There are complex and powerful biological and psychological mechanisms playing out underneath the surface when we restrict ourselves certain foods or go on a diet.
The most interesting of mechanisms is the process and rationale behind why we are carbohydrate craving machines, especially when we go on a diet! Here the story on that: A chemical called Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is produced in the brain that triggers us to eat carbs, which is in fact the body’s most preferred form of energy. When we restrict ourselves of carbs in a diet, in the next meal or binge we find ourselves going on a high-carb eating spree. This is not because we don’t have the willpower to control ourselves but that our bodies are demanding for energy!
Chemically, there is very limited amount of carbohydrate in the liver to fuel our cells, brain and the nervous system with glucose (essential fuel, mind you). The carb quantity needs to be replenished every 3-4 hours (except in the night) by eating. However, when we go on low-carb diets we risk our systems to burn protein present in our muscles for energy which is not a very effective way of energizing ourselves in the long term.
We often think that if we stop eating carbs the body will eventually burn fat for energy. This is only partially true. While the body does eventually convert stored fat to usable energy via a process called Ketosis only half of the brain cells can effectively use this energy. In the meanwhile there is a rapid loss of protein from lean tissue that is converting into energy-a temporary way to weight loss and a long term way to health-loss.
Hunger is the primary signal of the body indicating it needs to be replenished to function well. However, we tend to silence our hunger in many ways, some of them being numbing our natural hunger signals by drinking too much coffee, tea, diet soda tricking the gastric mechanism into a sense of fullness, we diet, we forget to eat because we are busy or we religiously skip breakfast .
What are the signs of hunger you feel in your body? Many times we feel hunger as a blaring siren, like the ambulance whirring past a street, we feel dizzy, at the edge of irritation, completely empty, with a headache and a triggered-on gastric issue (belching, heartburn). We end up only listening to our bodies at this stage and often, if you have observed, you will see that eating at this stage of empty leads to overeating; a primal level of hunger has been triggered and the body acts to honor it.
Your exercise for the remainder of this week and till the next post: can you begin to really become aware of your body’s signs of hunger? As mentioned before the body needs to replenish every 3-4 hours so, check-in during these intervals and ask yourself “Am I hungry?” Play with what responses you get from your body. Eat when you are just at hunger, when you are ravenously hungry, or when you are not hungry at all and observe how you feel about the food you eat during these different times. The results of this mindful exercise can be hugely illuminating.