As you embark on eating lower carb (congrats again) you’re probably going to eat way more than you are used to eating, yet you’ll still feel ravenous. Don’t worry, this is normal during the first week or two of your diet change. Plus, worrying triggers the ‘sugar stress snowball effect’ in which constantly fretting about your diagnosis and diet changes—Did I make changes soon enough? Are they having an effect? Can I actually live like this?—can raise your blood sugar.
Your sense of satiety (from Latin satietas or ‘enough’) is something you may have taken for granted before your diagnosis. I certainly did. You may have waited until the waist of your pants began to strain just a little before you finished eating. But now that you have cut back on carbs, you will more than likely notice that the ‘fullness signals’ you previously relied upon are in flux.
When I started eating meals without major carbs, I literally felt as if there was—as the expression goes—no there there. Even with a full plate, it seemed like I was eating half a meal. I’d think, where’s the beef, so to speak. I was looking for the ballast provided by my old friends, bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. No matter how protein-y and hearty the dish, food tasted like mere sauce without my carb-y buddies, and I’d be hungry within an hour or two of eating.
And prediabetic women at (or approaching) mid age may be worse off on the hunger front because we face the double whammy of hormonal changes. For those outside this demographic, you may still be prone to hormonal imbalances related to stress and diet—such as too much cortisol— that can increase your appetite or result in weight gain that raises blood sugar.
Finally, if we’re dehydrated, we think we are hungry (because of our hypothalamus misreading signs). I should have paid much more attention to this the first weeks of my diet change! During an interview I did at that time, I am constantly licking my lips and swallowing like my throat is parched. It’s apparent now (when I watch the video and cringe) that I needed fluids, and that I was probably doubly hungry because of that. I’ve gotten better about drinking more water but to this day still have trouble maintaining my commitment to hydration.
Overall, the process of shifting your diet involves learning to recognize when you are physiologically full, rather than relying on external sensory cues and other psychological factors. As you consume fewer carbs (which once provided a reliable signal that you would be filling up soon) and experience less bloating (formerly a signal of fullness) you will be able to better isolate your stomach as your guide to fullness. You will increasingly be able prioritize the sensation of nutrients hitting your system, your blood sugar stabilizing (if it had been low) and your hunger disappearing as measures of satiety rather than, say, a need to push yourself back from the table to lie down.
Before you get there, you may just have to amaze yourself with the quantities of food you’ll put away. I say eat whatever you can get your hungry hands on in the no-carb protein and low-carb veg/fat departments! The pendulum will swing back and, further down the road, you’ll eventually get to that virtuous cycle of eating less overall, and more slowly, and rarely feeling overly full.