Mastering Your Relationship with Food: The Data-Driven Fasting Mindset [DDF FAQ #6]

The ultimate goal of Data-Driven Fasting is to help you get in touch with your true hunger signals and get to know Lizzy.  Not only will you learn to tame it by giving her what she wants when she needs it, but you will also learn to listen to it, trust your appetite signals and respond more appropriately. 

In this section of the Data-Driven Fasting Manual, you’ll unlock the power of understanding your body’s hunger cues and building a healthier connection with food.

Quantified mindful eating is your key to success. Utilise the DDF app to record insights that inform your eating choices based on your hunger signals. Before and after meals, rate your hunger, striking a balance between satisfaction and overindulgence.

Embrace hunger as a friend, and over time, it will become less daunting as your blood glucose stabilizes. Progress, not perfection, is the goal. Learn from setbacks, use your glucometer as a guide, and stay curious about your body’s response to food. This journey is about empowerment, not guilt, leading to lasting well-being.

 

6.1 Quantified Mindful Eating

To further leverage the benefits of Data-Driven Fasting, you can make notes in the DDF app to record what you are learning and incorporate it into your future routine. 

By reflecting on your physical sensations of hunger, you will start to better understand the signals Lizzy is sending you.  Once you learn to decipher Lizzy’s often cryptic messages, you will no longer need to rely on your glucose meter to guide what and when you eat. 

Before You Eat

Before you eat, you want to be hungry but not starving to the point that you might binge uncontrollably without any attention to food quality.  When you feel hungry and think of eating, rate your hunger on a scale from 1 to 5.  Some of the most common symptoms of hunger include:

  • rumbling/growling stomach,
  • feeling food focussed,
  • feeling mentally exhausted, not able to think straight, or
  • feeling lightheaded. 

Some of the extreme symptoms of hunger can include:

  • nausea,
  • headaches,
  • feeling cold, tired or lethargic, and
  • disturbed sleep. 

If you choose to test, use the five-second countdown time to imagine what number will pop up on your meter based on your symptoms of hunger.  As you reflect on your hunger symptoms, you’ll get better at this little guessing game. 

Reflecting on your hunger signals and calibrating them with your need for food is a central component of Hunger Training.  In the DDF app, you can rate your hunger on a scale of 1 – 5 (not hungry to extremely hungry) before recording your blood sugar. 

As you can see from the chart below of perceived hunger vs. premeal glucose, a lower premeal glucose correlates with hunger.  Before you eat, you ideally want to see your glucose at or below trigger and a hunger rating of three or four out of five. 

Before long, you will also understand the factors influencing your blood glucose (e.g., exercise, stress, and hormonal changes).  If you are hungry and your blood glucose is below your trigger, go ahead and eat.  There is no need to be a hero!  Most of the time, you should be eating at a hunger rating of 3 or 4 out of 5.  Pushing to 5/5 hunger and letting your glucose get too far below your trigger increases the probability that you’ll overeat and make poorer food choices. 

After you Eat

After you eat, you should feel full and satisfied but not completely stuffed.    

Hara hachi bun me (????) is a Japanese phrase that translates to “eat until you are eight parts full” or “belly 80 per cent full”. It is a Confucian teaching practised in Japan for centuries, including by the traditional Okinawans, who are famous for their health and longevity.  

In addition to the health benefits, stopping before we’re stuffed can also help us to enjoy our food more. When we eat slower and savour our food, we are more likely to appreciate the flavours and textures and are less likely to overeat.  

The chart below shows the relationship between perceived fullness and post-meal blood glucose from people using the DDF app.  Unsurprisingly, overeating will cause the largest rise in post-meal glucose.  You want to feel satisfied an hour or two after you eat but not stuffed. 

Notice how a 3 out of 5 perceived fullness rating aligns with the lowest post-meal glucose.  This likely aligns with a moderate-sized protein-focused meal, which can often lead to a drop in glucose, especially earlier in the day. 

After you eat, you should aim for a perceived fullness rating of 3 or 4 out of 5, with a small to moderate rise in the glucose rather than a 5 out of 5 and elevated blood glucose.

6.2 The Psychological Impacts of Data-Driven Fasting

The ultimate goal of Data-Driven Fasting is to become more attuned to your hunger signals.  

While testing your blood glucose may sound like a hassle, a tiny amount of pain and inconvenience from blood glucose tracking is not such a bad thing.  Taking a moment to check your glucose forces you to be more mindful and question whether you need to eat. It also interrupts habitual mindless eating and adds a quantitative check to see if you need to refuel. 

While many people find that calorie counting harms their mental health, Data-Driven Fasting helps you feel empowered and puts you in control of your hunger and appetite with a precise fuel gauge. 

A little measurement gamifies a healthy eating routine as you wait for the green light on your blood glucose meter.  There is a little bit of luck because of the many factors that affect blood glucose and a bit of skill involved with juggling your eating routine and food choices. However, aside from looking and feeling great, the grand prize is excellent metabolic health. 

6.3 Hunger Is Not the Enemy

With Data-Driven Fasting, your goal is to become more in tune with your hunger rather than fear or ignore it. 

You will better understand your hunger in time, and Lizzy will become your friend.   While extended fasting can lead to dysregulated hunger signals, Data-Driven Fasting empowers you to understand your true hunger.   

As your blood glucose stabilises, your body will become more comfortable with a small amount of hunger.  Soon, that little bit of hunger will no longer be uncomfortable.  Lizzy will become less anxious because she knows she always gets fed good food when the time is right.   

6.4 Progress Over Perfection

Remember, your goal should always be progress, not perfection!  You don’t have to be militant about not eating if your blood glucose isn’t dropping and you feel ravenous.  You only have to log premeal blood sugars below your trigger more often than not to make progress.    

If you have a bad day, that’s OK.  You don’t need to beat yourself up over it.  You will always learn something if you pay attention to your blood sugars.  If you happen to overindulge, all you need to do is use your glucose and the guidance of the DDF App to drain the excess fuel.

The goal of Data-Driven Fasting is to be below your trigger more often than not before you eat.  Don’t be afraid to eat if your blood glucose is slightly above your trigger and you’re ravenously hungry.  

Your glucometer is a tool to empower you with knowledge about whether you need to refuel, not to make you feel like a failure or wracked with guilt.  Using your blood glucose as a fuel gauge tells you if your hunger is real and you need to refuel.  The process will be more sustainable if you don’t try to be perfect.  Instead, learn to accept the ebb and flow of your glucose, making better food choices to guide it down progressively.    

You should approach this as a curious student, eager to learn how your body responds to food. Data-Driven Fasting will help you realise the impact of those ‘bad days’.  Before long, the ‘bad days’ will become less frequent. You will learn that overeating and poor food choices will have a downside in the future, so you will learn to moderate your meals today.

Feel free to take a break or switch to maintenance mode if you feel you are becoming obsessive or the process is consuming too much time or mental energy.  While some people love quantifying everything, others can quickly become overwhelmed. We have designed Data-Driven Fasting to minimise the cognitive load as much as possible to maximise sustainability so you can keep going until you reach your goal. 

If you feel ravenous, grumpy, light-headed, cold, can’t think straight, have a report due or an important meeting to attend, don’t be afraid to eat.  You can always catch up later.  Your blood glucose will guide you, so you don’t need to stress. 

6.5 Three Steps Forward, One Step Back

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself ‘backsliding’ occasionally.  Weight loss is rarely a linear process. It’s also natural to follow a fasting and feasting cycle that ebbs and flows with the varying needs of your body (e.g. monthly hormonal cycles, stress, exercise, sickness, etc.).

It’s normal and healthy to want to eat more sometimes, particularly if you have been restricting yourself.   If you find yourself particularly hungry, there is no need to be ashamed of eating to satiety.  In time, you will iron out the bumps in your routine and ensure a long-term trend towards your goals as you follow the guidance of your premeal trigger.

6.6 Follow the Trend, Ignore the Noise

As you start tracking, you will quickly learn that biometrics like weight, blood sugar and body fat can bounce around from day to day.  This noise can be confusing, so stay focused on the long-term trends.  

Unfortunately, this can be challenging for people with wildly fluctuating blood glucose, which correlates with increased anxiety.  So, it’s important not to try too hard and treat hunger training as a game.  As your glucose stabilises, you will be less anxious and happier to trust the process and go with the flow of your unique metabolism, guided by your blood glucose.    

While there may be many day-to-day fluctuations, you should see a long-term trend as you wait for your blood glucose to drop below trigger.  As blood glucose decreases, weight and body fat will follow.  Once you drain your glucose stores, your body will get on with using your excess stored body fat.

While tracking body fat is helpful to ensure you’re losing fat and not precious lean muscle mass, you should be aware that body fat data can be even noisier. But, as you chase a lower pre-meal trigger by delaying or skipping meals, you will see your weight and body fat trend down. 

Try to follow the recommendations given by the DDF app without overthinking the process.  Accept that there will be days when the data doesn’t go your way.  You are free to use your brain to decide whether you need to eat even if your blood glucose is above your trigger. 

6.7 Fasting Can Be Stressful

A little bit of stress can be beneficial (i.e., hormesis or eustress).  While your body likes consistency and routine, complete stagnation and monotony lead to weakness and atrophy. You need some stress to grow, but not so much you break.  

For millennia, the seasons (e.g., autumn, winter, spring and summer) forced our bodies to go through periods where different amounts and types of food were available, thus forcing us through natural bulking and cutting phases.  Any good workout routine involves periods of progressive overload interspersed with rest and recovery. 

Too much stress beyond the point that we can adapt and recover (i.e., distress) is not good and forces our survival instincts to take evasive action — Lizzy comes out and rampages.  Data-Driven Fasting ensures our eating routine is punctuated by just enough stress to keep our body moving towards our goals.   

6.8 What If I ‘Fall Off the DDF Wagon’?  How Do I Get Back On? 

Most of us can’t help swinging to extremes, from exuberance to disappointment.

We desperately want to progress quickly, pushing hard with the hopes of overnight success.  But then, our survival instincts kick in, and we can end up rebound bingeing. Afterwards, our initial instinct is to go even harder with more resolve and willpower, driven by guilt and renewed determination. But even that only lasts for so long before Lizzie kicks in again.

If you want to get off this all-too-familiar restrict-binge cycle, it’s better not to punish yourself after you ‘fall off the wagon’.  Instead, just get back to chasing your trigger again. 

If your glucose is above your trigger for a few days, you know you have plenty of fuel onboard and only require protein and nutrients.   

6.9 DDF May Test Your Emotional Resolve

Because it was necessary to run away from dangers in the past, we tend to weigh negative data more than positive.  Sometimes negative data makes us feel like a failure, so we try harder and fail harder when Lizzy rebels and has to step in to keep us alive.

The good news is, eventually, with a bit of community support and self-love, most of us learn to relax.  Any significant achievement is usually built from a culmination of small positive actions.  Eventually, as you persist and push through the frustration, you will learn to trust the process and chip away at the small changes that lead to big wins in the long term.

6.10 Dopamine Fasting

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter released to drive us to action and want to do something.  It’s fundamental to our survival to ensure we eat, learn, have fun and reproduce.  We feel good when we elevate our dopamine levels.  We become focused and driven to take action. 

In recent times, we have created a range of novel ways to continually keep dopamine elevated, with endless social media, caffeine, drugs, porn, YouTube, Netflix and engineered hyperpalatable kryptonite foods

But regardless of how many dopamine-inducing things you add, your body continually works to find balance.  Your hypothalamus cannot continue to secrete infinite amounts of dopamine. 

Eventually, the things that brought you pleasure will no longer bring you as much pleasure, and you will find pain and discontent in new areas of your life that were once fine.  This is because you have moved your dopamine (or hedonic) set point. 

Ironically, the more we pursue pleasure, the more we feel pain.  But the more we pursue pain and do the hard things, the more pleasure we feel. 

Dopamine also drives us to seek our food.  Again, this is fundamentally a good thing.  Without dopamine, we would starve and forget to reproduce. 

Because your body needs it, food with energy from fat and carbs stimulates dopamine.  But our modern food system has designed foods that combine fat and carbs in a way that stimulates more dopamine than any food in nature ever did before, so we eat more of these foods. 

We can also use these ‘comfort foods’ to elevate dopamine to alleviate sadness and low dopamine created in other areas of our lives.  We sometimes need to work on those areas rather than turning to food for comfort.  Or perhaps we’re so overstimulated by everything that nothing stimulates us, including quality food?

Data-Driven Fasting leverages the power of dopamine in our lives by gamifying the fasting process.  You get a positive dopamine hit when you see a healthy number on your glucose meter and a reaffirming message from the Data-Driven Fasting app

You can become motivated to improve the numbers that will fundamentally improve your health.  But by delaying your meal just a little, you are resetting your dopamine levels and re-sensitising your dopamine receptors rather than always treating your dopamine deficit with food. 

When you eat all the time mindlessly, food stops tasting as good.  But once you learn to wait until you need to eat, you will learn to enjoy your food, especially the food that is good for you because it contains the nutrients you require to thrive. You will no longer need to consume foods designed to overdrive dopamine, and you will be empowered to stop when you’ve had enough. 

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