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Optimizing Money on Food, Killing the Hunger Monster, Feeling Full and Insulin Resistance

We all have our “money awakening” at different points in our lives.

And we can be awaken for different reasons.

When we are awaken, we want to see how best we can optimize our current situation. And one of the questions asked is “what can we cut?”

And it often leads to “we spend a lot on food”

The following is a trigger list of spending that goes into forming your Personal Cash Flow Statement for a family of 2:

Your personal cash flow statement

personal cash flow statement

There are daily meals, and entertainment meals and groceries. It could make up $1020/mth or 36% of their total monthly expense.

Your big expenses relates to:

  1. food
  2. dwelling
  3. vacation
  4. insurance
  5. transportation (for some with cars)

If you optimize some of them, you could squeeze something out.

However, it should be noted that working smart, finding good employment opportunities and stepping up can earn a 10% increment or $300/mth more in cash flow so that you do not need to save so hard.

Don’t keep looking to squeeze, stretch as well.

However, if you are working towards a critical financial target that have a short time line such as:

  1. paying off a large debt in 3-4 years
  2. saving a large amount for wedding, and renovation in 2 years
  3. building up a fund for business opportunities

Some squeezing needs to take place.

Today, we are going to explore my philosophy when it comes to food and money.

Note: I do go into some health sciences and these are from what I research throughout the years and what worked for me. I am not a dietitian, doctor or nutritionist, so do not take what I say as gospel of truth.

You can only cut your food expense to a certain extent

In the past, I shared my experience preparing 7 days of lunch in one Sunday afternoon. We save time, effort and optimize the food cost.

I am still learning and modifying it.

However, what I realize is that, if your aim is to minimize cost, there is only this much you can cut.

Home prep meals of the same variety, might not be drastically cheaper when you include the time and effort that you put in to prepare.

If you choose the food that you buy outside, you might already outright reduce the costs, versus preparing meals.

However, this is if we are looking at optimizing food cost on a superficial manner.

If you are Constantly Hungry, your Food Expense will be Higher

This goes without saying.

A lot of people could not optimize their food expense…. because they have an insatiable thirst for life.

Or an insatiable appetite for food.

Live to Eat instead of Live to Eat.

If you live to eat, this is a rich life expense. If you cannot come to terms whether your critical financial goals is more important than living a rich life, then there is little we can do here. You can stop reading this article.

Your food expenses is high because you are always looking for food.

After you eat, you get hungry very quickly.

We are also brought up in a culture that we need to eat 3 meals a day and certain food keeps us filled.

The problem here is not a money problem.

You have a problem with keeping yourself satiated and easily seduced by food.  You may also have a health problem.

If you would like to optimize the amount of money you spend on food, you have got to solve the hunger problem first.

The Hormones Ghrelin and Leptin

Solve hunger urges and you can better control your food expense.

But why do we feel hungry?

From what I understand, there is usually not one reason. Hunger is a signal to let us know we need to put food into our body.

We get hungry because

  1. we do not have enough energy in our body
  2. our brain tells us the presence of good food
  3. problematic signalling

The third one is something that is a problem. Your body is telling you that you do not have enough energy or there is good food and you should eat. However, in reality, your body have adequate energy stored (as fats), but due to the problematic signalling, it keeps asking you to feed.

There are 2 hormones that were discovered that have an impact on whether we feel hungry.

  1. Leptin is the hormone that tells us we are full. Scientist have been trying to create drugs that increase the leptin in our body but they have failed. It only works on mice.
  2. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells us we are hungry.

When we know this it means that if leptin increases and ghrelin reduces, we don’t feel so hungry. When leptin reduces and ghrelin increases, we become crazy food monsters. Different people (male or female) and people with different body profile have different leptin and ghrelin sensitivity profile.

So how does knowing this help us?

Leptin gives us the signal that we are full. And high leptin are usually associated with fat cells. This means that if your body have adequate fats, it should signal to your body that “hey I have enough energy, I do not need to eat now”

However, we do develop leptin resistance. This is when the leptin signalling is not sensitive and we don’t get that I am not hungry signal.

Some causes of leptin resistance:

  • Fructose consumption (especially in forms like High Fructose Corn Syrup)
  • High stress levels
  • Consumption of a lot of simple carbs
  • Lack of sleep
  • High insulin levels (vicious cycle here)
  • Overeating
  • Exercising too much, especially if your hormones are already damaged
  • Grain and lectin consumption

Overeating is a particular problem. Here is the vicious cycle:

  1. Eat more, gain body fat.
  2. More body fat means more leptin in fat cells.
  3. Too much fat means that proper leptin signalling is disrupted.
  4. The brain thinks you’re starving, which makes you want to eat more.
  5. You get fatter. And hungrier.
  6. You eat more. Gain more fat.
  7. And so on.

Leptin resistance is also closely associated with Insulin resistance, which in my definition is early diabetes (which many of you have)

When we shift to ghrelin, some foods suppress ghrelin well so that you don’t get the hunger signal. Then there are some food that do not suppress ghrelin well.

These are usually the low fiber carbohydrates such as your grains, sugar, rice, flour. These are found in your cakes, breads, pastries. I would go so far as to say some vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli who have less fiber have the same effect.

You might feel full after eating them for a while, but you realize you get hungry quite easily.

To conclude this part, you might need to improve your lifestyle to reduce the leptin resistance and eat less low fiber carbohydrates so as to not fill so hungry.

Improve your Insulin Sensitivity

What is mentioned somewhere in the previous section is that fat is energy.

We have a stigma against fats but if we were to frame fats as energy, which it is, then you may look at it differently.

In our body there are three types of macro-nutrients. Macro nutrients are stuff that our body need in large quantities that is essential for human health.

They are

  1. Carbohydrates. These are your sugar glucose, sucrose and fructose for example
  2. Protein. Your meat, beans, egg white
  3. Fats. Your coconut oil, olive oil, fish oil, lard, avocado, butter, egg York.

These are your energy stores as well.

Some of them burns more efficiently then others. The one that burns more efficiently is carbohydrates, follow by fats and protein.

Let us assume that your body is “efficient”.

Carbohydrates from what I understand, are stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. When you need energy, the carbs become the go to stuff to burn as fuel.

When the level of glucose, or sugar ran low, your body signals to you that you do not have enough energy.

The signal is to be hungry. (Similar to the previous section)

If you don’t feed your body, an efficient body will tell itself: “we are not taking in anything, go to next energy storage bank”.

They will start burning the fat storage.

If you exhaust the fat storage, the last energy bank to burn is the protein.

You can recall something very similar in your life.

We used to watch Survivor a lot. And you will notice at the end, a lot of them lost a lot of weight.

They eat less during the 21 day show run, and when they run out of one energy bank, they were forced to tap their fat and then protein storage.

The last one is perhaps destructive and not a recommended situation to go into.

Another example for the guys is your national service experience.

Some of us went for attack exercise for 4 to 7 days, surviving on one or two packs of biscuits (because then as an 18 year old, we are choosy about the stuff we put into our body and we are bloody lazy at times)

Outfield exercise are one of the most strenuous activities out there. This is certainly more so then office work.

However, thinking back, you realize we can find the energy to call upon when we most need it.

That is how our body work in challenging scenario.

What happens when the body is NOT Efficient

The problem for most of us is that bad lifestyle choices have result in our body not able to provide signals to our body well or we make the wrong decisions when we were hit with the signals.

We also become less sensitive to some hormonal changes as well.

A lot of the resistance and lost in sensitivity is due to us eating too much of the wrong stuff over long periods of time.

You have heard of people saying stay away from sugar but why is that the case?

Sugar or glucose, as stated previously are a macro-nutrient that provides us with energy.

When we eat carbs such as bread, vegetables, pastry, pasta and cake, they are eventually broken down to their raw form which is sugar. Sugar enter your blood stream and if you eat a lot of carbs, you feel the surge in energy.

However, your body do not need all the sugar and what removes the sugar is a hormone called insulin. Insulin is produced by your pancreas.

When you eat food, your blood glucose level will spike. Insulin will release from the pancreas, to remove the excess blood glucose from the blood.  If this does not happen, your body will be in trouble.

Insulin job here is to convert the excess blood glucose into fats to store it somewhere.

As blood glucose is removed you can see the chart gradual go down.

This is a normal response.

For a normal person, their blood sugar in a day will oscillate within a optimal zone. The feeling you get is that you will not have sugar surges, and then a crash where you feel sleepy or intense hunger.

The problem is that as we take in more carbs, we get more sugar spikes, and more insulin release to bring it down.

Over time, the insulin becomes “not enough”. It’s not that it is not enough, it is that it becomes less sensitive.

More insulin seem like its useless to bring down your fasting blood sugar (the level when you are not eating)

This eventually becomes a diabetic condition.

The oscillation becomes more crazy. As you have more sugar, more of these gets converted to fats. Your blood sugar crash below the optimal level resulting in hunger and cravings.

The vicious effect continues.

Your body doesn’t receive that signal to use the fat storage. When you get low in your blood sugar, your hands start shaking and you feel like if you don’t eat, you are going to die.

So you eat more.

Doctors solution to this is to increase your insulin in your body to bring down the blood sugar. I wonder if that solution is sound.

If the signal is a problem, then we should fix the signalling issue. To do that the first step is not to let our blood sugar spike to such a high level.

The chart above shows how your blood glucose change with various food intake.

To reset you might need a period where you stay away or severely reduce food with high glycemic index and load.

There are a few eating schemes that have helped people dramatically lose weight, and re-establish their insulin sensitivity:

  • Low carbs high fat / Keto / Paleo
  • Intermittent Fasting

These 2 eating schemes are the subject of intense debate. It is food politics at times.

And intermittent fasting as they say, should be done under supervision.

My Experience with Insulin Sensitivity, Ghrelin and Leptin

One of the reason why I can do what I do is because I don’t get into extreme hunger situation.

My diet is very lower carbs. I do not take the simple sugars such as white sugar, flour. I do take 5 spoonful of rice at dinner. The breakfast is mainly the bigger dish of yam, sweet potato, vegetables, eggs and chicken. The dinner is usually vegetables and chicken.

I do not have to make use of will power to stop myself from sinful eating. You have a finite amount of willpower.

If you use too much of it at work, you realize you do not have enough to stop you from eating sinful things.

I used to think there is something wrong with my body, then I realize its that for breakfast, I eat adequate such that I do not feel hungry.

I also learn that what I eat has an effect on my mental state.

Above shows my previous lunch. It is cauliflower rice and chicken. At some point, I removed the chicken and ate cauliflower rice (because it is adequate)

While cauliflower, carrot and eggs are technically not grains or carbs with fiber that does not count towards my total net carbohydrates, cauliflower and carrot probably lean towards the vegetables with the lowest fiber.

At 3-4 pm, my brain will start wandering around for food, even though I don’t feel hungry.

This is due to low activity, but perhaps due to how satiated I was.

Recently, I decide to try something different.

I decided to remove the cauliflower rice and replace it with 3 eggs, half a chicken breast, some lard and 6 almond nuts. This meal probably comes up to $1.80 or $2.00.

First thing is there aren’t much carbs, lots of protein and fats.

I realize when I finish the third egg, I was damn full.

To compound this, I notice that I absolutely don’t feel like eating anything after that.

Its no joke that the most satiating thing is protein and fats encourage leptin. This combination killed any hunger monster out there.

This meal is also rather simple to prepare considering steam eggs take 7 minutes to cook and steam chicken breast take 5 minutes after the water boil.

What You Could Do

What I presented here might seem radical but I think its more of figuring out on a deeper level something we often ignore.

Or that it is tainted by traditional hearsay that might not be true.

A lot of the hearsay is:

  1. When you are hungry you must eat. What if its your body giving you the wrong signal? Fat burning also take place 20-30 mins after you become hungry and unfed. If every time keep eating, when does our body have the opportunity to burn away the excess?
  2. You must eat many small meals.
  3. You must eat breakfast because it is important.
  4. It is normal to feel sleepy after lunch.

If you combine the 3 above, you end up always eating. With reduced will power, we tend to end up snacking a lot.

Before we talk about optimizing money, perhaps its time to get in tune with your body:

  1. How hungry do you normally get? Is it a sign that your blood sugar is always low or a lot of the time you can endure through it?
  2. How long do you stay satiated after eating certain kind of food?
  3. Does your brain wander about, asking you to find food for the body?
  4. When is the longest you can live without food in a day?

To be in tune with your body, you need to do some control experiments.

In the process you might debunk some beliefs you had previously.

I have cited some things you can try to manage your hunger and fullness. If you are able to control the hunger monster, everything becomes easier.

  1. In army, you can do crazy things on limited food. How come now that you are in an office environment you couldn’t?
  2. Instead of leaving the meat till the end of the meal, eat the meat at the start. This reduces the speed of the glucose entering the bloodstream, reducing the glucose spike effect
  3. If you think rice is the only thing that keeps you full, try eating meat and 3 eggs. You will realize you cannot eat a lot of protein and fats, while for simple carbs like pastry and cakes you will not feel full easily
  4. Don’t say you can never do fasting. When you stop eating at 7 pm and eat breakfast at 8 am the next day, you have fasted for roughly 13 hours. Could you extend it for 3 more hours? (there is a intermittent fasting scheme that calls for a 16 hour fast and eating within an 8 hour window) [4 different fasting schemes]
  5. Our Muslim friends during Ramadan fasted for an entire day and have food only one meal per day. There are people that practice taking one meal a day.

So if you succeed in controlling your hunger, stay satiated, your body might improve. Your energy level will also improve and you can become more productive.

You realize you

  • can have 2 meals a day. This dramatically reduces the amount of food you need to prepare. And you can prepare them at home
  • burn away the excess fats. Through your own further research, you might realize that you can trigger your body to tap upon these excess fats and use them as energy. You need less food and thus less cost

If you are chipping away on your debt, it would be great if you can get in tough with your body and find a new you as well.

This article is part of my series on Redesigning your Life for the Better. You can read the rest of the articles here.

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Tuesday 27th of June 2017

Hi Kyith, What about your long term health? That could become more costly than spending an extra dime today on eating a healthy diet. You may want to check a few documentaries worth watching. It gives a different perspective. Food for thought. :)


Tuesday 27th of June 2017

I watched food inc before but not the rest. Why would you think this would cost my long term health?

Tai Lai Kwan

Tuesday 27th of June 2017

Can read your blog just fine. Good reading as always. Thanks


Tuesday 27th of June 2017

Thanks Lai Kwan

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