My brother recently sent me this New York Times article, Always Hungry? Here’s Why. While the article in itself wasn’t new information, I really liked the way they broke down the science and explained it for the readers.
“Since fewer calories are available to fuel metabolism, the brain tells the body to increase calorie intake (we feel hungry) and save energy (our metabolism slows down). Eating more solves this problem temporarily but also accelerates weight gain. Cutting calories reverses the weight gain for a short while, making us think we have control over our body weight, but predictably increases hunger and slows metabolism even more.”
Yes! This makes so much sense to me. I’ve always wondered why I could be SO GOOD with my calories and yet I don’t see a change on the scale and I feel hungrier than normal. I chalked it up to hormones but really it’s probably WHAT I am eating, when I’m eating it as well as genetics. This became most evident recently when I realized that I have crashes on my rest days.
While this isn’t a new thing for me, I just started making the connection in relation to my rest days. I wondered why some days I felt hungrier–like an insane hunger I couldn’t satisfy–and why some days I had crashes in blood sugar and energy and ended up eating junk. I do not eat enough calories on my rest days. Historically I’ve used exercise as a way to eat more. This makes sense; I burn 500 calories in the gym, that means I’m going to be hungrier and will need to eat more calories to fuel my body. Weight loss/maintenance means I need to create a calorie deficit (at least a few hundred calories a day). So when the rest day comes around and I’m not “earning” those extra calories, I do not eat more.
It sounds logical and correct. But the reality is, I’m eating around 1600-1700 calories on rest days and that isn’t enough for the body to REPAIR itself from my hard workout the day before. So I’m not eating enough and then mid-afternoon I get the blood sugar crash and feel hungry and cranky and I end up eating candy. For some reason when I get that crash it’s sugar I reach for. Then I regret eating the sugar and while it makes me feel a little better, it certainly doesn’t solve the hunger issue.
“The more calories we lock away in fat tissue, the fewer there are circulating in the bloodstream to satisfy the body’s requirements. If we look at it this way, it’s a distribution problem: We have an abundance of calories, but they’re in the wrong place. As a result, the body needs to increase its intake. We get hungrier because we’re getting fatter.”
The solution to this is to eat more calories on my rest days to avoid that crash. But it needs to be the right kind of calories. A few summers ago I realized that eating avocado satisfied that hunger in a way no other foods have really done for me. I’m guess it’s because of the healthy fats:
“One reason we consume so many refined carbohydrates today is because they have been added to processed foods in place of fats — which have been the main target of calorie reduction efforts since the 1970s. Fat has about twice the calories of carbohydrates, but low-fat diets are the least effective of comparable interventions…”
This makes so much sense! The “non-fat” and “low-fat” diet fads may seem healthy on the surface but they really aren’t because the low-fat foods were just pumped with sugar as a substitute. Which probably triggers the blood sugar issues. When I started having a snack of avocado and gluten free toast or avocado and crackers, I saw a huge change. I didn’t need to eat very much–just 1/4 of an avocado would do it for me–and I’d feel full and satisfied for so much longer than any other foods I eat. It’s the fat! It satisfies the body. (This was a great article: 6 Signs You Need to Eat More Fat.)
There’s hidden sugars in so much of the food we eat. It’s no wonder we’re always hungry. That trigger is sabotaging us. So I eat avocado and eggs and salmon on a fairly regular basis. I feel healthier, I feel fuller longer. It’s good stuff. I can’t remember the last time I ate a white potato. If we do eat potatoes, it’s sweet potatoes and even that isn’t very often. I can’t remember the last time I ate pasta, and even that is gluten-free these days. Finding what works for your body is so crucial.
Now I know that I need to eat more on rest days, and I need to be smarter about what I eat, I need to figure out what that number looks like. The fact is, people who were obese and lost the weight will always have to be more mindful of the food they eat. Check out this article: Why is it so Hard to Maintain a Reduced Body Weight? for an interesting perspective.
“A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost.
After you’ve lost weight, your brain has a greater emotional response to food,” Rosenbaum says. “You want it more, but the areas of the brain involved in restraint are less active.” Combine that with a body that is now burning fewer calories than expected, he says, “and you’ve created the perfect storm for weight regain. (source)”
I recently got an email from a reader asking me: “Hi! Saw your blog for the first time – WOW! Very inspiring! I need to lose 110 lbs too! Question: How did you break your sugar addiction? That stuff is killing me!” I wasn’t sure how to answer her question honestly. I don’t know that I HAVE overcome my sugar addiction. I find ways to manage it (by not completely denying myself things, but eating it in moderation) but I still struggle. It’s a hard habit to break.
It’s not all bad news, though. I think with trial and error (and perhaps assistance from a registered dietitian) we can figure out what that happy medium is for weight maintenance when your body is fighting against you. What worked before may not work now. I might need to re-evaluate my own diet.