When your blood sugar drops, your brain is hard-wired to eat the nearest, quickest thing and that usually means something processed.
Thinking you can use willpower to wait until you can find something healthy contradicts how your brain is wired.
Willpower is a high energy resource, coming from the highest energy part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex (PFC) – so when your brain senses that it is low on fuel (blood sugar), it does two things immediately:
- Starts turning down activity and access to the high energy parts of the brain, starting with the PFC.
- Forces you to frantically eat the nearest, easiest thing to get blood sugar back up ASAP.
Bye bye willpower. Hello crummy (and sugary) food choices.
Then, about 15 minutes after you have eaten your crummy food choices, hello guilt and shame. The reason for this is because that crummy food did indeed give you some quick fuel, which enables your PFC and willpower to come back online and say, “Wow, I step out for a minute and look what you go and do!”
Then the cycle repeats (even as soon as an hour later) and you find yourself automatically overeating, bingeing or just eating whatever happens to be in front of you again, without even “thinking” about it (seemingly anyway, but now you know why).
This is what I call the crummy crisis cycle circle. I used to fall prey to it too, but not anymore because I’m “fat adapted” (more on that below), but there are very few of us who are nowadays. 5,000 years ago, we all were, but since the agricultural revolution and especially in the last 50 years, thanks to the sugar explosion, 99.4% of people now are sugar burners. So, since I’m most likely talking to a sugar burner here, below is a 4 step strategy to prevent the crummy crisis cycle circle.
1.) Be sure to have a crisis food pack handy at home and on the go.
Here are some of my favorite snacks I have on hand at home and/or with me at all times:
- Fitness chocolate in the fridge at home and in a cooler bag with me.
- Canned wild salmon and Salmon Jerky.
- Jerky (wild bison, grass-fed beef or organic turkey).
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and pumpkin seeds are the superstars).
- Kale chips (Costco is cheapest).
- Trader Joe’s freeze dried broccoli florets.
- Hard-boiled eggs (from pasture raised hens if possible).
- Pre-cut cucumbers, peppers and celery in Ziploc baggies (pair with guacamole or try this tomatillo salsa).
- Avocado, right out of the shell with a spoon, with a little salt.
- Any organic cheese snack and string cheese.
- Valley Fresh 100% natural white chicken pouch.
- Bumble Bee chicken breast pouch or pink salmon steak pouch.
- Chicken of the Sea salmon pouch.
- Organic sliced turkey breast and sliced cheese (roll them together for yummity goodness).
2.) When you do eat, eat slowly and mindfully. Your hunger/satiety mechanism takes 20 to 30 minutes to register that you are full, so when you eat slowly, you will have eaten less food during that 20 to 30 minutes, making overeating much less likely. Also, studies show that when you eat mindfully (taking time to chew thoroughly, savor the food, sense the taste, texture, etc.), your brain becomes more satisfied, which brings on feelings of satiety faster.
3.) Use the Hunger Scale technique, so you don’t let yourself get to the “frantic” point. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being on the verge of passing out from intense hunger and 1 being stuffed so full you think you might barf, rate your hunger at the moment. If it’s an eight or higher, you’re frantic. If it’s a three or lower, you just overate. I eat when I’m at a six or seven and then stop eating when I’m at a four (which is still a little bit hungry, but 10-15 minutes later, I’m at a three, which is satisfied, comfortable and content). When I do get to a seven, I tend to top out there and can stay there for hours without any mood changes or frantic feelings. How? Because I’m “fat adapted,” which leads me to the next step below.
4.) Become “Fat Adapted.” Once you are fat adapted. Your brain won’t get frantic anymore from sensing blood sugar drops, because it will have learned that it doesn’t need sugar as a fuel anymore. It’s learned that it needs fat instead and even an extremely lean person like me has days worth of fuel on my body sufficient to power my brain and physiology. Sugar on the other hand, has limited storage potential in the body, so the brain is always trying to replenish it quickly whenever it senses it doesn’t have enough. Fat adapted people are no longer slaves to the blood sugar cycle and can always think clearly, with plenty of willpower because they always have access to their PFC. Since fat stores are plentiful, the brain doesn’t go through the shutdown process of the high-energy areas like the PFC. When fat adapted, your hunger hormones like leptin and ghrelin are also in balance and working properly, so that is the best long term solution by far!
Thanks to Dr. Hyman for his great post on this subject and inspiration to me for writing my own. Also, be sure to get his amazing book Eat Fat, Get Thin! I’m not getting anything from him to plug his stuff either. I’m just a big fan!