Taming the Hunger Monster

Tips for a well-balanced nutritional program

Photo credit: Creatas Images/Jupiter Images
by Christina Medvescek on July 1, 2004 - 3:00pm

There’s no one perfect diet for everyone with a neuromuscular disease. The right program depends on your health profile, tastes and lifestyle. But nutritionists and physicians agree that, in general, the best weight loss plan involves well-balanced nutrition.

Diet gurus may proclaim the miraculous effects of one kind of “macronutrient” over another — protein, fat, carbohydrate, grapefruit, whatever — but the bottom line for losing weight still comes down to calorie count.

Low-carbohydrate diets that are high in fat (such as Atkins) can lead to rapid weight loss, but the long-term health effects, safety and ability to maintain the weight loss are questionable, many physicians warn.

For adults, limiting calories to 1,500 a day while increasing activity should result in weight loss over the long run, counsels nutritionist Megan McCrory. Calories shouldn’t drop below 1,200 a day for adults, she adds.

Despite some recent criticism, the FDA food pyramid guidelines, combined with moderate exercise, produced good results over time in people with neuromuscular diseases, according to UC Davis research.

The main problem dieters face is hunger. Neuromuscular specialist Mark Tarnopolsky and Sandy Calvin, a clinical dietitian who consults at the Vicki Appel MDA Neuromuscular Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, suggest these ways of taming the hunger monster:

  • Eat small meals more frequently. Not only does this stave off hunger, but digesting and absorbing food actually burns calories. In other words, four meals of 250 calories each require more calories to digest and absorb than a single meal of 1,000 calories.
  • Review your vitamins. Taking too much B complex and iron can actually stimulate your appetite.
  • Choose carbs wisely. While carbohydrates aren’t the Great Satan, some are more evil than others — specifically highly processed foods such as white bread, cakes and sweets.

    Instead, choose carbs that are as close as possible to their natural state, such as fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals and breads. They won’t cause hunger by briefly spiking, then dropping, blood sugar and insulin levels.

  • Talk to your doctor about appetite suppressants. Taken under medical supervision, there are several prescription drugs that can provide a safe assist.

    Be careful with over-the-counter appetite suppressants that contain stimulants such as ephedrine or ma huang. These can cause anxiety, heart palpitations and fatal heart arrhythmias, which are especially dangerous if your NMD can lead to cardiomyopathy (as in Becker or Duchenne muscular dystrophy), or cardiac conduction disturbances (as in myotonic MD).

  • Accept yourself. By undertaking a long-term, intelligent dieting strategy, you may not become the slender man or woman of your dreams, but you’re very likely going to lose some weight and improve your health.
Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)
MDA cannot respond to questions asked in the comments field. For help with questions, contact your local MDA office or clinic or email publications@mdausa.org. See comment policy