All About Appetite Regulation

What is eating the right amount?

Ideally, our physiology regulates our appetite perfectly.  We evolved to eat when we’re hungry, and stop when we’ve had enough.

Of course, it doesn’t always work that way in our modern society.

Appetite has a massive “real life” component. Subtle eating cues can trump physiology. These can include:

CUES FROM OUR PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT

For example, the size of dishes, how close the food is to us, etc. One study found that people ate more from a candy dish right in front of them but much less from a candy dish 6 feet away. They also ate more from an uncovered candy dish than a covered candy dish.

CUES FROM OUR ORAL ENVIRONMENT

  • We like certain tastes and textures.
  • We like sweet, fatty, and “umami” (savoury) things.
  • We like creamy textures and crunchy textures.
  • We also like multiple tastes and textures together, such as sweet-salty.

CUES FROM OTHER SENSES

As the saying goes, “You eat with your eyes first.” We like food that looks pleasing, and we favour certain colours (ever seen candy with boring gray packaging?). Our smell is closely bound to our appetites as well as our memories and emotional associations. There’s a reason that Cinnabon smells so delectable — it’s part of a deliberate strategy to lure us in.

CUES FROM OUR SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT

  • family, friends, peers
  • cultural messages about when and where it’s OK to eat

CUES FROM OUR EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ENVIRONMENT

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • desire for comfort
  • symbolic associations with a certain food, e.g. “baking cookies makes me feel happy”

CUES FROM OUR FAMILIAR HABITS AND ROUTINES:

  • morning coffee in our special mug, or “the usual” at the coffee shop
  • being rushed in the mornings, so stopping at McDonald’s drive-thru
  • Friday beers after work with the boys
  • snacking in front of the TV while watching our favourite shows
  • cake at birthday parties
  • mom’s casserole at holidays
  • etc.

Sometimes these cues are helpful. Most have an evolutionary purpose. For example, knowing what food looks and smells good can prevent us from eating something that’s gone rotten. Eating when we weren’t hungry, but when food was available, would be helpful in a context when we couldn’t be sure where our next meal was coming from.

However, in 21st century society, our evolutionary survival mechanisms don’t work very well. Now, we’re surrounded by good-looking food that is available to us 24/7. We’re chronically stressed and seeking comfort. Our eating impulses are out of whack. Our biology no longer matches our environment.

When we are perfectly in tune with appropriate appetite and fullness cues, we eat when physically hungry and stop when satisfied (not stuffed). We maintain a healthy body weight.

When we are not in tune with these cues, our health and weight suffer.

Under-eating and over-eating

There are many reasons why we might under- or over-eat more than we need.

Under-eating might occur because of:

  • social pressures (e.g. among women to be thin)
  • stress
  • a desire to restrict food to feel “in control”
  • over-preoccupation with “health”
  • rigid restriction/elimination of certain foods

Over-eating might occur because of:

  • social pressures (e.g. wanting to fit in at social events)
  • stress
  • feeling “out of control”
  • a desire for comfort or self-soothing
  • disrupted biological routines such as lack of sleep or shift work
  • highly palatable tastes such as fatty and sweet foods
  • food availability: the food is there and it ain’t gonna eat itself!

CULTURAL OVEREATING

Eating when hungry and stopping when satisfied is something that nearly all mammals are programmed to do from birth. Yet, in the U.S. we tend to “unlearn” this and only stop eating when we are “full.” Many cultures discourage this.

Throughout India, Ayurvedic tradition advises eating until 75% full.

The Japanese practice hari hachi bu, eating until 80% full.

hara hachi All About Appetite Regulation, Part 2

Islamic guidance from the Qur’an indicates that excess eating is a sin.

The Chinese specify eating until 70% full.

The prophet Muhammad described a full belly as one containing 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid, 1/3 air (nothing).

There is a German expression that says, “Tie off the sack before it gets completely full.”

“Drink your food and chew your drink,” is an Indian proverb that encourages us to eat slowly enough and chew thoroughly enough, to liquefy our food, and move our drink around our mouth and thoroughly taste it before swallowing.

When someone is finished eating in France they don’t say “I’m full,” rather, “I have no more hunger.”

And countries outside the U.S. emphasize that eating should be pleasurable and done in the company of others.

Group of people sitting at table outdoors on Qubecs gourmet dining route 329526 All About Appetite Regulation, Part 2

Homeostasis: The body’s secret weapon

The body likes things to stay the same, aka homeostasis. When homeostasis is interrupted, the body tries to self-regulate and get back on track.

With body weight, there are internal challenges in maintaining homeostasis. As nutrients are used, they must be replaced. Our bodies say “Please replenish these nutrients”, aka “Eat.” Our bodies say “Thank you, that’s enough for what I require”, aka “Stop eating.”

When we honour homeostatic hunger signals, we achieve optimal health.

  • If we eat when we are not hungry, the distraction and pleasure are only temporary; consequently, we have to eat more to feel better, feeding the cycle.
  • If we do not eat when we are hungry, our body gets us back eventually by cranking up our appetite signals and smothering our fullness signals. The biggest trigger of binge eating? Dieting.

MINDFUL/INTUITIVE EATING

Have you ever observed an infant eating? They eat when they are hungry, and they stop when they’ve had enough. If they don’t like something, they spit it out.

Mindful/intuitive eating is kind of like that.

When we eat this way, it promotes physical and psychological well-being. Physically, it’s gratifying to not feel overly stuffed or empty. Psychologically, it’s gratifying to be able to honor the internal cues of hunger and satiety, much like it’s psychologically gratifying to drink water when thirsty, get warm when cold, urinate when the bladder is full, or breathe after diving 8 feet to the bottom of a pool.

Years of mindless eating, restrictive dieting, and the “good” versus “bad” food mentality can warp the way we respond to internal body signals.

When the idea of “bad” food is discarded, it often removes the punishing cycle of restricting and gorging. Why? Because when we acknowledge that a food is available to us whenever we want, we can begin to select a variety of foods we enjoy and become the expert of our own body.

cows eating grass All About Appetite Regulation, Part 2

Three key components of mindful/intuitive eating are:

  • Unconditional permission to eat
  • Eating primarily for physical rather than emotional or environmental reasons
  • Relying on internal hunger and satiety cues

Why is eating the right amount so important?

If we don’t eat the right amount for our needs, our bodies will try to self-regulate to maintain homeostasis or meet evolutionary needs. If we’ve under-eaten, we might compensate with a binge. If we’re over-eating on highly palatable foods, our bodies might say “This is great! Have more, just in case of famine!”

While many people periodically eat in response to sensations other than physical hunger, this type of eating becomes destructive when it’s the principal way of dealing with feelings or going along with easy food availability. If we eat each time we get lonely, sad, bored or happy, or if food is around us, we’re in trouble.

THE PROBLEM OF “DIETING”

Few nutrition professionals question the wisdom of using food deprivation as a means to manage weight. “Eat less” is the most common advice given to people wanting to lose weight.

Still, it doesn’t seem to be working for anyone. Some are beginning to acknowledge that “dieting” — as in significant, short-term food restriction — doesn’t work for sustained health and weight management.

“Dieting” can increase food cravings, food preoccupation, guilt associated with eating, binge eating, weight fluctuations, and a preoccupation with weight.

We might get into a cycle of “deprivation mentality”: we restrict, then lose control, then vow to “get back on the wagon” (ie. restrict further), then lose control again, then apply an even more rigid control, then lose control… over and over and over.

“Dieting” can work in the short term. People can and do lose fat and weight… for a while. But more than 90% of individuals who lose weight will regain it within 2 years.

“Dieting” doesn’t address either the underlying deprivation-binge mindset, or the real problems of why you’re overfat in the first place.

MINDFUL/INTUITIVE EATING AS AN ALTERNATIVE

Mindful/intuitive eating asks “Why am I eating?” and “Am I truly hungry?” Thus it can reduce binging and emotional eating episodes. The more mindfulness and meditation someone uses, the more weight they can lose (and keep off).

Mindful/intuitive eaters aren’t obsessed eaters. Rather, they simply appreciate the value of food as opposed to hurrying through a meal. As they stop judging themselves, they are more present and aware of what they are doing.

What you should know

LEARNING BODY SIGNALS

Figuring out satiety cues involves trial and error. The level and intensity of hunger can vary, as can knowing what foods/amounts will satisfy hunger. How the body responds to food is going to be different for everyone. It can also be different at different times of the day.

As I mentioned above, consider children. Kids generally push food away when they’re content. And they know when they don’t like something. Intuitive/mindful eating is about tapping back into that wisdom.

Be aware of how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. For example:

Physically

  • Is your stomach growling?
  • Do you have a headache
  • Are you feeling shaky or irritable?
  • Do you feel “stuffed”?

Mentally

  • Are you thinking, “I want to eat this” or “I need to eat this”?
  • Are you aware of what you are eating or are you just plowing in the food while you do something else?
  • If your eating routine is disrupted, are you upset because it’s a change in habit, or because you’re genuinely hungry?

Emotionally

  • Are you anxious or stressed?
  • Are you happy or sad?

One way to approach eating may be to start with a typical meal and then tune in to how you feel physically, immediately after and every hour after that meal.

  • Immediately after eating: If you’ve eaten the right amount for optimal health, you’ll likely feel a slight level of hunger, but still content. It takes about 20 minutes for the satiety signal to go from the gut to the brain. The composition of a meal can influence satiety, so include real/whole foods with fiber, protein, and fat (and balance omega-6 with omega-3).
  • About 60 minutes after eating, you should feel satisfied with no desire to eat another real food meal.
  • When you approach the 2 hour mark, you may be starting to feel a little hungry, and could probably eat something, but it’s not a big deal yet. If you are feeling quite hungry, you may not have had enough food or enough of a given type of food to hold your satisfaction.
  • At 3 to 4 hours, you should be feeling like it’s about time to eat again. Your hunger should be stronger, and will vary depending on when you exercised and what your daily physical activity level is. If you aren’t hungry yet, you probably had a bit too much food at your previous meal.
  • After 4 hours, you’re likely hungry and ready to eat. This is when the “I’m so hungry I could eat anything” feeling kicks in. If you wait much longer, chances of making a knucklehead food selection goes up dramatically. It’s important to have nutritious and appealing foods available.

There is variability with all of this, but getting to a point where you’re slightly hungry between meals is a healthy sign. If you are eating every 2-4 hours without ever feeling a level of hunger, you are likely eating more than you need.

IT’S OK TO BE HUNGRY SOMETIMES

If you’re trying to get or stay lean, it’s OK and normal to feel hungry occasionally.

It’s important to accept this feeling because it’s not going anywhere. Nor would that really be a good thing since hunger plays a vital biological function.

“Hunger is not an emergency.” — Judith Beck

CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOODS

We didn’t evolve with highly processed foods. These foods confuse our natural appetite mechanisms.

Eating a dessert on its own will often increase the craving for more. It’s not that you necessarily need more processed carbs, just that you’ve triggered the body into thinking it wants more. Processed foods trigger our natural reward systems (think: opioids and dopamine released in the brain) and we want more (and more).

Unprocessed foods help keep hunger/satiety cues clear, and it’s easier to make adjustments. Remember, if you’re not hungry enough to eat broccoli, you’re probably not hungry.

INCORPORATE ACTIVITY PROPERLY

Regular exercise makes us more efficient at using body fat, which can help balance appetite.

The type of activity can determine our appetite. Intense exercise, such as heavy weight training or high-intensity interval training, tends to suppress appetite in the short term, while low-intensity, endurance-type activity tends to stimulate appetite. (Ironically, many people do a lot of “cardio” when trying to lose fat, which can end up making them more likely to overeat!)

Still, some people play games when it comes to exercise and eating. They might allow themselves more food because they exercised, regardless of hunger changes. This “reward” system can be fickle and create a negative relationship with eating. “Exercise bulimia” occurs when we engage in a cycle of overeating then overexercising to “compensate”.

Practicing yoga can help with mindful/intuitive eating and assist in overall body satisfaction. This makes sense since yogic philosophy aims to unify mind, body and spirit.

Summary and recommendations

Dieting and cognitive control of food intake may actually lead to weight gain, disease, and disordered eating patterns.

Intuitive/mindful eating involves:

  • Slowing down the pace of eating (e.g., break during bites, chewing slowly, etc.).
  • Eating away from distractions (e.g., television, books, magazines, work, computer, driving).
  • Becoming aware of the body’s hunger and fullness cues and utilizing these cues to guide the decision to begin and end eating as opposed to following a regimented diet plan.
  • Acknowledging food likes and dislikes without judgment.
  • Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing and nourishing, and using all of the senses while eating.
  • Being aware of and reflecting on the effects caused by non-mindful eating (e.g., eating when bored or lonely or sad, eating until overly full).
  • Meditation practice as a part of life.

The goal of a meal is to finish feeling:

  • Better than when you started
  • Satisfied
  • Able to move on (not think about food until you are hungry again)
  • Energy to exercise and stay active
  • Mental focus

Eating too much or too little will result in variations of the normal responses mentioned above. This may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Fullness
  • Anxiety or jitters
  • Low or nervous energy
  • Food cravings, even when physically full
  • Headaches
  • Mentally sluggish
  • Heavy gut
  • Extremely thirsty

Extra credit

What type of person is most likely to eat unhealthy food? A restrained eater depriving themselves of a forbidden food. This is the psychological phenomenon ofdisinhibition. Habitual disinhibition — in other words, regularly overriding our natural fullness cues — is the factor most closely linked to weight gain.

The goal of mindful/intuitive eating is to master the process of eating and not focus on weight loss. For dieters, this task is extremely difficult.

In 2006, American Idol contestant Katharine McPhee told the media she won her battle against bulimia through intuitive eating. And yes, the popularity of intuitive eating grew.

One study found that infants cry more intensely when hungry than when in pain.

Those who eat intuitively naturally are slimmer than those who diet.

If hunger doesn’t tell you to start eating, what tells you to stop?

If you eat when you’re not hungry, you’ll never be satisfied.

Food is a costly antidepressant.

If you have any doubts about whether you’re hungry, you’re probably not.

Hunger is physical. Over-eating is psychological, mental, and emotional.

When your true needs are unmet, triggers will return again and again.

by Ryan Andrews

This Is For You

THE RIVER WALK

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https://symakphotography.wordpress.com/tag/dying-rose-photo/

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.  (Psalm 34:18)

This is for me.
This is for you.
This is for the lonely, the tired, the alone, the single.
This is for “where are all the godly men and I’m not spending another dime on Christian Mingle.”
This is for the girl who huddles in the corner late at night hoping daddy won’t come home drunk and horny… again.
This is for the child whose parents sold her to a con man who promised them she would get an education.
Now she walks dusty streets trading her body for a few rupees.
This is for the boy who is afraid, with good reason to go visit his uncle’s house.
This is for the lapsed Catholic who wonders why that priest is not in jail… or at least defrocked.
This is for…

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The Positivity Trap: How upbeat coaches can kill client results

Think about how you sound when working with clients.

Do you say things like: 

“You’re only one workout away from a good mood!”

“You’re not gonna get the butt you want by sitting on it!”

“You’ll get a lot more compliments for working out than you will for sleeping in!”

Many health and fitness coaches think that always being positive, upbeat, inspiring, and ass-kicking is part of the job.

Encouraging language is what’s required to motivate clients through tough times and nudge them toward big success, right?

Actually, no.

Blindly spewing positivity in the midst of the suckiness of lifestyle change doesn’t show that you’re awesome and motivating.

In fact, it suggests you don’t care. That you don’t hear your clients, you don’t see them, and you don’t understand they’re struggling.

It sounds kinda crazy, but…

Too much positive talk is bad for your clients.

There’s certainly a place for positivity in coaching.

You want your clients to feel that you believe in them. You can help them visualize success, or point out the next steps they can take. All of that can be motivating. 

When your client is feeling all sunshine-and-rainbows, it’s okay to share that. Rock on with your rainbows.

But effective coaching also requires you to sense in and track with your clients.

This means paying attention. Observe carefully. Attune.

Know your clients’ cues. Listen to them. And understand their current state of mind.

Because your clients need their pain.

In most fitness and health coaching situations, we’re working with people who are in the midst of lifestyle upheaval.

That takes a lot of work. It also comes with a lot of ups and downs. Which are all completely normal.

Your clients deserve the opportunity to “feel” the lows.

In fact — this is important; pay attention — your clients may need those low moments in order to make progress.

Most change comes from responding to pain. We usually don’t change until the pain of not changing gets too strong to be ignored.

In other words, we need that pain. Pain is a signal to pay attention, get present, and check in.

And from a coaching perspective, clients need people to be with them in that pain… but not necessarily trying to push them out of it too quickly.

A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reveals that fantasy-caliber positive thinking may make you less likely to achieve a goal because it doesn’t generate the energy that’s needed to push forward.

If you want your clients to follow you to the finish line, you have to be able to support them in dark times. You have to let them be real.

For that, they have to see that you really get them, and that you truly empathize with how hard it can be to keep going.

When someone is struggling, the knee-jerk tendency to act like everything is happy-happy, joy-joy doesn’t communicate compassion at all.

It communicates that you’re not really paying attention.

Too much positivity isn’t real.

As a coach, thinking you have to be positive and inspiring all the time not only drags clients down — it can actually de-motivate them.

Imagine: You’re a client having a “fat day”. (Or a “scrawny day”. Or an “I’m so out of shape day”. Or your darn shoulder hurts again. Or that chocolate croissant you ate is sitting in your gut like a brick. Or…)

You arrive at the gym to greet your coach — Mr. Perfect or Ms. Invincible, who ignores your emotional state and gets in your face with rah-rah let’s-go-team!!

Ugh.

You think:

Not only do I suck at this and fail miserably, but my coach is a perfect model of positivity. S/he has bulletproof abs and an awesome life and a perma-smile. S/he can’t even begin to relate to how hard this is for me. I’ll never be like that.

Or worse:

My coach doesn’t understand me. I’m just another client.

And once you as a client start feeling that way, here’s what happens.

  • Activate operation “Give the heck up”…
  • followed by “Eat more cookies and ice cream to soothe pain of giving up”…
  • and, finally, “Burn down the houses of all the positive people I know, starting with my annoying trainer.”

Just kidding about that last one. (Sort of.)

precision nutrition positivity coaching trap smile The Positivity Trap: How upbeat coaches can kill client results.

Incessant positivity costs coaches, too.

Not only does this excessive positivity make it tough for clients — it’s tough for coaches, too.

Who out there can honestly keep up the “I’m always positive and upbeat and motivating” charade?

Who can continue being a walking, talking fitspiration poster ‘round the clock? 

Who can cover all the bases — competition-fit body, super-nutritious diet, perfect life choices, sparkling attitude?

Hint: No one.

Real humans feel real emotions. Happiness and positivity. Ambivalence and pain.

Real humans — yes, even supercoaches — aren’t magazine cover models either.

Fitness and health are about making real choices in real lives with real demands and real messiness.

Commence operation “get real”.

To be a great coach, you need to learn when positivity and inspiration are useful. Or when other tools are more appropriate.

The truth is: Sometimes things suck. And people shouldn’t always have to look on the bright side.

Coaches can learn to be present with that and respect it.

In situations like this, don’t pat clients on the back and point to some cheesy-ass motivational poster on the wall. Don’t fall into the positivity trap. For most clients, these are actively de-motivating.

Instead, learn to recognize that real emotions are being felt. And that these real emotions have a purpose too. They have value. In fact, these real, icky, inconvenient, painful emotions may actually be moving your client closer to change.

Use these moments to connect on a meaningful level — during ups, downs, and in-betweens — because it goes much further.

Here’s how to connect.

Think about how you go about motivating clients.

Do your attitude and demeanor send the message that everything has to be happy, positive, and easy all the time?

Do you feel uncomfortable in the face of “difficult” emotions or discussions? (Or worse, silence? Augh! You probably want to freak out just reading that, right?)

Or do your actions signal that it’s okay to struggle, to be sad, to need help? To not know the answers? To feel lost?

Imagine that your client expresses some form of frustration, complaint, or negativity, like, “I’m not seeing progress,” or “My body hurts,” or “I just don’t think I can do this!”

 Now ask yourself:

  • How do you imagine reacting in this scenario?
  • Does your reaction show the client that you genuinely hear them?
  • Does your reaction help your client feel more connected to you as a human being?
  • How do your expressions, body language, and words convey to your client that you can see where they’re coming from in their struggle?
  • How can you show compassion and help your client develop self-compassion, even when — especially when — things are tough?

Next time you encounter a difficult situation where empathy and compassion is warranted — not motivational slogans — here are some responses to try:

“Wow. That does sound tough [or sad, or challenging, or puzzling…].
How can I help?”

Or: 

“Wow. That does sound tough [or sad, or challenging, or puzzling…].
Want to talk about it a bit more?”

Or:

“It sounds like you’re  ___.
And that’s frustrating?”

Or:

“I have so been there.
And you know what? It’s perfectly normal and OK to feel anxious right now.
Lots of folks feel like this when ___.”

Or:

“Tell me what the most frustrating [anxiety-provoking, saddening, irritating, etc.] thing is about this situation for you.
What’s bothering you most?”

In these situations, you want a good combination of empathy and information gathering.

The key is to really hear your clients’ needs and feelings. Let them feel the suckiness.

Let yourself get used to feeling suckiness too. It’s OK.

And then find ways of moving forward, together.

What to do next

  • If you own a cheesy motivational poster and you regularly share it with clients, do this instead: Burn it.
  • Take a few moments and go through the above “Here’s how to connect” scenario. Consider alternatives to how you normally react to struggling clients and how you engage with them when things suck.
  • Remember: The ultimate goal isn’t to make clients pretend everything is groovy. Or even to make them feel groovy. It’s to meaningfully connect. That’s what elite coaches do.

By Krista Scott-Dixon