Q&A with Dr. P: Weight Management Tips & Tricks

Written and medically reviewed by Naomi Parrella, MD

Lunchtime Hunger, Chronic Stress, Electrolyte Needs, & Parental Challenges When Fasting

By Dr. Naomi Parrella, MD

Feeling ravenous by lunchtime? Worried about chronic stress? Wondering whether you need an electrolyte supplement? Struggling to maintain your fasting practice while parenting?

Concerns like these come up regularly in my clinic and during Zero Live sessions. These challenges can interfere with health goals, including managing weight and metabolism, that promote longevity. Read on for answers that will help you continue making progress towards your weight loss and health gain goals!

Q&A

When I fast, I get super hungry by lunchtime—especially if it’s been a stressful day. What can I do?

First off, I want to say that hunger is a normal and necessary signal from the body. Feeling hungry at lunchtime is therefore perfectly normal, especially if that’s when you typically break your fast. However, if the hunger signals are increasing or earlier than expected (i.e., before you want to break your fast), this might be your body signaling it’s in a state of dehydration or lacking sufficient protein. Start tracking those things—namely water, salts, and protein—and ensure you’re giving your body what it needs. More often than not, if you replenish your fluids and salts and get enough protein in your eating window, your hunger levels will dissipate.

The other possibility is that your hunger is actually a stress-induced craving. If you’re “dying for sugar” by lunchtime, that could indicate that you have built up a lot of cortisol (from chronic stress) that’s not getting released. If this is the case, try incorporating some meditation, breathing exercises, or even a gentle walk into your morning routine to try and get those stress levels to come down. Spending time deeply connecting with people you trust also works well to reduce stress. Chances are you’ll find that your hunger decreases, too!

A lot of times, I don’t realize stress is affecting me until my health and fasting routine has gone off the rails. What are some early warning signs of chronic stress?

A common indicator of chronic stress is disrupted sleep. If you can’t get to sleep or you wake up frequently throughout the night, that can be a sign of chronic stress. Studies show that sleep disruption can further increase stress levels because the body isn’t getting a chance to recover.

Unusual levels of fatigue, regardless of sleep, are another sign of chronic stress. Patients will often tell me they just feel “blah,” lazy, or simply unmotivated. The cause isn’t always stress, but it often can be. Talking with a healthcare professional or mental health specialist or counselor can help you identify what might be causing the fatigue. 

If you’re having difficulty maintaining a healthy weight—and particularly if you notice the weight gain is happening around your waistline—it can be an indicator that you’re developing stress-induced metabolic dysfunction. Definitely find support, such as licensed healthcare professionals, to catch and reverse this early so you don’t develop further health complications. There are lab tests that can help identify how your metabolism is functioning so you can determine where to focus your energy. 

Other signs of mounting chronic stress to look out for include:

  • Frequent infections or colds and longer recovery times
  • Irritable bowels and/or stomach aches
  • Tension in your neck or shoulders; backaches
  • Greater irritability or desire to withdraw from people/experiences you normally love
  • Increases in:
    • Blood pressure
    • Resting heart rate (baseline)
    • Blood sugar
  • Decreased heart rate variability

In all of these cases, there are professionals who can help decipher what might be going on so that, together, you can design a strategy and choose the tactics to help you better manage the chronic stress, improve your ability to recover, feel better, and thrive. 

Is it necessary to add electrolytes when I’m fasting, or is plain water fine?

I’ll start by reiterating that electrolytes and water are essential for your body to remain hydrated and keep your nerves and muscles working properly. So when you’re fasting, you definitely need to be mindful of drinking sufficient fluids! For most people, however, if you’re regularly eating real food around your fasts, it’s unnecessary to add electrolytes.

There are, of course, exceptions. If you’re an athlete or sweating a lot (e.g., you’re on vacation or live somewhere hot), you may need to supplement with electrolytes during your fast. Likewise, if you’re vomiting or having diarrhea, or if you take medications such as diuretics that cause loss of salts in urine, you also may need to supplement.

Individuals starting a very low-carbohydrate diet or a very low-calorie diet (800 calories or fewer) should be under medical supervision and should therefore follow any recommendations from their healthcare providers regarding electrolytes. You should also talk to your doctor about electrolytes and fluids if you’re older; have heart disease, kidney or adrenal disorders, diabetes, or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS); and/or tend to have very low blood pressures.

I’m about to have my first child. What are some parent-specific fasting challenges, and how can I prepare for them?

Anyone with children knows: Kids are always watching, and they tend to copy what they see. So while you may want your children to copy many of your health behaviors, fasting is not one of them, because it’s unhealthy for children to fast.

To prevent this from happening, find fasting patterns that allow you to share meals with your children. For example, if they’re usually home for dinner, ensure that your eating window includes dinner so you can eat together. Alternatively, if they tend to stay out late, shift your schedule so you can eat breakfast or lunch with them.

It’s also a good idea to deemphasize your fasting practice and ensure other adults aren’t making a big deal out of it. Children may not understand the difference between fasting and severe restriction, like anorexia, so instead of focusing on “not eating,” redirect any related conversation towards the healthy nutrition choices your children can imitate. For example, if someone offers you a hot dog at a cookout, instead of responding, “I can’t, I’m fasting,” you could say, “I’m not hungry yet,” or “I’m planning to grill salmon later.”

The final challenge I’ll mention is that sometimes, being a parent means having frequent access to foods you’d prefer to avoid. (Looking at you, fast food and candy!) Convenience is often king, but when you’re constantly exposed to foods that are hard to resist, it can be hard to stick to your intended fasts. Here are some tips for dealing with this issue and staying in control:

  1. Plan. Pack health-promoting foods/drinks to share! Being on the go doesn’t mean you must resort to fast food or unhealthy snacks.
  2. Distract. Find a way to distract yourself for 10–15 minutes, and oftentimes the craving will pass.
  3. Hydrate. Use a fast-friendly beverage to help redirect your hunger cues. Fragrant tea, coffee, or even ice-cold water will work.
  4. Pause. If you order something at a drive-thru, plan the time when you will eat it (instead of instantly—and mindlessly—scarfing it down).
  5. Decline. If you’re with other parents, empower yourself to say, “I’m looking forward to having [something] at home,” or even, “No thank you. Not right now.”

Becoming a parent changes us. It highlights our limitations and challenges while simultaneously  pushing us to grow and contribute to the world. It shows us that being human means being imperfect, no matter how much you prepare; you are joining others who have been there and done that. This time is temporary and will pass, so give yourself grace. By keeping a good sense of humor and reminding yourself that you can always reset and restart, you can squeeze the most joy out of every experience while learning important lessons along the way. 

I hope you’ll join us at the next Zero Live event with Dr. Jeremy Alland of the Chicago Bulls and share what you’ve learned!

Naomi Parrella, MD
Posted in Q+A's

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