Oct 012014
 

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.

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Aug 212013
 

clipart-blob-hungry-with-food-sign

A reader named Jamie sent me a lovely email recently proposing a blog topic. I was grateful for the email because I love getting feedback from readers who say my posts help them lose weight. And this particular question is probably something that everyone struggles with when first trying to lose weight.

“I wonder if you could address how you dealt with hunger (or still do) when you were heavier. I notice in your blog that you eat half a sandwich, pack home half or dinner out etc frequently. I try that, but I’m still physically too hungry to NOT finish my meal. I’m wondering if you could kindly respond or write a post on this issue.”

I’ve talked about this topic in a few different round about ways. Check out the old posts here: Redefine Your Relationship with FoodHunger Cues and Savor: Book Review. The post that I wrote a few years ago that most closely deals with this topic is “E is for Emergency“. Basically, I had to learn that hunger was NOT an emergency and that I needed to listen to my body and decipher the hunger cues before just stuffing my face with food. It was like I would get tunnel vision and the only thing I wanted was FOOD. I still have that feeling after a really hard workout or bike ride.

So how did I deal with HUNGER while I was losing weight? And how do I deal with it now?

BEFORE

When I was trying to lose 100 pounds, I tried really hard to stay within my calorie range for the day. It was hard and there were days where I struggled and failed and some days where I failed so miserably it became a binge. Thankfully that wasn’t too often.

The first few weeks (maybe a month) of reducing my calories was a nightmare. I was always hungry. I was going from 4000+ calories a day to 1600 calories a day and my body was not happy about that. I had figured out how many calories I was allowed to eat for each meal and I was trying not to go over that. That hollow, grumbling feeling in my stomach was distracting to say the least. What helped was drinking water. Filling up with water when I was hungry took the edge off.

I learned a few things from this hunger. First, it goes away. Your body adjusts to the lower calories after awhile and it gets easier. Second, it’s crucial to find “safe” snacks to eat in between meals. Carrots and hummus, Greek yogurt and fruit, an apple, cottage cheese. Find things that take the edge off but don’t totally derail your efforts (i.e. going to the vending machine at work!).

After some time, the 1600-2000 calorie day was the norm and my body was used to it and expected it. If I overate, my body wasn’t happy. I’d get stomach cramps and feel nauseated sometimes. Finding that “happy spot” with food takes some time but once you realize what works, it gets really easy. I know I make it sound like it’s no effort at all, it DOES take time and work, but it DOES get easier!

NOW

How is that different now? Well I eat more calories now than I did during my weight loss. If I workout and burn 500 calories in the gym, I eat most of those calories back. So on a fitness day I could be eating 2200 calories. This helps with the hunger but the downside is that I do not lose weight now (because I do not create a calorie deficit).

I’m smarter about my food now. I try (sometimes I fail) to eat foods that are WORTH the calories. What does that mean? It means I choose foods that are high in protein, fiber and fat so that I get filled up with less food. For example:

avocado with crackers (a few bites of this and I’m full) – about 150 calories

cottage cheese (great protein source) – about 100 calories

protein shake with almond milk (currently loving the Costco whey protein) -about 160 calories

graham cracker with peanut butter on top -about 150 calories

string cheese with pistachios or almonds -about 180 calories depending on nuts

hardboiled egg with a piece of beef jerky -about 100 calories

It doesn’t sound like a lot of food but if you are SMART you will be satisfied. Seriously, there was a time when one graham cracker with peanut butter on top would not be considered a snack or something satisfying but now it is. I gave it time for my body to adjust and now it’s ok.

I am definitely not perfect all the time. I don’t know what is going on with me lately but I’ve been having an issue with hunger! I’ve been pretty decent with my calories every day and I haven’t really changed my fitness level (although I am doing a little more cardio now that my knees are better). Yet I’ve had that grumbling, empty stomach, insatiable hunger for about a week or two now! It’s been making me crazy. There have been a few mornings I woke up to growling hunger! That’s abnormal for me. Maybe my body is just re-adjusting to another change, who knows.

I’ve been taking my advice and trying to eat snacks that are healthier. Today I had some watermelon and blackberries from the garden. The other day I had some smoked almonds. They took the edge off, but didn’t cure it. Basically it got me through to the next meal.

Which brings me to my conclusion…

Conclusion

My tip (and yes I do this): when that insatiable hunger is taking over and you have a snack but it’s not doing the trick, tell yourself to CHILL OUT.

For example, as I write this post it’s about 3:50pm and my stomach is growling like I haven’t eaten in 2 days. (What the hell?!) I have plans to meet my friend Robyn for happy hour at 5:00pm. That is about an hour away. I’m telling myself I can make it, calm down, it’s only an hour. And I just guzzled more water.

Reread E is for Emergency and ask yourself why you think you are hungry? Is it real hunger? Did you not eat enough food at your last meal? Do you need to consider breaking up your meals into more frequent, smaller snacks? Are you drinking enough water? Are you stressed or emotional? Are there OTHER REASONS you might want to eat? (For me, there usually are!) I hope this helps!

QUESTION: What are your tips for dealing with insatiable hunger?

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