Why do we eat? The simple answer is: We eat because we’re hungry, but this begs the follow-up question, “Why are we hungry?” It also requires a few footnotes for the exceptions. For example, there are many occasions when we eat when we are not hungry, and other occasions when we overeat. We’ll examine the way we have come to eat the way we do: by habit, tradition and culture. Separately, I will answer the question, “Why are we hungry?”
Eating, according to Stephan Guyenet “Ancestral Nutrition and Health,” can be divided into homeostatic and non-homeostatic categories. Homeostatic eating is for hunger only, Guyenet explains, whereas non-homeostatic is all other eating, including eating for pleasure, emotion/stress, social, and ‘mealtime’ eating. I think most of us can readily relate to most of these non-homeostatic categories, if not all of them.
What characterizes these non-homeostatic categories, by definition, is that none of them is driven by hunger. If this sounds like I am repeating myself, I am. I want this point to sink in. Non-homeostatic eating is unnecessary eating.
Eating for pleasure is an indulgence, a pure luxury. Eating to relieve stress is an emotional outlet – a diversion, but it is not driven by hunger. It’s a way to allay anxiety in the way that smoking was and drinking is in such situations.
Social eating, as in hor d’oeuvres at cocktails or before a dinner party, is a custom of hosting and accepting the hospitality of a host. And eating three meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – at prescribed times, regardless of whether or not we are hungry, is a vestigial tradition from a time when most of us lived a life of heavier exertions. Today, eating a “healthy breakfast” is also the result of marketing by cereal and fruit juice manufacturers.
Many cultures today still eat a very light breakfast, have their main meal (dinner) at mid-day, and a light supper at the end of the workday. In any case, even in these cases, eating “regular” meals at fixed times are examples of non-homeostatic eating. If you eat when you’re not hungry. I want you to stop and think about that for a moment.
So, I have now framed the question, and we can return to what we can do to understand, “Why are we hungry?” Unless we’re carb addicted sugar-burners who need a “sugar fix” every few hours when our blood sugar crashes, what impels us to eat? What makes us eat more than is required for leanness. Eating is a choice we make, and as such it is entirely within our control. We should be able to eat or not eat, as we decide. But, sadly, we know that that is frequently not the case today. Are we then unknowingly living on a glucose-fueled metabolism? Not glucose and fat? And are we living on glucose-for-fuel-only because we are eating a LOW-FAT (high-carbohydrate) DIET?
Then, with only homeostatic eating “on the plate” (LOL), we turn to the mechanism that regulates long-term energy balance and body-fat mass? The answer divides the world of eaters into two cohorts: those with normal fat metabolism and those who have developed a disregulated fat metabolism. Suffice it to say that almost everyone who is overweight or obese, or has the symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome, falls into the “disregulated” group.
For both groups the regulator of long-term energy balance is insulin. Those who fall into the disregulated group have become Insulin Resistant. Their cells that are supposed to open receptors to allow them to take up glucose have become resistant to insulin, so the pancreas makes more, and insulin levels rise in the blood. This higher level of insulin in the blood blocks access to our body’s natural fat stores for energy. So instead, they crave the only alternate sources of energy, DIETARY carbohydrates and fat. The result: WE ARE HUNGRY AND WE EAT.
So, what is the solution? How can anyone who is overweight or obese, and especially those who have Metabolic Syndrome or are pre-diabetic or are diagnosed Type 2s, get access to their own body fat stores for use as energy when the body is in need of it for “long-term energy balance”? Answer: Eat a Very Low Carb diet. Eat a diet that is high fat, (mostly saturated and monounsaturated), moderate protein, and VERY low carb. When you eat VERY Low Carb, your blood insulin levels drop and, for needed energy, your body’s fat stores break down and enter the bloodstream. Eating this way long-term guarantees “long-term energy balance” and homeostasis.