Hunger and satiety are complicated. We eat for some combination of three reasons. First of all, we need nutrients. Secondly, we need energy. And finally, eating is enjoyable! Let’s unpack each of these a little bit here and explore how we can manipulate these for greatest success.
Your body is the most complicated chemistry lab in the entire universe. Every second, there are trillions of chemical reactions taking place in your body. In order for all of this to function, you need a lot of STUFF. And except for air and water and sunlight, all this ‘stuff’ comes directly from your diet.
You need dozens of vitamins and minerals. You also need essential amino acids and essential fats from your diet. If you don’t get these, things are going to stop working. Your body gives you some hints when you are low on raw materials—but the main signal of hunger is a bit non-specific. We know from human and animal studies that if you have a specific dietary deficiency—protein or minerals, for example—you will be hungrier and more driven to eat. What your poor body doesn’t know is that most of the food in your environment is food-like garbage. So you eat and eat, but you might not get what your body is looking for. Non-protein ENERGY is everywhere —but protein and minerals are few and far between. So we are getting fatter in our ill-fated attempts to supply our bodies with the things they need.
The primary goal of your body is to keep your DNA alive long enough to pass it on to the next generation. To do this, it is imperative that you have plenty of extra energy around, just in case. So your body is trying to conserve the energy it has, while also looking to get more.
In today’s food environment, we are drowning in energy. In fact, our biggest current threat is the energy overload and energy toxicity that leads to obesity and the entire spectrum of chronic degenerative diseases. Sometimes we have difficulty distinguishing nutrient hunger from energy hunger. For this reason, your very best strategy is targeting NUTRIENTS first.
Eat protein and other nutrient-dense foods first. Once you can be sure that you have consumed adequate protein and minerals, and your nutrient hunger is satisfied, then you will be in a much better position to properly interpret energy hunger. Often times, if someone has plenty of extra fat to burn, they find that after eating protein and minerals they really don’t have any energy hunger.
Sometimes we also struggle to differentiate LOW GLYCOGEN hunger (lack of ‘fat adaptation’) from a true global low energy hunger. This is yet another reason to reduce your carbohydrate frequency, to improve fat adaptation. If you are ‘fat adapted’, and you target protein and minerals first, you find that you can get by with the very smallest amounts of non-protein energy (carbs and fats).
In practical terms, every meal should start with lean protein and low carb vegetables if possible. Energy can be added in if you still have leftover ‘energy hunger’.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a really good idea of how this actually looks or feels! Many people are unfamiliar with these concepts and it takes some time to get used to them. Intermittent fasting and reduced carbohydrate frequency can be very helpful when it comes to getting in touch with all of the forms of hunger and fullness.
Eating high energy density carbs and fats together is rewarding and, for many, extremely addictive. Your best strategy is understanding what is going on with your biology when it comes to these foods.
Lower energy carbs and fats together aren’t nearly as problematic. For example, imagine eating a steak and a salad. The steak has some fat, and the salad has some carbs. But the energy density of the steak is low thanks to protein, and the energy density of the salad is low thanks to fibre. As long as protein and fibre are present, you are probably fine.
But mix together a high energy density carbohydrate, like a potato, with a high energy density fat, like oil? Now you have french fries or potato chips — these are hyper-palatable and you can overeat the hell out of these!
Anything with high energy density carbs and fats together is going to be extremely tasty. You are definitely going to eat these foods, but treat them with the caution and respect they deserve.
How do you deal with these foods? Our favourite is eating these AFTER a nutritious meal of protein and veggies, so your nutrient hunger is taken care of and the danger factor is lower. Eat these foods with a lot of INTENTION and MINDFULNESS. Try not to buy these foods and have them in your house, but rather only eat these at social outings, and only buy one serving. Enjoy these cheats and don’t deprive yourself of these foods on occasion — but try to make these the exceptions to an otherwise nutrient-dense baseline diet.
Most of all, be hyperaware of what these foods are doing to you and how they are affecting your behaviour. Some highly addicted people find it best to avoid these completely, almost like an alcoholic who avoids alcohol 100% of the time. This is a legitimate strategy, and the only person who knows what works best for you is YOU.
This article is an adapted extract from the book The P:E Diet by Ted Naiman and William Shewfelt. I highly recommend reading the book. You can purchase the book online at www.pedietbook.com