Discomfort these days, is something we all try and avoid. Luckily for us we live in a time where we can easily rid ourselves of it. For headaches, we take a pill. Upset stomach, there's a pill for that as well. Feeling cold, central heating will warm us up or we can throw on more clothes. Feeling hot, turn the air-conditioning on. Discomfort gone.
It's so easy to relieve ourselves of discomfort that it's now considered "not normal" to feel it, regardless of the cause. However, there is one cause of minor discomfort which can actually be good for us and that's hunger.
To understand why, it's important to know the body has two states when it comes to our digestive system.
- The fed state: when the body is fed, certain hormones such as gastrin and insulin are released into the body to aid in the breakdown of the nutrients and storage of food in the form of various substrates including body fat.
- The fasted state: this is the feeling of being hungry. The physiological processes within the body are different in this state compared to the fed state with different hormones being released. It's in this state the body burns the calories/energy we have consumed including, if needed, body fat.
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Both states are equally important in order to maintain a healthy body. Unfortunately, our desire to rid ourselves of discomfort of hunger means we're constantly in the fed state. As we continually eat or "graze" throughout the day to avoid hunger our body remains in the state where the food we eat is stored and we never enter the fasted state to burn calories. So, you can see why it's easy to gain weight if your body never enters the fasted state.
This is where feeling hungry being a good thing comes into play. The theory of alternating between fasted and fed states is the principle behind all intermittent fasting eating plans. Firstly, we eat and our body enters the fed state, storing nutrients for energy. Then we shouldn't eat until we truly feel hungry again, indicating we have entered the fasted state. In the fasted state the body burns off the calories and equilibrium is maintained. Calories in equals calories out, or if you're looking to lose weight, calories in should be less than calories out.
You will enter a fasted state once the food you have consumed has been absorbed and your blood sugar levels return to normal. How long this takes will depend on many factors, such as when and what you last ate as well as the speed of your body's metabolism. Feeling hungry can be a good indicator, but not always. Learning to differentiate between a craving and hunger is essential. For some, as an example, looking at chocolate can make them "think" they're hungry, while in fact their body is not in the fasted state, they just crave the chocolate.
One of the best fasting protocols is the 16:8 which involves not eating for 16 hours, ensuring your body enters the fasted state for at least a few hours. Then eating within an 8 hour window, the fed state. We do have to be sensible about fasting. You don't want to become totally famished by maintaining a fasted state for too long. This can result in binge eating and consuming everything in sight when you do allow yourself to eat again.
Becoming more mindful about when we eat as well as what we eat, along with accepting the fact we should allow ourselves to feel hungry for short periods of time between meals is the key to maintaining a heathy body composition.