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Back Pain Can Lead to Overeating

Couple eating ice cream in the park
July 1, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

It’s nearly a guarantee. Almost everyone, at some point in their life, is going to deal with back problems.

Call it a vestigial issue. Our backs were originally developed for four-legged movement. Over the epochs, we’ve adapted to stand on two legs. But our backs often suffer.

The most common spine issue I see is lower back pain. Often—not always, but often—the issue is related to weight around the middle.

That doesn’t have to be the proximate cause. A back can get thrown out of whack by any number of issues.

But the amount of weight we carry on our torsos will always, at the least, create stress and pain in already-troubled lower backs. Whatever first set off an issue, weight will make it worse.

Excess belly fat tugs our center of gravity forward, putting great strain on our spines.

This doesn’t have to be a question of obesity, or excess fat. It can simply be a problem of distribution. We all have fat—it’s part of any healthy body. But for those of us who carry excess fat around our middle, our backs suffer.

The greater the weight, the greater the strain. That’s why, whenever I see a patient with lower back pain, we come up with a plan to reduce belly fat.

Excess fat in the middle will always exacerbate lower back issues.

But did you know this is actually a two-way street? Believe it or not, one simple adjustment can alter that balance, and help cure your back pain…

Your Back Is Making You Overeat

A fascinating new study conducted at the Yale School of Medicine just uncovered something startling.

Not only is lower back pain linked to belly fat. But back pain can also encourage the formation of that fat.

You see, those who suffer from chronic back pain experience less pleasure from food. Specifically, high-fat foods don’t set off the same degree of pleasure triggers.

And that is linked to another problem. With less pleasure derived from high-fat foods, lower back pain sufferers also aren’t receiving satiation signals.

The result? Those with lower back pain end up overeating high-fat foods. That, in turn, increases belly fat. Which then leads to worse back pain.

It’s a vicious cycle. But there’s an easy way to break it.

Measure Twice, Eat Once

If you or someone you know suffers from back pain, portion control is extremely important.

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In America today, portion control is a problem for everyone. The amount of food we’re served at restaurants is almost always much more than necessary.

But, for those with back pain, portion control is an even greater struggle. The usual signals that tell your brain “I’m full” aren’t functioning correctly. So it’s extremely easy to eat too much.

In practice, sufferers of back pain need to be especially conscious of how much they’re eating.

That means knowing what a proper portion size looks like. A serving of red meat, for instance, should be about the size of a deck of cards. A cup of cooked rice should be about the size of a tennis ball. A serving of cheese is about three dice.

All a lot smaller than what you’d see at a restaurant.

If you want to reduce back pain, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with these visual aids.

It’s also a good idea to invest in a digital kitchen scale—if only to weigh things occasionally, when you aren’t sure what a portion should look like.

You’ll be amazed when you see what a single serving of granola is, for instance. Here’s a hint: It shouldn’t come close to filling your bowl.

This may sound like a lot of work—and, compared with eyeballing amounts, it is.

But this doesn’t have to be something you always do. Once you’ve got a good idea of what a proper portion of your favorite food looks like, you can store that knowledge and eat accordingly.

If you have back pain, you can’t trust your gut. Your signals aren’t getting through.

But, by watching your portions, you’ll work away at shrinking your belly fat. And, as you do that, your lower back pain should ease as well.

You’ll be much healthier, happier, and more comfortable. Plus, as an added bonus, your enjoyment of food will also increase.

This is the single most important way to tackle lower back pain. It also happens to be completely free. It can even save you money, as your groceries last longer.

If you’re eating proper portion sizes and your belly fat persists, or your belly shrinks but the pain doesn’t subside, it might be time to see your doctor. But before that, learn the proper portion sizes and adhere to them strictly.

You might not feel full the first few days. But your body will adjust. And, over time, so will your back.

It’s a great feeling.

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