How often I have been told by patients on their first visit, “I know exactly what to do, but I just can’t seem to stick to the diets! I seem to fall of the wagon and not just eat a bit, but really binge-out”. Can you help me with my willpower?

To this question, I usually answer that I don’t have to help with their willpower, but the education into why they binge after starvation diets.

You see, in our blood, we have a concentration of glucose that should be a number ‘5’. This means, about 5 little bits of glucose per ‘drop’ of blood (very roughly!). This glucose is very important to maintain at a level 5, because it is our fuel, and, incidentally, the only thing that our brains can use. So, our bodies will do everything to ensure that the concentration of glucose (sugar) in the blood is kept up.

If, however, we don’t eat enough glucose (remember, all carbohydrates give us glucose), then the blood sugar level will drop (literally, we are running out of petrol). At this point, the body signals out the following messages:

  1. I’m hungry….eat something, and make sure it is a carbohydrate that will give me glucose: I’m running out. Then, if ignored……
  2. Hey! You haven’t listened to me: give me glucose, and give it to me fast! I am running out of petrol, and I will make sure that you will not think of anything else besides eating carbohydrates until I am refuelled. Then, if ignored further….
  3. Right! There must be a very bad famine, so I am going to initiate the full ‘Fight or Flight’ response now: you will become 100% geared to fighting and running to find food: you will become aggressive, single-minded, be entirely driven by the search for carbohydrates (and this time, not just any will do – we are running out so badly that you will go for the quickest-release and most calorie-loaded type because this is serious!), and you will switch off all other cognitive function that is not related to this search for carbohydrates!

It is at this stage, that we have reached breaking point, and it takes a very unusual person to be able to further ignore these survival signals, so we eat, binge and hastily replenish the flailing stores with the most suitable carbohydrate: quick-release and high in calories and fat (crisps/sweeties/cake/croissant/bread/chocolate). And now that you understand why, you will quite rightly agree that it IS the most suitable choice for the circumstances.

You see, not only does the body launch an illogical, aggressive and desperate ‘fight or flight’ response when our blood sugar levels drop. When our blood sugar levels drop, something else fairly disturbing happens in our brains; the amount of serotonin produced decreases dramatically. Serotonin keeps us contented, calm and rational. And these are the very attributes that we lose when we are on a restrictive diet and our blood sugar levels drop.

The answer is plain and simple; although stopping eating leads to rapid fat (and, largely, muscle) losses, it turns us not only into somewhat irrational, aggressive and exhausting people, but it also sets us up almost always for rebound overeating…and of the very things we know are not right for weight loss.

So, next time you feel like reaching for the crisps or chocolate croissant, first ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Was my last meal too long ago? Perhaps it’s time for me to get organised and have ready a sensible and tasty meal, with enough of the good carbohydrates in it.
  2. Was my last meal filled with the wrong (High GI) carbohydrates, which left my blood sugar levels plummeting soon after eating them? Always remember to study the GI list and choose the Low GI (slow release) carbohydrates, which will keep your sugar levels stable for 3 hours!)
  3. Was the last meal I had too small to fulfil my body’s fuel needs? Remember we need about 1 fist-size portion of LOW GI carbohydrates at each main meal (breakfast lunch and supper), and they should be accompanied with vegetables, salads, fat free dairy products and a little lean protein. If the meal is well-planned and chosen, sticking to a diet becomes very, very simple and uncomplicated. And remember that because the blood sugar level is kept only slightly higher than 5, your body is burning fat 24 hours a day, whilst you are happily satisfied, energetic, and NOT fighting back the fight or flight wolves!

Eat, drink and be merry. All of the time.

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