In early February 2016, on a Facebook post, there’s an image of a panther with the caption, “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 said two things: 1) I was 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 very-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 mostly protein and fat for energy (with 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 and more stable – smaller peaks and smaller valleys. It’s the dips in blood sugar that make you feel hungry and tell your body to eat. On a “balanced” diet, it’s the 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 (grains) 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” on carbs to get ready for the long hard winter.
Your body does this wondrous 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 two things well. In a person with a degree of Insulin Resistance, insulin struggles with opening the receptor door, so the pancreas continues to make insulin. Therein lies the problem. Until the glucose is “taken up,” the blood INSULIN level remains elevated.
That’s when the 3rd important mechanism of insulin was discovered. High amounts of insulin in the bloodstream signal that energy from carbs is sustaining your energy balance, and so the body does not need to switch energy sources. It can hold on to your energy-dense fat reserves that you set aside for that long winter. Problem is, in today’s world, winter never comes. There’s an endless supply of fattening carbs to keep your blood insulin level elevated enough to shut off access to your body’s energy reserves stored in body fat – thighs, abdomen, etc.
The result? You guessed it: You’re so hungry you could eat a horse. In fact, you are starving! That’s not just a figurative term. You are literally starving, because your body doesn’t have access to your fat reserves when your blood INSULIN level remains high. When you eat carbs at each dip in your blood sugar, your blood sugar and blood insulin level goes up…and then dips, again. So you snack between meals, on more carbs. You know the drill. Eventually your insulin level stays up, your blood sugar does not come back down and this condition, Insulin Resistance, is called Type 2 Diabetes. That’s why you’ve been on a rollercoaster ride for all this time.When you reduce your intake of carbs, your blood glucose level will drop. You’ll be hungry for a while (after you use up the stored glucose in your liver, and then your blood insulin level will drop too. That’s when your body will switch over to using your stored body fat (your fat reserves) for energy. Your blood insulin level will stay lower so long as you eat small meals of protein and fat. For a day or two, you will pee a lot. That’s not fat, but it is encouraging to see it on the scale. Then, as you body adapts to not expecting carbs (“it must be winter”), you will continue to break down body fat to fuel your body so long as you have fat. Remember to drink water, eat salt, and mostly protein and fat. You won’t be hungry, and you will begin to burn stored fat and lose weight.