouquet (also available at Gene’s near the soup bases)

Hopefully, in the next few months, we will be able to offer another series of Healthy Cooking Live cooking demonstrations where you can see me use these high umami ingredients cooking right in front of you! Stay tuned for more information about cooking demos!

Next week we look at calorically dense nutritionally insufficient foods! Make it a good week!

Here are the references for today’s Healthy Eating Tip:

Lisle, Douglas J. and Alan Goldhammer. The Pleasure Trap. Summertown, TN: Healthy Living Publications, 2003.

Holt, S.H., Brand Miller, J.C., Petocz, P. Interrelationships among postprandial satiety, glucose and insulin responses and changes in subsequent food intake. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1996 Dec;50:788-797.

Holt SH, Miller JC, Petocz P, Farmakalidis E. A Satiety Index of common foods. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1995 Sep;49(9):675-90.

Bell EA, Rolls BJ. Effect of water content of food on satiety. FASEB Journal. 1999;13:A870

Rolls BJ, Bell EA, Thorwart ML. Water incorporated into a food but not served with a food decreases energy intake in lean women.  American Journal of Clininical Nutrition. 1999;70:448–455.

Flood JE, Roll BJ. Soup preloads in a variety of forms reduce meal energy intake. Appetite. 2007;49:626–634.

Smithsonian Magazine 11/8/2013. “It’s the Umami, Stupid. Why the Truth About MSG is So Easy to Swallow.  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/its-the-umami-stupid-why-the-truth-about-msg-is-so-easy-to-swallow-180947626/. Accessed 2/21/2020.