Honor Thy Hunger

Pushing as long as I can before eating is good, right? Wrong.

Whether you call it “intermittent fasting” or just plain “skipping breakfast”, if you want to manage your weight for the rest of your life with sustainable habits (and some semblance of a healthy relationship with food) it’s not doing you any favors. Most importantly, if you’re trying to stop binge eating or stop overeating, honoring your hunger in a reasonable window of time is essential. Feeling hunger for 30-60 minutes before you eat is wise. Pushing it beyond that deliberately, on a regular basis, is often going to work against you.

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Here’s why you don’t want to go hungry for hours and hours when trying to lose weight:

Using your hunger and satisfaction cues tends to work in partnership, and best when done consistently. When you ignore your hunger at selected times you “want to”, and decide to only eat when it’s time, it’s tough to switch gears and stop eating when your body gives you signals of being satisfied. By overriding your physical hunger repeatedly, you keep conditioning that your brain is DECIDING when and how much you get to eat (not your body). If you want to use hunger and satiety signals reliably, you can’t keep undermining them by saying they don’t count if they strike before noon because you read somewhere that skipping breakfast did something good for you. What’s going to actually help you is cementing the neurology of eating when hungry, and not eating when not hungry.

Lots of people want to jump onto and grab only that second part, becoming able to not eat when they aren’t hungry – but it’s learned best when you consistently associate hunger with eating. Absence of hunger, absence of eating. Like training a dog, the more consistent you can be, the better your brain will get the picture that hunger and food go together (not stress and food, or boredom and food, just hunger and food), and the sooner that EAT NOW urge will lighten up and bugger off when there is no hunger in the picture.

If you ignore hunger, you also tend to ignore satiety. Just happens that way. Interoceptive responsiveness means we strengthen the skill of listenign to and heeding body signals, or we strengthen our skills in ignoring them as a whole. If you want to get better at stopping when satisfied, honoring your hunger within an hour of it showing up helps.

Want more? Get everything you need to know in my book Lean Habits For Lifelong Weight Loss, hitting stores in April.

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Stress And Sugar

Dear Georgie, I’m coming to grips with how much sugar I am eating, and realizing I can almost draw a straight line correlation between my stress and sugar intake.  Today I decided (after downing some skittles and noticing my shoulders were all hunched up to my neck) to check in on my body a few times randomly just to see what was going on. Damned if I didn’t notice a lot of tension. I have been thinking about what the sources of tension are right now, and primarily it’s stuff I can’t really control and work stuff. I think a lot of the pressure of work I am putting on myself, and so I am trying to figure out what is real and what is just me. Having a tough time of it! Help?  – Stressnugget
Thanks for writing, and you’ve really observed some great things. Stress does that to many people – cranking up desire to taste the rainbow so to speak. In fact there is evidence that under the influence of stress hormones, sweets cause an even greater dopamine response in the brain (buzz of reward!) than if we ate them just any old time. This is one reason I try to enjoy my sweets outside of stressful moments and emotional lows – I feel like it’s less compulsion forming. (I spent so long working to de-couple emotions from sugar that I do not want those associations re-forming.)skittles

Nicely done to investigate where your stress is coming from. I love that proactive approach! It’s easier to complain about stress being all things that just happened to us, but you’re taking a more level headed and responsible approach to it already! When we think of the stress in our lives, it’s never all that black and white that’s it ALL our fault or doing, or NONE of our fault or doing. Just like a relationship with another person, “stress” is kind of a catch all for our relationship with the world.

So my take is, it’s all “real” stress no matter how much of it is directly caused by you, and assume you contribute at least somewhat, since you’re involved in the relationship. In what ways do you think you might add to or contribute to your own stress? (Thoughts, beliefs, internal dialog, self care routine, sleep and eating all could be involved).

One somewhat humorous way to realize how we contribute is to think, “If I wanted to INCREASE my stress, how could I do that?” and look what you come up with.  Personally, if I play that game for a second, I can see some clear things I could do to increase my stress: I could stay up late, not grocery shop so I have lousy food items on hand for prepping meals, I could conjure up worst-case scenarios to worry me about every unknown out there, and interpret everything personally, as if I personally caused every unfortunate thing in the world. Oh yeah, I could add in some perfectionism, that would work.

I just rattled those off the top of my head, but it gives me some clues for areas in which I do have some sway over my stress level. I can make sure I’m doing the OPPOSITE. Getting enough rest, having decent food on hand so I can eat well, not fostering negative thoughts, and giving myself some kindness and understanding instead of perfectionism. I encourage you to give this a try. I you wanted to have the most stressful week ever starting tomorrow, what would you do? Write an agenda of how you can amp up your stress level.

And then, notice that those are all ways you have power to reduce your stress burden as well. Some stuff we can’t change. Rain will fall, people will get sick and do mean things, bills will show up (surprise!), and there will always be laundry in the basket. The amount of distress we feel, and the associated hankerings for Skittles, however, are largely within our control.

The cruel part of the stress and sugar connection is that, as you likely have found, eating sugar feels incredible in the moment you are stressed, but just leaves you craving more in a few hours and the next day. What works better in the long term is 1. accepting the reality of things which are out of our control and 2. taking action where we do have influence, which includes the power to accept, resist and interpret our world in more or less stress-producing ways.

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Squash and Cauliflower Stew with Chickpeas

Full of warm spices and hearty chunks of vegetables, this stew will fill your belly and warm you heart and soul. It’s perfect for cold and blustery weather. Enjoy as is, or serve with rice or quinoa. I usually stir cooked chopped chicken breast into mine, but to boost protein and keep it vegetarian, try spooning some plain greek yogurt on top of the hot stew.

 
DSC_0005-121 tablespoon butter or oil
600 g winter squash, (kabocha or buttercup recommended) (about 4 cups chopped)
500 g cauliflower florets (1 head)
200 g carrots (about 2 cups chopped)
100 g chopped onion (2/3 cup chopped)
1 cup ajvar, sweet (google it if you don’t what that is)
2 cups diced tomatoes with liquid
1 cup broth (vegetable or chicken)
1 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon saigon cinnamon
500 g zucchini, (about 2 large zucchini or 3.5 cups chopped)
cayenne pepper to taste
salt to taste
optional: 1 can of chickpeas (2 cups)
 
  1. Get a big pot out. Melt butter in the bottom over medium heat. As you chop things, toss them into the pot.
  2. Chop the squash into pretty big pieces, about 1-1.5 inches. You want it to stay chunky. Toss them in the pot and stir. Chop the cauliflower, carrots, onion into pieces about the same size and toss them in the pot too, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the wet stuff (ajvar, diced tomatoes, broth) and spices (turmeric, curry, cumin, cinnamon). Hold off – you don’t want to add the zucchini, the salt or the cayenne until after it’s mostly cooked.
  4. Once the pot is simmering, reduce heat to medium-low, cover it, and leave it alone for about an hour. You can stir it every now and then to check how tender things are. When the carrots are getting tender, but not quite done, add the zucchini (and chickpeas if using) and stir it up. Then it only needs about 10 minutes more. Now you can start tasting and adding more salt if needed and spice it to your liking with cayenne.
  5. Once the zucchini is cooked, it’s done.

Serves 4-6. Nutrition facts are for 1/4 recipe, without chickpeas on the left, with chickpeas on the right.

Picture 5

Picture 4

 

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Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup 2014

Autumn Awesomeness Salad

This salad was my lunch before the traditional dinner.

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250 g kabocha squash cubes (toss with 1 tsp olive oil and bake for 15-20 mins at 400 degrees)
few handfuls of kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
1/4 English cucumber, sliced
1/8 red onion, sliced
1/2 red and/or yellow pepper, sliced
4 oz cooked chicken breast, chopped
1.5 – 2 tablespoons apple-miso dressing (stir together 1 tablespoon miso paste, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 2 tsp honey or 1 packet calorie-free sweetener) – I make batches of this and store in the refrigerator to use as needed
single serving package roasted seaweed sheets (optional)
 

1. Preheat oven and put the kabocha cubes on a baking sheet. I squirt them with some oil from my Misto and toss around with a spatula to coat. Put them in the oven to bake while you make rest of the salad.
2. Tear up the kale and put it in a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, onion, peppers, chicken (and any other veggies you want).
3. Add the dressing and stir it all up. When your squash is done, pile it on top of the salad and crumble the seaweed on top. Dig in.

Dinner

Our dinner menu was as follows:

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  • Turkey and gravy
  • Peas
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts medley – similar to the roasted veggies with olive oil and garlic from the 2013 roundup.
  • Roasted Root Vegetables
  • Pear & Walnut Stuffed Squash
  • Apple pie
  • Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Topping

I won’t post recipes for the first 4, just the last 4. Since we opted for plain peas (and the microwave took care of that), I put the oven at 400 degrees and cooked both types of roasted veggies and the stuffed squash all at once. I put the stuff squash in first since they need an hour, and then 15 minutes later I put in the root veggies and Brussels sprouts so they all were done at the same time.

Roasted Root Vegetables

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3 parnsips
3 beets
2 sweet potatoes
2 turnips
1 onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt, pepper, paprika
 

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Cut all the vegetables into wedges or sticks about as thick around as your thumb. Toss with olive oil and spread on two baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika.

3. Bake 40-50 minutes or until tender.

Serves 6-8

Pear and Walnut Stuffed Squash

4 small winter squash (kabocha, kuri, delicata, acorn)
3 pears, cored and chopped
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Saigon cinnamon
pinch salt
4 tsp butter
 

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Discard seeds.

2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the chopped pears, walnuts, a good shake of cinnamon, and pinch of salt. Divide evenly among the squash halves. Top each squash half with 1/2 tsp of butter, and wrap in foil.

3. Place foil-wrapped squash in a baking dish and bake 60 minutes.

Serves 8

Pumpkin Pie With Pecan Topping

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Crust:
195 grams gluten free all purpose flour blend
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
105 g coconut oil
 
Filling:
3/4 cup sugar (150 g)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1 + 1/4 cups vanilla almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
 
Topping:
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoon butter
small pinch of salt
 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix crust ingredients in a bowl and press into the bottom and sides of a pie plate or springform pan.

2. Combine filling ingredients in a blender pitcher and process until smooth (or whisk together in a bowl.) Pour into crust and bake for 15 minutes.

3. While pie is baking, mix topping ingredients in a bowl. Remove pie from oven and sprinkle with pecan topping, then return pie to oven for 25-35 more minutes or until a knife inserted 2 inches from the edge comes out clean. It’s okay if the center is still a little jiggly, it will firm up as it cools.

Serves 8

 Apple Pie

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(Inspired by this recipe with some tweaks to add spices and reduce oven temp. I also used a bit of the gluten free crust from the pumpkin pie to make a mini gluten free apple pie).
 
Pie crust for a double crust 9-inch pie (I used the refrigerated kind)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup coconut oil (because I ran out of butter, you can use 1/2 cup butter and skip the coconut oil if you like. I think butter tastes better)
3 tablespoons flour (or all purpose gluten free blend)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp saigon cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
7 apples (I used gala), peeled, cored and sliced (about 12 slices per apple)
 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (220 degrees C). Melt the butter and coconut oil in a saucepan. Stir in flour to form a paste. Add water, white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg, and bring to a full boil. Reduce temperature and let simmer over lowest heat.

2. Place the bottom crust in your pan.

3. In a large mixing bowl, toss the sliced apples with 2/3 of the sugar-butter mixture and stir to coat. Pour apples into the bottom crust, mounded slightly. Cover with a lattice work crust. Gently pour the remaining sugar and butter liquid over the crust. Pour slowly so that it does not run off.

3. Put the pie on a larger baking sheet to catch drips, and bake 50-60 minutes in the preheated oven, or until apples are soft and crust is golden.

Serves 8

Will you be making any of these this year? Let me know by leaving a comment! Please share this post if you think any of your friends would enjoy it.
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I’m curious, is it true that we can only absorb 20-30 grams of protein at a time, and rest is wasted?

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You will “absorb” 95% of the animal protein and about 80% of plant protein you ingest, no matter HOW much it is. Absorbing just means digesting and assimilating it, getting it out of your intestines and into your cells. That part is very clear, most people eat far more than 30 grams of protein at a time, and you don’t just excrete it in the feces. It gets absorbed.

“Needed”, “optimal” “used”and “wasted” are open to interpretation

What happens after dietary protein in absorbed is where the debate comes in about interpreting what is “needed”, “used” or “optimal”. Is protein that is oxidized for energy “wasted”? That’s as much an opinion question as whether it is less wasteful to eat the rest of your food when you’re full already versus throw it away.

If we’re talking enough to prevent deficiency and negative health outcomes like immune system suppression, edema, and other problems that come from protein deficiency: the number needed is quite low, 0.8 g/kg is appropriate for most people. (0.36 grams per pound). If we’re talking needed, you only “need” that much.

Above this lower limit, adding protein helps with increasing muscle gain, but it’s not the amount of total protein alone, the context of total calories has to be considered. Protein alone does stop providing muscle building benefit above a certain limit (which is much lower than most people think, the old bodybuilder mindset of a gram per pound bodyweight is rather high). At some point, the calorie is more anabolic than more protein, so for skinny guys who want to add some bulk to their frames but can’t seem to, I often have to tell them to stop force feeding more protein (which is blunting their appetite) and get more carbohydrates, which is an easier route to ingesting more calories.

It’s not a set # of grams, because the total calories have to be considered. 30 grams of protein in a 300 calorie meal is not going to have the same metabolic fate as 30 grams of protein in a 700 calorie meal. Likewise, someone in a calorie deficit will use their protein differently than someone in calorie balance.

If you are on a low total calorie diet (losing weight), not all the protein consumed is available for muscle building because some of it gets oxidized to meet fuel needs. If carbohydrates are in short supply, some amino acids will also be used to generate new glucose, and will also be taken out of the pool available for muscle building.

The benefits of protein go beyond building muscle

A higher protein intake has other benefits besides being used to muscle anabolism: which is my big beef with articles that say “your benefits max out at XXX grams, any more doesn’t add more muscle so don’t waste your time eating it.” I want to say “Yes, I know that, but above the level at which protein intake contributes directly to muscle building, it starts to do other things. Good things.”

Protein increases satiety via the CCK pathway (linear even above 30 g, it keeps increasing satisfaction to go from 40-50 grams and above – but at some point is too many calories, right? That’s why we dont’ eat 100 g of protein per meal.) Protein blunts appetite via elevated amino acids in the bloodstream, also linear, and this effect may even increase ABOVE the threshold for muscle utilization (essentially having EXTRA protein and nitrogen compounds in the blood seems to be part of the appetite suppressing effect).

Protein also moderates the glycemic response to carbohydrates, decreases muscle breakdown rate, increases (slightly) the thermic effect of food), and displaces sugars, refined carbohydrates and processed foods which have verifiable negative health impacts. All of these benefits do not top out at 30 grams of protein per meal.

I’m not saying eat protein endlessly

The reason I recommend keeping an eye on protein portions so they don’t get excessive is only CALORIES.

How much protein should you aim for then? For someone who’s interested in maximizing not only the muscle building effect but also the appetite-reducing effect (isn’t that most of us here?), the answer is “as much as you can get in while taking in enough fat and carbohydrates without going over your calorie needs”.

Here’s my no-calorie-counting recommendation, and the reason behind it

Fat needs to be about 30% of total calorie intake to hit the sweet spot of getting us to the next meal and maintaining metabolic flexibility without making our diet too calorically dense. It can wander up to 35 or maybe 40% in a very low carb scenario, but above 40% bad things tend to happen (energy intake climbs, cardiovascular disease risk may increase) and the body comp results aren’t as good or as lasting. Carbohydrates need to be also a minimum of 30-40% of total calories to support athletic activity and quality training, immune system support and adequate food volume (and uh…life quality for many of us). If someone is an endurance athlete, they need a substantial amount more carbohydrate but can get by on less fat, so it still leaves about 30-40% of total calories from protein.

Research shows exactly that: 30% of calories from protein is where benefits seem to really hinge for weight loss and leanness. Since most adults will lose weight on about 1600-1800 cals a day, 30-40 grams a meal (at 3 or 4 meals a day) puts you right there, or close enough.

So no, I don’t want you to count calories. But try to get a palm of protein at each meal, about ~30 grams, and resume enjoying your life.

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