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November 6, 2013 4:47 PM   Subscribe

Why do I find a very low calorie diet easier than moderately low calorie diet?

Recently I decided to buckle down and take off the 5 lbs I put on over the summer by only eating about 1100 or 1200 calories a day. Usually when I'm dieting I aim for about 1500, which is consistent with most guidelines I've seen to lose weight at a moderate pace. Bizarrely I've found only eat 1200 calories a day significantly easier than eating 1500. I usually crave sugar a lot, especially after eating a meal, but since my meals have shrunk to about 300-400 calories, I'm fine. Same with my appetite, I get hungry, but not ravenous like I often do with normal dieting.

Part of is I realize is mental. Since I'm not eating that much, I'm not really cooking much and eating isn't a big production, so I'm less focused on food. And with so few calories to work with, snacks are basically off the table. However, I feel that it's more than that.

I don't intend to eat 1200 calories a day for any significant length of time. I don't think it's particularly healthy and I'm a lot more tired, which has led to me exercising less. However, I would like to be free from my sugar cravings and hunger when I return to more normal eating so I want to understand what is happening to my body.

Is my blood sugar more stable with smaller meals? I've read that sugar craving are often caused by eating a lot of simple carbs, but that doesn't seem to be the case for me. I have the same sugar craving after eating a big spinach salad, will lots of protein, and oil & vinegar dressing (and with many other meals, high carbs, low carbs, high fat, etc.). Should I try eating multiple meals that are only 300ish calories?
posted by whoaali to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If your meals are relatively high in protein then very low calorie diets may result in ketosis, a metabolic condition that supresses the appetite. This is often used in very aggressive weight loss regimens.
posted by TedW at 4:51 PM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've actually been eating more carbs than I normally do oddly enough, so definitely no ketosis. And when I went on Atkins, I had easily the most insane sugar cravings of my life. Like incredibly vivid dreams of eating chocolate cake. I lost a lot of weight, but ketosis didn't kill my sugar cravings.
posted by whoaali at 5:20 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

For me, trying to do something in moderation is always harder than doing something extreme. I can think of a variety of reasons for that, several of which you mention.

I never believed that multiple small meals would work for me, but it did. I went from having one meal a day to having six, and those six meals might include a hard boiled egg, or a stick of string cheese, but eating a little bit every few hours does make a big difference. I'm never starving so I can use much greater discernment when it comes to the foods I do eat.

To the best of my knowledge the only way to really kill a sugar craving is to cut it out, cold turkey, for a significant period of time. And that includes alcohol. *sigh*
posted by janey47 at 5:33 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have some of the extra carbs you have been eating been things like oatmeal and potatoes? These tend to be higher in resistant starch, which can help you feel more satisfied and less hungry. Potatoes are a huge outlier on the Satiety Index.
posted by maudlin at 5:55 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your body is in more of a catabolic state, which is pretty common with restricted calories. This tends to make me tireder, crankier, more wakeful at night, and less hungry. You can learn more on how to avoid staying catabolic so much of the time, but in the short term it won't do you much harm.

Like many people I've found that upping the percentage of protein and fats (and keeping most carbs fruits and veg) helps me to eliminate sugar cravings. I've also found it's important to be consistent about that, not leaning on starches every third day or so.

You might try smaller meals more frequently, but mostly try to be sure you've got more fat (avocado, meat, oils) and protein in every meal and snack.
posted by ldthomps at 8:35 AM on November 7, 2013

I'm a lot more tired, which has led to me exercising less.

This might have something to do with it just from an expending-fewer-calories perspective, but also, being more tired could indicate that your metabolism has slowed down somewhat to conserve energy, and possibly that is causing you to feel less hungry.

When animals are put on a energy-restricted diet, according to this paper, they do a few things to conserve energy: move less, lower their body temperature and their resting metabolic rate, their organs and bodies shrink a bit from less energy being allocated to growth, and they also start to absorb calories more efficiently from the food they do eat, which can offset the restriction somewhat.

The same research, however, indicates that even after long-term caloric restriction, animals are still physiologically quite hungry, and will overeat as soon as they are given the chance. So it's possible that there is more of a psychological effect than a physiological causing you to feel less hungry. You might feel the need to psych yourself up more for the more intense restriction, or like you said, the side-effect of having less interaction with food could also cause you to notice your hunger less.
posted by Ouisch at 8:38 AM on November 7, 2013

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