It’s a new year, which means many of us vow to achieve lofty health aspirations just one week after we tuck our bellies on one of the biggest indulgences of the year, Christmas Day.
But there’s also some good news – the stomach organ is muscular, so it’s soft and can revert to its former shape.
As for our New Year’s resolutions, health lecturer Dr Fiona Willer says it’s far better to have a good relationship with food than to restrict your calorie intake or eliminate whole food groups to achieve long-term goals.
The capacity of the stomach can typically fluctuate from 500 milliliters to about 2 liters, says Dr Willer, a nutrition and food psychology expert at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
He says the stomach contains “mechanoreceptors” that sense when there is a stretch in the stomach and can help signal the brain the “feeling full” cue.
“When we stretch the stomach quite often, we may feel less of the stretch in the stomach, as we often do during the Christmas season,” says Dr Willer.
Fortunately, Dr Willer says the stomach can return to its pre-Christmas size within a few days.
But he warns people not to take a “restrictive” approach to their diets if they’re hoping to lose weight this year.
“Restriction is not psychologically good, it actually means that we are more oriented towards eating the things we tell ourselves not to eat,” says Dr Willer.
“People like to maintain their autonomy at every opportunity. That’s how we’re wired.
“So restriction will always backfire, everything we tell ourselves we can’t eat is what our brain offers us as food. [the thing] We want to eat. We are all essentially rebels.”
So what can we do?
Dr Willer says you need to listen closely to your body to keep your stomach and brain in sync.
“It is the realization that when we feel hungry, especially after eating at full capacity for a while, our hunger signals may not be calibrated in our brains. [usual] way,” he says.
To put this into practice, she says, you need to envision what a “pleasant” day of eating, including nutrition, would look like for you. foods that make you feel energized and eat that way for a few days.
Dr Willer says it’s important to include “essential foods,” which are essentially nutrient-dense, less processed food items.
These include meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy products.
“The body needs essential nutrients to function properly… and if you’re eating too many non-essential foods, you won’t have room to spare in your day. [nutritional meals],” says.
Recipe for long-term success
“Diets don’t work,” says Dr Willer.
At its core, he says, eating well is relatively simple—you just need to make sure you enjoy eating the food you choose.
“[Think about] what makes you feel good when you eat it. The type of food, the way you eat it, and use that as a guide as you get back to the rhythm of 2023,” says Dr Willer.
“If you eat something you don’t want to eat, it will backfire whether or not it’s consistent with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.”
She says it’s crucial to find foods that will nourish your body and that you truly enjoy, whether it’s a green salad, a side of roasted vegetables, or fruit.
To continue to enjoy nutritious foods, she recommends considering diversity, from the food itself to its preparation and colors.
Dr Willer acknowledges that “there is no particular way that would be the right way for any individual to eat,” but he believes the “special ingredient” to success is eating foods you love.
QUT professor friend Danielle Gallegos agrees with Dr Willer that you need to find nutritious foods that “bring you joy.”
“One of the biggest resolutions of the new year is ‘I’m going to lose weight, start dieting,’ and diets really don’t work,” says Ms. Gallegos.
“It’s actually about having a good relationship with food… getting back to foods that are really high nutritional value and give you joy at the same time.”
If you want to eat healthy and always feel hungry, Miss Gallegos has some advice for you.
She suggests increasing your intake of vegetables and fruits, as well as drinking more water and potentially eating smaller meals.