More Thoughts on Endocrine

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on June 20, 2011 at 9:53 am

It’s useless to try to persuade me to be uninterested in endocrine.  If your interests lie elsewhere, I forgive you for skipping my entries on the topic.

First the news:  I heard from Katarina Borer, author of Exercise Endocrinology

As a lay person, it’s hard to know what qualifies as a respected source on a particular topic.  What I know is that in terms of textbooks, it’s the first that pops up when you do searches on Google, Yahoo or Bing using the terms “exercise endocrine.”  It gets Google’s top honors, in that it appears in the number one position, above articles from clearly “popular” sources, such as  Moreover, two other articles from Katarina Borer appear in top ten slots.  That’s my confession.   I have accepted this woman’s qualifications on the basis of her Google Quotient.  She, of course, rose even higher in my esteem when she contacted me by email, and attached three articles for my review (two in which she was lead author, one a commentary on one of the other pieces).  She attained nearly saint status by paying me a compliment, “I found your postings interesting and remarkably well-informed for a person who is not actively engaged in research.”

There.  Confessions dispensed.  I will, sometime soon, review those articles, but they will require time to digest.  I have read each one’s first two paragraphs, and it is apparent to me that I will need to read these articles when my intellectual cylinders are all firing properly and I am under the influence of a precise dose of caffeine.  (Too little and I don’t make important, rapid mental connections; too much and I start cleaning my house instead.)

Several things emerged in the comments on my last post that gave me “Eureka” twinges:  

  1. That other people experience “eat impulses” and at least one commenter feels relieved to have language to describe them.   Our vocabulary, clearly, is constrained by having only two words to describe the sensations that precede eating:  hunger and appetite.  With dozens of hormones, peptides, proteins and the like, reacting in hundreds or thousands of combinations with our individual gene profiles and contributing to our metabolic processes, it seems a bit silly to me that we reduce the entire process to two, singular tense, words.  Moreover, the limits imposed by these two words have created a perfect Petri dish for fomenting the social discord we size acceptance proponents know as weight bias and the oppressors are happy to use in a “war on obesity.”  To wit:  “If you don’t eat when you’re hungry, obviously you’re simply responding to appetite, you out-of-control schmuck, and we, society, will judge you harshly for that if it results in a larger body than we find pleasing.  Hmmmmph!  (We’ll leave you alone or even venerate you if you can eat sans hunger and remain trim.)”
  2. That perhaps I share more common ground with the paleo people than I thought.  I found myself thinking about and writing on “ancient wiring.”  It occurs to me that those “eat impulses” are the precursors to legitimate hunger.  They are our body’s cue to emerge from our caves or descend from our trees and go hunt and gather, before hunger sets in and we are too light-headed and weak to get the job done.   In modern culture, however, descending from a tree may be a 13-step staircase down to the kitchen, or emerging from a cave may mean leaving behind a La-Z-Boy recliner and walking seven steps to a refrigerator door.
  3. That perhaps exercise, of a particular intensity (which may be unique to each individual), is a cue to our ancient biology, “I’m on the hunt now; I’m gathering.  You can turn off the impulses to eat for a bit, and hunger would be pointless.”
  4. That the abatement from “eat impulses” may be especially useful to weight-loss maintenance when exercise is timed for morning, in that the effects of the exercise may persist for some time afterwards, or may moderate impulses during the day.  (This is just based on my own experience and two seemingly well-informed commenters, oh, okay, BRILLIANT commenters – since they agree with me.)
  5. That scientific research dollars are way too limited, so that some otherwise generous souls are possessed to feel a bit protective of their areas of interest/research, even when another area may pose no direct threat, other than to slurp up those limited dollars. 

I look forward to reading Katarina’s articles.  To whet your appetite (ack!), they include sexy words like leptin, ghrelin, insulin, peptide – 1 (GPL-1), peptide YY, homeostasis and others that I hope will explain, with science, the experiences and impulses and we encounter in our everyday lives.  I read with the eyes of a maintainer only.  Ah, that I were a scientist, but then I might suffer from “one truth” syndrome, a malady I’m happy to avoid.

  1. I suspect that I’m mostly not experiencing those “eat impulses” these days because I’m maintaining a 40 pound weight loss, and not any greater weight loss (at 85 or so pounds above what would be a “normal” BMI). Any more, and I would likely be hungrier. I can eat less, and move less, but if I move more, I want to eat more.
    I think that “patient/scientists” like you are likely going to lead to advances that “unbiased scientists” wouldn’t.

    My daughter is saying “do it!” — meaning, stop typing already and look up the recipe for cookies — my excuse for going online at the moment. I’m looking for a recipe that includes whole wheat, flax meal and maybe some nut meal, too. But still, cookies.

    • Forty pounds is still significant. Hmmm. We’re all so individual. And you are probably right that losing more would present additional problems.

      Hope your cookies came out well.

      • They did, thanks.

        I don’t think of myself as a weight loss maintainer — I think of myself as someone who has made adjustments to manage my life in the best way, and this is where my weight is as a result. Is 40 pounds significant? Sure, it makes some things easier. But I still get anxious about seeing a new doctor and getting the “you need to lose weight” speech. I wish they would take a detailed weight history before starting down that path.

  2. I have been exercising in the evening for a while. You have inspired me to start exercising in the morning again. I will keep you posted on what happens.

  3. I weould love to hear about individuals’ experience with the timing of exercise with the experience of hunger-.

    I’d also like to know the behaviour that accompanies the “impulse to eat.” Is it a response to physiological cues–or psychological? That matters to me, DebraSY, but does it matter to you, I wonder? Just curious.

    • I’d love to hear about individuals’ experiences too, Alana.

      With regard to the behavior that accompanies my “eat impulses,” sometimes it’s kind of a creepy, mindless thing. I often don’t feel any particular emotion, but find myself at the refrigerator with my hand on the door, having simply wandered there. Instead of judging my psychological state, as women’s magazines would have me to do — “Bad, me. I eat when I’m bored!” I wonder, why did I do that? I mean, why don’t I mindlessly wander to the laundry room when I’m bored? It’s a pleasant place too, and I find folding laundry soothing. Why don’t I wander to the bedroom? There are all kinds of options in there for entertainment, for soothing, for whatever. The answer to my question, “why did I do that?” as far as I can tell, is that a cue or combination of cues from my endocrine system impelled me there, mindlessly, over all the other options in my world. If I am in an emotional state — suffering general anxiety, anger, etc. — I’m more likely to follow through and open the refrigerator door and grab something to eat. Again, instead of judging my psychological state: “I’m an emotional eater!” I think it’s more productive to step back and analyze. It’s all very complicated. (Emotions are endocrine reactions too, after all, and they engage many of the same chemicals that our food consumption mechanisms do.) However, I think that instead of eating for emotional reasons (in response to emotion-triggered endocrine), mostly, I eat at the call of primal, survival-programmed endocrine impulses. My emotions merely distract me, so that I do not override my primal impulses with reason or logic that acknowledges my modern food environment, in which it is so much easier to access food than in the food environment that my primal ancestors had to navigate. That’s my theory, anyway.

      • Thanks for your gracious response. It’s all so confusing. I’m sorry. I really need to work some of these issues out for myself and I really appreciate your ear. I don’t want to bend it right off, though.

        I’m just somehow kind of frightened that I have set up a sort of neural pathway that goes something like, “when upset about x, go eat y” –I’d like to erradicate any such cause and effect relationship in my life, if indeed any exists. (Sometimes I wonder if I haven’t simply become some sort of eating disordered hypochondriac).

        By the by, for what it’s worth, I think insight #2 is absolutely spot on.

      • Mi ear es su ear, Alana. This blog is all about working out these issues. That’s its point. I established it in large part because I was boring my poor husband. You think you may be some “eating disordered hypochondriac”? Somedays, ME TOO! The other day Dr. Sharma said that maintenance requires “nothing short of developing a compulsive obsession.” I was, like, “Ouch. No way! Okay, maybe. Sh*t.” Of course, other days, I’m much more confident. Generally, if I can get myself one step removed, and the science is so helpful to me in that regard, I feel a bit better about it all.

    • In terms of timing of exercise, I find it best to exercise just before a scheduled meal. That way although I am hungry I am just going to eat a normal meal that I would have eaten anyway. I prefer to run before breakfast (as long as I’m running less than 1 hour — otherwise I need fuel). I go outside and run, come home and shower, eat my normal breakfast and head off to work.

      • Welcome to the blog, Rhodia. I kept your schedule almost exactly for the first four years of my maintenance. I ran in the early morning, right after taking a thyroid pill and right before what I called “first breakfast.” Then I was off to work. Makes me nostalgic. I do miss the running! Be tender with your joints.

  4. Your previous post has been on my mind for the last week or so.

    I go through phases where I experience something similar to your “eat impulses” in afternoon – I get fuzzy, sleepy, and can’t retain or recall information, crave salty junk food, usually end up with a bag of something salty from the vending machine, not that that ever helped.

    In my case, weight isn’t a big concern, so I’ve been focusing on the fuzziness and tiredness (sucks at work, let me tell you) and not on the salty junk food craving. Today when it hit, I happened to be in the car, so I stopped for a pound of pistachios. A quarter of the way through the bag, my head cleared. A little bag of fritos doesn’t help, but a quarter pound of nuts did the trick. Huh.

    I do have endocrine issues (Grave’s disease, often controlled by meds into hypothyroidism) and I’ve always wonder if the fuzzy hours are related. Something’s going on.

    • Hi, Anne, welcome to the blog! Yup. Something’s going on, indeed.

      I’m not a doctor and do not offer medical advice, but I don’t think there’s any danger in pointing out that your craving for salt may be a craving for protein, a body building component, unlike grain-based carbs (especially of the the junky variety) that are mainly space fillers and transport vehicles for other nutrients. We prepare most meats and nuts with salt, and our bodies have picked up on this. You likely have grabbed for the salty carbs instead of proteins because carbs send out quicker satiety cues, and your body knows this too.

      It sounds to me like you just ran an accidental experiment, n = 1, on yourself that may have provided you useful information for managing your own body. Trust your body. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably get myself some snack-sized zip lock bags, portion up some nuts I find appealing. (It’s easy to go overboard with nuts, since they don’t send out quick satiety cues, and that’s why I’d portion them in satisfying but not regret-worthy amounts.) My next experiment would be to see if you can avert the “fuzzy head” that you have observed, by eating the nuts a half-hour to hour before “fuzzy head” would normally kick in. See whether that helps. It may help some days but not others. In any event, if you buy yourself a nonfuzzy afternoon a couple times a week, that’d be worth something.

      That’s my two cents. And probably only worth that much.

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