The Science of Hunger

Health and weight loss is not a mystery or a well-kept secret. But old ideas and misconceptions die hard. If you looked at the framework of all diets that failed, you would quickly identify what doesn’t work. Health and weight loss are not a struggle when you focus on the principles of success that build habits, and adopts practices that work for you. Applying science, not rocket science, but the science of energy pathways or metabolism, and target your individual needs based on “your” metabolism and personal desires for food, these are what will work in the long term to become usual practice. Starvation, deprivation and hunger are what leads to weight regain, and muscle loss not fat loss.

Keeping a good muscle mass or building on it with some type of resistance work is certainly a bonus as muscle burns seven times more energy than fat. That is why a thin person with more muscle is able to stay thin despite eating high calories. We have all known someone who is overweight and yet they don’t eat much! Yo yo dieting is a real culprit for losing muscle as it doesn’t target fat loss, rather you lose weight from muscle and fluid. Any repetitive exercise that leads to muscle fatigue in a short period of time is likely to be resistance exercise. Squats, press ups, lungs, planks are examples of these and they can be done either at beginner phase up to more advanced as your muscles become trained. Incidentally, I trained muscle becomes a very efficient energy user which is why you have to mix it up a bit and change your routine every now and then!

Two keys to successful weight loss are to reduce your appetite but not starve it, alongside fixing your out of whack hormones and brain chemistry that drive hunger and binge eating. In addition, you are wanting to increase your metabolism so you burn more calories all day long which means identifying the road blocks individual to you. This is in contrast to most calorie focused diets where you think food and deprivation all day long and slow your metabolism while also restricting the key nutrients required to rewire your metabolism.

Most diets will trigger hunger and you can only hold your breath for so long. Our body’s ancient mechanism for protection, kicks in to save us from starvation by reducing our metabolism to conserve needs and dramatically increasing appetite and cravings for happy high energy foods, fat and sugar. And industry has mastered this perfect balance of molecules to make most commercial foods so addictive and especially so when you are at starving point. Do you ever crave a plate of broccoli when your body feels like eating itself out of hunger?? Not when a chocolate croissant, crisps, candy, chocolate, chips, cake and crusty French bread is all you can think of. The top most addictive foods all start with a “c”.

  • To form a good base for managing this you need to eat enough food to satisfy your appetite but make it real, fresh, whole foods. Like a bird has to process the entirety of what it eats to get to the good part, we too need to get our bodies to process the entire food, husks, skin, seeds and all!! Eat protein for breakfast, yoghurt, eggs, Chia seeds, wholegrain cereals with nuts, fish even. And avoid eating 3 hours before bed.
  • A meal should be composed to balance blood sugar and lower insulin. Combining protein and fat with low-glycaemic non-starchy carbs such as vegetables and a small serving of carb such as fruit, beans and grains, about 1/3 to ½ cup. No more! Fat and protein and fiber slow insulin spikes.

The old adage of calories in versus calories out equals energy balance is for the wheelie bin!, excess grains, fruit and beans, these trigger a shift in your metabolism to drive all energy from food, surplus to requirement into your greedy fat cells, especially around the belly. Now that your blood sugar has cleared itself of energy, you start to get hungry and crave a quick fix from something sweet. The cycle begins and your metabolism slows.

Have you ever eaten a big meal loaded with carbs, then, an hour later you feel hungry again?

Suddenly the carbohydrate section of the plate has become a cause for concern. When in the past we have focused on making our meals and food choices according to their fat content, now the focus is on carbs.

  • The key is to choose very low-glycemic foods as the staples of your diet. Nuts, seeds, chicken, fish, grass fed meats and low-glycemic veggies
  • Use grains at one meal and beans sparingly at another, not more than a half cup. It’s a challenge you can set your mind to and see if it works for you!

Sugar is a drug and should be used in very small amounts. It is mind altering and has a major impact on your metabolism. Artificial sweeteners are the same as they also trigger associations with sweet receptors, could trigger insulin unwittingly like adrenaline does, and do little for your drive to stop relying on sugar and carvings.

The belief that low fat diets help lose weight is again for the dustbin. And where does eating only the white from egg and disposing of the yolk stem from? What folly! Fat does have 9 calories per grams of fat compared to 4 calories in carbs, but disease is more about the ravages of insulin which fires the loaded gun made more risky from the damage of other foods. Cutting out fat in the diet, beginning in the 80”s did nothing for improving the incidence of cardio-vascular disease and obesity, but rather turned disease into a massive metabolic issue driven by the flood of insulin with the introduction of refined flour, corn, and fructose corn syrup as a staple part of most western diets. This is the evolution in lifestyle changes of the last forty years and the base of most fast food menus.

Scientists now study how eating and nutrient ratios can increase your metabolism by increasing your requirement for calories, but, you eat the same calories, as a different way to working out how many calories are lost. No-one can predict how many calories you really need other than to trial nutrient ratios and whether you can maintain optimum metabolism to perform well and achieve your weight-loss goals.

A change of mindset to not fear fat is a big challenge. Fat makes you feel full, speeds up your metabolism because it requires so much more energy to process it, and it contributes to healthy cell membranes and arterial fluidity rather than the stiff, calcified blood vessels and valves of a low fat high carb diet. It is important to eat good fats and include them at every meal. Vegetable fats, such as avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut butter or oil, clean animal fats from eggs, chicken, grass-fed meats, and fish with omega 3 fats – sardines, herring, wild salmon, black cod.

Taking fat out of every delicious food, ruined the flavor and took away the feeling of satiety, while it replaced the calories with refined cereal grains, sugar, and highly concentrated fructose corn syrup. This in fact was a waste product of the genetically modified corn industry.

A good sensible diet works well for many of us, or it does for a time especially when you are young, but when you feel you are doing everything right, exercising madly and still you are not losing weight, the resistance to normal metabolic function is likely to be similar to what causes inflammation or worse, insulin resistance.

Consider the following as a cause of inflammation – hidden food allergies or sensitivities, gastro-intestinal problems and toxicity. These are common problems as you age as you don’t quite have the shield provided by estrogen and testosterone on your side. These hormones have a wonderfully protective influence over us when we are young to mask many problems that may start to occur as their levels dip.

Gluten and dairy are the most common culprits of food allergies but you might be surprised to find others, especially from the foods you most love or thought were good for you. Switching to gluten-free or dairy-free options are not necessarily the answer as they are often even more insulin-o-genic and risky. Gluten free is not insulin free and in fact probably worse as the flours used a very refined.

The micro-biota of the gut play an enormous role in metabolism and health. A history of antibiotic use, antacids, highly refined cereals, high-sugar, and low-fiber diet can cause extra burden on the functioning of digestion and alter how your food is broken down and absorbed.

Toxin terror sounds a bit emotional but our bodies are constantly having to deal with chemicals that once were not in general circulation. Ranging from shampoos tailored for specific purposes, cosmetics to boost collagen formation and slow aging, extra dry deodorants, food chemicals to improve keeping quality, taste and texture, colours to make things more appealing and the leaching of chemicals from heating plastics and non-stick cooking pans. Science has discovered that common everyday and environmental chemicals can also contribute to the cause of obesity, particularly when you cannot lose weight but follow a very rigid and seemingly healthy diet. This is the time to support your body’s natural detoxification pathways and help the liver do its job.

A good start is to eliminate all inflammatory foods starting with gluten and dairy. Add to this genetically modified corn, peanuts and soy, and the food that has very much caused a shift in diseases, and triggered the evolution of lifestyle change, sugar, fructose concentrated from genetically modified corn starch and artificial sweeteners.

Set yourself up for a three week clean up whereby you eliminate the most virulent foods but not count calories. It has to be 100% application for 3 weeks and then you can start to reintroduce foods back in one at a time over a four day period.

During your detox, don’t heat anything in the microwave in plastic or with plastic wrappers, don’t spray any cleaners, insect-spray or pesticides, or eat any processed foods or artificial sweeteners.

Start by eating a low-glycemic, low-fermentable sugar diet based on wholegrains that are gluten free, plenty of fresh vegetables and aim for two cups of cruciferous vegetables per day which are cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and kale. Also lots of potassium rich foods that help your kidneys rebalance elctrolytes such as white beans, tomatoes, crab meat, aubergine and watermelon.  Eat all non-cured meats, fish, organic chicken if possible, eggs, nuts, nut/ rice/ or coconut milk and take a good mixed potent probiotic. Hexbio or Lactavita are pharmacy grade and quite mild but if you want to bring in the army, go for 24 billion colonies or more. The price will reflect this.

Health is not something that just happens, you have to plan, like a party to “design your health.”

Look at Japanese cuisine, Mexican minus the corn and flour, and Thai for some interesting ideas of how to eat. What’s in is all fruit, vegetables, nuts other than peanuts, meat, fish and chicken, canned oily fish, dairy alternatives but not soy, good fats, lentil and pulses, cereals such as rice, chia, rye, potato, oats and quinoa.

The easiest and usually most effective way to replenish your body is through good, clean, unprocessed nutrition. Most of us follow a diet that is very different from the one we were adapted to through millions of years of evolution – a diet of mainly vegetables, fruits, nuts, and meat. Humans first started eating whole grains and dairy foods like cheese only ten thousand years ago or so with the change to farming and domestication of animals. And it’s only the last few decades that have seen the widespread use of refined grains, sugars, and seed oils, as well as packaged, industrialised foods, pesticide use, and artificial ingredients.

In the short run some people are able to get away with this diet without too many bad consequences, but the statistics on the dramatic increase in obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer, infertility and Polycystic ovarian disease as well as the huge increase in autism spectrum, and fibromyalgia in the last century are cautionary at the very least. I studied sports nutrition as my specialist subject because I believed in the power of nutrition to increase performance to support the physiologically demanding activities associated with staying truly healthy and understanding the fundamental biology of your individual needs to nourish and promote health before you have children.

Let’s look at a good everyday framework as a guide:

Eight plenty of protein every day and with every meal, especially breakfast

  • When you want something sweet, have some protein instead, like a hard-boiled egg, hummus on crackers, or a piece of turkey jerky. That will satisfy your hunger and keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
  • You can get protein conveniently from eggs, nuts, soy (unless you are detoxing), hummus, cheese (from goats, sheep, or cows), protein shakes, combining grains skillfully, fish, and meat.

At least five to seven servings of fresh vegetables, including canned tomatoes and just one to two fruits

  • Eating raw vegetables is best but cooked is also of great value.
  • Fresh fruit is better than canned or juiced. Frozen is also good and can be made into a delicious sorbet for picky eaters. Mashed frozen banana on a popsical stick is also a cute snack for children. Dipped in chocolate is a real treat!

Take at least nine teaspoons of fat per day or 45g. That is the minimum and for more active and growing people, 13 teaspoons or 65g. Do not go fat free!

Include at most meals unrefined oils from coconut, olive, avocado, rice bran, nut and flaxseed. Make virgin olive oil your everyday oil and rice bran oil from Sunrise Supermarkets, your cooking oil. Saturated fat from animal origin is also essential as it is the backbone for all hormones including vitamin D and if you don’t eat dietary cholesterol, you will make more LDL cholesterol.

Again, avoid going too grain free but it is a fine idea to leave out the refined varieties.

  • Try to get grains intact, not ground into flours.
  • Try pasta made from brown rice and other grains available in speciality shops. There is such a range as cultures have blended to change our palettes. In Dubai, I love visiting Al Adil supermarkets to investigate the veritable range of pulses and wholegrains. They will also grind wholegrains for you so you can eat like a bird! I use the one alongside Holiday Inn near Mall of Emirates.

Organic foods, and local Co-ops and farmers markets are a real treat in Dubai. Emirates Towers carpark on a Friday morning, Ripe, and all supermarkets have locally grown and probably hydroponic and spray free fresh produce. The fishing villages along Beach Road sell their fresh catch from early hours of the morning until 10pm every day of the week making the big trip to Shindaga Tunnel at 6am in the weekends, unnecessary for that fresh catch on the bbq. And you must visit the website of the here in Dubai where you can shop online. Their new range of guaranteed gluten-free is fresh and local products which means no travelling or added ingredients to improve keeping quality.

Avoid drinking calories such as sweet sodas, fruit juice and flavoured milk. Add a little cocoa and maple syrup or honey to milk to boost intake especially for children but be discretionary. Add gelatin to fresh juice to boost protein and make a fresh fruit jelly or even nicer, add more gelatin and make gummy jubes instead of sweets.

The old technique of homemade beef and chicken broth is back in vogue for healthy makeovers. It’s a great base for soups and gravies, and has lots of lovely nutrients for kids and adults along with bringing back some of the flavours of the past.

Avoid foods with artificial ingredients such as preservatives, color, or flavor enhancers particularly MSG (E621). The ‘G’ part is glutamate which is an excitatory chemical for the brain. It is widely used in most frozen savoury foods and dried salty flavourings which children adore. Crisps, spicy wedges, packet soups and noodle flavouring are all usually loaded with MSG.

If you are taking supplements, don’t just take them for the sake of it. A broad spectrum multi-vitamin is usually quite safe, along with a cod-liver oil tablet and vitamin C. They are also expensive and can be taken with little understanding of their value.

Please join our discussion and share your journey.

Happy cooking and eating!