One of the frequently repeated claims about low carb and ketogenic diets goes something like, “I don’t get hungry anymore.” Many people find that being in ketosis suppresses the appetite. In some cases, the higher the ketones and/or the free fatty acids, the less desire there is to eat. But is this really true? If you follow a low carb diet, will your appetite go away completely? Will you never be hungry? I find this hard to believe, so let’s dissect this claim, shall we?
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (and if so, I thank you!), then you know I’ve reserved these Food for Thought Friday posts as my place to do a little ranting, albeit in a humorous way. I hope I’m not becoming too negative, though. It’s just that I get pretty hung up on language, and I don't like us playing fast and loose with how we say things. It’s probably the writer in me. So I got a little annoyed the other day when I was catching up on Robb Wolf’s podcast, and I heard Perfect Health Diet author Paul Jaminet say something about this phenomenon of magically disappearing hunger.
Before I launch into the rest of today’s
rant post, let me make it clear that I have nothing but
respect for Paul and his wife, Shou-Ching. I recently read Perfect Health Diet (PHD), and
I definitely learned a thing or two (or twelve). It’s made me rethink a few
things about my own diet, and I had more than one “a-ha” moment. (Can’t believe
I just used that odious phrase. Ugh.
But what can I say? It works.) There’s no denying that the PHD approach has given
people results when all else fell short: low carb, keto, strict Paleo, GAPS™, and more. Dr. Jaminet was describing the Perfect Health Retreat, which is a two-week total immersion in the Perfect Health Diet
lifestyle. You hang out at their beach house in North Carolina, eat
PHD-compliant meals (and also learn how to cook this way), do some fasting, and
participate in your choice of exercises, meditation, and educational lectures.
You regulate your circadian rhythm, and return home with a much better handle
on how to make this work in your life.
Here is what Paul said, verbatim, from the transcript of the podcast:
“One of the things people often find at our retreats is you know, that hunger disappears. You know and they just don’t have any hunger. Fasting becomes really easy and they’re surprised at how little they can eat and be totally hunger free.”
Really? Really? Hunger disappears? They’re never hungry? Never, ever? They’re “totally hunger free?” Upon adjusting to PHD, these people completely lose the physiological urge to consume food? Wow! Where do I sign? (I could save some pretty good money if I never had to buy food!)
Obviously, this isn’t quite what Dr. Jaminet meant. (I will call him Dr. Jaminet since “Paul” feels too informal, but for those of you who aren’t familiar with him, please know that he is not a medical doctor. He earned a PhD in physics. This isn’t reason to respect his advice any less; I’m just doing my due diligence. I wish the admins on Chris Kresser’s blog would do the same. I am a huge fan of Chris and have learned a great deal from him, but it really irks me when people leave comments and call him “Dr. Kresser,” and his admins don’t correct them. When it comes to natural medicine and alternative health, I am confident he knows way more than most doctors, but that does not actually make him a doctor.)
Okay, back to the topic at hand. If people following the PHD, or a low carb or ketogenic diet “don’t have any hunger,” then what ever—ever—makes them sit down and have a bite to eat?
Let's clarify what we mean. We do get hungry. Hunger, as a physiological drive, doesn’t “disappear.” What does disappear—at least, most of the time—is hanger. Irrational and illogical hunger go away. What do I mean by this? Illogical hunger is when you feel hungry an hour and a half after a meal. It’s illogical because it makes no sense that, assuming you ate a normal-sized meal, the food wasn’t enough to keep you sated for a whopping 90 minutes. (Of course, if you understand just a little basic biochemistry and physiology, then you know that this actually is logical, but only when this hunger is driven by blood sugar swings.)
See, it’s not that we never get hungry. That’s actually pretty ridiculous, when you think about it. A much better description of this phenomenon is: when we are no longer riding the ups and downs of the blood sugar rollercoaster, we rediscover how to interpret the signals our bodies give us, and we are able to have a proper response. What these dietary strategies do is normalize the biological signals that tell us it’s time to put some fuel into our bodies. We start feeling a little hungry when it’s been several hours since we last had something to eat, rather than because we’re crashing at the bottom of the aforementioned endocrine rollercoaster, thanks to the donut and fat-free latte we consumed.
Like I said, we feel hungry, rather than hangry. We’re not shaky, irritable, light-headed, or nauseous. We don’t feel like we’re going to murder somebody—our spouse and/or kids included—if we don’t get fed in the next fifteen seconds. We’re not going to gnaw our own arm off if someone doesn’t hand us a cookie, pronto. We have no cravings for something sweet while we prepare our real meal. We’re hungry, but we can wait a while if need be. We could even do a workout if we had one planned; we’ll simply work up even more of an appetite when we’re finished.
When hunger eventually comes on—and it does—it is hunger for whole, unprocessed, nourishing foods. A steak. A fatty pork chop. Lamb meatballs. Brussels sprouts with bacon. Roasted broccoli with garlic. We’re hungry, and we want real food. We recognize that our bodies are asking for nourishment, and we’re attracted to foods that will provide it. We’re not at all interested in shoveling in whatever’s handy, because whatever’s handy is typically loaded with sugar and refined grains.
So it’s not that the biological drive to eat goes away. What goes away is the false “hunger” that is not actually the body needing food, but merely the hormonal response to a rapid and precipitous drop in blood glucose. Rather than saying people following low carb, ketogenic, or Perfect Health Diet approaches never get hungry, it’s a better description to say that our hunger signals are driven by the actual physiological need for energy and nutrients. (Probably nutrients more so than energy. Remember, even a lean person has thousands of calories of energy stored in adipose tissue.)
But I know, I know. That isn’t anywhere near as catchy as saying hunger disappears. (I’m on a one-woman mission to quash sensationalist headlines and claims in the nutrition and health worlds. Told you I was bad at marketing…)
Remember: Amy Berger, M.S., NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition.