A new study from Wake Forest School of Medicine gives us even more reasons to go Mediterranean.
mediterranean diet food
Credit: Photo: Getty Images/guvendemir

We all overindulge from time to time (and there's nothing wrong with that). But binge eating disorder-the most common eating disorder in the U.S.-can lead to increased risk of chronic diseases, digestive system problems and obesity. And many people struggle with overeating. What if your diet was full of satisfying foods and helped stop you from going overboard as often? The Mediterranean diet may help you do just that.

We already know that this delicious style of eating is linked with heart health and plenty of other health benefits. A new animal study from Wake Forest School of Medicine found that adopting a Mediterranean diet just might be the solution for combating overeating. This nine-year study looked at monkeys' diets and compared the effects of long-term Western and Mediterranean diets on obesity-related diseases. The findings: Those who followed the Mediterranean Diet ate fewer calories and had lower body weights and body fat percentages. They also had a 7 percent increase in good gut bacteria, whereas those on the meat-centric diet only saw a less than 1 percent increase.

"Diet composition is a critically important contributor to the U.S. public health, and unfortunately those at the greatest risk for obesity and related costly chronic diseases also have the poorest quality diets," Carol Shively, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said in a press release. This study is the first experimental evidence for the long-term consumption of a Mediterranean diet protecting against obesity and obesity-related conditions-plus nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and overeating-compared to a Western diet.

About 40 monkeys were put on two different diets, with the same percentage of carbohydrate, protein and fat. One diet was closely formulated to reflect the high levels of animal fat and protein consumed in a typical Western diet and the other had the high levels of plant protein and unsaturated fat consumed in a Mediterranean diet. There was no calorie limit for the monkeys.

The primates on the Mediterranean Diet experienced significantly healthier weights, body fat percentages and average caloric intakes, all without restricting calories or other forms of dieting. They chose not to eat all the food that was available to them, showing they were better satisfied by what they were eating. They also experienced lowered triglyceride levels. Those on the Western diet increased their caloric intake in the first six months of the study, and their body fat, insulin resistance and NAFLD risk all increased during the two-and-a-half-year study.

"Eating a Mediterranean diet should allow people to enjoy their food and not overeat, which is such a problem in this country. We hope our findings will encourage people to eat healthier foods that are also enjoyable, and improve human health," said Shively.

The bottom line

While the study's sample size is pretty small, and the subjects were monkeys and not humans, the findings certainly align with evidence from many larger studies. More research needs to be conducted on how much the Mediterranean diet can impact overeating, but eating a nutrient-rich diet full of fiber, plant protein and heart-healthy fats has proven to keep people better satiated and healthier overall.