Hunger Training… how to use your blood glucose meter as a fuel gauge to train your appetite for sustainable long term fat loss.
No matter how hard we try to limit how much we eat, our hunger usually wins out in the end.
Your finite willpower is no match for your reptilian instincts that step in to ensure you survive the self-imposed ‘famine’ inflicted by your rational brain (neocortex).
But what if you could train your lizard brain, so you were no longer a mindless slave to your appetite?
In this article, you will learn how you can train your hunger using your blood glucose meter as a fuel gauge. This is the same technique that participants in our Data-Driven Fasting 30 Day Challenge have used with some fantastic results.
Once you learn to differentiate true hunger from habit your reptilian instincts will stay asleep and allow you to continue your fat loss journey.
How to use your blood glucose meter as a fuel gauge
Have you ever wished that there was a precise fuel gauge for your body to tell if you:
- actually needed to eat now,
- are just craving those yummy leftovers in the fridge,
- are eating to soothe your emotions or because you are bored,
- eating out of habit, or
- just because it’s ‘breakfast time’?
The humble blood glucose meter is as close as it gets to having an instantaneous fuel gauge for your body and validate your hunger.
When you feel hungry and think about eating, you simply test your blood sugar to validate your hunger.
|Your Current Blood sugar||Action|
|Above Your Personalised Trigger||Delay eating|
|Below Your PErsonalised Trigger||It’s time to eat!|
The problem with counting calories
Calories always count (if you can count all the calories accurately all the time), but most people don’t find calorie counting to be sustainable over the long term.
- It is impossible to accurately measure either side of the calories in versus calories out equation.
- Tracking every morsel of food leaves people focused on how much they are allowed to eat today rather than how much they need to eat.
- Your energy requirements vary from day to day based on your activity levels and a range of other factors. Trying to stick to a fixed calorie target leaves you overeating some days and fighting hunger on others.
- Calorie counting sets your conscious mind in conflict with your subconscious instincts. It should be no surprise that, before long, many people develop disordered eating. A 2017 study of people with a diagnosed eating disorder found that 75% of the participants reported using MyFitnessPal. Disturbingly, 73% of the MyFitnessPal users said that their use of MyFitnessPal had contributed to their eating disorder.
- As you lose weight, your body adapts and requires less energy. So your calorie intake is really a moving target.
The problem with intermittent fasting
Others try some version of fasting to limit their food intake, often thinking that longer is better.
Sadly, one of the most common problems is that people tend to lose and regain the same few pounds over and over, with no long term results to show for their deprivation and restriction.
We tend to make poorer food choices when we go for long periods without eating and gravitate to energy-dense nutrient-poor foods that often lead to worsening body composition and increased cravings due to a lack of essential nutrients.
While there is nothing wrong with going 24 or 36 hours without food, you still need to be able to make good food choices when you break your fast. If you find yourself reaching for the ice-cream, cake or pizza, chances are you’ll do better if you are a little less ambitious next time.
‘Hunger training’ using your blood sugar as a fuel gauge is an exciting approach that has had some fantastic outcomes in a number of recent studies.
I first came across the concept in the 2012 book ‘The Glucometer’ by Angela Ross, who recommended simply delaying eating if your blood sugar was above 5.0 mmol/L (90 mg/dL).
Later, a 2016 study from the University of Otago in New Zealand (Adherence to hunger training using blood glucose monitoring), found hunger training to be extremely effective. However, one key finding was that it was much more helpful for people to have a personalised blood sugar trigger tailored to their unique metabolism.
In the subsequent randomized control trial by the same group from the University of Otago (The Effect of Different Types of Monitoring Strategies on Weight Loss), researchers tested Hunger Training against
● daily weighing,
● calorie tracking with MyFitnessPal, and
● counselling sessions.
Hunger training using a personalised blood sugar trigger was the only approach where people lost weight. Everyone else gained weight!
It was hunger training using pre-meal blood sugar that enabled people to get in touch with their true hunger signals and their actual need for food that led to the best outcome by far.
Conversely, people following calorie counting saw the largest increase in weight out of the approaches tested. It seems that people lose touch with their actual hunger signals when they outsource their hunger signals and satiety to a smartphone app.
The study also found that depression, anxiety and stress all worsened for participants who used MyFitnessPal to try to balance their calories. Meanwhile, hunger training had the best outcome in these measures.
However, hunger training had the poorest adherence over the long term. This is not surprising given the imposition of testing blood sugar multiple times per day. We have been mindful of this in our design of our Data-Driven Fasting system. To maximise the chance that you will sustain it long enough to get the results you want, you should only apply just enough measurement and restriction to ensure you are moving forward towards your goal.
Why Hunger Training works so well
Tracking blood glucose provides immediate feedback and provides both your conscious and subconscious lizard brain with the reassurance that you don’t really need to eat NOW!
Understanding your need for food based on your blood sugar gives you a greater sense of control. When you see a high blood sugar, you can immediately think back to your last meal and understand how your unique metabolism responded.
You quickly learn which meals keep your blood sugar higher for longer and avoid them in the future. Hunger Training enables us to retrain our understanding of our hunger based on our body’s actual need for fuel.
Tracking your progress provides a level of gamification and positive reinforcement. As people start to see their progress as they chase a lower trigger they are encouraged to continue with the process for the long term. If they ‘fall of the wagon’ for a few days, they can simply use the same process to dial in their eating routine to get back on track.
While we tend to think that more is better, identifying the minimum effective dose of measurement and restriction is critical to achieving sustainable long term success.
Building on these studies, Data-Driven Fasting is designed to empower you to fine-tune your eating routine to ensure you get the results you want.
How long does it take to train your hunger?
People with elevated blood sugars and more weight to lose tend to have more dysregulated hunger signals and find it harder to judge true hunger. It’s is more important for these people to use their blood sugar to train their hunger.
A number of studies (e.g. Training to estimate blood glucose and to form associations with initial hunger) have shown that, before too long, people can learn to predict their blood sugars. After a few weeks, people start to get a feel for their blood sugars when they are actually hungry. They start to calibrate their hunger and can estimate their blood sugars. They can differentiate true hunger form habit and learn to wait to eat.
How Hunger Training works
Your body always burns a mixture of available fuels (primarily glucose and fat).
However, due to oxidative priority, your body will prioritise the use of the glucose (in your bloodstream, liver and muscles) over the unwanted fat on your body.
You only have a limited ability to store glucose in your blood and glycogen in your liver and muscles, so your body works to bring down these levels first.
By contrast, your body has almost unlimited capacity to store fat in your adipose tissue, so is happy to store the fat in your diet if you have excess glucose stores in your blood or liver and coming in from your diet.
As shown in the image below, your body fat is ‘locked away’ until you deplete (but not exhaust) your glucose stores.
As you delay eating and deplete the glucose in your blood, the glycogen in your liver can flow back into your bloodstream to be used. Then, as you deplete glucose, your body will turn to the stored energy in your adipose tissue for fuel.
Rather than fasting for days on end, it only takes a few hours for the glucose in your blood to return back to baseline. To reduce your blood sugars and your body fat, you just need to wait a little longer to allow your blood sugar a little lower.
Monitoring your blood glucose is a great way to measure your overall energy balance and need for food at any point in time. Hunger training enables you to confirm that you are drawing down on your stored glycogen in your liver and muscles which in turn more of your body fat to be used for fuel.
Your Personalised Trigger
Establishing Your Personalised Trigger is a key component of our Data-Driven Fasting system. During Phase 1 – Baselining, you establish the blood sugar that you tend to feel hungry at and typically choose to eat. To find Your Personalised Trigger, you can download our free baselining spreadsheet here.
Chasing a lower premeal trigger
Data-Driven Fasting focuses on the long term trend using shorter bursts of restriction to ensure your blood sugars and weight are moving in the right direction.
Just like any smart fitness training routine balances exercise and recovery to ensure positive adaptation, Data-Driven Fasting ensures that your short periods of energy deficit are balanced with nutrient-dense feeding to achieve long term progress.
Shorter burst of fasting also allows you to ensure that diet quality is maximised (i.e. adequate protein and nutrients) during feeding rather than the energy-dense bingeing that often follows multi-day fasts.
Weight loss results with Hunger Training
We have been blown away with the progress that people have been able to make in our Data-Driven Fasting 30 Day Challenge.
Participants in the Data-Driven Fasting Challenge lost an average of 5.1% of their body weight. The average weight loss was 4.1 kg (or 9.0 lbs) at a rate of 1.3% per week as people chased a lower pre-meal blood sugar target.
Body fat loss with Hunger Training
More importantly, with a focus on nutrient-dense refeeding, participants in the 30-Day Challenge were able to lose an average of 14.4% of their body fat at a super impressive rate of 3.6% per week. On average, participants lost 3.9 kg of body fat (8.7 lbs).
Body fat percentage decreased from 37.4% to 34.5% over the four weeks.
Data-Driven Fasting 30-Day Challenge
After trialling Data-Driven Fasting with more than six hundred people, we found that a structured approach was critical to ensure they avoided the common pitfalls and confusion.
So we created the Data-Driven Fasting 30-Day Challenge to help you align your fasting schedule with their unique metabolism, goals, preferences and routine.
The Data-Driven Fasting 30-Day Challenge will guide you through the following critical elements to optimise your fasting routine.
- Baselining – find Your Current Trigger to identify true hunger and when you need to eat to refuel.
- Current foods and meals – learn how the foods you currently eat affect your blood sugar. Which ones leave you satisfied? Which ones lead you to eat more than you need to?
- Hunger training – learn to delay eating until your blood sugar is below Your Personal Trigger to ensure you eat only when you need to refuel. This will ensure you are lowering your blood sugar and insulin levels over the whole day and ensure you are burning your body fat.
- Curb your late-night binging – use your waking blood sugar to identify if you are eating too late in the day.
- Main Meal vs Discretionary Meals – identify the Main Meal that you will use to anchor your eating routine and ensure you get enough nutrients.
- Optimise your eating routine – lock in your new eating routine to guarantee you are moving towards your goals.
The challenge includes:
- a 30-day Program to guide you to optimise your fasting routine.
- the Data-Driven Fasting Spreadsheet to track your progress.
- the Data-Driven Fasting Manual that includes detailed instructions and answers to 91 frequently asked questions.
- a Workbook that you can use to reflect on your learnings.
- access to a Private Community on Facebook with daily posts and support.
Data-Driven Fasting Program
We love the community aspect of the Data-Driven Fasting 30 Day Challenge. Most people seem to find some extra motivation when they take the journey with others and can see everyone else’s questions and struggles.
However, others are happy to go it alone and take things at their own pace. So we created a self-paced Data-Driven Fasting Program that will guide you through the key aspects of Data-Driven Fasting. You can go as fast or as slow as you want. As soon as you feel you have mastered one step, you can move onto the next one, but you can take as long as you need to master each stage of the journey.
The program includes:
- the Data-Driven Fasting Spreadsheet to track your progress and optimise your fasting routine.
- The complete Data-Driven Fasting Manual that includes detailed instructions and answers to 91 frequently asked questions.
- a Workbook that you can use to reflect on your learnings.
When you purchase the Data-Driven Fasting Program, you’ll get access to all the phases of the Spreadsheet right away so you can start at any of the phases. This would be ideal if you don’t yet have a blood glucose meter or don’t particularly want to test your blood sugar. Get the Data-Driven Fasting Program here.