Truth About Hunger
A struggle with weight is such a common experience now that many people do not realise that it was not always like this. When you look at photographs from 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago, something stands out: ordinary people were a healthy body weight. Our grandmothers were not working out at the gym and counting grams of fat. Why was it so much easier for them?
Today, the ordinary person is overweight. According to the Australian Society for the Study of Obesity, over 60% of Australian adults are overweight or obese, and this is double the number only 20 years ago (1). The trend is the same in other westernised countries, with Americans an average of 13kg heavier than they were in the 1960's. What has happened? Is it simply our generation's lack of will power? I do not believe so. If anything, we are more calorie and exercise obsessed than previous generations. Women of 50 years ago simply went about their lives, eating when they needed to, and were not battling a constant hunger. It is not our lack of will power that is new. I believe it is the hunger.
How can hunger be new? Hunger is one of the most basic physical drives, which, of course, is why it is so impossible to stand against it with will power alone. Hunger itself is healthy, but constant hunger, even when you have had enough to eat, is not. Your body does not really want you to eat continuously, and yet, that seems to be exactly what it is asking you to do. Instead of battling it, why not try to understand why your body is hungrier than it should be? Why not support your body so that it is finally convinced that it has enough nourishment, and then it will leave you alone?
10 reasons you feel hungry when you are not.
Sugar is the worst food you can eat. The World Health Organisation recognises sugar as a major source of overeating and obesity, and they recommend that sugar be limited to less 10 percent of calories. In contrast, the average sugar consumption in Australia is 20% of calories and rising. The Victorian government estimates that soft drink consumption among Australian children has increased 30% in 10 years, and is directly blamed for the increase in childhood obesity. Just one 600ml soft drink contains over 12% of the calories that a teenager should be consuming in an entire day (7).
It is time to seriously rethink the casual way that we consume sweet things. The average person consumes more fibre-free carbohydrate in a week than a nineteenth-century person did in a year!
Solution:: Allow yourself an occasional piece of birthday cake, or a special dessert once every couple of weeks, but completely remove soft drinks, cordial, cake, muffins, biscuits, lollies, yoghurts, ice cream and sugar from your daily diet. Sugar is an addiction, so the first couple of weeks may be painful, but the cravings will disappear as your taste returns to normal. Curb the cravings with a B vitamin supplement, and by including fat and protein with every meal.
2. Sleep deprivation
Lack of sleep disrupts insulin and leptin metabolism. It causes over-eating. It's that simple.
Solution: Sleep 8 hours per night. If you cannot, see Lara's sleep article.
Artificial oestrogens and progestins disrupt blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity. One of the most common side effects of the Pill is hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar, and the need to eat sweets for energy. All forms of hormonal contraception have the potential to cause weight gain.
Solution: Get off the Pill.
4. Low-fat foods
Forget everything you think that you know about fat. Cutting fat from your diet is one of the best ways to gain weight. The obesity epidemic in the US began sharply during the mid-eighties, exactly when low-fat advice began. Many experts attribute obesity directly to the introduction of low-fat, refined carbohydrate foods, which are never satisfying and always leave you hungry for more.
Carbohydrates without fat have a very a high glycaemic index (GI). "Fat-free" foods cause a rapid spike in blood sugar, followed by quick storage of the sugar into fat, and nothing left over for energy for the brain or body. The result is hunger for more carbohydrates, and exhaustion. The eventual outcome can be insulin resistance, or metabolic syndrome, which is a major risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
How could we have got it so wrong? Where did the low-fat advice come from? Behind the scenes, the low-fat campaign was really more about profit than science. In the late 70's, the American edible oil industry (mostly soy and corn oil) began a successful campaign against tropical oil, which was saturated fat, and also their major competitor. The evidence against saturated fat was shaky to begin with, and it is now proven that saturated fats do not increase heart disease (2,3). Nor do they cause obesity. According to a 2004 study, saturated fat may actually promote weight loss (4). The fat that does cause weight gain and other problems is processed vegetable oil called trans fat, which is present in deep-fried foods, commercially prepared oily foods, and some margarines.
There was more to the misinformation campaign against fat. Grain farmers stood to profit from increased grain consumption, and that is exactly why the US Department of Agriculture developed the food guide pyramid, promoting the consumption of grain above all other food.
Less fat, more grain is a proven way to feel hungry all the time, and is also a very effective way to gain weight fast. We really should have known better, however, because carbohydrates, and not fat, had always been seen as the main cause of obesity. As late as the late seventies, the Nutrition Division of the United Nations described the ideal diet as one with ''with plenty of eggs, beef, mutton, chicken, butter and well-cooked vegetables." (5). Such a diet was viewed to prevent obesity, snacking and excessive sugar consumption. Such a diet is also the same diet that humans have had for 10's of thousands of years, because early humans were definitely meat-eaters. (6)
Solution: Avoid 'low-fat' snack foods, and include healthy fats in your diet. Fat lowers the overall GI of any meal, and will stop you from feeling hungry. Fat is also good for skin, hair and hormone balance. Include a naturally occurring fat such as meat, eggs, avocado, butter, olive oil, fish, cheese, full-fat (unsweetened) yoghurt, or coconut milk with every meal. Avoid deep-fried foods, and processed oils such as margarine, which contain trans fat, and will cause weight gain.
Emotional Eating is the use of food to 'medicate' bad emotions. It is common, particularly among women. If you reach for junk food when you are sad, you are actually trying to meet your emotional needs with something physical. The relief will always be temporary.
Solution: The solution to emotional eating is NOT to feel guilty about food. This will actually worsen the condition. Instead, try a relaxed, forgiving attitude about food. Remember that food is nourishing, and that your body deserves good quality meat and vegetables, even if you have already made a mistake with your diet. Learn to recognise your bad emotions and deal with them in another way.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that causes abdominal weight gain. Cortisol is released when the body is preparing for a difficult situation. It causes sugar to flood the blood stream because your body believes that you are literally going to have to run for your life. Unfortunately, the actual running rarely happens, and, the sugar is put straight back into storage, particularly around your middle. This then triggers a hunger for carbohydrates, and, in the presence of insulin, cortisol triggers a fat-storing enzyme called lipoprotein lipase.
Solution: Reduce your stress and your cortisol with stress management techniques such as meditation and yoga. Convince your body that you are not in a life- threatening situation. Open yourself up to emotions and intimacy, and do not be afraid to make changes in your life and relationships.
Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat, which until 10 years ago, scientists had no idea about. Fat was always believed to be only a storage organ, but we now know that it is also a hormone-producing organ, just like the pancreas or the thyroid. When fat reaches a certain proportion in the body, as in obese people, fat becomes the most influential endocrine organ in the body.
Leptin is normally supposed to tell the brain that you are not hungry, but for a couple of reasons, this can stop working. One reason is sleep deprivation, which decreases leptin production. The other reason is resistance develops after a history of excessive leptin with an eating disorder or obesity. Resistance means that you feel hungry all the time, and therefore eat more, and therefore produce more and more leptin, creating more resistance. It becomes a viscous cycle, and that is why it can be so difficult to lose weight once it is established. Leptin resistance also suppresses thyroid function.
Solution: This is an area of intensive research. Pharmaceutical companies are hoping for a leptin drug, but at the moment, the best approach is to enhance sleep and your own production of leptin. It will suppress appetite, and improve fat burning.
When your body becomes resistant to insulin, it cannot metabolise carbohydrates properly. This leads to weight gain, and a constant craving for carbohydrates.
Solution: Correct insulin resistance.
Previous generations walked an average of 15,000 steps per day. The average office worker now walks only 3000 steps, and this means that they have more stress, and usually more appetite. Exercise is also good for weight loss because it sensitises the body to insulin and leptin.
Solution: Vigorous exercise is important if you are already overweight, but do not let yourself be discouraged an overwhelming task. Start small. Motivate yourself to 10 minutes of exercise per day, which is a simple walk around the block. Once you are out there, you may decide to walk further. Encourage yourself further with a pedometer, which will reward you at the end of the day with it display of 10,000 steps
10. Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities are cruel because they make you crave exactly the food that is causing the problem. When you eat common food sensitivities, such as cow's milk and wheat, the body copes with the stress of the food by releasing opioids, which are similar to morphine. This means that you will have a very good feeling immediately after consuming the food sensitivity, and within a couple of hours you will be desperate for more food, especially sugar.
Food sensitivities also cause microscopic damage to the digestive system, which prevents the absorption of essential nutrients, resulting in more craving. Finally, food sensitivities produce an inflammatory response, which slows metabolism and causes fluid retention.
Solution: You can determine possible food sensitivities with a blood test or by eliminating cow's milk and wheat products from your diet for 3 weeks. Spelt, which is the ancestor of wheat, is a very good substitute. Spelt bread or pasta is available in health food stores and some supermarkets.
What about real hunger?
Real hunger means that you are actually not getting enough to eat. This happens on low calorie diet, and low calorie diets are not recommended for long-term weight loss. If your body thinks that you are starving, it will adapt by slowing down your metabolism. When you go back to a full calorie diet, and you will have to if you are going to live, you will gain the weight all back, and then some. The best way to keep weight off is to provide your body with what it needs.
Author: Lara Grinevitch BSc, ND. Sensible-Alternative Naturopathic Clinic.
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(1) Cameron, AJ. Et al. "Overweight and obesity in Australia: the 1999-2000 Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab)." MJA 178 (9): 427-432, 2003
(2) Willett, W. C. et al. "Intake of Trans Fatty Acids and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Women". Lancet 341:581-585, 1993
(3) Mozaffarian D et al. "Dietary fats, carbohydrate, and progression of coronary atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women." Amer J Clin Nutr 80(5):1175-84, 2004
(4) Lei T et al. "Medium-chain fatty acids attenuate agonist-stimulated lipolysis, mimicking the effects of starvation." Obes Res 12(4):599-611, 2004.
(5) Taubes, Gary. New York Times July 7, 2002
(6) Sponheimer, M., and J.A. Lee-Thorp. "Isotopic evidence for the diet of an early hominid" Australopithecus africanus. Science 283:368, 1999.
(7) www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au 16/11/2004