Sophia and David talk about microwave meals, intermittent fasting and the best stir fry order at Plex East. Content warning: mentions of calorie counting. We recommend talking with a doctor before making any major changes to your diet.

Sophia: Hello, hello, and welcome to Solved by Science, the show where we answer all the questions that keep you up at night. I'm your host, Sophia, and today I have my friend David with me.

David: Hi, I'm David. I am a sophomore studying journalism at Northwestern. I'm an assistant managing editor for North by Northwestern with Sophia, and I'm very excited to have some questions answered. We also co-host another podcast together. It's called Second GenerAsian. It's really cool. You should check it out.

Sophia: It's really great. Listen to us, and also our friend HJY. Anyway, so I'm here to answer one of David's questions.

David: Freshman year, I would eat a lot of microwave meals because you know, I was lazy. I didn't really want to leave the dorm. One thing I noticed is microwave meals and other very cheap food items never really filled me up. I would eat a lot, and it would just feel like my stomach was still empty. I don't know much about how food or science or anything works, but to me, it's like if I'm eating calories, shouldn’t I have the same amount of energy from those calories? I mean, obviously, like you're not getting nutrients, which I might have just answered my own question there. But yeah, I was wondering why don't microwave meals fill me up?

Sophia: Well, we can talk about that more. You did touch a little bit on it. So we can talk about some empty calories and sugars versus complex carbs, that kind of thing. But first, I'm going to talk a little bit about hunger. So, when you feel hungry, that's usually when your blood sugar and insulin levels are dropping. And then that releases ghrelin, which signals hunger. You feel full when you eat, and then your fat cells release leptin to let your body know that you're feeling full. And a lot of this communication happens with the hypothalamus, which is a structure in your brain, and it plays a big role in releasing hormones. Back to your question, why don't microwave meals – or ramen, I guess – fill you up? I'm more of a ramen fan than the microwave meal.

David: Yeah, I mean, they're all in the same wider category to me.

Sophia: They're all the same college student is too lazy

David: Yeah, exactly.

Sophia: Only has a microwave in their sad CRC dorm room.

David: Right.

Sophia: Let's start by talking about empty calories. You mentioned that you weren't getting any nutrients. So a lot of these foods, like microwave meals, don't have too much nutritional value, at least the ones I'm eating. I was eating a lot of ramen and mac and cheese last year. What were you eating?

David: Literally the same thing.

Sophia: Yeah, some things like, I don't know, Trader Joe’s, might have a little bit more.

David: Doubtful, honestly.

Sophia: But Kraft Mac and Cheese, not it. So these don't have any nutritional value or vitamins, and they're usually full of fat and sugar. So none of that is really great for you. And there's also a difference between sugar and simple carbs versus complex carbs. So simple sugars don't take a lot of time to digest. So things like ramen, mac and cheese. I know you were eating other microwave meals from H Mart.

David: Yeah, I would eat a lot of the Korean like porridge type meals like congee. It was all very similar to me, like in terms of how I would feel afterwards. It's just like not great.

Sophia: So they don't take a ton of time to digest. So what happens is your glucose levels rise super fast, and then when you crash, it makes you feel irritable. So you should eat other things that keep you full for longer because it slows down the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream. So things that keep you full longer: fiber, I'm sure you've heard that before.

David: Yes.

Sophia: And then things like ramen or mac and cheese have a ton of sodium in them. And your body retains more water when you're eating a lot of salty things, and you feel bloated. So that might also be part of why you feel really gross afterwards.

David: Right. Yeah, I mean, after I would eat like a microwave meal, or you know, some kind of cheap, quick meal that I don't have to leave the dorm for, I felt so bad that it's like I might as well have just left the dorm and gone to a dining hall and gotten real food.

Sophia: See when I eat microwave meals or ramen, what I usually do is like if I do it for dinner, I'll bring back veggies from the salad bar, so I feel less bad about it.

David: Yeah, to me, that defeats the purpose. You know, it's if I'm already there. If I'm going to bring home like veggies, or ingredients to supplement a microwave meal, I might as well just bring home leftover food and eat that.

Sophia: That's true, but sometimes you just want some ramen.

David: It's like a snack to me. It's not like food food.

Sophia: Anyway, something else I'm interested in with you and food is intermittent fasting.

David: So over the summer, I started intermittent fasting because I was on a pretty busy schedule, and I didn't have time to eat breakfast. And so basically, I would not eat before noon. And so once I got back from a study abroad program, I still kept it up because I found myself not getting hungry before 12 as long as I kept up the fast. If I kept it up for a couple of weeks, eventually I’d get to a point where I literally just don't get hungry at a certain point. I only eat between 12 and 8pm. The only time I find myself getting getting hungry is if I like break the fast or I kind of have a cheat day, then I'll get more hungry the next day. My logic behind it is that if I'm not hungry, or like my body doesn't tell me that I need food, what's the point of eating?

Sophia: Are you doing it to like lose weight or be healthier or...

David: Yeah

Sophia: Was it just a you realized you didn't get hungry type of thing?

David: A lot of it was weight loss. I've just heard it's good for you. I'm eating like plenty of food. It's not like I'm starving myself. I haven't gotten out of shape, really, at least not the way that I did last year, freshman year when I would just gorge myself all the time. I'm being a lot more reasonable about the food that I eat. Because I think intermittent fasting and only eating two meals a day kind of gives me a lot more flexibility within those meals. I can eat whatever I want.

Sophia: So I know at the beginning of the year, you were also calorie counting a little bit. Did you notice that you were eating less calories because you're eating two meals or are you eating more during those meals?

David: I think it's just like it's easier for me to hit my target, which I mean, I still kind of do, I just I'm not as diligent about tracking it. I found that the meals that I would be eating anyway are just the right size to get me to my calorie target. If I eat them twice a day, obviously like the thing that I've been eating a lot of lately is Plex East stir fry, which is about 900 calories and if my targets 1800 calories that I just need that twice a day and I'm right on target. That's very convenient portion size wise.

Sophia: Do you usually go to Plex twice a day? Because I’m always at Allison. I do want to get stir fry sometime.

David: You should.

Sophia: So let's do that.

David: I got literally get Plex stir fry twice a day.

Sophia: What's your recommendation for Plex stir fry?

David: They just added sweet chili sauce, and it slaps. It's so good. My go-to at the start of the quarter was chicken and brown rice. Lately, I've been getting like pork and noodles. You gotta like be a bit creative with the sauces, because they have the sweet chili sauce. But if you had a little bit of the soy sauce or like the Szechuan sauce, it's pretty good. You can have some versatility. You know, I put a lot of scallions, a lot of onions, a little bit of bell peppers. Gotta heap the garlic on because I'm Filipino. We love garlic. With that, it's just because it's pre-portioned, I don't get out of control with getting too much food because I feel like I have bad impulse control.

Sophia: I should probably start doing that because I also have bad impulse control. So you said that part of the reason you were intermittent fasting was to lose weight. So that's a big reason why people do that. And the reason why I asked about your calorie counting is that one thing that it does is that just because you're restricting your eating hours, you are cutting calories by eating less of the time. Or at least some people do that. Some people might just end up eating the same amount in a smaller period of time. What you're doing is called a restricted eating window. This is where you have a limited time where you can eat, you might eat just one meal a day or two or three times. You're doing eight hours. I think that's pretty common for intermittent fasting.

David: It’s a pretty standard starting point. Sometimes I won't eat exactly at 12, like I’ll eat at one or two, and I won't eat at 8, I'll eat at 6 or 7. So it sometimes does get restricted tighter than that.

Sophia: And the other type of intermittent fasting is called alternate day fasting. So some days you would eat more and some days you would eat less. So this is also called calorie cycling. And you can fast every other day, two days a week, stuff like that. Kind of whatever works for you. I feel like intermittent fasting is pretty flexible and depends on the person. So another reason why this might promote weight loss is because it reduces your insulin levels and your fat cells are also burning more, and I think that's also the premise of the keto diet, but I don't really know much about the keto diet.

David: Keto is just like very high fat, very, very low carb, medium protein. It's good in theory, it's just I couldn't do that, because I think with the options available at dining halls, it's not super conducive to maintain keto on a dining plan. I feel like calorie counting is probably your best bet; you can eat a lot of different things within your window of calories. It's just as long as you don't overeat.

Sophia: Intermittent fasting might also increase the hormone norepinephrine, which boosts your metabolism. So more calories burn, and I need to start burning calories because I don't exercise here.

David: I tried to do that. But you know, we all get lazy as time goes on.

Sophia: So don't intermittent fast if you have conditions like diabetes, if you're pregnant, if you have an eating disorder. I feel like I say this every episode: I'm not a doctor. Don't ask me for medical advice. If you're trying a new diet, maybe talk to a medical professional. So there you have it. Some stuff about food, my favorite topic in the world and intermittent fasting. Do it safely. Talk to a doctor. So that wraps it up for today. If you want more information, check out the transcript down below for sources and other fun links and subscribe to this podcast for more Weird Science things, our intro and our true music is Eve by Dee Yan-Key which we use under Creative Commons Attribution license. I'm Sophia.

David: I'm David.

Sophia: Thanks so much for listening. This is NBN audio.

David: I want to emphasize I'm not starving myself. You should’ve seen me at all-you-can-eat KBBQ last Saturday. Holy shit. I was going at it.