Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Mystery of Hunger

The last week or so has been a state of wonderment about the mysteries of hunger, especially "real" hunger, the kind that's related to how much food is or is not in your stomach at a given moment. It never ceases to amaze me how variable my hunger levels are from one day to the next.
For example, some days, I wake up hungry and stay hungry all day and it seems I never quite reach satisfaction. One day week before last, my stomach was growling impatiently about 5 seconds after I got out of bed and I still had my hour on the treadmill ahead of me. Down girl! And I could definitely tell it wasn't just "want to eat", it was the real hunger deal.
Other days, the same amount of food overstuffs me. Last Thursday, I went through a not-hungry day yesterday. My breakfast filled me up and I pretty much stayed full all day, I ate some lunch, but didn't want to eat all of it (alert the media!). At supper, I got full right away and didn't finish it. I'm not doing anything different really from one day to the next. It's curious.
Of course, maybe it's always like this and I just never knew it. The fact is that the way I got so heavy to start with was because I ate a lot and never really let my tank get empty and didn't know what stomach hunger feels like. The whole time I was losing weight, I was pretty much a little bit hungry all the time, but that was deliberate and expected. Now that I've reached my goal weight and I'm working on maintaining it, paying attention to hunger cues and keying into what is going to be most satisfying and healthy is a bit of a learning curve.
For example, I was ruminating the other night about the old days of how I used to eat. Actually I was feeling a little sorry for myself about the fact that I couldn't eat as much of my pasta dinner as I wanted, which was just so tasty. And I got to remembering how "nice" it was when I could just eat as much as I wanted whenever I wanted and how I was always full and all. So after spending about 30 seconds in that thought pattern, called bulls**t on myself, because when I really remembered those feelings, it wasn't just full it was overfull and also full of shame. It couldn't have been that satisfying - otherwise I wouldn't have had to keep doing it over and over again.

So again, it still comes down to taking the time to prepare savory and tasty meals and focus on them as I am eating them so that I don't fall into the mindset of feeling deprived. I know what the healthy and appropriate quantities are, if only I listen to my stomach and its level of fullness at any given moment

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Book "The Rules of Normal Eating"

The book The Rules of “Normal” Eating by Karen R. Koenig, is another very useful resource for those of us who want to change our attitudes about food. The author also has a great blog that is aimed at both over- and under-eaters and all of us who have surrendered in the past to emotional eating. Typically I would run for cover when confronted with a book that used the words “rules” and “normal” in the title, but I was so impressed with her blog posts that I took the plunge and read the book.

Her advice is similar in many respects to what can be found in the book “Intuitive Eating”, which I wrote about here. The main thrust of "Rules" is that there are certain behaviors in which people who are normal eaters engage, and those behaviors are different from how an over- or under-eater approaches food.

To cut to the chase, the normal behaviors are (quoting from her book):

1. Eat when you are hungry or have a craving for a specific food.
2. Choose foods that you believe will satisfy you.
3. Stay connected to your body and eat with awareness and enjoyment.
4. Stop eating when you are full or satisfied.

She offers a series of exercises and suggestions for how to understand our level of hunger at a given moment, how to pick the foods that we find satisfying, feeling our fullness and satisfaction levels with a given eating situation and how to stay aware of our body and what we are eating.

In addition, the book stresses that emotional eating is rooted in our inability to tolerate pain and discomfort. She exhorts us to “learn to tolerate discomfort around food and let your mind and body respond authentically.” Since we’ve used food as a way of comforting ourselves and soothing our pains, be they emotional or physical, to heal that not-normal relationship with it, we will quickly run head on into the necessity of dealing with whatever emotions we were trying to deny/suppress/soothe with the food. We are going to have to dig into our beliefs about ourselves – our fears, our pain, our yearnings and our joys. The process can be joyful when your curiosity becomes engaged and you are starting to figure out what is truly satisfying and actually finding ways to create satisfaction, and not just with food.

I know full well that I have not yet achieved what could be considered “normal” eating, but I’m getting there. I still feel obsessed somewhat with food and eating and weight, and to some extent, feel discomfort about it all. However, at this point, there seem to be fewer hidden corners in my attitudes about food and since I’ve gotten to a point of awareness about my thought patterns regarding eating, I can call bulls**t on myself sooner rather than later. Mostly.

One of the most awesome pieces of advice in this book that I have been working on lately is paying attention to what we want to eat - whether it's a craving or just something that seems like it would be good. I had an couple of days last week where I was extra hungry (no, not hormonally induced, I'm pretty much too old for that) and I really had to sit down and figure out what it was that would scratch the itch. Turned out that a couple of tablespoons of almond butter fit the bill - a little protein, a little healthy fat, not too many calories and yet, so delicious. This weekend, since I have the house to myself, I discovered that I wanted the same thing for supper two nights in a row - pita pizza - and so I had that. It felt good and tasted awesome.