Why am I (not) hungry?

So I’m going to start this off with a rehashing of my credentials.  Not to brag about what they are, but more importantly to express what they aren’t.  I have three nationally recognized certifications, all of which are through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).  They are; Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, and Womens Excercise Specialst.  I am NOT a doctor, dietitian, or anything of particular prestige, renown or “expertise”.  Got it?  Good.

I don’t do hunger well.  Its a weakness of mine.  I can’t fast to save my life, I can’t even do low calorie very well.  I get hangry, anxious, fidgetty, and overall just pretty miserable.  So, recently back on the fitness / nutrition wagon, I tried one of the many touted “juice cleanses” to kind of jump start things (not the first I’d tried).  I knew it would suck.  I knew it would be miserable for those around me.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it more than a few days.  But I really wanted to kickstart myself metabolically/ psychologically.  So I got going.

And something really weird happened:  Nothing.  That is not to say I didn’t start losing weight pretty quickly, I did.  It’s not to say I didn’t feel the advertised effects of the cleanse, I did.  What I mean is I went over a week without eating anything solid (for the most part).  I spent a little over 8 days in massive caloric defecit, but I wasn’t hungry.  I wasn’t hangry.  I wasn’t letharigic or sluggish.  This was overall a good thing, but more than anything it spiked my curiosity.  Why?!  I’m no physiologially different than I was two weeks ago.  My determination clearly didn’t aleviate my need for sustainance, so why on earth am I able to subsist on essentially nothing.

So I started the research (for those of you who know me, this isn’t surprising)

Four things make you hungry.  Pretty much only the four.  This up front, one of them doesn’t count, and one of them doesn’t apply to you (probably) which brings us down to two.  But lets go over all four.

  1. Your Brain: This covers a lot of things.  Habit, percieved “time”, boredom, anxiety, depression, etc, etc.  This one doesn’t count.  Your brain is not within the digestive system.  It does interpret autonomic signals from the body, but it can also misfire, misinterpret, or just generally call “hunger” when it doesn’t know what else to do.  Moreover, the brain can be “trained” to feel hungry when it isn’t, and even more importantly NOT hungry when it is.  So, as real as the hunger may feel, or for the record as real as it may be, brain induced “hunger” can’t be trusted.  Once you learn to recognize it, it can be almost entirely ignored.
  2. Actual Caloric Defecit:  If you are an endurance athlete, a wilderness survival enthusiast, or have spent time in the peace corps, you probably have experience with this.  If not, its unlikely that much of your “hunger” comes from a legitimate caloric defecit.  The day after a Spartan Race/ Savage Race/ Tough Mudder I know that I am in a pretty big defecit.  But a good stack of pancakes and a glass or two of orange juice and I’m back on track.  People are capable of going days to weeks without food.  You can actually live indefinitley on around 1100 calories a day, and your body has fat stores for this purpose.  Unless you are wafishly thin, or have a grandular disorder, caloric defecit is probably a statistically irrelevant cause of your need to feed.
  3. Blood sugar:  Now, most people understand this, but I’ll say it up front.  Blood sugar is a pretty significant thing for you, even if you aren’t diabetic.  Your brain runs on glycol (sugar), lots of your bioinformatic systems are trigged by blood sugar.  Blood sugar levels actually prove to be a far more significant cause of hunger than people think, and is almost solely responsible for being “hangry” as anger comes from the brain, and as I mentioned your brain runs on sugar.  Deprive the sugar, get the rage.  The reason this is significant is that it means by choosing a different snack, or the frequency of snacks, you could much more effectively control the sensation of hunger.
  4. Stomach contraction/retraction:  This is the one that most people associate the most with hunger.  Stomach growling, pit in the stomach, grumbling, etc etc.  But here is the fun fact.  This is largely, almost entirely caused the over expansion/retraction sensation.  So, if you choose smarter, smaller meals.  Preventing the stomach from over stretching, you can fairly quickly prevent this sensation from becoming a major factor.  Additionally, things like cayenne, black pepper, ginger, grapefuit oil/extract, green tea concentrate, can naturally cause the stomach to contract greatly reducing that hunger response.

There it was.  I started breaking down what I’d been subsisting on, how I had altered the prescribed recipe to the juice, and how often/when I was drinking it and suddenly it became awesomely clear.  By increasing the frequency and decreasing the amount I had nearly entirely killed #4.  By keeping a steady frequency, and a consistent amount, I was regulating my blood sugar unintentionally/inadvertantly so there is #3.  I was certainly under a caloric defecit from my average lifestyle, but I did the math, and I certainly wasn’t under the recommended levels of the day, and was nowhere near “starvation” levels.  So that covered #2.  And I’ve been keeping pretty busy, lots going on, not much time to stew on things so #1 was a non-issue.

I knew much of this from my studying for my “Fitness Nutrition Specialist”, but I’d never applied it like this, nor even thought of it being applied like this.  It hass sort of blown my mind.

Its been nearly a week since I reintroduced “real” food.  I’ve been applying these four priciples, and let me tell you.  I can FEEL the difference.

Think about what it is you eat.  How much it is (volume, not calories).  What is the content?  Can you apply these principles to a healthier diet?

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