What are you hungry for? Are you hungry at all?
Perhaps you’re not hungry, but neither are you satisfied with what you’ve eaten – you ate a salad when you wanted something hot and filling, believing that the salad would be ‘better for you’. And instead, all you want to do is eat more.
Perhaps you are scared of feeling hungry, and don’t dare let yourself feel it? In case the hunger is so great that you eat everything in sight…
Or is it sugar craving driving you, not hunger at all? A roller coaster ride of insulin and glucose: sedated on carbs one minute and desperate for another fix the next.
Maybe you’re actually hungry for recognition, or a new job, or a bit of encouragement. But that isn’t forthcoming, so a biscuit will have to do.
It can be worthwhile to sit for a moment, and to allow quietness to settle into your limbs, so that you can ask your stomach, your heart, your being: what am I hungry for?
And then give yourself permission to have it.
Can you lose weight on junk food? The answer is a very easy ‘yes’, as long as your energy intake is less than your expenditure.
In fact, a number of scientists (all of them men, strangely) have proved just this. What is even more interesting, is that although their diet was very poor, all of their health measures improved, just from the simple act of reducing their weight.
Mark Haub, an associate professor at Kansas State University, lost 12.1 kilograms from his original 91.3-kilogram body weight on a junk food diet. His blood pressure and other measures all improved. The but (and it’s a big one) is that he carefully controlled his calorie intake to a maximum of 1800 calories (7531 kilojoules) a day.
On September 10, he ate:
– a double espresso
– two servings of Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake
– one Centrum Advance Formula “From A To Zinc” pill
– one serving of Little Debbie Star Crunch cookies
– a Diet Mr Dew drink
– half a serving of Doritos Cool Ranch corn chips
– two servings of Kellogg’s Corn Pops cereal
– a serving of whole milk
– half a serving of raw baby carrots
– one and a half servings of Duncan Hines Family Style Chewy Fudge brownie
– half a serving of Little Debbie Zebra Cake
– one serving of Muscle Milk Protein Shake drink
– Total: 1589 calories
So it seems that weight reduction can be more important for our health than the perfect diet. At least in the short term.
Which means we can all relax a bit. We don’t have to eat perfectly. We can allow ourselves to eat those foods that we really enjoy, even if they aren’t on any nutritionist’s list. Let us permit ourselves to enjoy them, give ourselves the time to savour them, and in doing so, rid ourselves of ‘forbidden’ foods that can haunt more powerfully than any ghost.
I was asked this week ‘Should I eat breakfast?’
For a long while, the received wisdom has been: Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. Or as the Russian saying goes: Eat your breakfast alone, lunch with a friend but give your dinner to your enemy…
Breakfast was promised to get your metabolism going and keep you focused for the morning.
Then along came intermittent fasting, and we’re being advised to wait as long as possible before eating, ideally 16 hours after our meal the night before. By doing this, we benefit from some of the processes that kick in once our bodies haven’t eaten for a while: these processes clean out suspect cells which keeps cancer, Alzheimers and other diseases at bay.
So which is true? Are either of them?
Firstly, your metabolism will get going whether you have breakfast or not – your body needs to function, and function it will. If you’re used to having breakfast, you might need to get used to eat later, but it’ll be hunger pangs that strike you, not a metabolic catastrophe.
As to whether breakfast is a good idea or not, it seems that nothing is true for everyone. Even the most compelling studies show a distribution of results. Some things work for some people, and not for others. Our genetics, our microbiome and our environments are all so different that how these things affect us is entirely individual.
If you are ravenous when you wake up, then it would be advisable to have breakfast. Otherwise, you’ll end up in the cookie jar before the day has even started. If, on the other hand, you’re not hungry, then why would you eat? Why not wait until hunger pangs start, and if that’s not until late in the morning, and you can wait until lunch, perhaps you’re one of the people for whom intermittent fasting will work.
If you’ve had a large breakfast, you might be the type of person who isn’t so bothered about dinner, and if you will want to try fasting for 16 hours, then it might suit you better to do it at the end of the day.
There are no rules – have a try and see what suits you.
If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I believe in eating what will satisfy you. You’ll also know that you can set yourself up to fail if your blood sugar is all over the place.
So what do you do when you wake up wanting a chocolate croissant?
Do you have it, because you really want it? Or do you go without because you’re trying to ‘be good’?
An alternative is to see if you can clarify what you’re really after. If it’s the rich chocolate taste that you crave, along with a good hit of carbs, there are other ways to accomplish this.
A bowl of porridge – which is healthy and low on the glycemic index – can be pimped up with a generous spoonful of cocoa and a bit of honey or brown sugar to sweeten it. It’s amazing how chocolatey porridge can taste without chocolate – just cocoa powder. It’s worth a try – it might solve your cravings AND balance your blood sugar.
What if you didn’t cheat because you were a bad person?
During World War Two, a group of scientists restricted the food of some perfectly healthy men for six months until they lost about 20 percent of their weight. It was called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment and sounds most unpleasant.
It was enforced dieting. As the experiment went on, these ordinary men became increasingly obsessed with food. They began to pore over recipe books. When they could eat freely, these half-starved chaps found it difficult to stop eating. They were driven by intense cravings. These symptoms didn’t abate when they had regained the weight, but lasted for many many months.
This means that back in the 1940s, they had proved that dieting creates an obsession with food and an inability to stop eating once the diet is over. Science has known for over seventy years that diets don’t work, and yet we are still turning to them.
And when we fail, we assume that’s it’s because something is wrong with US, not because it’s been proven that diets don’t work.
At long last, my book ‘Why we Cheat when we Eat, and how to stop’ is ready for publication.
I can’t wait to share it with you. It contains everything I’ve learned along my journey, from my own experience and that of my clients.
It’s packed full of scientific evidence, and shows more clearly than anything, that we don’t cheat because we’re bad people. We’re just struggling with our physiology, or our psychology, or our cultural programming and social pressures.
Why we Cheat when we eat: available soon on Amazon
For a long while I was scared of feeling hungry.
“I’ll just have a snack now in case the meeting runs late.” “I’ll eat something to get me through the school run”. “I’m going out to dinner, and I don’t want to get hungry, so I’ll eat something now”
In fact, there was a time when I was so scared of feeling hungry that I hadn’t felt hungry for years. I never let myself get to that point.
At the very first sign that I might get a hunger pang, I’d tuck into something. At the thought that I hadn’t eaten for a few hours, I’d open a packet. If I began to realise that there may be a gap between meals – I’d ensure there wasn’t.
And it has taken me a long time to get over that fear.
A review of the (more honest) comments of Hollywood actresses, reveals that many of them admit to feeling hungry all the time. This is the only way they can maintain their abnormally thin frames. Feeling hungry all the time is very draining and exhausting.
But that is very different to feeling hungry for half an hour.
It is absolutely worth letting yourself feel hungry. When you eat, the food tastes better. There is a real sense of the body refuelling. It’s a true sign that you need to eat.
But first of all you need to know what hunger feels like, and that may take a while.
You do, don’t you? Just one last time. And THEN, after that, you’ll address the other things.
When I was in thrall to food, I wrote in my journal:
Another binge… three weeks now. What stops me from eating normally is:
- Guilt from over eating in the last three weeks
- Terror at the weight I must have put on
- A feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that I’ll ever lose it
- A consequent hatred of my body
- Disgust and despair at myself
Overeating acts both to blott out those feelings and to punish myself. If I felt attractive and glamorous and interesting, I wouldn’t feel like bingeing.
The terror of the weight, and the terror that my life might be one long endless binge without the constrains of a diet, kept me locked into diets. And diets were the very thing preventing me from being thin.
But the lure, the promise that they make is almost irresistible. There are endless before and after photos, lists of science or pseudo-science that back up the claim.
And if only you could lose those kilograms/pounds, that everything would be alright. Wouldn’t it?
The basics to weight loss and weight management are really very simple:
You get hungry
You decide what you’d really like to eat
You enjoy your food, savouring every mouthful
You stop eating when you are no longer hungry
Repeat until death
But somehow we seem to have made this incredible simple process very difficult. Over the years we are told what to eat, when to eat, where to eat, until you eat when you are told, not when you are hungry, you eat what is prescribed or ‘allowed’ not what you’d really like to, and as for stopping? Isn’t is when the plate is empty? Or when the serving bowl is empty? Or worst of all, when the fridge is empty of all its temptations….?
Hmmm, there were many years when I actually thought I had been born without the stop button.
Listening to what we are told, rather than our bodies, means that we over-ride our natural mechanisms for hunger and satiety. We no longer recognize when we need to eat (or when we don’t) and we no longer recognize when we should stop eating. This means we eat long past the point of fullness. It means we eat when our bodies are not hungry or ready for food. It means we eat when we already have sufficient energy to live so it means what we eat is laid down as fat.
Eating in tune with your body is a very satisfying thing. Your body does not want to be overweight, or heavy. It wants to be lean and energetic. This is how it was made to be. But years of over-feeding, starving, fast food, Christmas and Thanksgiving and diets have beaten it into submission. Now it just opens its mouth and digests whatever you next put into it.
But if you start listening to it again, it will actually talk to you. It will tell you when it is hungry and when it is not. It will tell you when it needs some red meat for iron or when it craves the vitamin C in citrus.