Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Nutrition Debate #101: Why I’m Never Hungry

I have had a raised consciousness about food and feeding since I began writing this blog. And one of the things I have observed is when I “feel” hungry. Of course, hunger is not an emotion; it is a physiological signal that has been sent and received that motivates us to (look for and) eat food. (The “look for” is a reference to our ancestral behavior as “hunters and gatherers” which is still hard wired into our genes.) The signals travel from our stomach, where the hormone ghrelin senses it is empty, via the vegus nerve to the hypothalamus in the center of the brain. That is the central place there where hunger signals are interpreted and controlled. It’s from there that the signal is emitted. And we act. We eat.

This “empty stomach” syndrome works like clockwork in the disregulated metabolism that so many of us have developed. It is very familiar to those who eat a Westernized diet and especially the Standard American Diet (SAD, ironically) recommended by our government. According to the Nutrition Facts Panel, that diet is 60% carbohydrate, 10% protein and 30% fat. If you don’t believe that, do the math yourself. That’s 300g (1,200kcal) of carbohydrate, 50g (200kcal) of protein, and 66.6g (600kcal) of fat. That’s 2,000kcal total. Of course, the government wants you to cut down on solid (animal) fat, but not corn or soy bean oil, so what are you supposed to do? Your choice: increase carbs or protein. And if you eschew animal products, to avoid saturated fat and cholesterol, as Big Brother would have you do, what can you eat? Eat more carbs, of course. Big Agri Business at your service!

But I digress. To feed the disregulated metabolism our contemporary lifestyle offers us an endless supply of packaged, preprocessed, and easily digested “food” to choose from, most of which are carbs. We eat them, we digest them quickly, get quick energy, and then as they quickly empty from the stomach, we get the “hungry again” signal. That’s why carb eaters and especially carb addicts are always hungry. That’s why many diets recommend between meal snacks, or even 5 or 6 “small meals” a day. If you have done these diets, you know it is because you are hungry. Now you know why.

So, why am I not hungry, as I often used to wonder? Well, what are the possibilities? 1: I’m old (I’m 71). We’re all told that as we get older, we lose our appetite, and we eat less. Some of us actually lose weight “naturally.” I love the study that made the observation there are fewer fat people among the aged population; therefore, they concluded we must lose weight as we age because we’ve lost our appetite. Perhaps that is true, but how about this possibility? There are fewer fat people among the aged population because all the fat people are dead!  There are plenty of long term studies that show that fat people are more likely to die of many diseases. And all-cause mortality is definitely a lot higher among the overweight and obese population. This was the primary motivation for me to lose weight more than 10 years ago.

Possibility2: I have advanced cancer. Well, I can’t rule that out, but I am not wasting away. I have to work hard to lose weight. I eat a restricted calorie diet that is very low carb. In fact, most of the time I think I am in a mild ketogenic state. That allows my body to burn fat instead of “sugar” (carbs, either ingested or stored) for energy. The fat is also either ingested or stored. Stored energy, my body fat, is my targeted source of fuel. That’s why I need to eat a restricted calorie diet. I need to be in negative calorie balance to lose weight. I am doing this without exercise and without hunger. For one thing, I’m “allergic” to exercise. It also would make me hungry, as in “work up an appetite.”

Not being hungry is my subject here, not exercise, so the question is, why am I not hungry? Possibility 3: I am not hungry at breakfast because my body has been in a mild ketogenic state, allowing for digestion, for maybe 10 of the 14 hours since I last had a meal or ate anything. That means I didn’t raid the fridge before or after dinner, or eat a bed-time snack, as I used to do. When I am in ketosis, my body is happily burning fat for energy – hopefully my body fat. It doesn’t need ‘sugar’ (glucose) for fuel, so it doesn’t signal that I need a “carb fix.” This is a natural state. It is called ketosis.

Then I eat a breakfast with 6 carbs “tops.” It is just fried eggs, bacon and a cup of coffee with half & half & Splenda – a small ketogenic meal. After that small meal I can easily go all day without hunger because I am still in ketosis. But, because I don’t want my body to break down muscle tissue for energy, I eat a very small lunch of zero carbs, just protein and fat: a can of sardines and a beverage. Another small ketogenic meal, and I stay in ketosis. Then, an hour or so before supper, I sometimes sit down to watch the news and snack on radishes with salt and a “schmeer” of ghee. Butter works as well, but I like my ghee. The idea is to eat just a little fat to satiate and thus short circuit any tendency to eat too much at dinner.
I always used to eat too much at dinner. I think it was a cultural thing. For most Americans, dinner is the “big” meal of the day, and cultural habits require a conscious effort to break. Dinner has always been a big problem for me. My wife put too much on my plate (Sorry, Honey), and I always ate it all. (I can’t blame her for that!) We learned as kids not to leave food on the plate. (Blame it on our parents instead.) Now, with my wife’s help (Thanks, Honey!) I am eating a small supper, and I am passing up 2nds (even with really “palatable” food, as it always is). We have a vast choice of menu options: fatty meats, poultry, and seafood (fish and crustaceans), plus a low-carb vegetable roasted in olive oil or finished with lots of butter. In other words, another small ketogenic meal. This makes losing weight easy. And that’s why I’m never hungry.

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