As many of my readers are discovering, trying to bring in some semblance of control and balance in eating brings with it a sense of strain, a sense of doing something stressful and abnormal.
One of the reasons is the fact that we are largely culturally attuned to eating at regular hours and any change in that brings forth mental stress. Does that mean we are condemned to eating more and staying fat?
Hunger is a feeling that needs no definition. It is of two types: somatic hunger (the deep-rooted need for food felt when one is famished) and limbic hunger (the cravings for specific foods or an emotional food craving that occurs without starving).
If we recognize these two types, we can learn to pay heed to the former and ignore or downgrade the latter. In other words, recognize only true hunger, and ignore and crush those cravings which stem from some emotional disturbance or other.
Only when one does this can one eat sensibly and lose fat. Knowing when not to eat helps us to eat those treats we really cherish. If we ignore that temptation to eat a couple of slices of that cake going stale, and stay focussed on other things in life, we could actually eat a scoop of butterscotch icecream or have a Lindor truffle. We may be taking in 200 calories, but we saved ourselves more a few hours back. How? By downgrading one craving, and giving primacy to a superior one.
Once you start fasting, you begin to recognize the true signals of your body vis a vis hunger. Often, a glass of (lemon) water and a cup of liquor tea quells a hunger pang for a couple of hours. Even a chewing gum in the mouth keeps hunger at bay for some time, though sometimes it may momentarily exacerbate the hollow feeling in the belly. When the hunger pang becomes severe, it is wise not to ignore it. We are not trying to tear the mind apart in an exercise of self control. We are merely training the mind and body to behave the way we were evolutionarily designed to.
In medicine, a number of drugs have been tried to kill hunger and appetite. These anorexogenic drugs include sibutramine and the newer cannabinoid receptor blockers like rimonabant. These drugs bring a 5-10 percent fat loss but cause a lot of side effects, including suicidal ideations, clearly underlining the relationship between hunger and emotions.
Various hormones in the body act to drive hunger (and are called oroxogenic agents), chief among them being ghrelin, a hormone secreted from the stomach. Removing a large portion of the stomach in the operation called sleeve gastrectomy causes loss of appetite and major fat loss. This is one of the hottest bariatric procedures being done worldwide.
Insulin, the hormone that controls blood glucose levels, is also responsible for hunger. A large carbohydrate intake (following a meal that contains rice and potatoes, or pasta and pizza, for example) leads to an insulin surge. This brings down the blood glucose (which is largely stored in and as fat and glycogen), leading to the brain, which preferentially consumes glucose, thinking, “Oh, where is the glucose? I am starving!” This leads to a fresh pang of hunger, leading to more caloric intake. It is for this reason that cutting carbs may be the best way out in a fat loss program for a lot of people. However, for those people who are insulin sensitive, this may not be true.
Other hormones that play a role include leptin, Peptide YY, incretins, obestatin, amongst many others.
On a later date, I will outline how this may be of benefit in clinical fat loss programs.