Thursday, July 15, 2010

Managing Hunger

(Warning: Most of my posts are science-based, but this one comes from my own experiences, i.e., n=1. Forewarned is forearmed, so here we go.)

One of the things I noticed before I began low-carbing was that after I ate a meal, I could only go a couple of hours before I had to have a snack. Hunger would overwhelm me, and since my willpower isn't great, I would give in. Eventually I became fat and prediabetic.

Then came low-carb. I could eat and leave the table satisfied. I could eat only at meals and not feel ravenously hungry between times. But as the years went by, I noticed that my between-meal hunger started to return. It wasn't as bad as before, but my willpower hadn't improved any and I would start snacking to the point that I was eating mass quantities of low-carb food almost every day. I found Dr. Atkins' Accel diet pills, and those seemed to help. Until the Atkins company quit making them. Next, somebody introduced me to the original formulation of Leptopril and that kept the hungries at bay fairly well. Until they changed the formula. Finally, the Country Life Diet Power pills seemed to help a bit, but eventually those became unavailable, too. And after that, I couldn't find another over-the-counter diet pill that worked for me.

In the world of weight loss and weight maintenace, calories don't count as much as carbs, but they do count. My weight was increasing slowly but surely and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. I tried drinking lots of water. I tried different kinds of fiber. I tried zero-carb. I made charts of the ingredients of the diet pills that had worked to curb my hunger, and I couldn't figure out what the magic combination was.

When the between-meal hunger hit, I would look at the extra ten pounds of fat I was carrying and wonder--why, if I'm eating very low carb and if I have this stored fat available--why can't my body switch over and use some of that stored fat for energy?

A couple of weeks ago, when the hunger monster attacked about two hours after breakfast, for some reason I went to the kitchen and made a cup of regular coffee. No artificial sweetener and no whitener. Just black instant coffee in a cup. I sipped some of the coffee, put the cup on my desk and went back to work. The hunger abated for an hour or so, but then it returned. I sipped some more of the black coffee and the hunger went away again. I had lunch as usual, but sure enough, about two hours later the hunger monster came knocking. Again I sipped some coffee and it went away. I repeated this until dinner. After dinner I knew I couldn't drink caffeine or I wouldn't sleep, so I sipped on a diet soda instead and that seemed to work. I had eaten a reasonable amount of food at my three meals, and I didn't wake up hungry during the night.

The second day was easier. I knew that if the hunger monster hit, I would be able to switch my body into fat-burning mode by sipping the coffee. It worked, and it has worked ever since.

It's important to state that each day I have had a shake for breakfast, fatty meat, cheese and a few veggies for lunch and fatty meat, cheese and a few veggies for dinner. In other words, I've been careful to eat sufficient-but-not-too-much complete protein, to eat fat to provide energy, and to keep the carbs low. I don't eat until I'm full. I figure out what I need to eat and eat that. Then I stop. I have kept taking all my normal supplements and I've been drinking at least 60 ounces of water a day. The difference is that, by sipping black full-caffeine coffee whenever I start feeling between-meal hunger, I can put the hunger monster at bay. I hate the taste of the coffee, but the fact that I'm essentially using it as a drug seems to make that okay. I once again can eat three reasonable meals three times a day and be satisfied. Thoughts of food no longer rule my life.

In conclusion I'll do a little speculation. For some reason, my body seems to need a spike in epinephrine to switch from food-storage to fat-burning mode. And it seems to need several little spikes over time, rather than one big spike. That may be why certain over-the-counter (OTC) diet pills worked for me and others didn't. Most OTC diet pills contain caffeine in some form, but it may be that the three effective ones delivered the caffeine slowly enough to keep my fat burning process in motion. I've tried taking caffeine pills and those don't work for me. I've tried drinking cups of coffee and that doesn't work. There seems to be something about the slow ingestion of black coffee that makes the difference.

As I said, n=1. This may work for me and for nobody else. But I'm posting it in case somebody else is doing pure low-carb and finds it impossible to fight off between-meal hunger. Erasmus is a zero-carber who says his Satisfactometer is broken. I think my Satisfactometer is broken, too, but maybe, just maybe, I have found a way to cope with it. No guarantees, but in case this works for someone else, I thought I'd share.


Patrik Hägglund said...

What happens if you replace your coffee with water? Just filling the stomach may help you overcome short hunger bangs.

It may also help to eat until you are _full_ to keep the hunger away longer. I usually only eat once a day.

Stargazey said...

Hi, Patrik! I've tried drinking water. Sometimes it helps because I'm actually thirsty, not hungry. But most of the time I get hungry again within minutes and also get to spend more time in the bathroom.

Eating until I'm full doesn't help. Even with extra food, as soon as the food is digested, I'm hungry again. Eventually I can't ignore it anymore and just eat again to get some relief from the torture. My body doesn't like to make the switch from putting food into storage to taking food (fatty acids) back out of storage.

This is not to say that your strategies won't work for some people. They just don't work for me. Thanks, though!

DogwoodTree05 said...

I prefer a 1/2 glass of water with meals and tea between meals myself. I need some flavor in the water to satisfy my palate. I drink decaf but might switch to caffeinated tea to see if it is more effective at staving off hunger. I aim for at least 5 hours between meals, and sometimes hunger does set in after about 4 hours.

I've also been trying to shed 10 pounds for about three years now, and this is causing some mild weight fluctuations within 5 pounds in either direction. I'm 5'2" and 128 pounds at the present, not clinically overweight but not lean. I can pinch more than an inch. I look and feel my best at around 115 pounds. I do appreciate you sharing about your experiences.

I drink a lot of tea and consequently make a lot of trips to the bathroom although I can hold for hours if necessary. The urge isn't strong. How many hours before I go to sleep should I quit drinking liquids to avoid getting up to go to the bathroom?

Stargazey said...

The five pounds fluctuation is normal. It has to do with salt intake, water retention from more carbs than usual, bathroom issues, time of month and all sorts of other variables. I graph my weight and that shows me whether the trend is up or down.

I can't offer much advice about when to stop fluids in the evening to avoid having to use the bathroom at night. I have two elderly dogs who get me up at least once, so I go ahead and use the facilities while they are outside. You might try an experimental approach and see what works for you.

Dr. M said...

I find that, though I do get hungry on a low-carb diet, that hunger doesn't have the same edge as it did before. I find it much easier to resist or to simply ignore.

I used to get the munchies something fierce at night, but I don't anymore. Thank goodness.

Lauren said...

I can really relate to this post. I have done well on LC but those last 10 pounds have been a real bear. Eating to hunger just doesn't work for me.

Eating low fat, high "healthy" carb as I used to would always lead to binges but with low carb, high fat, I no longer binge. I'm still hungry though and tend to typically eat too much, including snacks and/or drink cup after cup of tea with cream throughout the day. I started to feel like an infant needing so much feeding even though it was never a lot of calories.

What I've been trying is eating three nutrient dense meals per day, totaling around 1400 calories a day. I've lost 5 pounds but more importantly I've been able to push through hunger until it passes and go on with my day. This makes me wonder if I've been really hungry in the past or just conditioned to want to eat too often.

Some days I eat more calories if I feel that I need them and I also allow myself plain green or white tea between meals.

By white knuckling through some hunger, I've wanted to see if I can get my body into that fat burning mode. I think it has been working because most of the time, the hunger passes and I can get through my daily activities without problems.

I also have a vague memory about reading that drinking coffee promotes the release of fatty acids into the bloodstream for use as fuel. I can't take drinking plain coffee but the tea has been working for me.

I wanted to believe that one can get lean without restricting calories but that has not been my experience. Also, if you read between the lines, many of the people who lose weight seem to talk about being able to push through hunger pangs- that they go away. This is never highlighted but after reading so many posts on so many blogs, I've come to think that times of restriction are natural and necessary.

What is different for me this time compared to dieting in the past is that I'm only eating nutrient dense foods, VLC, no wasted calories. It seems to be helping me get by on less. I won't let restriction lead to a binge though. If I get too hungry, I do eat more good food. Losing 10 pounds is not that important to me that I'd risk a binge.

Stargazey said...

Hi, Franklin and Lauren! My experiences seem to parallel yours in many respects.

As far as green and white tea (and black tea, oolong tea and cola drinks for that matter), they all contain caffeine. A chart can be found here. And the American Heart Association says that [Caffeine] releases free fatty acids from adipose (fatty) tissue. In other words, it's possible that sipping other caffeinated beverages can produce the same hunger management effect that I see with black coffee.

Unknown said...

I am so relieved to see this post. I am 5'4" at 125 pounds and have been trying for get down to 115 for the past 3 years with low carb. I thought I was crazy getting hungry only 2 hours after lunch. I have no problem after breakfast or dinner, just that stretch from lunch to dinner, usually 5 - 6 hours. I drink coffee (decaf) all the time and sometimes is helps but not always. I lost 30 pounds with a moderate carb/portion control diet about 4 years ago and I really did ignore and white knuckle it through the hunger -- I can't seem to manage it anymore. Hmmm, I am 4 years older.

DogwoodTree05 said...

I have a tangentially related question for you. Whenever I eat a meal with bitter or pungent veggies like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage, I have a strong urge to finish the palate with something sweet. I used to have dark chocolate, but if the fullness of the meal hadn't set in yet, or if I was feeling down, I'd eat more than a square or two. I've quit chocolate altogether for two weeks now (hooray!) and have been sweetening my palate with small piece of fruit like a plum or an apricot. Do you know why I have this sweet tooth at the end of a meal? It seems to occur more after meals with bitter and pungent veggies than meals with just animal foods, like sausage and eggs.

Stargazey said...

Sad to say, I don't have a clue, DogwoodTree. I did discover recently that a small piece of cheese, especially one of the more flavorful cheeses, makes a good dessert.

Maybe one of the blog's readers might have an idea...

Anonymous said...

i wonder if tea would do the same thing?

Patrik Hägglund said...


"Even with extra food, as soon as the food is digested, I'm hungry again."

Have you tried a zero-carb diet? (Meat, fish, egg, clarified butter, and coconut oil. You may add ordinary butter and some cheese, giving you 1-2 grams of carbs per day.)

For some people, 1-2 grams of carbs per day, is quite different from 10-20 grams of carbs per day.

Stargazey said...

I did try it Patrik. It didn't help a bit, and in the process I developed a spare tire around my middle, skin problems, constant fatigue and pre-diabetes. But other than that it was great! (LOL!) But thanks for the suggestion!

Anonymous said...

Have you checked your blood sugar when you get those between meal hungries? If you're getting a little hypoglycemic then caffeine might well help by driving sugar up enough to stave it off. Coffee is also chock full of other things that might help too, but that was what came to mind for me right away.

Stargazey said...

I did do that several years ago, chakaal, but my blood sugar was never particularly low (always in the 80's or above). It seemed more like my body needed a kick start to begin taking fat out of storage.

By the way, it has been several months since I wrote this blogpost, and the coffee strategy is still working. And several people have mentioned that they see the same effect with tea, so if you hate coffee, you can try sipping tea instead.

Ameeno38930 said...

To Dogwoodtree05
Sometimes I feel the need for something sweet too. I've found that 2Tbs of PB2 and 1Tbs of coconut oil tastes sweet, and has no added sugar,it tricks my mind into thinking its something really sweet. Its very satisfying for me.