This is a guest post by Christina Bell (see her blog), a registered psychologist in Edmonton, Alberta. Christina, a client, also did a video interview with me that you are welcome to watch.
My Low Carb Journey (2015)
Losing weight has been the biggest challenge of my life. Most of my weight-loss efforts would be sabotaged by pervasive feelings of hunger. Over the past year, I devoted a lot of time and resources to address this issue. I hope that this information will benefit others who struggle with pervasive hunger when losing weight.
1) Eating a low-carbohydrate diet with a caloric intake slightly below maintenance
This meant no bread, pasta, grains, beans, fruit, or high carb vegetables.
Breakfast: 3 eggs, two cups broccoli, 2 tbs ghee.
Lunch: 300 calories of sunflower seeds, two cups broccoli, 1 red pepper, 2 tbs coconut oil, 1 bar of 99% Lindt dark chocolate.
Supper: 7 oz salmon, 2 tbs ghee, 2 cups broccoli, 2 cups coconut milk, 1 scoop vega protein powder.
This averages out to about 1700-2000 calories. Drastic caloric restrictions would make it difficult to sleep, as would intermittent fasting. Anything somewhat sweet spikes the false hunger.
Note: Christina’s diet closely follows a low carb, lectin avoidance diet.
2) Cutting out natural and artificial sweeteners
These would create false hunger. This included Stevia, and Zevia (a pop made with Stevia). This was difficult as I was very addicted to Stevia.
3) Maintaining a moderate work-out schedule
I used to work out hard in order to lose weight, which created a lot of hunger. I now use exercise as a body sculpting tool and for overall health improvement.
My routine: hot yoga three times per week, Doug McDuff’s Big Five workout once per week, and HIIT intervals 30sec on/40sec off for 8 minutes once per week. I combine the Big Five and HIIT into one session and do the intervals first.
4) Eating dark chocolate and drinking coffee
I eat a bar of Lindt dark chocolate 99% every day, which is expensive but worth it. Bitter tastes and bland foods seem to curb my false hunger. The addiction of dark chocolate has been one of the biggest factors in decreasing my hunger. Be careful of 90% or less dark chocolate, as I get addicted to it.
Taking a shelf-stable probiotic with a high bacteria count (30 billion). I have found the Now brand (50 billion) curbed my hunger a bit, but I’m now using a shelf-stable one from Healthy Origin, with 30 billion. If probiotics are not shelf stable, they can lose a lot of their potency in the shipping process.
6) Sleep, Meditation, and Journaling
Working on overall health, which includes aiming for eight hours of sleep, meditating (30-40 minutes per day), and journaling.
7) Eating protein powder
I eat the Vega protein powder once per day, which helps with satiety.
8) Counting calories
I used cron-o-meter to track my energetic intake and would enter the caloric totals into an excel spreadsheet. Each week, I average out my caloric intake and make notes about how I felt. This keeps me on track, and also gives me data about what works for me. Repetition of food helps me to count calories. I have used myfitnesspal and find it helpful as well. I will often go back and review my spreadsheet when I find myself getting off track, so I can refer to what was working.
9) Avoiding any food that is addictive
Now that I’ve balanced my diet, I am aware of the intense cravings and preoccupation that certain foods could trigger. This means that I have to eliminate “safe” or healthy foods from my diet, as they are difficult to moderate.
10) Working with a nutrition specialist
Through the internet, I was able to work with several nutrition specialists who were helpful in different ways. I would recommend finding someone who seems to be into self-experimentation and has a genuine passion for healthy living.
What didn’t work or had limited benefit:
- Most supplements. Glucomannan (Now brand) did help curb the hunger, but it left me feeling gassy and bloated. I used to mix a teaspoon of the powder with cocoa and stevia, making a chocolate pudding. I have spent thousands of dollars on supplements over the past few years, and most have not made much of a difference in my energy levels or hunger.
- Antidepressants. They did help curb my hunger initially and improve my sleep, but this only lasted for two months. I often felt tired during the day. I tried Trazodone and Zoloft.
- Intermittent Fasting (IF). I love the idea of IF, and it did seem to make a difference with my hunger some days. However, it didn’t seem to impact my false hunger much overall. I even did a few 48-hour fasts, which were easier than I thought. However, I lost a lot of hair a few months later and wondered if this hair loss (telogen effluvium) was due to the shock of fasting to my body.
- Protein restriction. After reading about the research on protein restriction and longevity, I decided to increase the fat in my diet and decrease the protein. I ended up feeling very hungry when I restricted protein to 40-50g per day. I now eat around 120g per day.
- A plant-based diet. A few years ago I tried eating a plant-based diet after watching the documentary, Forks Over Knives. Initially, my hunger decreased, but then I had out of control bouts of gas. I was also eating a lot of carbohydrates, and didn’t feel satisfied. I was eating 300g of carbs per day, and would eat cups of carrots and ranch dressing after dinner.
- Extreme caloric restriction. In the spring of 2015, I became frustrated with my lack of weight loss and decided that I was going to “white knuckle” it through caloric restriction. I reduced my calories to 1200 per day for two months. Although it was easier than I had anticipated, I ended up binging one day after a night of poor sleep and eventually gained all of the weight I had lost back.
A few Other Points…
- Ketosis. From January – March 2015 I religiously tracked my blood ketosis levels and found that higher numbers did not correlate with lower hunger. My conclusion was that the overall calories I was eating were too low. There are a lot of benefits to ketosis, which includes more energy and clarity of thought.
- Weight loss. This has been extremely difficult. Right now I am focused on slowly losing weight, and keeping the false hunger in check. I wish I could show you some pictures of a svelte figure, but the truth is that I would like to lose about 10 more pounds. Also, minor transgressions in my diet can lead to quick weight gain, and this phenomenon seems to get worse every year!
- Making changes too quickly. I have tried many recommendations over the past year and implemented too many changes too quickly. This can lead to feelings of confusion, and change fatigue. It is also different to understand what is working when you change multiple factors. I would suggest making one change every month, and tracking your progress. Change is much slower than we think it is!
It is important to note that everyone’s body is different. I recommend keeping a journal and making notes of what does and does not work for you. Be your own scientist.
I consider my eating and health to be an ongoing project with ups and downs. This year, my focus is going to be on maintaining the positive eating changes I have developed, as well as turning my focus more to helping others and addressing deeper personal issues.