One trivial but still agonizing stress of the season is going into a dressing room with three-way mirrors and a handful of bathing suits. Moans, gasps and little wails reverberate off the walls as customers take the first real look at their bodies since Christmas. I've heard all the following comments:
"What happened to my waist?" "Were my hips that big last year?" "Maybe I should just buy a see-through cover-up and stay under a big umbrella."
Although it is tempting to vacation in the southern hemisphere (where it will be winter in August), given the cost of everything these days, most of us will spend our holidays on the shores of a nearby lake or beach. And unless the weather proves as disastrous as it was this past winter, there should be a few days when putting on a bathing suit and lying on a blanket or beach chair is irresistible.
Do not despair. Beaches do not require model-perfect bodies unless there is a Sports Illustrated photo shoot going on. But if you have been thinking of losing weight since January 1, the bathing suit might be the catalyst that gets you to do it. Now.
If you do decide to make the commitment to lose weight, why not use your brain to help you?
We all know that weight is lost when less food is eaten than the body needs. The question is, how do we get ourselves to stop putting food in our mouths, even if we know we are eating too many calories to lose weight?
The answer may be carbohydrates. Potatoes, pasta, rice, wheat, corn, barley, beans, quinoa, oats and lentils are part of the answer. These are healthy carbohydrates that are fat-free in their natural state. Eaten by themselves with very little protein allows the brain to make a very important brain chemical: serotonin. Most of us associate serotonin with keeping our mood stable, but serotonin also functions as nature's own appetite suppressant. Simply put, making serotonin makes our appetite go away. And it is our appetite, not just hunger, that causes us to eat more than we need.
Alas, all of the medications used to make serotonin more active, those antidepressants that prolong the mood-regulating function of serotonin, will not take away your appetite. In fact, some of you may be gnashing your teeth over the weight that you gained from taking these meds. It is not known why those drugs make many people eat more, but they do seem to.
Not surprisingly, drug companies have been trying to find a suppressant that will activate the appetite termination function, or satiety, of serotonin. Why wait for the drug companies? You'll want to get into that bathing suit in a couple of weeks!
An English muffin, ¾ of a cup of Cheerios, a handful of new potatoes steamed with some fresh dill or a cup of oatmeal will give you enough carbohydrates to start the process of making new serotonin. Adding butter, sour cream, bacon or any other high-fat ingredient may make the carbohydrate taste better, but remember that the brain has no taste buds. Try thinking of the carb as a diet pill. Diet pills don't come coated with butter or wrapped in bacon, and neither should the carb you are enjoying to stop you from eating too much.
As we recommend in The Serotonin Power Diet, a small, fat-free carbohydrate snack an hour or so before a meal increases serotonin and takes the edge off the appetite. This is why eating a roll or several breadsticks before your main course leaves you feeling less hungry than you were when you ordered your entree.
But carbohydrates come with a warning: If they are processed into ice cream, chocolate, cookies, pizza, piecrust, fried batter or coated, covered and drenched with fat, they will not help make you thin.
Take heart, there is more good news. Carbohydrates will not deceive you into thinking you have lost weight. One of the gratifying features of a low or zero-carbohydrate diet is that as the stored carbohydrates in the body are used up, water is eliminated. The loss of five or six pounds of water makes the needle of the scale drop by 5 or 6 pounds. It is a great feeling to see that weight loss, but it will not be translated into a smaller size bathing suit -- or smaller hips for that matter.
Carbohydrates will do one more positive thing; they will keep you in good humor. It is sort of a value-added feature of this class of food, in that by making new serotonin, you won't feel grumpy and irritable. Your default mood will be feeling calm, so that when you see how bathing suits seem to be priced per inch, you will be more inclined to giggle rather than growl.
Follow Judith J. Wurtman, PhD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stopmed_wt_gain