A few days ago, on a Facebook post, there’s an image of a panther, and the caption says, “I’m hungry enough to eat a horse.” I replied, “Yeah, and he won’t be hungry or eat again for a week, ‘cause in a fasting state, he will be in ketosis, burning the fat he put aside. That’s the ‘normal state’ for all mammals.” To which the poster said, “Dan…this is a Carolina Panther ready to eat the Denver Broncos!!!” “Oops,” I replied. “How embarrassing (LOL).”
This exchange says two things: 1) I’m living under a rock and 2) hunger for people who are “carb addicted” is a condition far too familiar in our society today. As to the first observation, I plead “guilty.” People who read this column know that I am obsessed with the many benefits of low-carb eating. And the absence of hunger is the first and most surprising one. The corollary benefit is that it makes losing weight “a piece of cake.”
When you eat protein and fat for energy (and some incidental carbs), you just have to listen to your body. The fat and protein will make you feel full and won’t raise you blood sugar the way carbs will. Your glucose metabolism will be steadier – smaller peaks and smaller valleys. It’s the dips in blood sugar that make you feel hungry and tell your body to eat. It’s a rollercoaster that never ends.
Why, you ask, do carbs do that, while protein and fat do not? It’s because your body thinks you can eat more carbs. It must be harvest season. The fruits are ripe. The vegetables are ready to be picked. Even the animals are fat (from eating the carbs they graze on). So, your body is signaling you to “eat hay while the sun shines,” ‘cause soon it will be dark and cold and you need to fatten up to get ready for the long winter (or crop failure).
Your body does this miraculous thing with hormone signaling. Insulin was thought for decades to be just 1) a transporter of glucose in the bloodstream and 2) a gateway, via receptors, for the uptake of glucose at the cellular level. In a person with normal glucose metabolism, it does these things well. In a person with a degree of Insulin Resistance, insulin struggles with the receptor part, so the pancreas makes more and more insulin. Therein lies a BIG problem. Until the glucose is “taken up,” the blood insulin level remains elevated.
Recently, another important role for insulin was discovered. High amounts of insulin in the bloodstream signal that energy from carbs is still present there, and so the body does not need to switch energy sources. It can hold on to the energy-dense fat reserves set aside for that long winter or crop failure. Problem is, in today’s world, winter never comes. There’s an endless supply of fattening carbs to keep our blood insulin level elevated enough to shut off access to the body’s fat energy supply stored in body fat - thighs, abdomen, etc.
The result? You guessed it: You’re so hungry you could eat a horse. In fact, you’re starving! That’s not just a figurative term. You are literally starving, because your body doesn’t have access to your body’s fat reserves when your blood insulin level remains elevated. When you eat carbs at each dip in your blood sugar, your blood sugar goes up and then down again, every couple of hours. So you snack between meals, on more carbs. You know the drill. Eventually the pancreas can’t keep up, your blood sugar does not come back down and this condition is called Diabetes. Now you know why you have taken this rollercoaster ride…and what to do about it.
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