food habits

Always Hungry? Here’s Why

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.)
healthy-fats

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.

How to Deal With Cravings

CRAVINGS-COVER

This may surprise you but my advice on how to deal with cravings is to EAT what you are craving.

That kind of sounds like the opposite of what you should do if you’re trying to lose weight. When it comes to weight loss, the simple equation is eat less and move more. It’s really that simple. It took me a long time to come around to realizing that but once I did it made the process easier. I no longer felt like I was fumbling around trying to figure out what the magical secret was to weight loss. I discovered it and it worked. I COULD lose weight. Eat less, move more.

This is not to say that cravings weren’t the bane of my weight loss journey. Boy were they ever! When you’re used to eating whatever you want, whenever you want, in large portions, the idea of denying cravings is ridiculous. Why would I? I’m craving a big piece of chocolate cheesecake. I’m going to drive to the grocery store at 8pm at night and buy it. In fact, since I’m there, why not buy a few more pieces for tomorrow so I won’t have to come back?

Moderation, moderation, moderation.

The trick with giving in to cravings is to do so in moderation. If there is something I’m craving, I eat it, but sometimes just having a bite or two of whatever it is I am obsessing about it enough. Half the time I give in to the craving and feel like I didn’t really need or want it.

As a former binge eater, resisting the cravings was really hard. I remember many many evenings where I knew I had some kind of dessert in my freezer and my brain would fixate on it. I’d try to distract myself, I would do other things; I did a lot of crafts and scrap-booking as a way of keeping my hands busy. But there would still be that little voice in the back of my head…You have ice cream sandwiches in the freezer…You have ice cream sandwiches in the freezer…you can just have one. One won’t ruin your day for calories…

I bet you understand that! I’d give in and have one and in the early days when I wasn’t quite in control of my food and binges yet, I’d have another, and then another. And then my day was blown. I ate too many calories. I’d feel despondent and hate myself, and regret eating even one.

Then something changed. I LOST WEIGHT. Seeing progress on the scale boosted my mood and my motivation in ways I never expected. Suddenly I didn’t want to sabotage myself! I wanted to be successful. I wanted to keep seeing a smaller number on that scale each week! Finding this motivation helped me resist the binge eating demons. It didn’t come to me immediately and it took work, but once I got there it got easier to resist the donuts at work or the chocolate cake at a potluck.

The point is, for me, if I deny myself something I’m craving I can only hold out for so long. Then it’s days and days of obsession building up in my mind and that leads to a binge.

Know the difference between a CRAVING and a HABIT.

This is something that went hand in hand with my binge eating. It might surprise you but a lot of the bingeing I did was because of a HABIT. I “always” ate ice cream when I watched movies on the couch. I “always” ordered a pizza to be delivered on Friday nights. When I started working at my job a few years ago I gained some weight because of the truly horrible Candy Room in my office. It was actually a room of candy. And I got into the habit of always having some candy after lunch. Or when I was bored. It became so ingrained that I wouldn’t even think about it, it wasn’t even something I wanted some days but habit made me walk into that room and rummage.

Stupid. What a stupid waste of calories. This brought me to another realization: if it doesn’t taste good, spit it out! Don’t just eat something to eat something. So many times I’d be standing in the candy room, trying to decide what to eat and nothing looked appealing; I’d end up eating something I didn’t even want because it was a HABIT.  Sometimes going cold turkey is just what is needed to get some clarity.

When you shouldn’t give in…

You shouldn’t give in to a craving if you are emotionally distressed. This is a big pitfall. Emotional stress, a bad day–emotional eating can lead to binges and then self-loathing. We’ve all gotten stuck in that cycle! This is not the time to experiment with eating your cravings in moderation. With that stress weighing on your mind, it will get harder to think rationally.

Another time you shouldn’t give in to a craving is in the first stages of your weight loss journey. It takes time for good habits to click and become something you can fall back on. The “everything in moderation” didn’t actually work for me for a good six-eight months in the beginning of my weight loss. I didn’t trust myself to stop after a few bites and so I didn’t give in to the cravings. It made me stronger! Give yourself some time to get used to the healthy eating lifestyle. Then slowly reintroduce some of those lavish things. See how you do.

sweet-cravings

Of course everyone is different and not every method always works for everyone. It works for me because I know I will crave some chocolate at the end of the evening. The most satisfying, delicious dinner is not complete in my mind without a dessert. So I leave myself some calories at the end of the day for that dessert! I’m currently eating Hershey’s Kisses as my dessert. At first I was worried about having something like that in the house. In the old days it was a big binge-trigger! A big bag of candy! EAT IT ALL. I’m finding that having to unwrap each individual kiss slows me down. I’m eating less of them and I take my time. And I enjoy my half dozen little chocolates.

What about you? How do you deal with cravings?