“Am I Dying?” and Other Hunger-Related Questions

Hunger is a tricky thing for people with eating disorders. We’ve disregarded it for so long that we forget what it feels like. I, for one, ignored my hunger until it became a perpetual part of my reality. I started experiencing it again in recovery, and I was honestly so confused; I kept asking my dietician “what’s happening to me? what am I feeling? what is this? am I dying?” Today’s post answers these questions and more. Read on to learn about hunger:

Question: What is hunger?

Answer: Hunger is the physical sensation generated by the body when needs more nutrients. It is caused by hypothalamic processing of the hormone ghrelin (lenomorelin), which is secreted by gastrointestinal tract in response to blow blood glucose levels and/or an empty stomach.

Q: How do you know if you’re hungry?

A: We all know about the obvious stomach growling, but hunger can manifest in many other ways, too. Symptoms include a churning, hollowness, or tightness in the stomach, lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting, headaches, muscle cramps, shakiness/jitters, rapid heartrate, exhaustion and fatigue, irritability/agitation, lack of concentration, and even nausea.

Q: What should you do if you feel hungry?

A: Generally, if you’re hungry, you should eat. Exceptions include if you are fasting for a surgical procedure, on a meal plan that dictates your intake times, or have been otherwise advised by a medical professional not to do so.

Q: Why are you hungrier on some days than on others?

A: Hormone, activity, and stress levels can all influence your hunger. For instance, women tend to require extra nutrition prior to their menstrual periods (on account of increased calorie expenditure), and cardiovascular exercise has been shown to stimulate appetite. Growing children will also consume more calories than average, and studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to inversely proportional food consumption.

Q: What if your hunger can’t keep up with your metabolism or vice versa?

A: A healthy individual’s hunger and fullness cues will be accordance with their body’s nutritional needs, and they will eat enough to maintain a healthy weight at a reasonable activity level. Of course, this is not the case for all people; a number of factors including metabolic syndromes, chronic dieting, eating disorders, autoimmune diseases, certain medications, and economic factors can disrupt the body’s natural rhythm, resulting in skewed conditions on either side. In such cases, dietetic services are required to prevent and treat the effects of malnutrition.

Q: How does hydration affect your hunger?

A: Apparently, 37% of people confuse thirst with hunger. This is primarily due to the lack of stomach volume presented by each.

Q: How do you know whether you hungry or thirsty and what should you do about it?

A: At times, hunger and thirst present with similar indicators, notably dizziness, fatigue/exhaustion, headache, nausea, muscle cramps, tachyarrhythmias, and stomach churning/emptiness. Thirst is often accompanied by the following differentials–dark urine, dry mouth, and perspiration. If you are thirsty, you should rehydrate with fluids or eat foods with a high water content (like melon). In the past, dieticians have advised patients to drink water fifteen to twenty minutes before a meal to make sure they are actually hungry, but due to frequent disordered manipulation of this guidance, doing so is no longer a common practice; instead, nutritional professionals recommend you hydrate throughout the day and honour your hunger signals.

Q: What is emotional hunger and why wasn’t it mentioned above?

A: Emotional hunger is a psychological craving for a certain food. It was not included in the above designation, as it is a separate biochemical process. Emotional hunger is a psychological phenomenon while physical hunger is physiological.

Q: How can you tell if your hunger is emotional or physical?

A: While both physical and emotional hunger can make you crave certain foods, they are very different in nature. If your body is craving something, it is because it needs a specific nutrient contained therein; any food containing that nutrient will satisfy it, and your craving will subside. In instances of emotional hunger a food is desired on account of its associations; that food and only that food will do. Emotional hunger also tends to be accompanied by a (typically negative) emotion; it comes on suddenly and does not respond to physical hunger/fullness cues (the processing and secretion of the hormones ghrelin and leptin respectively), leading to an over- or under eating of the specified food.

Q: What should you do if you experience emotional hunger?

A: A little emotional eating won’t hurt you. It’s perfectly normal to celebrate your promotion with a slice of cake or to pick up pizza from your favourite restaurant after a bad day. Just don’t make it a habit. Food can facilitate celebration and comfort, but it is not (and never should be) a substitute for actually dealing with your feelings.

Is there anything else YOU want to know about hunger? Drop your questions in the comments below, and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can. Have a delicious day, everyone, and Happy Spring! xo

Exercise in Eating Disorder Recovery

People in eating disorder recovery tend to completely avoid exercise. They have abused it in the past, so they see no point in returning to it; if it wasn’t healthy then, what good could it possibly do now? They figure the best option is just to give it up, but that’s not entirely true. Exercise is a necessary component of physical and mental health, and in MODERATION, it can behove your heart, blood, bones, and mind.

Dr. Jonathan Meyers put it perfectly when he said ‘exercise has a favorable effect on virtually all risk factors of cardiovascular disease’. This is attributed to a dipartite strengthening of the myocardial muscle and a simultaneous elimination of excess adipose tissue, both of which lower blood pressure, stress, and low density lipoprotein (“bad”) cholesterol. The former occurs when the heart gets the stronger and expends less force pumping blood (thusly exerting significantly less pressure upon the arteries) while the latter is causes decreases in body and size and consequent oxygen demand, lowering the rate and force which the heart has to pump. A reduction in body fat also lessens the risk for diabetes (ergo diabetic heart problems including diabetic cardiomyopathy and glycolic arteriosclerosis).

There is evidence, too, that exercise increases “good” cholesterol synthesis and survival (circulation) by 25% and 27%, respectively. It is involved in increasing the production and action of several enzymes that function to enhance the reverse cholesterol transport system (the uptake and excretion of cholesterol by high density lipoproteins). These enzymes are lecithin cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT), which promotes the esterification of free cholesterol and synthesis of HDL via lipoprotein core sequesterization and hydrophobic gradient formation, as well as lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which delipidizes LDL precursors (chylomicrons and VLDL) for energy expenditure and metabolism causing consequent decreased triglyceride concentration and remnant-based HDL synthesis. Furthermore, endurance training burns adipocytes (for fuel) and preconditions myogenesis, further raising HDL cholesterol by developing LPL synthesizing/secreting (muscular) tissue and decreasing LDL cholesterol through elimination of its partial moiety (triglyceride stores). As HDL cholesterol increases and LDL cholesterol decreases, the risk of cardiovascular disease decreases proportionally by 1% per mg/dL.

Exercise also benefits your blood and bones. Workouts expending 4.2 to 5 megajoules (of energy) per week can increase blood plasma volume by up to 15%, and the stress of weight-bearing induces bone-strengthening osteogenesis, the latter occurring when osteocytes signal the multiplication of osteoblasts. Bone disorders such as osteopoenia and -porosis can thereby be reversed and treated while blood disease and deficiency problems are remitted and managed. This is especially important for people with eating disorders, many of whom have low plasma volume and bone density values due to malnutrition.

Last but not least, exercise is crucial to mental well-being. It improves memory via neurogenesis and elevates energy by transiently increasing cardiac output (stroke volume x heart rate). Exercise is also known to tripartitely alleviate anxiety and depression through thermogenesis (heat production in certain brain regions resulting in feelings of physical and psychological relaxation), endorphin release, and activation of monoamine metabolic pathways. There is an additional correlation between exercise and self-esteem, attributed to the prerequired perspectival shift from body appearance to function, making you not only think but feel better!

The American Heart Association recommends three to four thirty minute sessions of moderate intensity activity per week. Ask your doctor if you’re healthy enough for exercise, and get up and get moving. Take a walk, try a dance class, do some yoga! Find what works for you and have fun with it!

(Thank you so much to Dr. Sheila Sahni and Kaleigh Kessler, RD for your help on this post. You are both spectacular and so, so smart.)