So you’re just not hungry, huh? And when you do eat, you fill up after eating barely anything. If you feel as though you already don’t eat much and can’t possibly imagine eating any less, you’re not alone. But wait… the evening comes around and you’re famished! How could it be that you weren’t hungry all day and now you want to eat everything in sight?
There was a time when I woke up, I simply wasn’t hungry. So I’d spend my morning piddling around, go to the gym and finally get around to eating around two or three pm. I’d eat my lunch, and then suddenly be famished. Next thing I knew, I was following up my lunch with 20 or 30 dates!
In our culture, we've come to think that not being hungry is a good thing because you're less likely to eat "too much". We've been conditioned to believe that cutting calories and eating less is the only path to weight loss. When in fact, it's the same diets and trends that will likely cause weight gain in the long run. We end up passing on breakfast, skipping meals, and skimping on calories. The next thing you know, our hunger signals are all over the place and we're no better off (or are potentially worse) than when we started.
How Skipping Meals & Undereating Can Stall Weight Loss & Affect Overall Health
Taking some time to understand how skipping meals and undereating can stall your progress and potentially affect your overall health, may help ease your mind about the idea that you may need to eat more to get back on track.
Undereating and skipping meals can impact the metabolism more than we realize. When you eat low calorie for an extended period of time, go on one diet after another, or go a good chunk of the day not eating, your metabolism will down-regulate to become more efficient and preserve energy stores (fat) instead of burning them. This ultimately slows down or completely halts weight loss. Essentially, your low-calorie diet is now what you need to eat to maintain your current body. Therefore, you're no longer in a deficit and are no longer able to lose fat.
Of course, there's always the possibility that if your appetite patterns have you prone to binge eating, your calories were never in a deficit in the first place. In this case, you're still causing stress on your metabolism which comes with potential health issues (see below). And not being in a deficit will result in a weight loss plateau.
One of the main roles of the thyroid is to regulate your metabolism and maintain homeostasis. Not enough nutrients and elevated stress caused by dieting and skipping meals (and other life stressors) can cause low thyroid levels and therefore, feelings of coldness, depression, fatigue, and poor digestion.
Then there are your energy levels. Undereating will naturally cause your energy to suffer, therefore, affecting your workouts and overall daily movement. Since your overall energy expenditure is decreased, you’ll burn even fewer calories and won’t have the fuel needed to push yourself or for your body to build muscle.
And finally, the more you skip meals and undereat, and the longer the duration, the more likely you’ll experience hormonal imbalances. Women are more likely to experience these issues due to the fact that we’ve evolved to carry life and our bodies don’t distinguish between psychological and physical stress. In other words, our bodies don’t distinguish that we’re choosing to eat less or skip meals and there’s not truly a famine. Irregularities or loss of your cycle (amenorrhea) and fertility issues are your body’s way of protecting you from having a child in less-than-ideal conditions. Whether having a child or not is on your radar, when ovulation isn’t functioning optimally, you’re more likely to experience erratic mood swings, depression, anxiety, and more.
Signs of a Dysregulated Appetite
These are some signs to be on the lookout for that may indicate your appetite is dysregulated and your metabolism has adapted.
No desire to eat upon waking
Feel full after eating very little
Hungry soon after eating a meal or not hungry for several hours
Feeling famished in the evening
Signs of a Healthy Appetite
Contrarily, these are signs that your appetite is healthy, robust, and regulated.
Hunger first thing in the morning
Ability to eat a full meal and feel satisfied without feeling stuffed
Satisfaction for 2-3 hours before hunger sets in again
Not famished in the evening
Understanding Your Hunger Signals
If you’ve been skipping meals for quite some time and have one or more signs of a dysregulated appetite, your body has likely been conserving energy by withholding those signals from you. And while we love the idea of intuitive eating here at Pretty Healthy Family, we’ve found that intuitive eating is something that most people need to earn. This is because many of us simply can’t trust our hunger signals right out of the gate given they can fluctuate vastly one way or the other. But once you take the time to learn how much fuel your body needs to function optimally and to turn on the signals the way nature designed, you'll be well on your way to earning the right intuitive eating.
WHEN You May Need to Eat Despite No Hunger
Eating when you’re not hungry seems counterintuitive but sometimes it’s necessary to balance your hormones, upregulate your metabolism, and restore your hunger signals. These are some examples of when you may need to eat regardless of whether you’re hungry or not:
To put on muscle or build strength as fast as possible
To reignite weight loss in the event your weight loss has plateaued despite eating a low-calorie diet for an extended period of time
To improve your overall health and well-being
To speed up your metabolism to have the ability to eat more, even during a diet
Note that anytime you eat more than usual, you WILL gain weight… but weight is not always fat. It’s water retention, added muscle, undigested food, glycogen stores being refilled, etc. We recommend utilizing progress photos and measurements as scale weight can be especially deceiving during this process. It can be helpful to work with a coach during this process to monitor your progress and minimize any potential fat gain. If eating more causes any anxiety, increase slowly and add strength training to your routine to assist in speeding up your metabolism for the best long-term results.
Eating more is terrifying. I get it! Know that by doing so, not only are you protecting your overall health and well-being, you can still make progress and get closer to your goals.
HOW to Eat When You’re Not Hungry
Knowing you need to eat more to regulate your hunger signals is one thing. Actually eating more when you’re simply not hungry is a completely different story. These are some ways you can add more calories to your diet without being overly uncomfortably full.
Eat more of what you already eat. For example, if you enjoy yogurt with fruit for breakfast (or dinner!), throw a little extra fruit in your bowl or an extra quarter cup of yogurt.
Incorporate more calorie-dense foods. Think of foods like dates, whole milk yogurt, coconut cream, grass-fed butter, olive oil, or fattier cuts of meat.
Add a snack in between meals.
Drink your meals. Add a smoothie or juice to your meals to get in those extra calories.
Preplan your meals in advance to prevent you from forgetting to eat and unintentionally skipping a meal. One way to do this is by pre-logging your food into an app like MyFitnessPal the night before.
Slowly increase your calorie intake. By adding a little here or there, you’ll give your body time to adjust to the larger volume of food and ease up on digestive discomfort and any potential bloating which can lead to a false sense of fullness.
At some point, your appetite will return. And when it does, celebrate! Continue to increase your calories until you see the scale weight and/or measurements creep up week after week. At this point, stop increasing and maintain for as long as you were dieting, or a minimum of 6 months.
It seems natural to want to suppress our appetite; however, learning to work with it and not against it, is what’s going to help you reach your body goals in the long run as well as free you from the confines subconscious food rules have been holding you hostage.