I Banished My Food Cravings. Here's How.
From drinking obscene amounts of water to downing protein shakes to popping fiber supplements, I've tried nearly every trick to curb the pangs. For a while I thought something might be physically wrong with me. Thyroid problem? Hypoglycemia? Tapeworm? My blood work, however, was normal, my doctor told me. (He placed the problem in my head, not my gut.) It seemed the only way to combat my appetite was to bounce between extremes. And so for years, I endured regular bouts of fasting and undereating to offset my indulgences, taking in less than 1,000 calories some days. I exercised often and vigorously.
Then I heard about the new book Always Hungry? by endocrinologist David Ludwig, MD, PhD. I answered the title's question with a resounding yes and dove right in.
Ludwig claims that persistent hunger like mine is a result of restricting calories while consuming too many processed carbs—including supposedly healthy kinds like baked, low-fat potato chips—which cause blood-sugar spikes that lead to more hunger and overeating. Early in his medical career, Ludwig advised overweight patients to eat low-fat, high-carb diets, but instead of losing weight, most kept packing on pounds. Yet when he put himself on a higher-fat, lower-carb plan, he noticed that his own weight—and, more important, his cravings—dropped off. Now he's the director of a childhood obesity clinic and preaches a nutritional gospel that flips old-school ideas on their head.
Ludwig's plan ignores calorie counting entirely and emphasizes fat, protein and nonstarchy vegetables. For most people he recommends that 40 percent of calories come from fat, which is how Americans ate in the 1960s, when rates of obesity were about a third of what they are today. On Ludwig's plan, you serve yourself reasonable portions of fatty or lean protein, add tablespoons of tahini sauce to your vegetables, and munch on berries doused in heavy cream to start, slowly adding back grains, starchy vegetables and even some processed carbs. According to a pilot project conducted by Ludwig's team, this program causes longer-lasting fullness, so you're better able to resist the siren song of ultimately unsatisfying carby snacks.
It all sounded easy enough until I got to the part about sugar, alcohol and grains. Namely, that I couldn't have any, at least for two weeks of the plan. But I dutifully followed Ludwig's principles, heaping my plates with enough cheese to make a dairy farmer faint. Guiltlessly consuming Brie took some getting used to. And while I enjoyed dropping a few pounds in the first couple of weeks, breaking up with processed sugar was no picnic. When I spotted a giant cake at the office, I whimpered in agony. Yet where Old Me would have broken down and packed her maw with icing, New Me rose to the challenge with an odd sense of resolve. I didn't need the cake because—bizarre though it was—I was honest-to-goodness full. Soon, I became a person who nonchalantly ate a burger sans bun without going on a Doritos-seeking mission to compensate. Now I routinely feel so full after breakfast that I don't want lunch until late afternoon. Instead of feeling bossed around by my body, I finally have real control. And as it turns out, bossy looks pretty good on me.