It’s the strangest phenomenon. You don’t eat for a while and you end up finding that you don’t have all that much of an appetite. Maybe you had to skip lunch because of work. You should be famished once 5 pm rolls around. Instead, you find that you don’t have all that much of an appetite and could probably go longer without eating.
It sounds like a pathway to weight loss, but doing this is unhealthy and could lead to serious eating disorders. It's just this simple: our bodies need food.
Still, it’s strange that this phenomenon happens. There seem to be a few reasons for it.
The Role of Adrenaline
Adrenaline serves several purposes in the human body. The one most know about is the “fight or flight” response. You enter a dangerous situation and your body goes into overdrive. It pumps adrenaline to give you that extra bit of strength. You can use that to fight – which in this case could mean anything from engaging in fisticuffs to lifting a car – or to go hurtling away from the situation as fast as your legs will carry you.
[See more: How Caffeine Revs Up Your Metabolism]
But that’s not all that adrenaline does. Not eating puts your body under stress. This leads to the release of adrenaline. The strange thing is that adrenaline doesn’t appear to have the usual negative effects in this situation as it does in a fight or flight scenario. You won’t get an elevated heart rate. Your blood pressure won’t increase.
What you will find is that you don’t feel particularly hungry even after not eating for a while. This is most obvious when fasting. You may feel hungry initially. However, after a while, those hunger pangs start to disappear. It looks like adrenaline plays a role there.
What adrenaline does is drive a process called lipolysis. This is the process your body undertakes when it wants to break down your fat reserves to give itself some energy. Lipolysis also prevents you from burning through your muscle when you don’t eat for a while.
Why Does That Happen?
Lipolysis likely occurs as an evolutionary function. Think back to the early days of humanity. No, you won’t be drawing from experience here. Just imagine it for a moment.
Early humans didn’t have what we have today. There was no intense agriculture. People didn’t have easy access to food. Instead, we were hunter/gatherers.
That means that there would be periods where early humans just couldn’t access food. Maybe there was a predator roaming around that everybody needed to hide from. Or, the time of year meant less food.
That’s where lipolysis probably started kicking in for those early humans. Their bodies would burn through their fat reserves so that they could keep going during lean periods. The elimination of hunger pangs that comes from this would distract from the issue and ensure the human could focus on getting food rather than how much he or she needed food.
It’s something that most of us don’t experience today. You probably have access to food even if you don’t eat for a while. Even so, not eating triggers the same sort of response and your body goes into a sort of survival mode. Adrenaline plays a key role in keeping that going until you eventually decide to eat.
The Blood Glucose Issue
It’s not just your fat reserves you need to think about. Not eating means your body doesn’t get the sugars it needs to operate properly. This leads to a process called gluconeogenesis, which also causes the loss of appetite. Gluconeogenesis is your body’s way of telling itself that blood glucose levels are too low.
When you undergo gluconeogenesis, your body starts producing more of a hormone called glucagon. This increases blood glucose levels while also dropping insulin production.
Gluconeogenesis presents a lot of problems. It causes your body to start breaking down fats and tissues, kind of like how adrenaline does. However, if you don’t eat at all the process goes further. Your body will start breaking down vital tissues and organs as it enters a deeper survival mode.
This leads to something called a stasis level. Your stomach shrinks or even collapses, and your intestinal operations slow to a crawl. Still, at least your blood glucose levels stabilize. This process gets rid of the hunger pangs and makes it possible for you to hunt for food without hunger looming over you.
But, your body is also shutting itself down as this happens. Failing to eat for a long period while undergoing gluconeogenesis can lead to some major issues. Seizures and cardiac arrests will happen if you take too long to eat.
It takes about five days, on average, for the human body to get to this point. There’s even a name for it - refeeding syndrome. It doesn’t matter how big you are. You can still end up with refeeding syndrome if you don’t eat for a sustained period of time. That’s because your body needs the glucose from food as much as it needs the calories it gets from your fat.
See more: The Sugar Free Diet Diaries
What Does It All Mean?
So, the strange thing is that losing your hunger pangs is your body’s way of telling you that it really needs food. You haven’t crossed some magic threshold that allows you to not eat as much as you used to. Instead, your body basically eats itself as a last resort until you decide to throw some food into the mix.
If you’re feeling this way now, eat something small. Have you ever noticed how your appetite increases after you’ve eaten a small appetizer at a restaurant? That’s because you’re telling your body that it’s time for food.
The same will happen if you haven’t eaten to the point that you don’t feel hunger pangs. A little food will tell your body that you have something to eat. Suddenly, your appetite will come back with a vengeance and remind you that you kind of need food to survive.
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