“If only I had enough willpower, I could control my appetite.”
If you’re like me (and most humans on planet Earth), you believe that appetite and over eating are willpower problems. Over time, this has become accepted as fact. Strengthening the “willpower muscle” seems to be the only way to control appetite, stop over eating, and finally achieve the body and fitness goals you’ve always wanted.
Despite this being my third healthy pregnancy, appetite and I still have regular mêlées: “I can’t be hungry again! Are you kidding me? I’m going to get huge if I actually listen to my appetite!” I totally get where you are. And I have some amazing news to share… courtesy of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating:
Appetite is not a willpower problem. Believing that appetite is a problem is, in itself, a problem but appetite regulation is so not a willpower problem.
Appetite tells us we’re alive. To live, we must eat. Appetite is here to make sure we keep eating and living. Extend this same principle to another live-sustaining act: breathing. What if someone came up to you and said, “if only I had enough willpower, I could control my need to breathe. I wish I could just stop breathing so much.” Hating this natural signal is to be unsure of your continued existence. Do you want to be here?
Wanting to control appetite is wanting to control the uncontrollable. This is mega theme in my own life and one that requires continual practice. Controlling appetite and natural appetite regulation are two very different concepts that we often confuse as one. Appetite is not controllable. Natural appetite regulation (and appetite disregulation) can be shifted by many factors such as macronutrient balance, rhythm, food quality, and much more. Let’s take a closer look at these first few:
Macronutrient balance means the relative proportions of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. A high protein, low carb diet often leads to carb binges because the body is carbohydrate deprived. A high carb, low fat diet will often lead to craving more food, in general, because the body is protein and fat deprived. With this one, however, “more food” typically presents as more carbs since the insulin pathway is overstimulated in the first place. Eating fats, proteins, and carbs at each meal will naturally regulate your appetite. Pretty cool.
Rhythm plays a huge role in appetite regulation and over eating. Eating very small or no breakfast/ lunch typically leads to a ravenous appetite in the evening. Eating small meals throughout the week can often lead to weekend binges. Very strict diets and cleanses can often lead to a period of binging. It happens. It’s human. It’s data for moving forward. Eating regular meals throughout the day/ week/ month will drastically soothe the ravenous appetite.
Food quality in relation to appetite is downright fascinating. Most people limit appetite to caloric deficiency signaling. While this is partly true, appetite also up-regulates during nutrient deficiency. In this instance, the body is searching for all the required nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. When the body is fed poor quality foods or the same foods over and over, it will signal you to eat more. After all, the more you eat, the greater the likelihood that the body will gain the missing nutrients. Eating nutrient-dense foods at each meal is a natural appetite regulator. Nutrient-dense foods are real foods—foods without ingredient labels, organic, and minimally processed. If you change nothing about what you eat and only the quality of that food, I guarantee you will see positive improvements in your unwanted eating behaviors.
Your appetite is not broken… YOU are not broken. You and I are on beautiful journeys and receive daily invitations to grow through our challenges. For me, pregnancy is bringing A LOT of my issues around food and body to the table. And to that, I say, “let’s eat!”