Run hard, need cookie....
October 25, 2010 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Whenever I start pushing myself physically, my appetite goes into overdrive. Is there anyway to prevent or combat this?

I started Couch to 5k a couple of weeks ago. I'm not even that far into it and haven't even really been keeping up with the weekly pace, but I'm already hungry all the time.

Prior to starting Couch to 5k, I would go to the gym between 1 and 3 times a week. Usually I would do 20 - 30 minutes on the elliptical and then 20 minutes or so on a bike or walking on a high incline on the treadmill. I do a little weight lifting also, but never any running. I generally hate running. The odd thing is I'm actually burning fewer calories and exercising for less time now that I'm doing couch to 5k, but the intensity is much higher. For whatever reason I find running MUCH harder than doing the elliptical.

My appetite has already ramped up a lot. I count calories and eat between 1200 - 1550 calories a day. Almost always closer to 1550. I've already put on a little weight, which granted may be water weight (I put on weight very easily). Now I'm finding it almost impossible not to overeat half the time. This has happened before when I was doing really intense power yoga three times a week and it never went away. I finally stopped and just started going to the gym and then I was able to lose weight.

Is there anyway to combat this? I wanted to start running because everyone I know says it's the best way to lose weight, but my appetite is so finicky. I'm so close to my goal weight and now things are going into reverse, which is really upsetting. I'm seriously considering giving up couch to 5k and going back to my long moderate intensity workouts because right now working out seems to be doing more harm than good. Nothing else has changed other than my exercise routine. I had actually plateaued for several months in my weight loss (half out of apathy and being busy) and now that I'm trying to kickstart my weight loss, I'm gaining weight.

I know one of the answers is to just starve my way through it. Good old fashioned self control, but I could more easily eat 1000 calories a day and do no exercise than stay under 1600 and do couch to 5k.

Any advice on how to combat an exercise induced increase in appetite? I've looked at the other posts about suppressing appetite, but they don't really address the exercise aspect.
posted by whoaali to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Eat a ton of vegetables when you're hungry. Bonus points for things like spinach and kale and okra. You can use like a teaspoon of olive oil to saute garlic and then add them, mix that up and it's terrific and very low calorie/gram.

You're obviously going to get hungrier when you alert your body you have increased energy demands, but it tells when you're full by the mass of the stuff in your stomach, not if your energy needs have been met. If you fill up on roughage you effectively starve yourself without the discomfort of hunger.
posted by EtzHadaat at 9:56 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

That is a very low daily calorie intake. Of course you're hungry. Ideally you want to maintain a calorie deficit of about 500 a day if you're actively trying to lose weight.

According to this calculator, your daily calorie intake would be appropriate for a woman about 4 foot 8 and weighing 120 lbs.
posted by Naberius at 10:01 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I could more easily eat 1000 calories a day and do no exercise than stay under 1600 and do couch to 5k.

You're hungrier now because you have your metabolism working and you're expending energy. When you get accustomed to food for fuel your body continues to want more of it =D

You also seem to be hungry because it looks like you're not eating enough.
1200-1550 is a big window when you're talking about so few calories. Are you under 120lbs? I ask because both numbers seem like such a low amount anyway.
My calculations for a 120lb woman is that they would need 1250 calories if they slept for 24 hours in a day.

If you're around 100lbs I think 1700 calories might be a better number to shoot for since you're exercising.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:03 AM on October 25, 2010

I count calories and eat between 1200 - 1550 calories a day.

What's your lean mass, and have you calculated your basal metabolic rate? That is probably way too low unless you're like 4'11" and 85 pounds. You may be literally starving yourself already. Something to look into as an initial matter.

Anyway, it really helps to eat things that are high in protein, fiber, and (healthy) fat. Just as examples, focus on eggs or yogurt at breakfast, and lean meats at later meals. Replace (a portion of) any grains with quinoa, lentils, and/or beans.

Also, eating a little before your workout will actually help maintain energy during, as well as preventing the gut-wrenching hunger. Try that and see if it helps.
posted by rkent at 10:05 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and to answer your question.

Cinnamon, Apples, Spinach, Lettuce, Protein Shakes, Green Tea and Water are all very good natural appetite suppressants.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:07 AM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

A psyllium fiber supplement like the one Colon Cleanse makes always suppresses my appetite. Also, lots of water, as others have said.
posted by hermitosis at 10:08 AM on October 25, 2010

I would agree that your caloric intake is very low. But I wanted to add, have you ever tried just riding it out? I've found the increase in appetite when my activity level changes (such as starting a gym routine after not going for awhile, or changing my commute to incorporate a lot of walking). I've found that after a month or so my body gets used to the new routine and my appetite settles down on it's own. Given the timing of your question, I'll also add that based on anecdotal evidence (from myself and some of my friends), I notice that an increase in my appetite when the cooler fall weather hits (this too settles down).
posted by kaybdc at 10:13 AM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: I'm a 5'6 woman, about 150 pounds give or take. I don't think I'm undereating because every diet think I see says to eat no more than 1500 calories. My basal metabolic rate is something like 1800 calories. I'm only burning maybe 200 calories per workout so it's not like I'm creating this massive calorie deficit with the running. The idea was that hopefully I would be able to build up to a intense calorie burning workout, but that hasn't been happening. Before I started running I was actually burning between 300-350 calories during a workout, just over the course of a longer, less intense workout.

I guess maybe I wasn't clear, I am also dieting while working out. This is all to lose weight.

I actually already eat at least one massive salad a day and sometimes two. And that's in addition to other fruits and veggies. I find that eating a massive amount of vegetables is the only realistic way for me to stay within my goal calorie range, so I feel like I have that pretty covered, but maybe I'll try to eat even more.
posted by whoaali at 10:18 AM on October 25, 2010

I'm not sure this will be helpful, but you might want to look at the volume of food: make sure that those calories aren't dense, but have a lot of actual food with them. For example, a spinach salad with steamed broccoli, carrots, beans, and some light dressing has a ton of food for very few calories.

Soup can work really well for this, too--just make sure you are going for broth-based rather than creamy soups.

Also, are eating enough protein? Try increasing protein and see if that helps. Limit weird low-fat and no-fat foods, or at least try to make sure you are getting enough food.

Finally... Couch to 5K shouldn't be so much more intense than the workouts you've been doing. So could this be at all mental?
posted by bluedaisy at 10:20 AM on October 25, 2010

I've been doing c25k as well, and I'm at week 6 (I did a second round of it). I'm eating a little more than you (1700ish normally, but more like 2000+ on the weekends). I haven't really lost weight the past few weeks, but my legs are getting visibly more toned and muscular (I've never been a runner before, and said I hated running, too). I'm guessing you are hitting the part of the program where this is happening as well. Your leg muscles are getting a much more strenuous workout than on an elliptical.

I agree with the other posters that you aren't really eating enough, especially as you ramp up running. It's beneficial to up your caloric intake; I know it sounds counter-intuitive to weight loss, but your appetite is going to be much more stable if you're ingesting 1700 calories and running than if you're ingesting 1200.

I don't think I'm undereating because every diet think I see says to eat no more than 1500 calories.

Those diets assume you're sedentary. You aren't.
posted by almostmanda at 10:21 AM on October 25, 2010

One more question: are you writing down every single thing you eat? That can be a big help in getting a handle on this too.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:21 AM on October 25, 2010

Yet another suggestion: are you measuring yourself? Because it can be a big help to actual measure waist, bust, thighs, etc so you can see that your body is changing even when your weight is not.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:22 AM on October 25, 2010

With exercise, meal timing, and a proper macronutrient ratios, it's possible to lose weight on 3000+ calories a day...

I don't know how much you weigh, but I'm pretty sure you're starving yourself, which will make it much harder to lose weight, not to mention you must feel awful!

Gently easing into the rules in this book (and taking slow, long walks) over several weeks dramatically decreased my hunger and increased my energy levels, and I'm slowly, safely losing weight:

Eventually I was able to start moderately reducing carbs (and only eating complex carbs) and increasing fat without feeling like I was going to die--and this lead to gently losing even more weight. I eat brown rice, cucumbers, and tomatoes now, with the occasional potato or baked fries, and I don't crave sweets. I eat lots of nuts and hummus. Yum.
posted by zeek321 at 10:23 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Couch to 5K shouldn't be so much more intense than the workouts you've been doing. So could this be at all mental?

My body has never made a lot of sense in this department. Logically I should be able to work out much more intensely than I ever have been able to, but I've always found running (gym class growing up was torture for me even though I wasn't overweight and exercised a decent amount) to be absolutely excruciating. Really any sort of intense cardio I find far more difficult than just about anyone of similar age who works out as much as I do. I hate hiking and running as a result. I'm actually only on the third week of couch to 5k so I'm really not even running that much at all, which is why this is so frustrating. I can complete the workouts, but the second half is always pretty hard. So even though for most people it wouldn't be that hard, it is for me.

I do write down everything I eat. I find it really difficult to lose weight and (beside atkins which caused me to lose a lot of weight and gain it all back and more) this sort of calorie restriction is the only way I've ever done it. I won't lose an ounce at 1800 or 2000 a day, I might actually gain. I lose maybe 1/2 lb a week at 1550. 1 lb on a really great week, but many weeks I'll lose nothing at 1550.

I should say since I've started this I have been eating more than 1500 calories a day, sometimes pushing 2000 calories a day because I've been so hungry. As a result my weight has been creeping up. I'm worried that even if I work really hard just to maintain it's pretty pointless because I'm trying to take up running to lose weight, not work really hard and be starving to maintain.
posted by whoaali at 10:33 AM on October 25, 2010

I hear you, girlfriend. On all counts.

The only thing that works for me is chewing gum and drinking coffee (nonfat milk, 1 sugar) when I'm hungry. Or eating several very low calorie meals so that I can have a snack if I'm really hungry.
posted by n'muakolo at 10:42 AM on October 25, 2010

This isn't answering your original question, but I hope it might be helpful. Have you ever met with a personal trainer? Let me explain:

I started C25K last spring, though I had run in the past, because I wanted a structured program. I injured myself and needed to take a break from running, and signed up for a local women's fitness bootcamp. Each session is four weeks long, and we have 30 minute meetings with the trainer, the bootcamp owner/organizer/fitness leader, before and after each session. He does our measurements, talks food, makes specific recommendations, etc. It has been incredibly useful for me. I lost so many inches. And the workout has an intensity I could never achieve on my own.

I took a break this summer, in part because I wanted to run outside. But my runs never matched the intensity of the bootcamp workout--not because I find running especially easy, but because I did a lot better with someone pushing me (in a nice way).

I started back to bootcamp again, and it's a huge help to have this guy in my corner. It's not weird like I thought--he's a nice, friendly married guy with kids who also happens to be great at encouraging women to lose weight. I have made some incredible positive and permanent changes because of him--and have lost about 15 pounds since January (well, I lost 20, but it creeped up a few when I stopped bootcamp for the summer).

Even if you don't join a group, maybe consider a few appointments with a trainer who can sit down with you and talk food and exercise and goals. I have never belonged to a gym and didn't get this before, but it is great to have a personal cheerleader.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:43 AM on October 25, 2010

The only thing that works for me is chewing gum and drinking coffee (nonfat milk, 1 sugar) when I'm hungry. Or eating several very low calorie meals so that I can have a snack if I'm really hungry.

This reminded me: I drink a lot of black tea with milk, all day.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:44 AM on October 25, 2010

While I don’t agree with some answers that 1500 kcal/day is dangerously for someone of your size, I do think you might be better served with embracing what your body is saying and going for a higher calorie diet, at least for a few months.

Hear me out: I’m not saying you are going to lose weight doing this, but I do think that if you are eating under 1500/day at your current weight, doing high intensity cardio for more than 5 hours a week, and not losing weight, you probably don’t have enough muscle mass.

I would recommend committing to a month of eating at least 2000/day, and maybe even 2200 if you want to keep doing cardio. Right now, with your long periods exercise and low calorie intake, you are essentially telling your body not to put on muscle, and store any excess as fat, because you are conditioning your body to maximize efficiency.

The type of calories you take in are certainly important. I would avoid most sugar and high glycemic index carbs, as those will stimulate your appetite and also tend to be preferentially stored as fat. One exception is high GI carbs before, after, and even during strenuous workouts, as this will train your body to turn carbs into glycogen in your muscles, instead of fat. Likewise, avoid fructose and alcohol, as your body can’t do much with these energy sources except store them as fat. Glucose is what your muscles use. High-GI starch is the best way to get this. I use oatmeal, and sometimes dextrose dissolved in water just before a workout session. Protein is important: make sure you are getting enough, at least 100g/day. I like whey protein supplements for this.

Strength train: this is key. When I started devoting most of my workout time to strength training about 18 months ago, and upping my caloric intake, I was expecting to gain muscle and strength, but also a little fat. No big deal, I thought. I can work it off later, and it will be easier, because I will have more muscle to use doing it. I still did high intensity intervals though, because I like riding my bike, and I wanted some cardio upkeep. Since then, I have kept my calorie intake high, and I’m gaining muscle mass, but I haven’t gained weight. I’m a 5’7”,150lbs dude, and I was 18 months ago. The difference now is that I have a 28” waist, instead of the 33” waist I had when I started. Obviously, I look much fitter now than I did then.

The same principle holds for women too, I find. A friend of mine has been on a similar workout regimen and she is 5’3” and 130lbs. Nobody would call her fat. She doesn’t look overly muscular either, just really fit, which she is, because she is in fantastic shape.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:46 AM on October 25, 2010

Yeah, it wasn't clear that you were trying to lose weight, I thought you were trying to maintain.
I highly recommend you keep lifting if you want to drop more fat.

You seem to be in tune with your body. Although, I can't help but think that such a long time of caloric deficits have effectively grounded your metabolism down to a very slow crawl.

If you start at such a low number you can only chop off so many more calories until you're at too great of a deficit.
You also have to realize you burning an extra 200 calories at your current calorie intake is 8%-10% of your total.

(On preview, I see that you're eating more than that now...the story keeps changing! =)
I still think the 1700-2000 numbers are more realistic and healthy.

Maybe you are extremely carb sensitive if you had such great success with Atkins? There is nothing wrong with eating low carb. I'm still eating to gain lean mass and only eat non-veggie carbs for breakfast and peri-workout. On the weekends I "re-carb" for 1 or 2 meals.

Try eating 1700-2000 calories a day but restrict it to healthy fats and protein with less than 30g of carbs a day. Eat your carbs in the morning or right after your runs (or split it 15g\15g)
Weigh yourself after a month and see what you think.

(Fuck[expletive deleted], on second preview, has some good advice along the same lines of thinking)
posted by zephyr_words at 10:48 AM on October 25, 2010

Oh, and another thing: Depending on your body type, I’m not sure that at 5’6” and 150lbs you really need to lose weight in order to look fantastic. If you turn 15lbs of that from fat to muscle, you will look a lot thinner because muscle is so much denser, and distributed so differently. If you turn 20lbs from fat into muscle, most people would probably think you weighed nothing over 120, until they tried to pick you up, or tried to best you in some contest of physical prowess.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:56 AM on October 25, 2010

I'd also agree with the lower-carb advice. Insulin spikes, brought about by carbs, make you hungry again shortly after eating. If you're not spiking insulin or feeding your body unsatiating foods (fructose), your body will naturally adjust its hunger to meet your needs. For me this means a good amount of meat, fish, and veggies, some natural carbs like sweet potatoes and fruit, and occasional milk.

I also recommend experimenting with eliminating grains, especially wheat, from your diet for a few weeks and seeing how that helps.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:58 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry zephyr_words if I've been confusing with the calorie intake. Some days I am able to keep it 1500, but I'm so hungry that a lot of days I'm overeating, which means at least half the time I'm eating something like 1700-2000+ calories a day. I also find myself really craving sugar.

I'm not looking to lose a ton of weight. I want to get down to 142 or 143, but given how slowly I lose weight that's actually a lot more weight for me to lose. I've lost maybe 15 lbs give or take over the last year.

I think I have pretty decent muscle tone. I'm fairly naturally muscular. It's just hiding under some fat, not a ton of fat, but enough. The difference in the way I look between 145 and 150 or 152 is kind of dramatic for me for some reason. Unfortunately, 150 - 153 always seems to be the weight my body wants to go back to, which sucks.

I'm definitely going to try and up my water, coffee and tea consumption. I'm so tempted to just give up on running, I'm just not seeing any upside, of course part of me thinks I should tough it out and then maybe I would see results.
posted by whoaali at 11:12 AM on October 25, 2010

This is a sign that "long slow running" is a bad idea for you if you want to lose weight. I'm exactly the same way. The solution here is not diet hacks, it's stop doing that. You wanna run? Do hiit. Lift some weights. You are gonna get into a sad cycle of running making you hungry making you flabby making you try to combat it by running more. Running is amazing for some people but not for me and probably not for you.
posted by ch1x0r at 11:36 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm actually only on the third week of couch to 5k so I'm really not even running that much at all

I just wanted to talk back to that a bit. Week 3 is walk/run intervals of 90s/90s/3m/3m -- so oh hell yes you are running. And I remember those 3 minutes being hard back when i did C25K.

FWIW, and purely anecdotally: I started with strength training and found that my weight loss plateaued after a while -- although the changes in fitness and tone were really good.

Adding running after that didn't have much effect for a month or two. But once I worked up to running 40 minutes or more at a time I started consistently losing fat.

I guess I fall into ch1x0r's "running is amazing for some people" group; but for me it took time and effort beyond C25K for the effects to really start showing.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:33 PM on October 25, 2010

Do you consume artificially sweetened food and/or drink? This will make you crave sweets. If you are craving sweets, and thus consuming more than 10% of your calories as sugar, this might be what's holding you back.

Like I said above, the fructose (and, by extension, half of the sucrose) that you consume interferes with your liver's ability to metabolize fat, and it also is metabolized exclusively by your liver, where it is mostly converted to fat. Alcohol is metabolized in a similar way, and should be moderated in kind if you want to lose fat and keep lean mass. It may be just an evo-psych just so story, but I like the hypothesis that calories from fructose and alcohol tend to increase body fat more than other sources of calories because historically the consumption of both fresh and fermented fruit would be a signal to your body that winter is approaching, and for God's sake, put on some fat!

This advice may or may not be useful, but I would recommend closely monitoring how many calories you drink. I would count calories from sugared drinks and alcohol double, as a good heuristic for keeping their pernicious effects in check.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:52 PM on October 25, 2010

Definitely eat carbs before and after your runs. Not a ton of sugar, but something like half a banana before, half a banana after. The muscle glycogen you need to work those muscles should be supplied close to the time of workout, or your body will spend a lot of time hungrily trying to make up for them. If you can get in a protein-heavy meal not too long after a run, too, that'll help.

I like raw almonds as a snack for the times the cravings hit. 3-5 with a mug of tea are often filling enough to keep me going for awhile.
posted by ldthomps at 1:14 PM on October 25, 2010

Someone on AskMe linked to a really interesting story recently about women, exercise, and weight loss:

Weighing the Evidence on Exercise


Why Doesn't Exercise Lead to Weight Loss?

The upshot?
But the very latest science about exercise and weight loss has a gentler tone and a more achievable goal. “Emerging evidence suggests that ­unlike bouts of moderate-vigorous activity, low-intensity ambulation, standing, etc., may contribute to daily energy expenditure without triggering the caloric compensation effect,” Braun wrote in the American College of Sports Medicine newsletter.
If you're finding that you're craving more calories when you work out intensely, it may be that you need to find a more gentle workout that you do for longer periods if you want to be successful in losing weight.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:12 PM on October 25, 2010

Nthing [expletive deleted].

This comment of yours troubled me a little:

I'm worried that even if I work really hard just to maintain it's pretty pointless because I'm trying to take up running to lose weight, not work really hard and be starving to maintain.

To which I ask, do you want to be skinny or maybe not so skinny and kick-ass fit? Even if you ate 2000 calories a day and held to the Couch to 5K program, plus start a strength training regimen, you'd be burning off everything and building muscle tone and aerobic fitness.

Also, your comment about never being able to work out hard makes me ask how much super-high-intensity aerobic exercise (to the point of being anaerobic) have you done? There's jogging on a treadmill (other people run; I jog), but then there's doing a spin class and getting your heartrate to 190 bpm.

And a final food-related point: don't be afraid of the carbs! Just watch what kind of carbs you're eating. I stopped eating commercial cereal years ago, and am fixated on the Kashi cereals and steel cut oats. I've also cut out fruit juices and soda and any diet drinks. However, I still drink coffee with half and half and real sugar. I don't advocate cutting out all delicious things from your diet. Life's too short!

posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:20 PM on October 25, 2010

You are eating way too little. Your body is eating itself. Eat more and you will not be hungry!
posted by outsider at 4:50 PM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: To which I ask, do you want to be skinny or maybe not so skinny and kick-ass fit?

I'm not gonna lie, I really couldn't care less if I am kick-ass fit. I don't like most sports and certainly don't play any. I hate hiking. I tolerate going to the gym, but in no way enjoy it. I have never found that exercising makes me feel better, if anything I think it makes me get sick more (but that might be all in my head). I totally respect and envy people who work out because they love being in great shape and moving their body and all that, but that's just not me and never has been.

I exercise and diet so that I don't get fat like the vast majority of my family. And to a certain extent because I am getting older and I look around at the older people I know and there is a huge difference between those who do and do not exercise.

My heartrate on the elliptical is usually in the 170s, sometimes it does get into the 180s and 190s. I really don't think I could handle a spin class, but I have heard they are great and wish I could handle that kind of high intensity aerobic exercise, but I'm just about beat doing what I'm currently doing. I find that in the 180s and 190s I'm almost dizzy. Not quite mind you, but I feel like hell when I get off the elliptical and generally will stop early if my heart rate gets up that high.
posted by whoaali at 5:41 PM on October 25, 2010

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