Author’s Note: This is one in an occasional series on how I lost weight – about
30 40 pounds so far. Most of the principles I followed are based on The Okinawa Diet Plan. While these methods worked well for me, please see a doctor before embarking on ANY weight-loss plan. I explain more about dieting here.
One of the toughest things about modern society is that most humans are instinctually attracted to the most sugary, fat-laden foods within their field of vision. Candy bars. Fatty meats. Cake and cookies. It is a tough impulse to fight, and one of the only ways to avoid eating junk is to feel full. Very full.
How? Strangely enough, it turns out we can trick our bodies by pigging out on soups and stews. The simple act of adding water to a meal is one of the single best ways to lose weight, according the The Okinawa Diet Plan:
A fascinating study by researchers at Pennsylvania Sate University clearly illustrates this point and demonstrates that it’s the water in the food, not drinking water, that increases our feelings of satiety. In the study, researchers served lunch to 24 hungry young women and measured how much they ate. The first course was a 270-calorie appetizer of chicken-rice casserole with varying amounts of water. Women who started with the casserole alone or drank a 10-ounce glass of water along with it went on to eat another 300 calories of food at the main course, whether they drank the water or not. But when the 10-ounce glass of water was added to the casserole – in effect, making it soup – each woman ate only 200 calories of food at the main course – about 30 percent less! These women did not feel hungrier later in the day or feel any need to make up those calories later.
When I began my diet back in July of 2004, I started off by making at least one meal each day soup- or stew-based. Because I’ve never been a big broth fan, I make my soups by filling a bowl with vegetables and a few noodles before pouring in the broth.
While I was trying to lose weight, I favored bean thread noodles because of their low calorie density. Once my weight was down to a comfortable 158 (from 198), I eased up a bit and started experimenting with noodles that were slightly higher in calorie density. But when my weight rises a few pounds, I go back to the bean threads.
Keep in mind, eating soup to lose weight won’t work if you add lots of fattening ingredients such as sausage, cheese, milk or oils. I know this will send some folk running out of the room, but putting tofu in for protein instead of Prosciutto or shrimp will help you lose weight much faster. Or substitute protein-heavy shitake mushrooms.
As for the broth portion of the meal, I usually use a low-salt miso or vegetable stock. I also use tomato or squash soup, but I recommend pairing it with buckwheat or wheat noodles rather than bean-threads, which will become mush in the heavier stock.
I decided against using animal-based broths because I also was trying to lower my cholesterol. The effort paid off because my cholesterol is now 197 instead of the 295 it had risen to by 2002. I do not take any drugs for the condition and control my cholesterol completely through diet.
Switching to the soups and stews turned out to have a variety of benefits for me:
- I felt full in such a way that I did not crave calorie-dense junk food.
- My energy level stayed on an even keel for a longer period of time than my old diet.
- I was clearly eating fewer calories at dinner than I used to, which contributed to weight loss.
- Foods with high water content will ease dehydration. Considering I was once hospitalized for a dehydration-related illness, that’s a big deal to me.
In case you were wondering why eating water-rich foods work, here are the Okinawa authors again:
One problem that makes weight control such a challenge is that our body’s natural sensors don’t tally our calories very well. We’re designed to check food amount, not caloric content. It’s this faulty feedback system that makes it so easy to overindulge in calorie-rich foods – like the carrot muffin that looks healthy but weighs in at 400 calories. But while this system is somewhat imperfect, it can also be your friend – when you take advantage of water-rich foods. Your body interprets the water in water-rich foods as actual calorie-bearing food, allowing you to fill up on fewer calories and not be hungry later.
Remember when ice cream came in half-gallon boxes? My dad would peel the four sides and top off before consuming the entire half-gallon in a single sitting. Since I was endowed with that same enormous appetite, this simple principle was the single largest key to losing weight. I must eat a lot to feel full. Fortunately, my body is fooled by a half-gallon of soup.