When do you know you have eaten enough?

Our bodies are very sophisticated machines. Through biochemistry, metabolism and physiology, they have developed an amazing ability to regulate themselves. For instance, glycaemia level and blood pH are monitored constantly by sensors that in turn send information to organs and trigger them to get into action whenever is needed. Our brains know only one fuel with which they can function: glucose. Any slight deviation in glycaemia or blood pH that lasts too long can lead to brain damage and even death. Brain sensors can tell the body when it is running low on fuel and the message as we know it is to feel hungry. Brain sensors can also tell us when the fuel tank is full and that is the feeling of being “full” or also known as satiety.

To indicate satiety, our body has two information systems. The brain sensors are only one of them. They function on the blood chemical composition, but of course for nutrients to get into the blood stream and have glycaemia and blood pH back to the proper levels, it takes time. The food has to be processed through the stomach and then transit in the intestine where the nutrients are absorbed and enter the blood stream. The other feedback system is not about biochemistry but more of a mechanical one. There is a nervous connection that goes from the stomach to the brain. When the stomach is being filled, the stomach wall stretches and when the stomach has been filled at capacity, the nerve sends a direct and rather immediate message to the brain to let it know that it is full and should no longer receive any more food. The brain read this message as satiety and the feeling of hunger disappears. The combination of these two systems is great but it has a flaw, though, as it had not been prepared for modern eating habits. It is possible that the flaw was never a cause of problems in the past because the diets of then would not act on the flaw (for background read my previous article Lifestyles have changed but our biology has not). So what is the weakness of the satiety feedback? I see two main reasons: calorie density and pace of meals.

When a person eats a high-calorie meal, s/he ingests a high level of calories in every bite. If the person starts with food rich in fat (9 calories per gram), carbs or protein (4 calorie per gram), s/he usually will get them from foods that do not contain too much water, so the calories are not all that diluted. Opposite to this, if the person starts a meal with a salad or a soup, such dishes are rich in water and in fiber, too. Fresh veggies will contain at least 90% water, and so could be soup depending on how much water you put in it of course.

The pace of the meal or, in other words, fast food versus slow food plays a role in the sense of how much time it takes to ingest all the calories. Remember, it takes time for nutrients to be absorbed and enter the blood stream. The slower you eat, the more time you allow that process to happen before ingesting more calories. That way, you do not fill the tank too fast. But if you eat fast, you can ingest more calories that you need before the chemical satiety feedback system reaches you brain. You brain think that you are not full yet, meaning that you have not ingested all the calories you need, while you actually have. If you eat fast but you eat low-calorie density food, it might not be a problem because you still may not have exceeded your calorie intake when the mechanical feedback through the nerve kicks in. On the opposite, if you eat high-calorie density food fast, you can be almost sure that before your stomach can let the brain know that you have eaten enough, you will have ingested too many calories. The reason is simple: high-calorie density foods take less volume than high-density calorie foods. One pound of feathers has a much larger volume than one pound of lead, same idea. Since the stomach-to-brain connection works on the stretching of the stomach, the stomach will allow a higher volume of high-calorie density food to enter before sending its message to the brain, thus allow you to eat more calories than you need to. And if you combine high-calorie density with fast eating, you will get ahead of the biochemical feedback as well. In the category high-calorie density that do not fill the stomach, do not forget to include soft drinks. Just like as indicated in that same previous article, all the calories that you do not burn will be stored as body fat. This explains a lot of why wrong eating/drinking habits can result in overweight and obesity. Although they are not necessarily the only contributors, but they certainly do contribute to the problem.

This leads me to a theory that some people have about why the French who eat their traditional diet of two large meals a day are not particularly fat. The traditional French diet (I would include all the Southern European diet in this, too) consists of long meals, usually at least an hour at the table, and have several courses, as you could see on the school canteen menu in my previous article. The first course is often a salad or a soup, which is low-calorie density. It starts filling and stretching the stomach, but the person does not ingest a lot of calories by then. Then comes the main course. Because the person is already a bit full, s/he does not feel the need for a huge portion, which means that the amount of calories in the main course will not be that high. The meal ends with a dessert, which can have a high-calorie density, but since the person already filled the stomach with the previous two courses, the dessert size is not that big. The calorie density pattern is not the only characteristic of a traditional French meal. The fact that the lunch and dinner take a long time, there is hardly any lag between the food intake and the biochemical satiety feedback. A traditional French meal is actually a very harmonious process between a variety of foods and letting the body carry out its physiology as it is intended to be.

© Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


A weekly menu at a French school canteen

It is interesting to see what French kids have on the menu at their schools. Here is a link that will show you the weekly menu in a random school somewhere in France. You can click on translate to see the page in English. The translation is reasonably good.


As you can see, every day’s menu is, it at least a three-course menu. It shows variety and it is rather well-balanced. As a side note, it is also interesting to know that meals are free, as schools are in France, as they are the school of the French Republic. No lunch money needed.


Gourmet, Gourmand & Glouton

These three French words are important to know and understand, as they show very different relationships with food and interestingly enough also show some more general behavioral pattern outside of food.

Let’s start with the Glouton, or as the French-English dictionary translates into “Greedy Pig”. The translation gives it away already. Here we have the human food vacuum. The Glouton will eat anything as much and as fast as possible. The term pig is actually correct. I have spent a few years of my life in pig production and pigs indeed slurp their food at an amazing speed. Actually, there is not all that much difference between humans and pigs in terms of physiology of digestion and metabolism. I will come back on this in another article in the future. We all know Gloutons. Usually, they cannot cook but feel comfortable throwing meat directly on a flame. They are not quite aware of the existence of cutlery but that does not matter. Using a fork and a spoon would probably just be a waste of time that can be spent better with eating. The same rule applies for sauce. Why spend the time making it yourself, while all it takes is to shake a bottle and prrrt there it skirts on the food! It is entertaining to watch a Glouton in action, for a little while. The Glouton has not interest in reading nutritional labels, plus what would be the point anyway. Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins and the word itself has the same root as glouton. Gluttony is not just about food and Gloutons usually will treat energy, water, packaging, stuff and all other natural resources in the exact same manner. Education about nutrition won’t interest the Glouton but by some interesting twist of fate, many of the Gloutons seem immune to early death related to excessive food consumption.

The line between Glouton and Gourmand is kind of thin. Both simply eat too much. There are some subtle differences, though. First, while a Glouton will eat anything, the Gourmand tends to specialize in some particular types of food. Often, the food of predilection for a Gourmand has to do with sweetness. Cakes, pastries and cookies are among the favorites. Only for those special categories of food will a Gourmand overindulge. For the other types of food, a Gourmand will eat with much more moderation, and can actually be picky on certain foods. For as much as the Glouton is all about quantity, the Gourmand will go for quantity on the favorite foods, but will have a more balanced approach between quantity and quality for the foods outside the special group. For some mysterious reason, it looks like the Gourmand does not seem to have the same resistance to food-related ailments as the Glouton. A Gourmand needs to be careful and make sure they have a lifestyle that allows burning all those delicious calories.

Last by not least, here is the my favorite of the three. The Gourmet looks for a sensual relationship with foods. The Gourmet is looking for a refined pleasure that goes beyond just a physical satisfaction. If food were a sound, the Gourmet would look for music with structure and personality, for a melody and would definitely resent noise. The pleasure a Gourmet looks for goes far beyond just the digestive tract. A Gourmet is not just a mouth linked to a stomach. A Gourmet enjoys a meal with all his/her senses. A Gourmet is in no rush because pleasure is much more enjoyable when it lasts. A gourmet is not going to have only one dish. That would be boring and frustrating. A proper meal for this group consists of several courses, the one leading to the other in a tantalizing manner. A sauce from a bottle does not belong on their table. The pleasure of cooking the entire dish is too important. Time is not relevant, only a stunning result matters. If quality is paramount, the Gourmet will not settle for too low a quantity, though. The meal has to be sufficiently filling. There are many advantages to this approach of food. Taking the time is important in controlling the amount of calories ingested. The diversity of such meals offers a wide array of nutrients and tend to be rather well-balanced. Like the Glouton and the Gourmand, the Gourmet’s attitude towards food extends beyond food. The same quest for lasting quality pleasure without excess appears in all aspects of life of the Gourmet. A word of caution is necessary though as there are some impostors in the Gourmet world. The aura of sophistication of the Gourmet life is of course attractive but the true Gourmet is not up to impress others. A true Gourmet just enjoys the food and the company. What matters to the Gourmet is the experience and the sharing of it. There is no selfishness in a true Gourmet. This is not the case with the “impostors”. We all know these types. They are to food what a “nouveau rich” is to money and bourgeoisie. They try to make themselves more important and are after recognition. They are the Frasier and Niles Crane among us (sorry for those who are too young to have watched the comedy sitcom show “Frasier”). They know very little about food and wine but pretend they do. After all not everyone can be French or Italian, although not all of them are gourmets.

And to finish, just a quick word about the puritans of food, those righteous souls who have mapped out what is right and wrong in food and agriculture and see evil in about everything different from their food beliefs. Sadly enough, they will live without enjoying the great pleasures of Gourmet meals, as they have chosen to impose on themselves to eat the saddest and dullest foods there are. Perhaps, it is only the Gourmet in me talking, but members of that group always strike me as being the opposite of a jovial “Bon Vivant” (translation would be “someone who lives well”). I do not mind. Everyone is free to choose what is best for them. It would not appear that they live any longer than other people, and they are not immune to diseases, either. Being a gourmet is actually about moderation and responsibility. We just choose to have pleasure in the mix.

Copyright 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Cooking is an act of love

Often, I get the feeling that a lot of people resent cooking. Personally, I love it.

Cooking is not very difficult. There are plenty of recipes that can be done successfully by about anyone. Like everything else, there is a bit of a learning curve but it does not need to take long to be able to prepare decent meals without much effort.

Cooking does not take as much time as many people believe. Within 30 to 45 minutes, anyone can make a great dinner and I mean a great dinner. The trick is mostly about using time efficiently by getting started and preparing some parts of the meal while others are already cooking. Are those 30 to 45 minutes really that horrible? I think not. Just think about how much time it takes to go out for dinner and back, especially if you take into account waiting times and travel. Are 30 to 45 minutes watching lousy TV programs or spending that time on so-called social media giving away your personal information to third parties that do not care for you? Just do the math and compare. Then, you will see that cooking at home actually saves you time and provides you with a better quality of life than passively staring at a screen.

A great advantage of cooking is that you know what you put in the food, well that is if you cook from scratch. When it comes to what is in your food, there is a rather simple truth: the one preparing the meal decides what is on your plate. You will be the one in charge if you cook. If you buy your food already prepared, clearly it is someone else who will have decided for you and you will have no control, and they might not have your best interest at heart, either. When it comes to food preparation, the secret ingredient for great food is love. That is why grandma’s meals tasted so good. These meals were not prepared by a machine or a stranger, but by someone who wanted to make you happy. That is the difference.

Cooking is an act of love. It is something you do for your loved ones and when you cook you want to give a smile on their faces. Of course, like all things love, it is not a given and it requires some work, but it is fun work. The more love you put in the food, the tastier they find it. Also, if you put much or any love in the food, they will notice, too. Cooking is not about gender. Men can cook. I do and you should ask my wife and all the guests that I have invited home what they think. Cooking does not make men impotent and neither does it influence their sexuality. Only morons spread that kind of nonsense.

Another advantage of cooking is that it saves you a lot of money. With the kind of food I cook (see my gallery), I come down to about making meals 10% of what I would be charged in a restaurant, and I do not even include taxes and tip in this calculation. At the end of the year and depending on how large your family is and how often you choose to cook instead of eating out, you can save thousands of dollars that can go to your mortgage instead of for other more useful purposes. Here is a simple calculation: if cooking your own meals saves you $50 per week compared with eating out, and you do that 50 weeks a year, the total savings will be $50 x 50 = $2,500 per year!

Cooking your own meals increases your financial security level. That is worth a little work.

Copyright 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.