Friday, January 21, 2011

It All Starts With Hunger


I don't like being hungry. No one does. I'm not talking about "wanting" to eat something and feeling that you shouldn't. I'm not talking about a few extra bites that are probably unnecessary to your well-being. No, I'm talking about hunger: the physical feeling that makes a new-born baby cry (besides an uncomfortably full diaper), what makes you lose your concentration at work, what makes teenage girls who are trying to lose weight faint. Yes, hunger.

I know there are lots of weight loss bloggers who believe that you should embrace hunger, that it's a sign that you're on your way to weight loss. I don't agree. It's a sign that your body needs to be nourished. And as far as I know, nourishment is still not a dirty word.

Many people say they can't distinguish hunger from craving. That may be true. We're raised in a society of self-imposed feast or famine. It's Christmas! Yoopee! Let's eat until we feel sick. It's your birthday! Hoo boy! Let's gorge on chocolate cake. It's Jan. 2. Bummer. Let's live on melba toast and water all day to make up for Christmas. It's Jan. 5. Let's eat a whole pizza because we feel so deprived.

Call me crazy, but I just don't buy the feast or famine cycle anymore. And make no mistake about it: it's a cycle. The only people who succeed in constantly starving themselves are the people who've decided they want to live to at least 120 and who live cheerless, gaunt lives that seem totally bereft of joy. But hey, they're really skinny.

Most people eventually give up on constant hunger and many go back to gorging themselves. The old pendulum swinging way too far in one direction or another.

I've starved with the best of them. In fact, my first diet consisted of not eating one day a week. I starved myself down to a weight I couldn't imagine being today, a weight that I thought was still too high. But the minute I stopped starving, I gained the weight back and I didn't even have to binge or gorge. That's not my style, anyway.

In the last two years, I have started really working on eliminating the desire to starve as a method for losing weight. I reject hunger and make an effort to consistently eat reasonably when I'm hungry rather than feeling a misplaced sense of pride at conquering my body's legitimate request for nourishment. At the same time, I've also started pushing back on the spoiled-child voice in my head that would say, "That's not fair. She can eat that cake and I can't." Now, if I want the treat, I try to make sure that I'm not full already. I either leave some space for a little treat or I put it off until later. I haven't perfected this method (and since I'm only human, it will always be a work in progress), but I have at least become aware and awareness is absolutely crucial to success.

So, now that I've said no to hunger, what next?

Well, in my next post, I'm going to talk about my breakfast revelation...

I guess I'll just keep you hungry for more!


  1. Great post! I kinda tackled the same topic on my blog today - except I was posting about the late night munchies. That's the only time I really get hungry. Cheers, Rick

  2. I think that hunger, like many other things, has levels and I think that one part of modern life is that having food at hand all of the time gets us in the habit of eating at the first sign of hunger. One moment of discomfort and people are eyeballing the refrigerator's contents. This is distinct from cravings, which are purely emotional and do not represent a drop in blood sugar or an empty stomach.

    Through time, we condition ourselves to be increasingly intolerant of even the vaguest sense of hunger. We find less intense hunger more uncomfortable because we condition our brains that way. It is, in essence, shortening of the "hunger attention span" the same way that television shortens the actual attention span.

    This is part of what has lead to obesity levels rising worldwide - ready access to food and shortened tolerance toward hunger cues. There's nothing wrong with increasing your ability to tolerate modest feelings of hunger, especially if you have been habitually overeating and need to scale back to lose weight. I would say that there is a world of difference between learning to put up with some discomfort from hunger pangs and delaying eating for an hour or so and starving yourself.

    I could not and would not starve myself or endure harsh hunger pangs, but I do think that learning to be less uncomfortable with even modest hunger pangs has been important for me. I have gone from finding any feelings of hunger pretty much unbearable to being able to delay eating and this serves me not only in weight loss, but it also serves me in terms of overall nutrition as it means I don't "have to" eat something unhealthy on the fly because I've conditioned myself to set aside those feelings until I can act on them in a healthier fashion. This is productive, and in no way related to self-starvation. All that being said, I feel no "pride" about this "achievement" anymore than I feel "pride" at being able to walk for 5 minutes without back pain. This is about approaching "normal" and not living in a manner that makes me weigh nearly 400 lbs. There's no pride in being this way as I think it's something others without my problems take for granted.

    As is so often the case, it's about degree and psychology. I also don't agree with the "feast or famine" cycle, as you know, but I also think most people need to respond less promptly to certain types of hunger cues. It's not about learning to run a hunger marathon, but at least being able to walk around the block metaphorically speaking. Most people with weight issues can't even make the trip to the front door (so to speak) when it comes to enduring hunger, and that is a problem for them if their weight troubles them in any way.

  3. SFG: I knew I'd hear from you because I know you've discussed your approach to hunger.

    Basically, I agree with you. You don't have to jump at the fridge at the earliest sign of hunger however I am seeing a worrisome trend amongst a significant group of weight-loss bloggers who seem to be eating well below the amount and quality of food necessary to sustain good health while losing weight. These people really are on the road to a starve-binge cycle, in my opinion.

  4. I am glad to know hunger. It's part of body wisdom. Now that I do, I am even happier to avoid it, and I think avoiding it judiciously is a necessary part of maintenance.

  5. The people you describe are wearing "eating disorder training pants". This sort of skewed thinking and misplaced sense of accomplishment over something as trivial as food is part of a deeper issue for many people - they lack a sense of self or concrete identity. They attach value to trivial matters because of societal and peer messages about such things. It is a sign of the sickness of developed cultures that this is happening more and more.

    Moderation is something people increasing believe is "impossible", thus people careen from one extreme to the other thinking that they are only capable of being "all good" (exercising and eating too little) or "all bad" (overeating and being sedentary). This is the destructive situation that is being encouraged by rejecting the psychological aspects of our relationships with food, including behavior modification techniques and introspection. I addressed this in a recent blog post, but I think this is related to the mindset that encourages change by brute force rather than through gradual change.

    It's so sick that I can't read those blogs anymore. It's like rubbernecking on emotional car crashes.

  6. Frankly, a lot of people think that moderation is flat-out morally questionable, and that if you can go to the wall on something, you should, regardless of whether it's a good idea on its own.

    This reminds me of people I've seen with lots of credit card debt -- they are not RIGHT at their maximum, so they think they're okay. As long as they can fit more in, their brains interpret that as a zero balance. As the previous commenter said above, this is just not the case -- a vague sense that it's been a few hours since you've eaten is not the same as starvation. If a few people think it is, then they are simply incorrect, and their example should be avoided for people looking to balance out at a healthy weight. "I can fit something else in my stomach/on my credit card" is not the same as "I need to eat/spend."

  7. Starvation does not equal weight loss, the misconception that it does is not only stupid, but also extremely dangerous. I'm not one for embracing hunger, rather learning what true hunger, stomach hunger is vs. brain-stomach hunger so we can nourish one with food and the other with what it really needs.

    Great post!