Mindful Eating: A key to appetite regulation

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Life is as busy as you make it. Recently, I have been choosing to have an action packed life and it certainly has been fast paced. When I began my ketogenic journey, I implemented lots of time and thought into what I was eating, when I was eating, and why I was eating it. I have now realized that I was forgetting to address another key factor, how I was eating.

Appetite regulation is something that I have struggled with for the past year or so. I consistently found myself feeling hungry and there wasn’t a time that I would think about eating and it didn’t sound like a good idea. Sometimes, I would feel hungrier after a meal than I would before I had started eating it and I would only feel satiated when I could feel physical stomach distention. I often felt that I lacked will power and that is was a reflection of weakness. If you’ve never felt like this before, let me tell you that it is exhausting. The amount of time I spent thinking about food or trying not to think about food was absolutely ridiculous and negatively affecting my quality of life.

Well, it turns out these symptoms are not uncommon for people with Type 1 Diabetes. Beta cells in the pancreas produce insulin as well as amylin, a hormone that is secreted naturally when food is taken in to create the feeling of satiety. Since Type 1 diabetes is caused by an immune attack on these beta cells, people with type 1 don’t make insulin or amylin. This fact is not well known and was not shared with me by any of my endocrinologists over the past ten years. There is currently a product on the market called Symlin that acts almost identically to amylin and allows for the feeling of satiety when administered through injection. Like insulin in most cases, the injections must be taken prior to eating the meal to allow time for absorption. This would have been an interesting avenue to try as a solution for my hunger discomfort, however it is most commonly prescribed as a weight loss medication and my current physician had no intention of letting me try it for a quality of life issue. (Just in case you want some evidence to show your doctor: Dr. Bernstein references case studies in his book that show it has been effective for people with this problem.)

This is where the attention to how I was eating kicked in. Since taking Symlin seems to be for the most part out of my control, I took on the ‘do what you can with what you have’ mentality and began to look at my lifestyle choices.  I noticed that even though I was spending a large amount of time thinking about, talking about and preparing my food, I actually spent very little time eating it. I noticed myself standing at the kitchen counter eating my salad, drinking my bulletproof coffee on the way to work, reading during my lunch break, and I caught myself eating a handful of nuts in the pantry while trying to figure out what to eat next way to many times. It also surprised me when I realized that I was eating the majority of my meals by myself. Since I cook most everything I eat it made sense but I know realize it was far from ideal.

These realizations did not sit well with me and I felt that they could be a part of the symptoms I was experiencing. So like I do, I began to research it. I read about eating psychology and the importance of mindful eating. I learned about the profound differences that being in a sympathetic state (fight-or-flight) versus a parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) one can have on the body when you eat and how it can affect the body’s chemical and neurological responses. These responses directly affect digestion and the signals the body expresses as feelings that surround digestion. The science behind this seems to be well studied and is absolutely fascinating. I was quit shocked that it was not mentioned in the education I received while earning my bachelors in nutritional sciences.

I tried it, sitting down for a meal, taking some deep breaths, expressing gratitude, and enjoying my time to eat. I began inviting other people to eat with me or bringing my own food to eat among others and this seemed to help me be more present during a meal. Slowing down meals is easy and enjoyable however, implementing them as a lifestyle change has proven to be difficult. It has been a process and I presume that it will continue to be, but the improvements I have seen thus far in my quality of life have been dramatic. For the first time in a year I can actually stop eating a plate of food in front of me and decide I want to save it for later. It seems to me that society commonly blames will power for some of our eating habits and I am now a firm believer that it’s worth it to take a deeper look into the science and really evaluate what is going on in our bodies. The importance we place on will power could be distracting us from remembering to listen to the insight that our bodies have.

“The grass is greener where you water it.” – Neil Barringham

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I hope that this may help others that are going through something similar. If you are interesting in further reading, I recommend The Slow Down Diet, by Marc David and The Diabetes Solution, by Dr. Bernstein.

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