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Why babies are smarter than we are about eating

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Babies are impressively disciplined eaters. When their stomachs growl, they demand food. When they're satisfied, they stop. Force the issue and they swat away the offering with annoyance.

But before long, most of us lose touch with what "full" should feel like. We eat for reasons other than hunger. We're so busy multitasking that we miss our body's cues to stop. And the weight piles on.

British researchers think they've found a new solution to the perpetual problem of insatiability, one they believe also could help stem the world's swelling obesity epidemic. All we need to do is trick the brain into thinking we've had dinner before actually eating.

The scientists achieved this fake feeling of fullness by injecting a naturally occurring hormone, called oxyntomodulin, into the small intestine 30 minutes before each meal. (Down the road, the delivery method could be a less intrusive nasal spray.)

The jab artificially boosts the body's existing levels of oxyntomodulin, which tells the brain the body has had enough to eat, according to the study published in the August issue of Diabetes. In the four-week trial, volunteers lost an average of 5 pounds.

A tiny, desperate part of the population needs serious help controlling their food intake. Like gastric bypass surgery, these new weight-loss injections (used with a healthy diet and exercise) could be a drastic, last-ditch solution for the morbidly obese.

But for most people, the hormone injections likely would be a colossal waste of money, time, energy and hope, just like the current appetite suppressants on the market. Weight-loss drugs don't work in the long run and can pose serious health risks.

Most of us don't need a pill or injection to fool our bodies into feeling full. We just need to eat the right foods in the right way. And we need to listen to what our bodies tell us.

To start down the road to satiety, choose foods that are high in protein and fiber, said Hannah El-Amin, a clinical dietitian at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill. "Fiber swells in the stomach to create a greater sensation of fullness. That's what a lot of people are missing when they eat junk," said El-Amin, who also stresses the importance of eating a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats at every meal.

Tofu, tempeh, fish and lean meat are all high-protein selections. High-fiber foods include whole grains, which slow digestion and give longer satisfaction after a meal. Other satiety-inducing foods include potatoes, brown rice and pasta, oatmeal, oranges, apples, baked beans and grapes, according to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

-S-L-O-W down. It takes 20 minutes for the brain to register fullness, enough time to pack in three servings or a burrito from Chipotle. "Put down your fork after every bite, take your hand off of it and only pick it up again after you've swallowed the last bite," suggested Andrea Giancoli, a Los Angeles nutrition consultant.

-Load up on whole fruits and vegetables. "Double the veggies in your stir fry, add veggies to pasta dinner, throw tomato slices, cucumber, bell pepper, mushrooms on your sandwich, add apples, mangoes or pears to your green salad," said Giancoli, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Not only are fruits and veggies high in fiber that increases fullness, but they are high in water content," which helps make you feel full, she said. "They are also larger compared to low water-content foods, so it feels like we are eating more."

-Wait for a hunger pang. Babies know when to start or stop eating because they're in tune with their bodies and don't have as much on their plate. Busy adults are overloaded with external stimuli. "We eat more based on appetite - the visual appeal of food - rather than hunger or the physiological feeling we need food," said Marjorie Livingston, who teaches nutrition at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. "Most of us never get to that point of feeling like we need to eat."

-Use non-food strategies. Turn off the television during a meal. Exercise daily to regulate satiety in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls appetite. Use smaller plates. And stay hydrated by drinking five to six glasses of water a day, suggested Lalita Kaul, a nutritionist at Howard University Medical School and an ADA spokeswoman.

Still eating too much? Try the most popular infant eating strategy: Smear your dinner on your hands, face and hair or fling it to the floor, one piece at a time.


(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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