About 80% of my weight loss patients have a similar complaint, they feel a sense of hunger in the afternoon described as a “grumbling” of their stomach, a sense of weakness or even a shaky sensation as if they have low blood sugar. And I tell them all the same thing, “Your sense of hunger and drive to eat something in the afternoon to make these symptoms go away has nothing to do with needing more nutrition”.
Before I reveal the magical cause of these symptoms, its important to understand that we are designed to function as Stone Age humans who lived with a unstable food supply. Our bodies were designed through evolution to withstand extended periods of time without food. In other words, we do not need to eat in order to keep our blood sugar levels normal.
Lets think about this in a modern context. If we really did need to eat constantly to maintain a normal blood sugar, many of the starving individuals in the impoverished parts of the world such as Africa would be have serious medical problems because they didn’t have enough to eat throughout day. And aside from them experiencing malnutrition, we know they aren’t passing out or going into convulsions because of low blood sugar.
So what is it that causes these common symptoms and why does it get better when we eat something?
Well our intestinal tract operates somewhat like a bucket brigade passing intestinal secretions (such as stomach acid) along the path of our intestines throughout the day. And many individuals who are overweight have a mild abnormality of the nervous system (called autonomic dysfunction) that cause the stomach to not as empty as quickly as it should.
So as a consequence, the stomach acid and other secretions we produce in the day tend to build up in the stomach as the day goes on and results in what is essentially some low grade nausea from the excess stomach acid. This is the cause of the symptoms we feel, too much stomach acid.
Why does food make our sense of hunger feel better? Well, food has a mild stimulatory effect on the stomach such that if causes the stomach to increase its emptying action. When we eat a snack, the stomach acid is rapidly emptied out of the stomach and into the intestines where it no longer causes the low-grade nausea we interpreted as hunger.
We conclude (falsely) that our symptoms improved because we elevated our blood sugar with the food we ate. I understand how many come to this conclusion. everywhere you look, the internet, magazines and advertisements everywhere are reinforcing the misconception that you need to eat small meals through the day to keep your blood sugar up.
Well, I’m sorry to burst your bubble but it is all about stomach acid relief and has nothing to do with blood sugar.
So the next time you feel the need to have a mid-afternoon snack, reach for a Tums or a Rolaids in stead of a snack. Remember, for every 100 calories you can trim out of your diet everyday, you will lose 10 pounds over the course of the next year. And this is often how we gained the excess weight in the first place, about 10-15 lbs per year. Undo the snack and begin to undo your weight problem.