By ALEXANDRA MATZKO
So, I’ve been steadily gaining weight for, oh, the past five years straight.
After two bouts of successful weight loss, I’ve gained it all back and then some. I’ve tried to lose the weight with CrossFit, running, walking, weight lifting, interval training, intermittent fasting, calorie counting, paleo/whole 30 diets. Almost everything.
I’ve burnt out on these programs because I can never stick with them and only seem to dig myself a deeper hole.
Since the New Year, I’ve gotten back into my love of reading about health and fitness. It’s made me reexamine my health, my relationship with food, and my main saboteur.
As I’ve gained weight, I’ve had the very unscientifically unfounded belief that there’s something going on beneath the surface that’s made it easier and easier to keep gaining weight the more I gain and harder and harder to lose it. I’ve found myself wondering: Is this crazy? Is this strange belief that I’m a “hard fat gainer” a self-fulfilling prophecy?
My hunger feels out of control when I try to hold back. There are moments in the day when I’m ravenous like I’ve been starved for weeks. I become a horrible, mean hangry monster. It becomes futile to resist from stuffing food into my face. I stuff my face to quell my inner hungry demon, but then I’m left back at square one, wanting to pull my hair out with feelings of regret and failure.
WHY am I so hungry? Why can’t I just control my urges?
You’d think that person who could live off of her own body fat for months (with a supplement of electrolytes) wouldn’t feel even a gentle hunger pain. It’s frustrating and counterintuitive that I’m so darn starving.
Is it me? Is something wrong with me? Do I have a wire crossed that makes my appetite irrepressible?
How to exorcise the demon
Well, Robb Wolf’s books The Paleo Solution and Wired to Eat have given me a lot of food for thought.
Though I recommend reading both books, Wired to Eat focuses on the neurological and hormonal forces that may be to blame for my unstoppable appetite. His book outlines (common sense) pillars of health such as nutrition, sleep, stress, and community.
I’m not getting enough sleep during the week. I do quite well with community and relationships. My job has ratcheted up my stress and gnawed away at my self-confidence, coupled with an insecurity that’s grown along with my expanding waistline.
Most important, though, is his insight about food (connected inextricably with the other pillars). Carbs and insulin resistance may be sabotaging all of my calorie cutting and exercising efforts. An excess of highly processed carbs + overeating = out of whack hormones that control hunger and feelings of satiety. This could lead to sugar crashes, hanger, and hunger soon after a meal. Well, I experience all of those things.
Could my hormone levels be off? If so, how could I address that?
Robb outlines his 30-day reset diet to help fix a messed up hunger signal at a neurological and gut level.
It’s no different from a paleo or whole-30 protocol with a focus on protein, healthy fat, and fiber and an elimination of all processed, starchy carbohydrates, sugar, dairy, vegetable oil, and legumes. It’s terrifying because it feels like you must also exorcise all of your favorite foods in order to vanquish the demon. Wolf includes a bevy of nutrition and health information evidence in addition to the reset plan that makes it so worth the read, or maybe that’s just me because I’m a major health and nutrition nerd.
In addition, you’ve got to prioritize sleep, community, and decreasing stress.
Then, at the end of the 30 days comes a fun, experimental seven days of testing your blood sugar level after consuming a variety of different carbs. I feel on an intuitive level that not all carbs are my enemy, but I’ve never had a way to test that. I’m most looking forward to this trial period to learn which whole food, non-fruit/veggie carbs I can keep in my diet. There’s also a sweet workbook that accompanies the reset plan you can download for free and find through a quick Google search. I printed out and put in a binder to track my starting stats, daily progress, and end stats.
The final, optional, phase of the reset diet is to try out ketosis. Right now, I’m focused on surviving the 30 days. Then, I will attempt to dip my toe into the ketosis world. A paradigm shifting idea I stumbled across while further researching ketosis and Wolf’s stance on it is the counterintuitive mantra of the diet and exercise community to fire up the metabolism and burn as much as possible in order to, in turn, eat as much as possible. It’s been my goal for years. How can I make my metabolism burn faster and hotter?
His guest and notable keto advocate Mark Sisson commented something to the effect of our having that mindset completely backward. Healthy, functioning metabolisms are meant to burn as little as possible to be considered efficient. It may sound like a paradox, but it makes sense. Our metabolisms are armed to protect against starvation and not at all adapted to our modern world of plenty. It wants to be efficient with and hold onto as many calories as possible to store up as reserves in times of famine.
Over the years, keto has helped Sisson to make his metabolism more efficient than ever. He’s decreased the amount of calories he consumes while feeling satiated and maintaining a healthy amount of muscle, even more than he had when eating 500+ more daily calories.
This is a tough pill for me to swallow because I love food, and I love feeling full, but I know that it’s a problem. Hopefully, while this reset rewires my physical hunger signals, I work on reframing my mindset around food with this new understanding of an efficient metabolism.
Delicious, easy, satiating meals and tips to try
Paleo Morning Pizza. This involves making a frittata base and covering it with ground breakfast sausage, diet-compliant tomato sauce, and veggies. It’s delicious and very satisfying on every level.
Cucumber and Tomato Salad. I’ve quickly grown sick of sautéed veggies, but I needed to include vegetables in almost all of my meals. The recent inclusion of the freshness of cucumbers, tomatoes, and a bit of red onion combined with the tang of a vinaigrette is the perfect pairing to a protein. I cover the mix in a dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. It’s the best.
Dry Brined, Roasted Chicken. Since Christmas, my household has been all about the dry brine because of its ease of use and restaurant-quality results. 24 hours before your chicken meal, pat dry your piece of chicken, cover it in kosher salt and pepper, and store it uncovered in the fridge for the next 24 hours. Then, cook it in a 450 degree oven until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. It’s crispy skin plus moist, tasty meat.
Sweet Potato Anything. Your body is going to miss carbs and sugar as an easy fuel source, so occasionally add in some sweet potato. It’s so versatile: fries, mashed, roasted, hash. Add cinnamon and butter to satisfy that sweet tooth. Personally, I love to quickly mash half a sweet potato, add ghee or butter and some salt and enjoy.
Herbs. Sometimes, my meat preparation is less than stellar, so it ends up a bit dry and hard for me to bring myself to eat because I’m a food snob. What covers all manner of sins? A delicious, herb sauce. I buy all of the herbs I enjoy from the grocery store, chop and combine them with garlic cloves, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper, and slap the mixture onto anything and everything. My latest blend involved dill, cilantro, chives, and parsley.
Olives and Nuts. Need a snack that’s salty and fatty? Go for a handful of nuts and a couple of olives. So satisfying.
Don’t Forget Seafood. I overlook the fish counter at my grocery store, and I need to give it its due.
Recently, I’ve thrown together a shrimp dish that was divine. And, there’s nothing easier than baking some salmon and topping it with an herbaceous sauce. Plus, it’s got all of those healthy oils everyone’s always talking about.
I’m looking forward to satiating this fiery appetite of mine. As Wolf writes, we’re genetically disposed to “eat more, move less,” and all I’ve done is castigate myself for that. If this lifestyle rewires hunger and helps me get a handle on my food addiction, I’ll be incredibly satisfied.