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Am I Hungry?

June 6, 2010

Note: You can more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at www.AmIHungry.com.

 

I’ve been considering taking a course to be a facilitator the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program, based on the book Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat by Michelle May. As a first step, I’ve been reading the book, and it’s reminded me of some of the things that I learned along my own weight-loss journey, as well as giving me some new things to think about.

What’s most interesting, though, is simply the central concept of the book – that we should eat only when we’re hungry. It sounds like such a simple thing, but most of us don’t do it. Or at least, most of us who struggle with weight don’t. As I wrote about initial months of weight loss:

“Part of my task, then, was to learn to work with my body, particularly in my approach to changing my eating habits. Some diets, for instance, advocate eating small amounts on a more regular basis, so that you’re never starving and never want to eat huge amounts of food. Others advocate to only eat when you’re hungry, but even those discourage you from getting to the point of being ravenous, because then you’ll eat anything and everything in sight.

“I suspect everyone has to find what works best for them. For me, I discovered the hard way that if I ate small amounts to stave off hunger, it actually seemed to increase the amount that I could eat, because I never felt really full, either. I therefore decided on the other approach, but in doing so, I had to start understanding when I was actually hungry as opposed to when I simply wanted to eat something, or I was tricked into thinking I was hungry.

“It didn’t seem like it should be that difficult, but somehow it was. In our society, we’re so often bombarded with images and tantalizing advertisements for food that it’s easy to misconstrue a desire for a particular food with actual hunger. If you smell popcorn, or chocolate, or see a bag of Doritos open on the counter, and your stomach rumbles and your mouth waters, surely you must be hungry, right? Not necessarily, unfortunately, as I started to realize.

“I also began to learn other things about my body and hunger. In what seemed the epitome of unfairness, if I overate, I sometimes had a false sense of hunger or an increased desire to eat. It took a long time to distinguish this from true hunger, and even now it can be hard to separate the two. It's as if, once I've over-indulged once, my body thinks that I'm suddenly free of the “famine” I’ve imposed on myself. This makes me want even more food, my body trying to store up for a starvation that won't come. But I learned that if I wait a little, distract myself with a glass of water or piece of hard candy or by chewing gum, and the feeling goes away, then it’s just my body playing insidious tricks on me. On the other hand, if it does not go away, or I literally can't stop thinking about food or calculating the amount of time left until my next scheduled meal, then I haven't eaten enough.

“I have also found hunger and sleepiness to masquerade for and impact each other. If I eat too much, or too close to bedtime, I don't sleep very well, restless with the energy of all those calories. Other times overeating can make me feel sleepy during the day (anyone who's experienced the afternoon after a full Thanksgiving meal will likely be familiar with this phenomenon). The tricky part is that sometimes if I haven't eaten enough, I also feel drowsy, my body shutting down to conserve energy.

“It's hard to distinguish between the two types of sleepiness at times, although these days I'm better at diagnosing the strange empty feeling inside if it's induced by lack of food. What confused me then, and still does, is that this doesn't feel like hunger. I don't hear any rumblings or growling, or feel a gnawing pit in my stomach as I do at other times when I feel like I'm starving, just this odd lethargy and inability to focus.

“And under-eating can also make me sleep poorly. I'd never understood the concept of a midnight snack before I started losing weight; I never consumed so few calories that this was a problem. It was absolutely bizarre, the first time I woke in the middle of the night with my stomach tight and painful, and I had to eat something before I could go back to sleep. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it made my next day extremely difficult, because I was tired and then ate more, hoping that the calories or sugar would help me stay awake, since I don't do caffeine. Eating just enough is a very fine balance, and one that is a constant struggle.”

Even now, it’s sometimes a challenge, but what I do like about May’s approach is that she doesn’t say you can never eat certain foods, or eat when you’re not hungry, or overeat. Mostly she emphasizes that we just need to be mindful of it, and make it our choice. I’ll save my comments about the difficulty of making that choice for another entry – but the key thing is that I now can recognize when I’m hungry, and that has definitely been a key to my own weight-loss. And I suspect it would have been easier if I had read her book, or gone through her program, when I first began the whole process, instead of having to figure things out for myself. Ah, well. We live and learn.

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