People approach and tell me all about their struggles with willpower when it comes to avoiding bad snacks and impulsive eating. Well to be perfectly honest, the struggle is not because of their willpower as much as it is with the way their hormones are working.
Once you understand how certain foods react in your body you’ll have a much better chance of overcoming these seemingly willpower issues.
A lot of experts will make the argument that a calorie is a calorie and all that matters for weight loss is you burn more calories than you take in. Meaning, if you take in less calories that your expend over time, that’s the only thing you need. But there’s something they are not taking into consideration.
Ask most any experienced dieter and he/she will tell you that certain foods, like protein, seem to suppress their appetite while other foods like bread, crackers, potato chips, pizza, and others seem to do the exact opposite.
Have you ever dug into a bag of potato chips and just weren’t able to put it down? Or opened up a pint of Bluebell Homeade Vanilla Ice Cream and finished it off while watching your favorite TV show? Of course, we’ve all done it.
Isn’t it funny how you could polish off a whole bag of potato chips (1200 plus calories) or a pint of ice cream (640 plus calories) and still be hungry when you’re done?
Try eating 1200 calories worth of almonds or 640 calories worth of apples and see how far you get before you’re full. Do you really need willpower to keep from eating too many almonds or apples? Absolutely not! And the reason is because of hormonal responses in your body (primarily the release of leptin) that help signal fullness and satiety.
When you eat processed and refined foods, most which contain high fructose corn syrup and other negative partitioning agents; the natural hormonal responses that signal fullness are turned off.
You can easily over-eat calories but you never feel full and you’re left constantly hungry. You try and cut back enforcing your willpower but end up failing because you’re trying to fight the biology of your body.
Processed and refined carbohydrates along with sodas turn off the hormones that signal fullness and leave you fighting a losing battle with willpower!
Don’t be fooled either with “diet sodas” or low calorie foods with artificial sweeteners. Anything “unnatural” in your body will react the same way. The bottom line is you absolutely MUST eat natural foods if you want your body to produce the correct hormonal responses.
Another interesting phenomenon tied into all of this is “rebound hunger.” This occurs when you eat processed carbohydrates that sharply increase blood sugar levels. The sugar surge in your blood sets up an insulin spike from your pancreas to drive blood sugar down again.
Insulin interferes with the leptin hormone that signals your brain when you’re full. This is why you can be starving only an hour or so after eating a stack of pancakes with Old Fashioned syrup from IHOP.
Eating proteins along with high fiber fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds have the opposite effect on your body.
I recommend evaluating what you eat one meal at a time and making small step-by-step changes to overcome willpower issues.
Breakfast: Make sure you include plenty of protein (chicken, beef, turkey), or whey protein powder in a breakfast shake or by consuming eggs, and other high protein foods. Leave out the muffins, bread, sweetened cereal, and juice that will only leave you feeling hungry a short time after.
I also recommend eating lots of veggies (e.g. spinach, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc.) in combination with your protein so you have slow released energy during the morning without feeling hungry. Eating fruit at this time is okay, but you’ll be setting your body up to crave more sugar throughout the day, so tread carefully here!
Some people will argue that they’re not hungry in the morning. Once again this is due to your metabolism and unnatural shifts in your hormonal balances.
Don’t force yourself to eat more than you’re comfortable with, but start by eating something light (or do a protein shake) and over the course of a few days you’ll start feeling hungry again in the morning, especially if this is the time of day you choose to exercise.
Important hormones like ghrelin adjust to habitual meal patterns so it just takes a little while to reset your balances.
Lunch: Don’t make the mistake of trying to cut calories by skipping lunch. Going more than five hours without food causes hunger hormones (like ghrelin) to rise and fullness hormones (like leptin) to drop.
This is a sure fire recipe for sending excess calories consumed at dinner straight to your fat cells. It’s hard to beat a salad with vegetables and some lean protein for lunch.
Skip the croutons and creamy salad dressings and try an olive oil and vinegar based dressing. A lot of people don’t know this but using vinegar alone will cut your appetite and slow the rise in blood sugar.
Dinner: Lean proteins and vegetables are always your best bet for dinner. Avoid eating bread before dinner as it makes you loose your sense of fullness and you’ll end up eating more at the main course. Same thing holds true for alcohol.
You can eat good sources of fat at dinner but just do so in moderation and in relation to your energy requirements (ex. an athlete needs more energy than someone trying to lose weight).
Snacks: The real benefit of a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack is they serve as mini appetite suppressants, preventing blood sugar from dropping to low.
Remember, high sugar, high starch, or high fat snacks (including those 100 calorie snack packs) start a vicious cycle of more cravings while protein shakes, fruit, nuts, and vegetables do the exact opposite. If you struggle with “willpower” and want to eat more supportively for your health and fitness goals, get your hunger hormones in check so you’ll be on the path to seeing the results you desire!
All of our new CrossFit Garland members receive a comprehensive Nutrition Guide created especially for us by our Nutrition Partner, Whole9 Life. This guide takes the guess work out of creating a solid personalized nutrition strategy that’s effective, sustainable, and family friendly.