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Why hunger is the nemesis of every dieter

Thomas Secrest's picture
Hunger is the enemy of anyone on a diet, but why?

As promised, hunger will be the topic in this part of the Weight Loss and Dieting series of articles. Previously we talked about many things that can get us ready for our diet and the last articles put everything into a single summary. If you are new to the series, links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of the page.

Recall that your body cycles back and forth, several times per day, between the absorptive state and the post-absorptive state. The absorptive state starts when you start a meal, maybe even a few minutes before, as the sight and smell of food, activate your brain, and usually lasts 2-4 hours after you finish eating; at this time the post-absorptive state begins and last until you start your next meal.

Not all absorptive states are the same.

Insulin is the hormone that dominates our absorptive state and the “length of time” spent in the absorptive state depends on (1) how long insulin is released. and just as important, (2) how much insulin is released.

Because most fat-use (fat-burning) takes place during the post-absorptive state, it is to our advantage to spend most of our time in this state and to minimize the length and intensity of the absorptive state.

There are several diet programs that demonstrate at least a simple awareness of this fact. However, their ignorance of the details, leads to a futile attempt at exploiting the information. There are multiple programs that suggest skipping food every other day. In fact this approach is not horrible, except that’s not how most people live and after 3 or 4 skipped days the dieter flips-out and heads for the closest Chinese food buffet. END OF DIET!

This is because hunger is also a part of the post-absorptive state. It’s the little physiological drive that starts telling you that you’re hungry and triggers food oriented ideation (that is, you start thinking about food – a lot!).

Therein lies the rub – yes it is good to be in the post-absorptive state, unfortunately you have millions of years of hunger evolution making you want to eat and go back into the absorptive state, which means that fasting, just isn’t going to work long term.

It turns out that there is a middle ground, a compromise point, a place where the body is not clearly in one state or the other. It is a place where we burn more fat than when we are in the absorptive state, but less than in the post-absorptive state. Since we accept that weight loss is going to talk a while, this compromise works. Day in and day out it works – remember in this race we are the tortoise, not the hare.

Our plan is to keep our diet going, week in — week out, as long as it takes to reach our goals.

In article 12, we discovered why substituting protein for carbohydrates helped our diet. Proteins produce a less intense absorptive state because less insulin is produce in response to protein in your diet than to carbs in your diet.

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Step one: redistribute the calories in your meal to favor more calories from protein. This will reduce the amount of insulin released and modulate the intensity of the absorptive state.

Step two: redistribute the calories in your meal to favor slightly more calories from healthy oils, such as olive oil. Almost no insulin is released in response to olive oil, which further modulates the intensity of the absorptive state. Plus it is great at slowing down digestion and signaling the brain that your meal was satisfying and oil reduces hunger.

These two steps also slow down digestion which puts the breaks on hunger signals.

Your digestive tract processes meals high in simple sugars quickly, which leads to huge spikes in insulin production. What we want is prolongs digestion. WAIT you say, doesn’t prolonged digestion lead to a prolonged absorptive state? Yes, but here is the compromise, something most diet plans miss. A prolonged absorptive state that involves very little insulin production is not all that bad, since it is the insulin that is the problem.

Remember, our goal is NOT the fastest weight loss possible; it is to prevent our body from turning against us and putting an abrupt end to our diet.

This approach will keep your body and mind on your side; however, if you push it too hard, it will turn and bit you like a snake.

Step three: exchange most of the carbohydrates in your diet for complex, high fiber, carbohydrates. These types of carbohydrates have the least impact on insulin production of all carbohydrates and they further slow digestion.

Step four: (optional) drink your fluids between meals, not with meals. For people like me, this is no problem, since I rarely drink fluids with my meals. On the other hand, for other people this would be a huge sacrifice. Our goal is to avoid HUGE sacrifices when we can. The reason for this suggestion is that food that is well mixed with water or any beverage, leaves your stomach faster. It turns out that food in the stomach is one signal for slowing digestion and it is one signal for reducing hunger.

These 3 or 4 steps let you eat a meal, hopefully, with slightly fewer calories and have it produced the greatest impact on reducing hunger and having the least impact on insulin production, which means that your body will burn fat to supply the calories you cut from your diet; and it will do it, without causing the hunger that ends most diets.

This combination will let you eat a little less each day, while following your typical eating habits, and still burn fat calories every single day. Nothing here is extreme and there is nothing particularly unhealthy.


  • Be careful about making your protein substitutions – meat can carry a lot of hidden calories in the form of fat. Consider things like eggs or egg beaters, milk and plant proteins. You can also Google the words “foods with highest protein content” and you will finds lots of things that you can use.
  • Be careful of your fat intake. Fats are easy to hide and hard to find. However, fats in each meal are critically important. Fats significantly slows down digestion and they are one of the major players in turning off your hunger and keeping it turned off. Many people go to an extreme by shunning fats, which leads to constant low level hunger, even while having a meal.
  • As you make adjustments in your diet, stay regular. It is easy to skimp on the fiber, if for no other reason than it is hard to get all you need without the accompanying excess calories. Without fiber your digestion can slow down too much, which leads to constipation. Fiber does not affect insulin production, so it is not a bad idea to drink a glass of metamucil or some other fiber supplement as you create and experiment with your diet. Eventually you will get it sorted out, but constipation can affect your mood and your willingness to persevere. Additionally, a one-a-day vitamin isn’t going to hurt either.

In the next article we will look at more ways to burn more fat calories without irritating our body. We’re trying to shave a few calories here and a few there to create a diet we can live with for an extended period, as it turns out, there a several more ways to achieve this without creating that miserable feeling that goes with rapid weight loss diets.