What the HEC Are You Eating!

By Crystal Tingle

Here we are again! Yep, we have all done it. In fact, most of us do it year after year! We eat like a bear for three months as if preparing for hibernation, and then January rolls around and the revelation hits that in just a very short time those of us living On the Coast will soon be baring it all, well, at least baring more than what our comfy leggings and big sweaters have been able to hide. Swimsuits and shorts aren’t as forgiving.  We cut calories, junk and all the cocktails and hit the gym with a vengeance. Our bodies and hormones are hanging on for dear life, kicking into “fight or flight” mode, sabotaging our weight loss goals, at least for most of us. 

Some people can play this out with ease, quickly shedding the extra 10-15 lbs and prance through the summer looking fantastic. You hate them, right? Not really, but you want to. But you wonder why it is so difficult for you? Why can’t you stick to the plan, get to the gym and just shed the pounds like they do?

First of all, stop beating yourself up! You may think it’s because you lack discipline when you “fall off the dieting wagon.”  You’ve planned this out perfectly. Vision board, check! Pump-me-up gym music, check! A fridge full of healthy fruits, veggies and lean proteins - check!  Ready to go! You start carb-free or very low-carb since they are supposedly the culprits, right? But your energy is down. You feel weak and fatigued. Just no get-up-and-go.

Or you’ve taken away your favorite comfort foods. Salty chips and dips, gone! Ice cream and cookies, gone! Because after all, you CAN do this! You know you can.  It’s only for a couple of months till you lose the extra fluff, right?  Suddenly you can’t even function because you’re craving your woobie snack and it’s all you can think about! And then there’s the pantry raid!

Or maybe you are just flat-out starving…about ready to gnaw your left hand off. You have cut your calories down because the high-calorie cheese and crackers and rich casseroles aren’t on the plan, but a small piece of chicken and a leaf of lettuce just aren’t filling you up. 

Do these scenarios sound familiar? Here is what is going on. 

CortisolThis eating cycle of winter gorging and reduced activity level and then doing a 180-degree of severe calorie reduction and “two-a-days” at the gym have wreaked havoc on your hormones.  Hormones are messengers to the body telling it to act in a certain way based on the condition or circumstance it finds itself in, bad or good, fight or flight. Cortisol is the one that is blamed the most, but ALL your hormones act together and must be in balance to affect the most efficient metabolism for a healthy body.  If they aren’t, weight loss becomes very difficult despite your best efforts, and these out-of-whack hormones can create certain symptoms that can derail you. In order to prevent this and lose weight, you have to be able to control these hormones, and we do this by controlling our hunger, energy and cravings…or HEC. Any one of these could be the problem, but because hunger can sometimes look like low energy and cravings, we always want to start with that one.

So what’s the first step? Well, each person has their own blueprint, and unfortunately there is no cookie-cutter solution, but paramount to success is making sure your food plan has a good balance of lean proteins, fruits and veggies, and the right amount of carbs and healthy fats. You must also watch sodium intake and drink lots of water.

Another huge component is eliminating stress as much as you can. Daily life breeds enough of this and meditation along with exercise can help in this area. But the added stress and pressure of trying so hard to get back in shape can be largely reduced with a successful day on your plan. By this I mean going through each day and laying your head on the pillow at night and saying, “I did it!” And doing it without intense cravings and hunger and yet full of energy. That’s success. That’s managing what the HEC you are eating. So here are a few ways to create that successful day…day after day after day.  

If you have been fighting hunger each day, step 1 is to add more protein, veggies and water to your meals. If that doesn’t do the trick, step 2 would be to add more fiber. I use an unflavored organic brand and add it to my water or tea. Step 3 would be to eliminate artificial sweeteners as these are proven to increase feelings of hunger. IF needed, step 4 would be to add in a couple of extra bites of a complex carb to one or more of your meals. You might find that your body can utilize more carbohydrates than you think. 

If cravings are the recurring problem, try step 1. You want to make sure that it is not really hunger you are dealing with. If you are still struggling, step 2 would be to try a few things like unsweetened cocoa, BCAAs (branched chain amino acids - I buy as a powder and add to my water) or green tea. Studies show all three help to balance the chemicals in our brain thereby reducing or minimizing cravings. Step 3 would be to increase exercise time…maybe add in a walk or a bike ride in the afternoon, but don’t overdo cardio. Strength training trumps straight cardio every time!

Low energy? Again, repeat step 1.  Low energy could be because you are not taking in enough nutrients or energy (food) to fuel your body. Step 2 would be eating more often like every 2 hours instead of every 3-4 hours. Step 3 if needed would be to add unsweetened cocoa. In addition to it aiding in reducing cravings, it is also known to contain properties that elevate mood and serve as an antidepressant.  That should give you a skip in your step or at least a smile on your face!


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