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The Secret to Eating More and Losing Weight
How Calorie-dense Foods Cause Weight Gain

Honeydew Melons and Ice Cream
These have similar calories but very different volumes.

Most people only think about their stomach when they're hungry, hurting or full. We don't stop to consider its vital role in regulating weight and maintaining health.

The general idea among medical professionals is that as food is digested, our stomachs signal the brain that calories are needed. While we're eating, different signals are sent to tell our brains when we've had enough. However, how all those things work together is still poorly understood.

For overweight people, those signals might not be working correctly. Fortunately, researchers have found a strategy that can help. But first, you need to understand some stomach basics.

Stomach Capacity at Different Ages
Stomach Capacity at Different Ages

The capacity of our stomachs is very similar. At birth, most are the size of a strawberry. By two months, it's the size of a small kiwi. At one year, it's grown to the size of a 7-10 ounce orange, and by the time you're an adult, an average stomach is the size of a small canteloupe.

That means a typical adult stomach can hold about four cups or one quart before it's forced to expand. As the stomach expands, signals go out to tell our brain we're filling up.

It turns out our guts are incredibly flexible. When you sit down and stuff yourself during a holiday dinner, your stomach can expand up to five times its standard size. This is where the TYPE of food we eat can make such a dramatic difference.

Picture a tub of ice cream. A 1.5-quart container of Breyers French Vanilla ice cream has 1,620 calories. The space the ice cream takes up is about 6 cups. That's just one and a half times the size of a typical stomach, and stomachs can expand five times their standard size. Eating the entire tub in one sitting wouldn't be too difficult.

Now let's say you wanted to eat 1,620 calories of fresh honeydew melon. You would have to eat four and a half melons. The amount of space those calories take-up is so much larger, it would be almost impossible for someone to eat that much. Those honeydew melons would take up around six times as much space as the ice cream.

As your stomach fills up, the hunger hormone ghrelin drops, and you get increasingly less hungry. By choosing less calorie-dense foods, you can fill up without overeating. Here's how that works.

Oil, Meat, Beans/Rice and Vegetables - How much space 500 calories take up.
This is an example of how much space different 500 calorie
food items take up in the stomac

Let's say you eat 500 calories of oil. That's a little more than a quarter cup. Remember, your stomach can hold 4 cups before it starts to expand. Fill your stomach with oil, and that's 8,000 calories.

Five hundred calories of ground beef is about half a cup. That's undoubtedly less calorie-dense than oil, but you can still eat 4,000 calories of ground beef before filling your stomach.

It takes two and a quarter cups of black beans to equal 500 calories. Eat enough to fill your stomach, and you'd only take in 907 calories.

Vegetables take up the most space per calorie. If you filled your stomach with four cups of chopped tomatoes, that's only 129 calories. Four cups of cucumbers are 62 calories, and four cups of spinach are a tiny 28 calories.

Obviously, you're not going to make an entire meal out of spinach, but by eating more bulky low calorie foods like whole fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you'll fill up quicker. As a bonus, eating more of those foods is precisely what nutritionists and dieticians recommend.

Here are two common myths about stomachs. The first is that naturally skinny people have smaller stomachs than heavier people. Clinical tests have proven that false. Your weight doesn't determine stomach size.

The second is that your stomach will shrink if you diet. It doesn't. Adult stomachs stay the same size even when you lose weight. Your belly gets smaller on a diet because the fat cells surrounding the stomach and other organs shrink as you lose weight.

Minimize how much meat, sugar and oil you eat for better health. To lose weight and live longer, choose meals with bulky whole fruits, vegetables and fiber-filled grains. For recipe ideas check out WeCookFit.com.

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Updated 8/10/2022