Introduction: I’m Always Hungry, and I Can’t Lose Weight
It’s January 2 and Naomi is ready to start keeping her most important New Year’s resolution: Go on a diet and lose weight! She’d like fast results to keep her motivated, so she picks a low-carbohydrate diet that a friend has recommended, one that has her cutting her food intake to 1,000 calories a day. Just as her friend has told her, Naomi loses ten pounds in two weeks, and she is ecstatic.
Of course, she’s hungry all the time—but she knows the weight loss will be worth it, and with an iron will, she sticks to every detail of the diet. When the two weeks are over, the diet plan becomes less restrictive, and Naomi breathes a sigh of relief. But she’s still always hungry; and then, suddenly, she stops losing weight.
Frustrated and disappointed, Naomi toughs it out on this new diet for another few weeks but then finally gives up in despair. She goes back to eat- ing the way she did before, continues to feel hungry—and by April 1, she is actually five pounds heavier than she was on January 1.
Shana also has a New Year’s resolution to keep—in fact, it’s almost the same as Naomi’s: Start a diet and fitness plan and lose weight! Shana normally consumes about 2,000 calories a day, so she goes on a low-fat diet that is somewhat less restrictive than Naomi’s—down to 1,500 calories. At the same time, she joins a gym, signs up with a personal trainer, and begins a vigorous fitness program.
Shana notices that she, too, is hungry all the time, but during her first week on the diet, she loses five pounds, which motivates her to keep going. A few days later, however, she hits a hard plateau and the weight loss grinds to a halt.
Frustrated and hungry, Shana cuts her calories back to 1,300 per day and steps up the exercise. She manages to lose another two pounds—and then, again, a plateau. Her fitness instructor encourages her to tough it out, but the following week, Shana has actually started to gain back some of the weight she’s lost. By April 1, she is just about three pounds less than the weight at which she started her diet and exercise plan, and she’s more frustrated and hungrier than ever.
Greg would also like to lose weight, so on January 2, he works with a nutritionist to follow a super-healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, no grains, and no starches—about 2,000 calories a day. He hasn’t been able to make time for exercise, but his nutritionist assures him that this diet will work if Greg sticks to it faithfully.
For breakfast, Greg enjoys a protein shake with fresh blueberries buzzed in, or perhaps a hard-boiled egg and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. For lunch, he eats a salad with salmon or turkey and low-fat dressing. For his afternoon snack, he has a nonfat vanilla yogurt and a skim decaf latte. For dinner, he broils some chicken with barbecue sauce or simmers it in some of his mom’s homemade tomato sauce and steams up a big bowl of broccoli. All day long he drinks water flavored with a couple of lemon wedges, or maybe has some decaf coffee with nonfat hazelnut creamer.
Greg began this diet on January 2, and he sticks it to faithfully every day, never exceeding his allotted 2,000 calories. By April 1, he’s lost just over three pounds, most of which he dropped during the first month. To make matters worse, he feels hungry all the time. What’s going wrong?
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? Have you been starv- ing yourself on a diet, running yourself ragged at the gym, or eating an apparently healthy diet, yet you either can’t lose weight or can’t keep the weight off—plus you’re hungry all the time? Have you been blaming the problem on your lack of willpower? Your “fat genes”? Your “big bones”? Your lifelong lousy metabolism? Does it sometimes feel like you’re the victim of a conspiracy to keep you overweight and hungry?—that everywhere you look you see desirable food you’re not supposed to eat, and yet even when you resist it, your weight stays on?
Believe me, I understand. I’ve helped thousands of people who feel exactly the same way dealing every day with hunger and frustration. I know I can help you, too. I’m going to show you how to beat each of these scenarios—how to lose your excess weight and keep it off, without being hungry.
Does that sound too good to be true? I promise you, it is true. The Appetite Solution can be your solution: steady, significant weight loss without feeling hungry, until you ultimately achieve the metabolism of a teenager. You can keep eating many of your favorite foods, you’ll never feel like you’re starving, and when you do achieve a teenager’s high-powered metabolism, you can even indulge periodically in some missed treats.
If that sounds good to you, stick with me. Let’s start by taking a closer look at why so many diets fail.
A Dieter’s Three Pitfalls
Three major pitfalls prevail with dieters, and most people fall into one, two, or all three:
- They begin a diet by cutting calories, and by default, their protein intake.
- They start a diet and a fitness program at the same time.
- They don’t know how to recognize simple sugars, especially the hidden ones, versus complex sugars, which occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Naomi, Shana, and Greg each fell into a different pitfall, but they all had one thing in common: Each of their diets left them feeling hungry.
In the world of dieting, that should be your first clue:
Any diet that leaves you feeling constantly hungry is almost certainly doomed to fail.
Why do I say this? Well, first, of course, the hunger often means that you simply can’t stay on the diet. It’s very difficult to keep denying yourself the foods you enjoy in the face of a punishing hunger—especially if you’re not losing weight.
But even if you do stick to your plan, a diet that leaves you hungry is messing with your metabolism. Anything more than a mild hunger after the first two or three days of a diet is a sign that a process known as adaptive thermogenesis has kicked in. And adaptive thermogenesis is going to make it virtually impossible for you to lose weight. It always wins.
The Perils of Adaptive Thermogenesis
Adaptive thermogenesis is the mechanism that your body has evolved to keep from starving to death or wasting away when you can’t get enough to eat or have to exert yourself more than usual. Adaptive refers to some- thing that has adapted in response to circumstances. Thermo means “heat,” that is, energy, or calories. Genesis comes from the Latin for “generation”; so thermogenesis is the generation, or production, of heat in the body.
Put that all together, and adaptive thermogenesis means that when your body perceives that you aren’t getting your usual amount of food, for example, on your brand-new diet, it will do everything in its power to adapt by conserving energy—to stop burning calories and to force you to seek out more calories. Likewise, when your body perceives that you are exerting yourself more than usual, for example, with your brand-new fitness program, it will again adapt to conserve energy, ensuring that your new vigor- ous activity burns as few calories as possible.
Note that adaptive thermogenesis kicks in when you aren’t getting your usual amount of food and when you are exercising more than usual. That’s what makes it adaptive. Even if you are switching from an unhealthy level of calorie intake to a healthier one, even if you are finally getting some much-needed healthy exercise, your body still responds (“adapts”) to the change, not to the absolute level of your diet or activity.
As a result, any decline in calories and any increase in exercise sends your body straight into panic mode, terrified of starvation or exhaustion. Adaptive thermogenesis always does its darnedest to hold on to every possible ounce of weight.
Now at this point you might be wondering: “Then why does my diet seem to work at the beginning? How did I lose that first five or ten pounds?” Great questions.
Although some diets, like Greg’s, never do get going (and in a minute I’ll tell you why), Naomi and Shana did lose weight initially, even though they gained some of it back or hit a plateau fairly early, after only a small loss. Why?
Well, here’s the dirty little secret that most diet books won’t tell you. That initial lost weight is almost always muscle mass and the water that goes with it. Cutting calories and starting a diet-plus-fitness plan at the same time does not induce your body to get rid of fat—instead, it causes you to lose muscle.
Don’t Let Your Body Eat Itself for Breakfast!
Most of us think of “losing weight” as “losing fat”—but that’s not what happens when you are hungry. Eating a low-calorie diet might help you shed a few pounds, but when your body thinks it’s starving, fat is the last thing to go.
Maybe you, in your twenty-first-century culture of plenty, would like to lose those extra fatty layers, but your ancestors, back in the hard times, clung to that fat for dear life—literally. Body fat kept those ancestors warm. Body fat was a source of stored energy. Body fat was what a woman needed in order to menstruate and to get pregnant and to carry a child. Body fat was what people lived on all winter long.
Muscle, by contrast, is a luxury. Yeah, muscles are nice for pushing boulders and chopping trees and other types of vigorous activity. But if food is scarce, you don’t want to be burning up calories running around exerting yourself. You want to conserve energy, not expend it. If your body believes that it isn’t getting enough food, it would much rather eat up its muscle than burn off its fat. So when you start most diets, that’s exactly what it does, devouring muscle to make up the difference between the amount of calories you usually eat and the amount you just started eating.
So after your first week on a reduced-calorie diet, you look at the scale and think, “Great! I lost five pounds!” You don’t realize that that was the five pounds of muscle which your body ate to compensate for the food that you didn’t eat, plus the water that your muscle contained.
Then, within ten to fourteen days, adaptive thermogenesis helps your body reset. It jiggers your metabolism to burn fewer calories with the same amount of exercise and to hold on to more calories with the same amount of food. At this point, you’re still eating up your own muscles even though you’re not losing weight. Your body is keeping things as much the same as possible, using your muscles to make up for any reduction in calories. It’s an ingenious system, and it might have saved your life back in the Stone Age, but it can sure drive you crazy now.
This is why I say that hunger should be your first clue that a diet isn’t working. Hunger is a sign that adaptive thermogenesis is at work, ensuring the following outcomes:
- You will initially lose some weight as your body consumes some of its own muscle and the water it contains.
- You will eventually remain at a steady weight, no matter how little you eat or how much you exercise, as your body figures out new ways to conserve energy. In fact, if you restrict your calories more and ramp up the exercise further, you might make it even harder to lose weight because your body will be even more alarmed and will work even harder to prevent that. Your hunger will increase—but your fat will not disappear (though some more muscle might).
Eventually, as Naomi found, you might experience a third outcome that is even less desirable than the other two:
- You will gain weight because you have started to eat a bit more than you did on your restrictive diet—but now your metabolism has been reset down to “low intake,” so it uses those extra calories to store some extra fat.
We’ll learn more about adaptive thermogenesis in chapter 1, along with another fat-storing trigger—stress. Any time your body is stressed, it thinks, “Starvation!” and a whole cascade of stress hormones join forces to incite fat storage. And guess what? Cutting calories is a stressor, and so is a new fit- ness program, and so is unquenchable hunger itself. Once again, persistent hunger is your danger signal, letting you know that your current approach to diet is not working.
That’s not a danger signal you will get while following the Appetite Solution. Because I’ve been working nonstop with overweight and obese people for the past two decades, I know exactly what prevents weight loss—and what enables it. I have figured out how to foil adaptive thermogenesis, with an approach that no other published weight-loss program has yet tried, but which I have used successfully with countless patients. And I have made sure that from the morning of Day 4—and for many of you, even earlier—you will never feel more than a mild, pleasant hunger every four to five hours—exactly when it’s time for your next meal.
After the first two or three days, hunger is a danger signal. Any diet that causes you to be more than mildly hungry beyond that point is inciting adaptive thermogenesis and stress—both of which cue your body to hold on to fat.
The Sugar Saboteurs
I’m going to share my secret weapon with you in just a minute—the nutritional strategy I have developed to foil adaptive thermogenesis. But first, I want to point out that there is another reason you might be exces- sively hungry—long before the next meal, too soon after the last meal, or maybe even all day long. Greg ran into this pitfall on his supposedly healthy diet, for a very common reason: his diet contained far too many simple sugars.
When I explain this to people who are living on salad greens and salmon, they look at me in bewilderment, unsure whether I’m teasing them, have misunderstood, or maybe have just gone off the deep end.
But I’m dead serious: Greg’s apparently healthy diet was full of simple sugars. Here are just some of the places that Greg was running into trouble:
- 1 cup blueberries blended into a shake: only 83 calories…but
15 grams of simple sugar.
- 8 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice: only 112 calories…but 21 grams of simple sugar.
- 1 tablespoon hazelnut nonfat creamer: only 35 calories…but 5 grams of simple sugar. (And nobody sticks to just 1 tablespoon.)
- 2 tablespoons fat-free French dressing: only 45 calories…but 5 grams of simple sugar. (And again, nobody sticks to just 2 tablespoons.)
- 1 cup tomato sauce: only 90 calories…but 10 grams of simple sugar.
- 1 tablespoon barbecue sauce: only 29 calories…but 5 grams of simple sugar. (And again: One tablespoon? Come on! Have you seen 1 tablespoon? If you’re spreading that sauce over a whole breast of chicken, you’ve got to be using at least 4 tablespoons, which contain 20 grams of simple sugars.)
Now, guess how many grams of simple sugar are in a Hostess Twinkie? Only 19. Even before he went on his healthy diet, Greg would never have dreamed of eating a Twinkie. Yet every night that he slathered barbecue sauce on his skinless breast of chicken, he might as well have been doing just that.
If Greg had eaten his blueberries and his orange whole, by the way, and if he had grilled some fresh tomatoes or maybe sautéed them lightly, he would have been fine, for reasons that I’ll explain in chapter 2. But Greg, like most dieters, had no idea that simple sugars lurk in so many seemingly healthy foods, nor that food preparation can make such a difference in how many grams of sugar are released and therefore easily available to be di- gested, absorbed, and released into your bloodstream. In chapter 2, I’ll show you why the simple sugars in Greg’s diet kept him perpetually hungry—and why they kept him perpetually overweight. Then, in chapter 3, I’ll help you become a sugar detective so that you can locate all the different places simple sugars might be hiding, and I’ll offer you some easy substitutions so that you can limit those simple sugars and rely more on complex sugars.
Okay, so cutting calories, starting a diet and fitness program at the same time, and failing to recognize simple sugars: those are the factors that invoke adaptive thermogenesis, inflate your appetite, threaten your muscle, and keep you from losing fat. But if they are the problems, what is the solution?
Announcing the Appetite Solution
My secret weapon is the Appetite Solution, a nutritional strategy guaranteed to make this eating plan work for you. Here is the element that will help you build lean muscle, let go of excess fat, transform your appetite, and, ultimately, help you achieve the metabolism of a teenager:
→ Ramp up the protein.
Protein, as you’ll learn in chapter 1, has the extraordinary ability to jam the hunger signals that come at you from a dozen different places: not just the way simple sugars mess with your metabolism and your blood sugar levels, but also the effects of stress, lack of sleep, many medications, heartburn, anxiety, and depression. All of these factors inflate your appetite. Increasing the amount of protein you eat every day jams those signals at your brain.
To make matters worse, these signals don’t just make you hungry—they make you ravenous for simple sugars. And simple sugars, as you’ll learn in chapter 2, generate an insulin response that perpetually guarantees fat storage, weight gain, and a host of other problems.
So how do we keep you from craving simple sugars? By loading you up with protein.
Increasing your protein intake is going to make an enormous difference in transforming your appetite. It’s also going to help you build lean muscle mass, which, as you’ll see in chapter 1, has a powerful metabolic effect of its own, helping you to burn calories as soon as you consume them. My strategic use of protein is a big part of what will eventually enable you to achieve the metabolism of a teenager so that you have the license to indulge in a few treats.
Protein will help you circumvent the powerful effects of adaptive thermogenesis, but I want to go even further to persuade your body that it has nothing to fear. “Don’t worry,” I want to say to your metabolism. “We’re not cutting calories. We’re not increasing exertion. We’re not doing anything that should provoke you to reset and hold on to fat.” So here is the second principle of the Appetite Solution:
→ Cut simple sugars without immediately cutting calories.
Yes, you will eventually end up cutting calories. Actually, you will let go of them on your own, painlessly and of your own free will. But the initial focus won’t be on calories at all. That’s because all calories are not created equal. As you’ll see in chapter 2, if you’re on a diet that has you eating a 216-calorie cup of brown rice, and you decide to skip the brown rice and eat a 113-calorie sugar cookie, you would obviously be choosing to eat fewer calories. But the brown rice has only 0.7 grams of simple sugars, while the sugar cookie has 9 grams.
What this means is that even though the brown rice has almost twice as many calories than the sugar cookie, the sugar cookie has a disastrous effect on your metabolism, while the brown rice causes no problems at all.
Why? All those simple sugars in the cookie incite your pancreas to release insulin, the hormone that your body uses to move sugar from your blood into your cells. The more sugars that hit your bloodstream at one time, the more insulin your pancreas releases. And guess what insulin does besides move blood sugar into cells? It cues your body to store fat. You’ll learn more about this process in chapter 2, but here’s a simple diagram to make it clear:
Simple sugars → insulin → fat storage (and this effect lingers long after you eat).
Notice that the word “calories” doesn’t appear anywhere in that diagram. That’s why my first concern for the Appetite Solution is not calories—it’s simple sugars, the ones that evoke the biggest insulin response.
Many types of calories—such as those found in protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates—don’t have the same metabolic effect as simple sugars. Proteins and fats don’t evoke much of an insulin response at all. Complex carbs do, but very slowly, mildly, and in a delayed fashion. Only simple sugars incite your pancreas to flood your body with insulin—the insulin that in turn instructs your body to store fat. So in chapter 2, I’ll explain to you exactly what the difference is between complex carbs and simple sugars, and in chapter 3, I’ll teach you how to find simple sugars in all their clever hiding places.
Meanwhile, here’s your takeaway:
- Because it contains so many simple sugars, the sugar cookie will mess with your blood sugar, your insulin levels, and your metabolism, keeping you overweight and hungry.
- Because it contains so few simple sugars, the higher-calorie bowl of brown rice—even if you soaked it in 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter—will do significantly less damage to your weight and far more to stabilize your appetite.
This brings us to the next principle of the Appetite Solution:
→ When your body is ready, you will limit yourself to 5 grams of simple sugars per meal and a total of 20 grams of simple sugars per day.
If I had you doing this from Day 1, you’d be climbing the walls by Day 4. It’s hard to immediately cut out simple sugars, and I don’t want this eating plan to be hard for you, because hard diets just don’t work. Not to mention that I’ve just been telling you that hunger, stress, and an extreme reaction to cutting something out of your diet are all antithetical to the kind of weight loss you want.
So I won’t be cutting simple sugars drastically on Day 1. Instead, I’ll be cutting them very slowly while I nourish you with protein. For the first two weeks, I’ll have you slowly and gradually cut back on simple sugars. Then, in Week 3, you’ll be ready to cut simple sugars more aggressively. And by Week 5, you’ll be on a low-simple-sugar plan that will enable fast, hunger- free weight loss.
And now we’re ready for the final principle of the Appetite Solution:
→ Add in some vigorous, muscle-building exercise—after you’ve had sufficient protein intake without calorie reduction.
By the time you start exercising—in Week 3—you’ll have a lot of protein in your diet, which will help foil adaptive thermogenesis. That protein tells your body, “Don’t worry, you’re not starving—no need to start eating yourself for breakfast.” Your body also uses that protein to protect and build muscle. Meanwhile, cutting back on sugar reduces the insulin in your system, so your body can begin to burn fat and stop storing it on your hips.
The Appetite Solution at a Glance
Phase 1: Push the Protein, Weeks 1 and 2
- Ramp up your intake of protein.
- Slowly, gradually, begin to cut back on simple sugars.
Phase 2: Shelve the Sugar, Weeks 3 and 4
- Continue to consume a high level of protein.
- More aggressively lower your simple sugars until you reach their healthiest level.
- Begin a moderate exercise program as described in chapter 7.
Phase 3: Shed the Fat, Weeks 5 and 6…and until you’ve reached your target weight
- Continue to consume a high level of protein.
- Keep simple sugar consumption at its lowest, healthiest level.
- Continue a moderate exercise program.
You’ve seen what happens with diets during which you shed weight quickly—they’re usually inducing you to lose muscle, not fat. I don’t want that to happen to you when you are following the Appetite Solution, so I’m not trying to get you to shed pounds early in the process.
However, you will lose some weight over the first month, and weight loss will pick up quickly after that. During Phase 3, you will lose three to five pounds each week. And by the end of the six weeks of the Appetite Solution, you are likely to have lost fifteen pounds or half your excess weight, whichever is smaller.
In other words, by the end of Phase 3, you have hit the weight-loss home run: You have foiled adaptive thermogenesis. You have successfully put yourself on a hunger-free, sustainable, healthy weight-loss path—building muscle, burning fat—and you are well on your way to achieving the metabolism of a teenager.
One of the great things about the Appetite Solution is that you never have to feel deprived. Cutting simple sugars doesn’t mean you have to cut complex carbs, and so you will enjoy a lot of healthy choices: whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, and sweet potatoes. You can even have oatmeal, as long as you don’t throw in the wrong “extras” (don’t worry, I’ll guide you through!). Over time, you might find yourself eating less of these complex carbs, but you’ll do so gradually and naturally, without ever feeling hungry.
You will also enjoy a lot of delicious healthy fats: olive oil, avocado, nuts, unsweetened nut butters, even regular butter. These will help keep you feeling full and satisfied—and all that healthy fat is good for every single cell in your body, especially your brain cells. Eating in a way that is based on the Appetite Solution, you will feel sharper and more focused than you have in a while, as well as calmer, more energized, and more optimistic.
“This Won’t Work Because…”
As you’ve been reading, has one or more of the following thoughts been running through your mind?
- “I have bad genes.”
- “I have a sweet tooth.”
- “I’ve always been like this.”
- “I have no willpower.”
- “I have no discipline.”
- “I have big bones.”
- “I’m fine most of the time, but then a crisis happens and I’m back to wolfing down pasta and desserts.”
- “I’ve been on every diet on the planet and none of them has ever worked for me.”
Believe me, I get it. If you’re like most of my patients, you’ve been dieting most of your life and you’re running out of faith that you can ever lose the weight you want to get rid of, let alone keep it off, or even be able to stop feeling hungry. Or perhaps you’re shocked at the way your weight seems to have ballooned up out of nowhere, after years of being able to remain at your ideal weight or at an “acceptable” five to ten pounds extra.
Maybe your weight gain erupted after a life crisis, such as losing a job, going through a bad breakup, or caring for a sick parent. If you’re a woman, maybe you’ve had children and haven’t been able to lose the weight you gained during pregnancy. Maybe you’ve always been able to indulge, gain weight, and then lose it again—and now, suddenly, you can’t lose any more.
And so now, you might even be starting to hate your body for making you feel so hungry all the time. Maybe you blame yourself. Perhaps you’ve begun to wonder which unresolved issues are driving your “stress eating” or “emotional eating.” Or maybe you’re just sick and tired of always being hungry.
I know it’s hard to have faith when so many diets have already disappointed you, and I know it’s hard not to blame yourself. But I’m speaking to you as a physician with decades of dealing with weight problems, and I’m here to tell you: You can lose weight and transform your appetite. You just need to do it with an eating plan that doesn’t leave you hungry, stress your body, eat up your muscle, or load you up with hidden sugars.
I don’t want you to struggle anymore. Within a month, your appetite will be a healthy one and you’ll crave food only when you really need nutrients; and you’ll find that without your sugar addiction, you crave different types of food, perhaps for the first time in your life. You’ll actually enjoy fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in a whole new way, especially because you’ll have plenty of healthy fats in your diet to bring out their flavors.
The exciting thing about the Appetite Solution is that it works—regardless of your diet history, your childhood eating patterns, or your genes. In fact, eating this way transforms the way your genes express themselves, giving you the chance to push your genetic destiny into a whole new pattern.
I’ll tell you exactly what I tell all of my patients: Your weight is not your fault, and neither is your appetite. All your life, you’ve been given the wrong information about the way your metabolism, weight, and appetite work. Maybe some of that bad information came from other books you’ve read. Maybe it even came from a doctor, trainer, or nutritionist. They were doing the best they could, and so were you. But nothing ever worked before—because you never had exactly the right information before.
Now you do. And the good news is that the Appetite Solution doesn’t require tons of willpower, an iron discipline, or a boatload of motivation. It just takes one small step—for you to begin—and your reward for taking that step is that you never have to be hungry again.