|The Skinny Daily Post™
Short, daily essays on weight loss and fitness
from a really average woman who lost 100 lbs.
and works every day to keep it off.
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Friday, February 13, 2004
Focus on Hunger
After a run of holidays, a week's vacation, a period in my life when it feels as if I'm eating all the time for reasons that have very little to do with hunger, I like to take a week to get back in touch with eating cues. When am I hungry? What does it feel like? When am I full?
I know, these may sound like odd or even stupid questions, but as we become adults, many of us learn to override true hunger and satiation to eat in response to events and emotions. I eat when I'm frustrated, eat to celebrate, eat because it's time to eat, eat because everyone else is eating. I eat to please a hostess, a parent, a friend. I eat just to enjoy the flavor of food, eat because I'm bored, eat when I'm unhappy, and sometimes, like a lot of overweight people, I eat to overload my senses and thoughts with something other than some unpleasantness that I don't want to feel. That is, I sometimes eat to avoid my feelings. I eat to procrastinate, eat while thinking about what I'll prepare to eat. Eat to keep myself awake. Eat to put myself to sleep.
I had a lot of reasons to eat hen I was heavy, and responded to each of them with the same thought, "I'm hungry," when what I felt wasn't hunger at all. Hunger is hunger pangs and for me that jittery, confused state that comes when my blood sugar drops. At my heaviest, I experienced hunger rarely, because I was eating so often for so many other reasons, actual hunger often didn't get a chance. Taking the weight off and keeping it off has meant learning to eat only when I'm hungry and stopping when I'm full.
And that's not actually that easy for me.
But that's my focus for this week. I'm concentrating on the experience of my own hunger, so I can reinforce the feeling of becoming hungry, eating, and becoming full. That means, for this week at least, I don't eat until I grow hungry, and plenty hungry, so I know it's the real thing. And then I eat as slowly as I can, focusing entirely on the food, the experience of it. Noting how my body feels before, during, and after eating. I can do this because I've run away for a few days, and can live slowly, away from work, focus for a spell. It's a good exercise, and it's been interesting.
Your own eating plan may vary, but most of us who have lost a bunch of weight settle on a series of meals and snacks spread out through the day to keep our calories low and blood sugar stabilized. I eat 5 or 6 200-calorie "meals," never eat carbohydrates by themselves, but always accompanied by a protein and/or a fat. Eating this way, hunger is not a big problem for me. I usually feel hunger pangs right at my regular mealtimes, and not much before. My trouble is, because my meals are so small, I'm often still hungry after I've finished them. That is, the food's gone before my stomach and brain and blood have had a chance to communicate that all's well, all systems go.
I've noticed some things. I've noticed that my hunger disappears faster when I chew more. This seems to have less to do with bulk than with the simple act of chewing. Chewing up raw veggies or a salad along with a goodly serving of protein works way better than just the protein alone. That is, a bed of baby spinach with the egg salad, works far better than the egg salad alone, though it doesn't add much more in bulk or calories. It takes longer to consume this lunch, and there's more fiber. If I skip the protein, my hunger will not be satisfied at all, and will likely be worse. With protein, 15 to 20 or even 30 minutes after I've eaten, I can feel that nice satiated feeling come back, and I'm good to go for another three hours. The delay factor is quite long, and kind of frustrating, but if I keep eating until I'm full or until I stop feeling the hunger, I'm sure to overeat.
Warm foods work better than cold. Solid foods work better than liquid. Chewy works better than foods that slither right down the old pipes.
Is it time for you to get back in touch with your hunger? Or maybe feel it for the first time in a long time? I recommend you experiment with a journal by your side. Keep track of the times of day when hunger occurs to you. Note how quickly it develops, rises and falls. How do different foods affect it? What difference does exercise make? Caffeine? Medications? Does hunger trigger unusual feelings or emotions for you? Or do certain feelings trigger hunger? When do you want to eat without experiencing hunger, why? How long does it take to stop feeling hungry? How much do you need to eat, of what kinds of foods, and how often? Write to learn how your body works and responds to food and hunger. Knowing about your hunger will help you feed your body what it needs when it needs it. And that's a good step toward good health.