Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 Aug

When Listening to Your Body Doesn’t Work

Hunger largely comes down to perceived energy and/or nutrient insufficiency. Your body thinks that it needs more calories and more energy, and hunger sets in to get you to eat the food that contains those nutrients. Now, if perception matches up well with reality – if you truly do need more nutrients – things are good. You need some food, you eat some food, and you stop when you’ve had enough. In this situation, listening to your body is a good idea. That’s what all those Primal people (including me) are talking about when they tell you to “just listen to your body, maaaaaaan,” because for those people, it truly is that simple. Eliminating the excess carbs, the refined sugar, the grains, and the processed seed oils while adhering to the other Primal laws regarding exercise, sleep, stress, sun, and all the rest was enough to right the ship.

But that’s not everyone. Sometimes perception does not match up with reality. Sometimes your body thinks it needs more nutrients when it really doesn’t, for a variety of reasons. This isn’t actually an example of your body lying to you, since your body “believes” what it’s saying, but the end result is the same: you eat something that you really don’t need. It’s a bit like how your friends and family who worry about you eating all that fat and protein try to push bran muffins and whole wheat pasta on you. They’re operating under a fundamentally broken set of assumptions, but they mean well.

So, why does this happen? What’s going on when someone’s sense of hunger is broken? When doesn’t listening to your body work?

When you can’t access your stored body fat.

Body fat is stored energy; it’s long-term, slow-burning fuel that our bodies love to use, and should be able to use very well. But what happens when you can’t burn it very well?

You burn sugar instead. After all, you need energy from somewhere, and research shows that those who have the most problem with hunger – the obese and the formerly obese – burn more carbohydrate than fat, whereas those who generally don’t have much of an issue with hunger – the lean – burn more fat than carbohydrate. Problem is, our ability to store glucose as energy is inherently limited and dwarfed by our ability to store fat as energy. We can store pounds and pounds of the latter, while the former is perpetually scarce. We can keep only around 100 grams of glucose on hand in the liver and 400 grams in the muscles, depending on their size. That won’t last very long, and once it’s used up, you need more food – especially if your ability to burn body fat is impaired. When you need more food, you get hungry. If your body is used to burning sugar, you’re going to crave sugar. The resultant sugar craving is very real, because sugar is what you “need,” but it’s not what you need.

So, if you’ve had success losing weight with Primal eating, but still have trouble curbing your appetite, this could explain why –  you may not be totally fat-adapted. You can, and likely will, but it will take time.

When you’re insulin resistant.

Remember how I said insulin is an indicator of nutrient availability in Monday’s post on carb feeds? Heck, some have even gone so far as to call insulin a “satiety hormone.” After all, it can cross the blood-brain barrier into the brain, where it interacts with various systems to tell the body that food has been ingested and is currently digesting, and that maybe you don’t have to eat for a bit. Of course, that’s only the case if you’re insulin sensitive. If you’re insulin resistant, your body/brain won’t get the message that insulin is trying hard to convey.

Thus, insulin resistance promotes hunger. You eat, and insulin is released, but your body tells you to eat some more despite the much-ballyhooed ability of insulin to act as a satiety hormone.

When you’re addicted to junk.

What if you weren’t actually even phsyiologically “hungry”? What if your body didn’t think it was missing nutrients or fat or carbs – but rather it just wanted another hit of that sweet, sweet junk food? Last week, I showed how our brains and bodies respond to pleasurable, tasty foods by secreting endogenous opioids – brain morphine, really – that, together with dopamine, cause you to want more of whatever food triggered those secretions. This wasn’t a problem back when we only had access to real, whole foods like meat, plants, fruits, nuts, and roots, because those foods didn’t act as hyperstimuli of our reward systems. They caused modest, appropriate opioid and dopamine responses in the brain, promoting repeated consumption but not compulsive overconsumption. Fast forward to today and it’s a very different world full of people doing odd food-related things that make absolutely no sense:

People eat cans of Pringles and become immediately disgusted with themselves for doing it. They’re repulsed by the Twinkie even as it makes its way into their gaping maw. They throw up in their mouth at the thought of  McDonald’s “chicken” nuggets, yet find themselves in the drive-thru after work, ordering a value meal despite themselves.

It’s crazy on its face, but it actually makes perfect sense at the same time, because our natural reward systems have been hijacked by a constant barrage of delicious (but gross) food. You want the stuff even if you currently have no physiological need for calories.

When you are compelled to eat junk, don’t listen to your body. Eat something Primal, something nourishing, something that approximates what you’re craving only using real food. So, if you want some Sour Patch Kids, grab some raspberries. If you want a Big Mac, go for a grass-fed burger over salad.

When you’re experiencing reactive hypoglycemia.

Normally, you eat some food, your blood sugar goes up, insulin rises to take care of the nutrients, the nutrients are partitioned to their respective holding places, your blood sugar normalizes, and all is well. You’ll get hungry again, only when you need the food, when your body truly needs an input of energy. In some people, however, eating food (especially carbs) causes the pancreas to secrete an inordinately large amount of insulin, way more than you actually need. Your blood sugar drops from its postprandial high, but the insulin goes above and beyond, and your blood sugar continues to plummet past “normal.”

Your body implores you to “eat, eat,” even though there’s no real need for added energy; it’s just that your low blood sugar is indicating a need for caloric energy. In people with well-functioning metabolisms, lower blood sugar generally matches up with a need for calories and nutrients. In the reactive hypoglycemic state, the two do not match up. Hunger is constant, but you’re not really nourishing yourself. You’re just eating to push up that blood sugar.

In one sense, listening to your hypoglycemic body is working, because eating carbs raises your blood sugar and you feel better. But in the long run, it isn’t working, because you’re eating more than you need to eat, you’re gaining weight, and you’re not fixing the situation. Sticking with foods that don’t elevate your blood sugar to such dizzying heights (protein and fat) should give you better control over your blood sugar.

When your sleep is bad.

I harp on the importance of sleep all the time, and I’m going to do it again here. Lack of sleep isn’t just bad for alertness, circadian rhythm regulation, stress hormone secretion, bags under the eyes, exercise performance, etc., etc.; it’s also a potent appetite stimulator. Furthermore, not sleeping also worsens glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, meaning when you do (inevitably) eat, it won’t sate you and you’ll be more likely to store it as fat. You’re also more likely to eat junk when you don’t sleep, because it increases the brain’s susceptibility to food stimuli.

When you’ve had a bad night’s sleep and your body is craving food, eat. Don’t fast, because that’s just heaping one stressor on top of another. Eat something you know is good – pastured bacon and eggs, a Big Ass salad, some sweet potato. And get some sleep, so it doesn’t happen again.

In all these situations, we are faced with a decision to make: do we listen to our bodies and feel “better,” or do we ignore them and do what’s “best” for us? There are no easy answers. If you’re not yet a fat-burning beast, you’re in for a rough time. If your blood sugar gets low enough, you might faint. Ignoring your body’s cries to eat something probably isn’t a good idea in that situation. If you haven’t slept, you should probably eat, but not junk. At some point, however, saying “no” to your body’s signals or figuring out how to fix the broken machinery that’s precipitating the messages is going to be necessary. That’s where something like the 21-Day Total Body Transformation, which removes the guesswork from all this so that you follow an established framework, or the 90-Day Journal, which provides a foundation for doing your own “formal guesswork,” comes into play.

Your body may appear to be working against you, but it’s doing it’s best. It’s responding to perceived physiological needs, even if those perceptions are misguided and confused. Whatever you do, don’t despair. Don’t give up. You’ve got a great community here, folks who’ve been there and back again, folks who can help you get things moving in the right direction.

In future posts, I’ll be discussing some other instances where the body’s messaging should be viewed with suspicion, so stay tuned.

Now let’s hear how you guys have dealt with confusing hunger messages in the comment section. Until next time, take care!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This was me 50lbs ago. Listening to a body that was lying to itself. I feel certain that I have become fat-adapted as a result of going Primal. It has made such a difference in my life. I’m no longer a slave to constant hunger! A benefit I did not know I would receive when changing to what just seemed like a healthier, more logical lifestyle. How about the role of leptin in all this?

    Thanks for this post. I will be sending it to friends who are in the miserable insulin-resistant boat.

    Tina wrote on August 1st, 2012
  2. Also.. When you’re deficient in one or more vitamin or mineral (which most Americans are).

    Jeffrey of Troy wrote on August 1st, 2012
  3. Ok, this is a burning question of mine I haven’t been able to find the answer to. I know there’s a big, “it depends”. What I’m curious about is: does anyone have any numbers for the amount of glucose burned during different types of exercise? How about glycogen?


    Chris wrote on August 1st, 2012
  4. I wonder if nursing is another reason why the body is holding onto excess fat? I’m about 70 lbs overweight and we started eating primal last summer, I got pregnant shortly thereafter and we continued eating primally through the pregnancy. I only gained 12 lbs and after the baby was born, I had lost 12 so back to my pre-pregnancy weight. We are back on track now, after the recovery of a difficult birth (baby is almost 2 months). But the scale stays the same. I’m not gaining, but I’m also not losing, and I’ve been really hungry even though I’ve eaten and should be satisfied. I’m just wondering, what should I do between meals when I’m feeling really hungry? I want to eat peanutbutter, or chocolate, or even a couple more eggs? It’s hard for me to tell if I’m really hungry or if it’s its the spoiled child in my gut crying out :) Would love to hear some tips on eating primal while nursing an infant.

    Jenni wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • Have you read this page?

      I’ve never nursed, but a lot of it really makes sense. I would say not to push yourself too hard until you are done nursing.

      Sarah wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • You do need a lot more calories while nursing an infant. If you are hungry – EAT. Just make sure it is healthy, primal food.

      Heather wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • Check out Primal Parents. They also have a recipe for grain-free nursing cookies. You need about 700 extra calories a day when nursing (not that it does me any good to know that, since I have no idea how many calories I’m eating, ever), especially fats, so there is some reason to be hungry while nursing. And it is widely reported that the body does not let go of the last few pounds (particularly hip and thigh fat, high in “brain fats”) as long as you’ve got a nurseling.

      Lauren wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • congrats on your new baby & good for you for breastfeeding! Babies need lots of calories/protein/fats from breastmilk & your body works very hard to keep up a good supply. Eat healthy food whenever you truly feel hungery during this time in your life- your baby’s brain & immune system are still developing & you want to be sure that you are providing the best. I’m still bf my 2.5 yr old & even though we’re down to only 3 feedings (before bed, 1x in night, & upon waking)I have found my weight loss to totally stall about 10lbs over, though I’ve eaten primally for 2 yrs & have been whole/organic for 10 yrs. Some women lose fast while bf, some do not. I do not & you may not either. It was irritating to me for a while, but accepting it allowed me to release the burden of frustration & just enjoy this special time in my life. good luck to you & love that baby!

      Kristen wrote on August 4th, 2012
  5. I stopped eating the sugar/carbs and the hunger subsided. But if I eat a little bit of sugar, it’s like I have to start all over again. That’s frustrating! But when not eating sugar or carbs, I don’t get any cravings at all and that’s cool!

    KarenJ wrote on August 1st, 2012
  6. I don’t think I’ve seen the answers to these questions yet, and this post seems appropriately relevant:
    How would you know if your muscles were fat or sugar burning? There is enough glycogen stored to get a marathon runner to the 20 mile mark of the 26 mile run, at which point they would bonk/ crash if they couldn’t draw on fat stores. However, running a marathon to test the fat/sugar burning of ones muscles seems to be a rather crude test. Especially for those of us who can’t run.

    Certainly if I eat only steamed potatoes, with no added fats, and only when hungry I am supplying my brain with glucose, my muscles with glucose, my body with amino acids, and my body has to draw from its fat stores for the remaining energy. But since potatoes are only one calorie per gram I would have to be burning some fat stores to stay alive.

    Is this then putting my muscles into “fat burning” but my digestion into “carbohydrate burning”?

    And how would I know?

    Jason Harrison wrote on August 1st, 2012
  7. I have had a very good start this time round with eating this way and felt so so much better until yesterday. Then ate 1000 calories of almonds and then today tonight had to buy some 70% chocolate 100g just to keep going.

    I was never ever going to get above 126 pounds again and it’s crept up to 148. I don’t feel right, clothes look awful, don’t feel sexy. I felt wonderful when I changed how I ate and I must make it last but it’s hard. My two new (large size) dresses arrived yesterday and they just look awful because I’m 30 pounds too heavy.

    May be I feel bad because the high from being on holiday is over and working hard and the sun went in. I won’t sleep well tonight either as I react badly to cacao in chocolate like a drug which makes me hyper.

    EnglishRose wrote on August 1st, 2012
  8. I am an insulin dependent diabetic and struggled with maintaining level blood sugars. I was on a blood sugar roller coaster!! This was before going primal!!! I am starting my 9th week of my new lifestyle and have “normalized” my blood sugars!! I have not had to take my fast acting insulin since beginning and cut my long acting insulin in more than half!!! My average glucose since starting is 107!! I feel soo much better and can’t imagine going back to eating SAD!! My body is functioning how it was created to function!! I do listen to my body and eat when hungry but can fast without low blood sugars!! I am soo happy to finally feel in control rather than my diabetes controlling me!! Thank you primal!! 😉

    Jewels wrote on August 1st, 2012
  9. Great post. I’d love to see more along these lines.

    I have Addison’s disease and as a result, very messed up hormones. I’ve read lately that cortisol is necessary for converting stored fat into energy – and with my impaired production of cortisol I’m wondering if that contributes to my near constant hunger – I can eat and eat and eat and rarely feel full. I find that I need more carbs to just keep up my energy some days

    Heather wrote on August 1st, 2012
  10. Love primal, still pretty much a newbie (6 months). Been able to Intermittent Fast quite well and hunger is not much of a problem so I hope that I am burning fat, although the scales are not showing it. I do not lose weight easily at all. Interesting thing is that even when I try very hard to get into ketosis, I can’t seem to make to happen. What does that mean?

    nic wrote on August 1st, 2012
  11. Man… I am struggling big time with the sleep thing. Sometimes I have to be to work at 6 a.m. sometimes 6 p.m. and anywhere in between is fair game too. Some days I work 5 or 6 hours, some 10… Any suggestions on how to somewhat regulate my sleep? Anything that helps you fall asleep fast? Feel free to message me with any suggestions!

    Jena wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • If you can: Get ready for bed, and once you are all set, instead of getting into bed, lay down someplace (not the bed) and meditate a few minutes. That should settle your mind and get you relaxed and ready for real sleep. I find the body gets into routines very easily, and if/when your body begins to realize that “Hey, sleep comes after this meditating stuff,” then is should happen easier, no matter what time of day.

      Oh, and a blindfold and/or blackout curtains help with the light. It’s best to have it pitch dark. And cut out the blue light (TV, phone) an hour before you want to sleep.

      Nicole wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • One of the things that worked great for me was taking a backyard heavy black trash bag and taping it over my windows. The black out curtains didn’t do it for me and every night before sleep I rub lavender oil all over my feet then my pillow. I sleep so much better than I ever did before and love the total darkness. Cover up all light sources!

      LESLIE wrote on August 2nd, 2012
  12. I read most of these post and the simple answer is that most of you ARE NOT low carb and that is why you are having these problems. Carrot chips? really? might as well just just a tablespoon of sugar in your mouth. And as for those of you who are eating rice and these so called “paleo breads” you people ARE NOT paleo so dont call yourselfs paleo. Paleolithic man would have NEVER eat rice, most of them ate all meat or mostly meat. Berries were available a couple weeks of the year and the only people who wouldve eaten larger amounts of fruit and coconuts and yam were the people in tropical climates and they didnt eat these things when flesh was available. You people are just simply addicted to carbs, next time you get sugar craving eat butter untill your satisfied. Thats what will help, not carb loading. Gylcogen loading a major dietary blunder and most people that do it feel like shit after. check out this video

    Bennett wrote on August 1st, 2012
  13. I’ve been VLC for a few years and have good labs and maintain normal blood sugars (diabetic, no meds), but seem to be tired and haven’t lost an ounce since menopause. I thought it might be adrenal fatigue and added some starch to my diet. Now I am having mood swings! Shades of my PMS days! Could they be related to the sweet potatoes? Women are definitely more complicated than men.

    gibson girl wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • How much sweet potatoes are you eating? I power lift and only eat maybe 1/4 of a medium sized potato once a week.

      Carla wrote on August 1st, 2012
      • And that’s yams, not sweet potatoes.

        Carla wrote on August 1st, 2012
  14. Hi Mark; What’s about long distance marathon runners, africaans the most gettin first places?, Do they store also lots of “muscle fat” energy?, they look pretty slim to me?, or what kind of shift in metabolism is requierd to get there?, thanks. Luis Mtz. (Mexico)

    luis martinez wrote on August 1st, 2012
  15. I always feel like I’m starving to death when I don’t get my sleep. I feel like that now.

    Susan wrote on August 1st, 2012
  16. I just can’t seem to make the cross over to burning fat. It’s because I’m a vegetarian, and nothing I eat really satisfies me. I’ll have some fruit for snacks, but I really get disgusted with the sweet taste sometimes; I just don’t know what to curb my hunger with anymore. How much eggs can I eat? Nuts? Dairy? I just had some dried fruit and I feel gross. But I know it’s a good sign that I’m not used to sugar anymore. But I crave it still! Especially an hour after eating. I feel like I am in limbo. How can I cross over as a vegetarian? I am sick of being hungry and having my brain all fuzzy and getting exhausted FOR DAYS after the lightest physical effort. I can’t do meat. I’m traumatized.
    PS:I love this website Mark, it has been life changing, and this is truly a very supportive community.

    Ro wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • Having never been a vegetarian I’m not in an informed position to help you out with incorporating meat into your diet. I’m sure there are some lovely people here that will be able to give you some great ideas. In the interim perhaps increasing your intake of good fats like avocado and nuts would help. I believe Mark recommends a diet of 60% fat so you could eat quite a lot of avocado, nuts and other fats. I find for myself that these foods stave off hunger and give me energy so perhaps they would help you too?

      Kitty wrote on August 1st, 2012
      • Thank you for your reply Kitty. I’ve been eating at least an avocado a day and lots of nuts for the past month, and upped my olive oil and dairy intake to replace the carbs I usually consume from fruit; but it seems I have only been ADDING the fats, not replacing the carbs! I know, I know: I should quit fruit- but they’re such a refreshing light snack! As opposed to say avocados or butter, too much of which will give me reflux, so I can’t really work up an appetite for them sometimes. Anyone else has that problem? What other fats do you snack on?

        Ro wrote on August 2nd, 2012
        • I love coconut oil and sometimes just get a spoonful. Try a green smoothie with and avocado, bananas, mixed frozen fruit and some almonds with stevia maybe some spinach. Blend it all up and sip throughout the day not all at once. My DH loves these and so does my 3 yr old. Cheese will help a lot too, explore with different types. Most people get stuck in cheddar. I Love imported provolone with some italian olives.
          The mental thing is a big issue also I know when I was lowfat I would talk to myself constantly about how gross fat was and could make myself sick just thinking about eating something greasy. So when you try some meat tell yourself how nourishing and healthy it is and how your body needs it.

          LESLIE wrote on August 2nd, 2012
    • I feel like I am asking an obvious question, but do you eat fish? That may be helpful. Just a thought. I wish you luck!

      Nicole wrote on August 2nd, 2012
      • Leslie, thanks for the support and for the smoothie recipe, I will try it soon! I do venture into a lot of of different kinds of cheeses, my favorites being halloumi, goat cheese and emmental (which I basically eat with everything: it is especially good with apple slices). I don’t think fat is gross at all, just that sometimes too much of it will make me feel sick. I have yet to try coconut oil on its own! Dark chocolate is one of the few things that I feel gives me a good boost of energy, without weighing me down.

        Nicole, thank you for your reply, and no I have yet to work up the courage to eat fish! I know all my problems will be over when I can get myself a date with a can of tuna, or a grilled salmon. Some day. *sigh*
        In the mean time it’s eggs, cheese, yogurt, nuts, avocados, salads, veggies and fruit for me, occasional lentils, and occasional (u’h’um, everyday) dark chocolate.
        Thanks for the support!

        Ro wrote on August 3rd, 2012
  17. This is an excellent post, and very helpful/hopeful for those of us who have been struggling with food and weight issues for most of our lives. Although it has good intentions, our bodies simply have NO practice in being healthy and therefore cannot be trusted. I’m hopeful that I’ll make it to the point where I CAN listen to my body, but this post makes me see that I’m not alone, and that makes the struggle more bearable. Thanks Mark!

    Stacie wrote on August 1st, 2012
  18. I am not having any problem fighting the carb cravings. My issues relate to the habit of “gnoshing”. Idle hands make for too many snacks. I used to munch on peanuts, cookies, crackers, candy, etc. Now when I get those urges I reach for the macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts or a little Trader Joe’s 85% dark chocolate and at least I’m eating things that shouldn’t kill me! As I’ve gained more control I have reduced the quantities of those snacks and even gone to eating raw veggies. Thanks, Mark, for outlining this program. I can honestly say that I feel like I am saving my own life by being Primal. Down 35 lbs in 5 months. Strong as an ox, energetic, and consistently in a better mood than ever before. 75lbs to go!

    JeffC wrote on August 1st, 2012
  19. another great article — thanks, Mark!

    tess wrote on August 1st, 2012
  20. My biggest struggle continues to be breakfast. I am tired of eggs every day and I have not found the right recipe for a quick smoothie using whey protein. Anybody have any suggestions for me for primal breakfasts on the go?

    Mike wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • I used to HATE whey protein smoothies but I found ways to make them tolerable, even yummy. I make them with 1 scoop of whey, about 4 ice cubes, a cup or so of almond milk, a spoonfull of coconut oil, and about a scoopfull of either milled almonds or milled flaxseed, I also add a little Cinnamon, maybe nutmeg, and even tried sesame seeds once. I sometimes put in kale cuz I can’t stand it unless the textures hidden. The fat you add will make it more filing, and the protein will come from the whey and the milled almonds/flax. There will be very few carbs and it will have a slightly nutty taste to make it much more palatable. Sometimes I have to get up quite early for work and can’t bear to make mysel feat something so early so I’ll make a smoothie which is easier to consume and will keep me going till lunch or sometimes even till dinner.

      Liz wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • Primal Blueprint, US Wellness and Natural Factors all make excellent whey protein powders – there’s even vanilla and chocolate flavors. I drink whey smoothies several times a week. I add coconut milk, kale, spinach, frozen berries, sometimes coffee in the morning. Fabulous and easy.

      My other go-to breakfasts are raw veggies & almond butter, canned fish (sardines, salmon etc) or salad with leftover chicken.

      mars wrote on August 1st, 2012
      • +1 for the Primal Fuel–it’s quite tasty, though if you don’t like the taste of coconut, you might not find it so.

        DarcieG wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • Hi Mike,
      I get sick of eggs too, so I occasionally make a Paleo Breakfast Bread.
      I don’t add sweetner to it, and use about half the honey it calls for. I’m really not sure how primal it is, but it helps me enjoy breakfast again, and sticks with me until lunch. I have it with organic sheep’s milk yogurt (it can be dry if overcooked).
      It’s quick and easy to make and the kids love it too.


      Kate wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • Maybe a green smoothie? Handfull of spinach, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup milk (or coconut milk), tablespoon of coconut oil, fruit if desired. I actually crush 1 square of 83% dark chocolate in mine for an extra kick. I blend mine the night before, stick it in the fridge, shake vigorously before consuming.

      Nicole wrote on August 2nd, 2012
  21. While I was going through recovery from anorexia athletica, under strict supervision from my “team”, I was instructed to eat A LOT of food. I was restricted from including vegetables from my caloric count and encouraged to eat complete junk; burgers, fries, burritos, pizza, chips…all of it. I LOVE vegetables; this was difficult.
    I appreciate that I’m alive. Although, my “team’s” approach caused massive swings in my blood glucose to the point that I had to by a glucometer to avoid dangerous levels of hypoglycemia. I was told to consume sugar, if this happened. Of course, by following their instruction, I was quickly making matters more chronic and of course, I got FAT. I’ve never been fat. I was devastated and FAT. Aside from this, my body was reacting by swelling up like a balloon with severe edema. They couldn’t figure this out either; REALLY?
    About halfway through the process of this so-called recovery, I buried myself in research and literature and proposed to my doctor that sugar and “starchy” carbs were clearly the culprit. I was right; they were wrong; educated/trained professionals. My dietitian, thankfully, agreed with me toward the end. I sense she knew, but was afraid to cross the line as a new consultant. My doctor said he’d consider my concerns and I never heard from him again. I like him as a person, but I believe he made big mistakes.
    I have a kicker – every day of that miserable recovery, I told my husband that I was craving protein and fats. I just started the primal way of life 2.5 weeks ago. 4 months ago, I moved home, took my diet into my own hands, lost a slow 15lbs and recovered from the edema. Since I’ve gone primal, I’ve lost ~5lbs and can go for hours and hours without eating…much like I remember pre-anorexia. Phew. Thank you, Mark. You’ve sincerely confirmed everything I’ve been saying for 2.5 years…and no, I really didn’t know much about this approach until recently 

    Heather wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • I am completely relating to Heather’s important comment and story…for it is mine precisely. I too had anorexia athletica as well as restrictive anorexia post ill-informed, yet perhaps well-intentioned “team” advice..I too was instructed to eat anything and everything…mostly junk and sugar…and I ended up with horrific edema and fat..I was also instructed to get the minimum of physical activity in a day..and to stay in bed, take frequent naps…and it just served to make me fat with more weight than I ever carried when eating normally..I had severe joint pains in my shoulder, low energy, acne (first time in my life!), depression and disgust with the new foreign body. I suppose I followed my team’s advice to “carb load” because I knew I needed to gain weight, and I thought by doing so I would “refind” my menses and my metabolism would finally “kick in”..My “team” informed me that this would eventually “happen”…although, it never did. I went from 32 kilos to almost 60 kilos during this “recovery” period..nearly one year!.. before I decided to listen to my body’s call to rediscover physical activity (long mind-cleansing walks) cut out the grains/sugar/baked goods/starchy carbs and upped the protein/healthy fats component of my diet. I too delved into research regarding food’s effects on the body and happened onto your life-saving, informative site..and have regained energy, health whilst losing the pregnancy-mimicking edema and fat. I feel much more like my pre-anorexia “normal” self…listening to my body’s call for healthy, nourishing fare…and I want to thank you Mark…Heather…and the incredibly intelligent MDA readers/commentators and their contributions…I feel truly in recovery thanks to all of you.

      Donna wrote on August 2nd, 2012
      • Donna – your response gave me chills. Albeit necessary (for me, at least), it’s such an unusual and unpredictable circumstance to encounter. Each time I feel I’ve returned to normal, another week passes and clarity returns in another dose. The entire process of an ED simply puts you to sleep. The pathway back to health is a myriad of old, yet re-learned experiences and this, as you’ve mentioned, has proven to be the final piece to a long-awaited “me again”. I offer heartfelt acknowledgment to you, for making it through.

        Heather wrote on August 3rd, 2012
  22. Thank you Mark. Ignoring my body and doing “what’s best” has been my battle cry for the last 2 yrs or so! Ya, not good. And my sleep – what is this “sleep” you speak of!LOL – not really a laughing matter. The ONLY time in my life (I’m 43) I’ve been able to really rest/sleep was the weeks that followed a hysterectomy (I was “made” to rest – it was hard!). Too Sad, I know.

    Anyhoo-great, great post.

    Lucy wrote on August 1st, 2012
  23. great article. i really liked how you encompassed so many different areas regarding hunger.

    Marissa wrote on August 1st, 2012
  24. I had a mad craving for banana bread as I was reading this…that “replace with primal” concept was key, ate a bunch of bananas.

    John Wade wrote on August 1st, 2012
  25. I think it is all a matter of “retraining” our bodies. We have been hijacked by food companies, nutritionists, and leaders. I have found that over time, the body starts to wise up a bit. Once the good quality nutrition comes in on a regular basis, you stop craving the junk so much.

    Joe wrote on August 1st, 2012
  26. I have insulin resistance/PCOS and tend to have low blood sugar – something my ND wants me to avoid due to also having an autoimmune disorder. Many times I don’t eat when I know I should and it catches up with me sooner than later. I guess its easy if you have a “normal” metabolism and not all of these issues.

    Carla wrote on August 1st, 2012
  27. What about your gut bacteria? If advantageous bacteria are not in check you can easily be ruled by nefarious bacteria and beastly yeasts and their endless hunger for sugar.

    KD wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • I completely agree, gut bacteria is important to address. My struggles with cravings for sugar & especially dairy are gut bacteria related. Those nefarious bacteria & beastly yeasts that you refer to thrive on the sugar in both. So when we remove sugar these nasty “creatures” starve, and the only way they can survive is by changing the way we think by making us crave the foods they need. They are parasites after all and we know parasites are able to change the hosts they live off. Whenever I get cravings I just think of all those nasty microbes I’m killing off – ha, take that suckers! :)

      Tania wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • absolutely! we have 10x more bacteria than cells in the human body! if our bacteria colonies are health-promoting, we’re in good shape, but if we have a lot of bad bacteria our bodies can respond in lots of negative ways. Eating/drinking lots of probiotic ferments has helped me tremendously :)

      Kristen wrote on August 4th, 2012
  28. I have a (potentially stupid) question…if you are obese or overweight and consistently eating primal, why do you get hungry at all given how much stored energy there is on your body? Is it simply that you are still not fat-adapted, or is it that your body is asking for nutrients rather than more energy?

    I have about 140lbs to lose total, and I have dropped 75 so far eating primal. I can definitely go much more extended periods of time (10-12 hours)without feeling hungry than I did when eating a carb loaded diet, and my cravings are almost non-existent, so I am just curious why I get hungry at all when I still am in the obese category of body fat/weight. Thanks!

    Caz wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • I think you are right regarding the nutrients. Plus, I think the body is hard-wired to want to survive, and I think hunger is triggered before the “lets consume myself” trigger. I could be wrong… anyone else out there have an idea?

      Oh, and Congratulations on the weight loss!

      Nicole wrote on August 2nd, 2012
  29. great article! it is important to maintain the body.
    I used to eat lots of carbs in my teens and 20s, and then when i gained weight i decided to try atkins, yes i did lose weight…but when i stopped i gained it all back. Fast forward a few years and i realized the common sense of the paleo way of life, and it makes sense, and i don’t have cravings for carbs any longer! But i am anemic since childhood, and get dizzy spells since 06 which i believe are reactive hypoglycemia…does anyone have recommendations for tests to do? I do plan to do hormonal tests.

    kiss wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • your could have dizzy spells from hypoglycemia – easy to test for. get yourself a glucose meter at the drug store and prick your finger and see what your blood sugar actually is during an episode. it’s also very possible that you produce little insulin (because you are low-carb) and thus are sodium depleted. If you get dizzy upon rising or have episodes where you feel dizzy (like you’re going to pass out), you should dramatically up your sodium intake and add some carbs back to your diet and see if that helps. For some people, low-carb = low fluid volume, which =’s low blood volume which causes periods of low blood pressure. the trick is to increase the fluid volume in your body to maintain your blood pressure.

      jess wrote on August 1st, 2012
  30. Since i switched to paleo/primal i have found myself significantly more hungry all the time while still eating around the same amount of calories. I wonder if it is my bodies way of telling me that i should keep eating the way i am or if it is missing the grains and sugars. Whatever it is i try to deal with it by eating loads of primal foods but they are definitely not as satisfying as, or maybe just not as calorie dense, as processed foods.

    What is accepted as the time it takes for the body to completely adapt to primal living? After 18 years of a standard diet i would imagine it takes quite a while.

    Ben Primeau wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • I was absolutely starving during the first 3 weeks or so after going paleo, and I believe most people come out of the carb-coma within a month. if its been longer than a month make sure you’re eating enough fat, and search around the site for more wisdom.

      Carin wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • Carin is right, you are hungry because (according to what I have read around the site, too), you need more fat (energy). Make sure you are eating enough protein, too — about 1 gram for your desired body weight. I have found that if I am hungry and know I shouldn’t be, it’s because I didn’t get enough protein that day.

      …and all this I learned from MDA and TPB. Mark is the best!

      Nicole wrote on August 3rd, 2012
  31. Great post. But why no mention of leptin?

    Hannah wrote on August 1st, 2012
  32. I’d love to see a take on insomnia. \

    Erin wrote on August 1st, 2012
  33. I can attest to the lack of sleep, I’ve been having sleep difficulties for the past 2 weeks roughly and I’ve noticed that when I eat now, I don’t get satiated as quickly and instead of my body telling me that I’m full, it’s more so me telling my body that it’s time to stop eating.

    Also, I’ve been eating some junk whereas I usually never touch the stuff as I normally have zero desire to, and I find myself getting hungry sooner than normal as well as for longer.

    I’ve also noticed that I’m looking a little softer in the mirror, not to mention that I haven’t been feeling as full of energy either.

    Definitely a little frustrating and annoying plus I’ve got a final exam in a week from now that I’m trying to prepare for but the lack of sleep is no help as it zaps my concentration and motivation. Gonna have to dig deep to beat this.

    Groking Around wrote on August 1st, 2012
  34. Stress throws off my eating signals. All I want is sugar. I started a new job a month ago, and I’m not happy, and it’s a struggle just to maintain my weight. I really am not hungry, but I want sugar.

    Heather wrote on August 1st, 2012
  35. I am 5’11” and was 220 when eating the standard American diet. My wife is 5’4 and was 160. In January of 2011 we switched to a very high fat diet, basically primal plus liberal amount of raw grassfed dairy. . When I say high fat, I mean high fat: 75% of calories. I averaged 4500 calories AND lost 55 lbs in 3 months. My wife lost 45lbs. I still eat 4500 calories a day but have maintained an ideal body weight for over a year. I really think saturated fat is the answer. It is the ideal fuel of the human body.

    Gene wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • I was curious, what kinds of fat to you eat to get 75% of your calories. Congrats on the weight loss! That is awesome! (and something I really hope to have one day)

      Linda wrote on August 2nd, 2012
  36. Would love more on this topic, particularly on low metabolism. I’m hypothyroid and constantly fight the weight battle in spite of being primal. I typically workout with kettlebells about 5 days a week (been doing it for 6 years now) and run 2.5 to 3 miles the other two days, sometimes do both, i.e. run then workout. I also sleep 8-9 hours a night. Still fight the weight battle!

    Kettlebell Witch wrote on August 1st, 2012
  37. My exercise instructor just told me that because I have type A blood type that I need to go on a vegetarian only diet with no red meat with only white fish and vegetables. This seems contradictory to what I’ve been reading to lose weight. I am currently on a hight protein no carb diet.

    She also said that I need to limit my exercise to a lower stress level – minimal weight lifting and cardiovascular exercise and concentrate on yoga. Pleae advise.

    Please advise

    Keiki Sierman wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • From what I have read, the blood-typing method is only one method/theory. According to my blood typing, I am a “mixed type” who should eat equal parts carbs and protein. Yeah, no. I don’t think Grok examined his blood type, he just ate what he could get his hands on.

      Regarding working out, barring injury, I say do what you feel like you can do. I run a mile, then Lift Heavy Things (my own body weight). Or jog a warmup and sprint. It depends on what I feel like doing that day. Most trainers’ learning is based on CW and the SAD, so I have not bothered with one in quite some time, though I am sure there are quality trainers running around.

      Nicole wrote on August 2nd, 2012
  38. great discussion. i am having some trouble now. I had lost 14 lbs. two years ago and achieved a wonderful leanness and clarity and strength never experienced before eating and living primally. Now at 5’3 i am up 7 lbs. from ideal weight since january (a 7 month roller coaster ride). i had achieved a wonderful satiety and leanness and maintained for 1 1/2 yrs. eating primal. 7.7% body fat and very athletic. Used to sleep well and eat 80 / 20 primal. But now, now i am turning 50 and have been struggling with midnight “crazies” since January / Feb of this year…every 5 nights I snap, get haunted by the decadent foods my college age kids make / buy and zombie down stairs and i give in…this erratic behavior has made my weight creep up, well, let’s say SPike, and then i restrict (IF) for the next so many days to try to return to homeostasis. i feel dysregulated with hunger, satiety…IS this peri menopause? i am still fairly lean 10% bodyfat on my small frame, but i don’t feel “right”. anybody else (females) going thru similar midnight cravings and battles…?

    dani wrote on August 1st, 2012
  39. I went about 3 weeks with pure primal food. Chicken, vegetables, nuts, etc… I got to the point where I felt faint from lack of energy. I had to actually go eat at Yogurtland, and I piled on the sugar!

    I’m trying to find a balance. I’m getting my sugar from Trioplex bars now, and everything else is primal. Any advice on WHERE I can get carbs for energy?

    Rob wrote on August 1st, 2012
    • I think you almost made it but not quite. I didn’t feel great until after a month of complete paleo eating. It takes some bodies longer than others to make the switch, during that time I, like you, felt faint. Now I never feel like that, even when going longer stretches without food.

      Carin wrote on August 1st, 2012
  40. I do not crave junk food and I literally wanna throw up when I do indulge (which only happens when I did not prepare my meals ahead) I am a sucker for healthy foods and I am down to only eating when I feel the hunger pangs- but many a time I needed a drink of water and not so much food. Excercise keep me diciplined when it comes to choices re what to eat and what not to. I love being health concious and sticking to “primal” foods!
    All I know is that I do not crave junk foods at all-quite strange!

    Mish wrote on August 1st, 2012

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