If you’re a woman who’s spent any time dieting or watching your weight, you know that handling your hunger is probably the toughest challenge you face. It’s those cravings that get a hold of you and lead you ’round by the nose that will get you every time.
You Haven’t Failed at Dieting, Dieting Has Failed You!
It’s probably no secret to you that diets don’t work. Back in April 2007, a research study was done at UCLA, combining 31 individual trial studies of people who had lost weight on diets. Their progress had been tracked for nearly 5 years. After analyzing the results of the findings, it was discovered that up to 98% of all people who lost weight on diets regained everything that they had lost within 2-5 years.
The lead author of the study, Traci Mann, Ph.D concluded that diets are not the best way to lose weight, and that over the long term they would likely fail. She suggested that the reason for this failure was the following:
Diets fail to address the emotions that push you to eat when you’re not hungry.
Because diets keep you focused on all the wrong things, they keep you thinking like a fat person, focusing constantly on your weight, obsessing over everything that goes in your mouth, how much food, how many fat grams, the number of calories and all the other details that prevent you from ever being able to have a healthy, happy, balanced relationship with food. Because diets keep you thinking like a fat person, you never learn how to master food in order to feel safe around it. And the more you think about certain foods as being restricted because they are fattening or unhealthy, the more you want them and when you give in to these cravings, you feel shameful and guilty. Diets are really just a binge waiting to happen.
You’re Not a Bottomless Pit of Hunger, Greedy or a Pig
No matter how much you eat, if you don’t believe that you are entitled to eat what you want, it may feel like you’ll never be able to get enough of it. This is the lure of the forbidden fruit. Despite what you may have been told, this is not because you’re a bottomless pit of hunger, greedy or a pig. It’s merely an affect of not being able to tune into and decipher your body’s subtle signals indicating that it is hungry or satisfied. You see as a dieter you’ve never been taught to master your relationship with food. You’ve been led to believe that food is your master and you are its slave. In order for you to break that distorted dynamic and get back in the driver’s seat, you have to start leveling the playing field and learning to feel safe around food, all foods. You do this by reconnecting with and learning to respond to your body’s natural hunger signals.
Biological hunger is your body’s way of letting you know that its energy reserves are running down and need to be replenished. But if you’ve been a dieter or weight watcher for any length of time, you’ve learned to ignore your body’s hunger signals. Rather than eating when your body indicates that it’s hungry, you’ve become conditioned to eat according to the rules of dieting. (Is it time to eat, Am I entitled to eat, Should I skip lunch because I’ve already eaten too much for breakfast, etc.) As a result of that, your body thinks that it is starving. It doesn’t know that there’s a Burger King or Dunkin’ Donuts around almost every corner.
Are You Starving?
In their book, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works,” co-authors, Evelyn Tribole, M.S.R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S.R.D.F.A.D.A., say, “A dieting body is a starving body.” This is because when you’re on a diet, your body doesn’t know that food is plentiful. It is fooled into thinking that you’re in the midst of a famine and your body responds accordingly by adapting and changing the way it functions, conserving energy to compensate for the lack of fuel. Do you struggle with these challenges?
• Do you often feel sluggish and tired all the time?
• Can’t stop thinking about food? Cravings got you by the nose?
• Do you take huge mouthfuls of food, often swallow without chewing or drag out a meal for hours?
• Do you find yourself binging and overeating many times throughout the day?
• Do you often exercise more so that you can eat more?
• Are you usually moody, depressed, irritable, grouchy, or angry?
If your answer was, “yes” to most of these questions, there’s a good chance that you’re walking around hungry too often without even knowing it. The result of all this emphasis focusing on everything outside of your body, shuts down your awareness to what is actually going on internally. With all that shouting in your head, it’s difficult to hear the soft whispers of your body until your hunger becomes so ravenous that you end up eating everything that’s not nailed down.
In order for you to avoid this situation, you’ve got to re-establish trust with your body so that it will stop reacting as though it is starving. You must biologically recondition your body so that it can return back to healthy functioning. Your first step to doing this is to become aware of the different signals your body uses to indicate that you are hungry.
How Biological Hunger Shows Up in Your Body
Tune into your body Pay attention to how you feel often. Each time you eat, ask yourself, “Am I hungry? What’s my hunger level? Remember a time when you felt hungry once before. Think about how your mouth felt, how did your stomach feel? If you can’t pinpoint those specifics, then the following list shows some general guidelines of body signals indicating hunger.
I’ve listed them in order of intensity from mild to severe as follows:
- mild gurgling or gnawing of the stomach
- growling noises
- light headedness
- difficulty concentrating
- uncomfortable stomach pain
- feeling faint
These physical reminder sensations occur when you haven’t eaten a meal for between 5-9 hours. That simply means that the body’s reserves of energy are depleted and you need to eat to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings.
Other Types of Hunger Pushing You to Eat When You’re Not Really Hungry
When you’re eating and experiencing conflicted or intense emotions, something other than your body is pushing you to eat. This is because, rather than being driven to eat by your body’s physiological needs, you are getting triggered by your need to eat whenever you’re under stress. This is called emotional eating. Besides emotional eating, there are several other types of hunger that we all experience to some degree or another. If you are an emotional eater, you will feel especially vulnerable and pressured to eat in these situations:
Taste hunger – When you eat because it just tastes so darned good or because you are in a position to be sociable – Many people feel they must eat cake at a birthday party, have a hot dog at the ballgame, popcorn while watching a movie, or whenever the occasion calls for eating. Oftentimes people eat whether or not they are actually hungry. Think of the bride who eats her wedding cake despite being hungry – it’s perfectly okay and understandable. Everybody eats to be sociable and gets carried away sometimes.
Practical hunger – When you’re eating according to the clock. For example, you look at your watch and say, “Oh it’s 12:00, it must be lunch time” How hungry you are is entirely dependent upon when you ate last and how big the meal was. Your stomach has an internal clock that is very different from the watch on your wrist. By eating on automatic, you are not listening to your body’s signals. To determine if you’re really hungry, ask yourself, “When was the last time I ate, and how does my body feel?
If you want to synchronize your stomach’s hunger with your social plans, then eat smaller meals during the day. I like to call this, “eating to fill a corner, rather than a cavern.”
Emotional hunger – This is eating in order to squelch the volume on uncomfortable and overwhelming emotions ranging from sadness to joy. The only way to deal with this type of hunger is to cope with the stress in your life and to legalize all foods so that they won’t be so deeply emotionally burdening to you.
When did the foods you love become forbidden?
Maybe as a kid, you were told you couldn’t trust yourself around food. Maybe like me, people stood over your shoulder and counted your M&Ms™, rationed your chips or cookies and eventually put you on your first diet, forcing you to walk to your Nana’s house at lunch time and eat salad and steamed broccoli while all the other kids stayed in school trading Hostess™ Snowball Cupcakes, Hawaiian Punch™ and Drake’s™ chocolate chip cookies at lunch. You probably know what that’s like to feel so deprived when food is restricted from you.
How it started doesn’t matter. What you need to know is that somewhere along the way you got your wires crossed and started thinking about food as more than just a means of filling a hungry tummy. That really monkeyed around with the energetic balance in your body, causing you tons of stress. All of a sudden food started to bear so many unnecessary burdens because it was no longer just associated with pleasure, but now it was also getting linked up with pain.
Instead of just eating enough potato chips to satisfy your body’s physical hunger, now there’s an emotional and moral burden that weighs heavy on your mind, saying, “You shouldn’t be eating those chips.” “To hell with it,” you say, as you defiantly scrape off the last of the salty bits at the bottom of the bag, noticing that queasy feeling in your stomach all over again.
If you can relate to that scenario and others like it where you find yourself overeating, please know that is not an indication that you’re undisciplined, lack will power or anything else of the sort. It is a cry from your body indicating that something is wrong.
“Overeating temporarily masks the food addict’s anxiety, which is really caused by an imbalance in the body’s electrical system.”
-Dr. Roger Callahan, Ph.D, creator of Thought Field Therapy
The real cause of your overeating is an imbalance in your body’s energy system. Let’s just suffice it to say that it’s your wayward emotions that keep you in patterns of feeling miserable and that leads to overeating. Since everything is made of up of energy, when your body is under stress, it will show up as negative emotions. If you’re a stress eater, that’s when you’ll find yourself eating out of control.
To override the food=comfort connection in your brain, you have to neutralize the imbalance that’s occurring in your body. To do that you must…
Cope with your stress Because it works, I use Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT myself and that is what I teach all my clients. It’s a simple tapping process derived from the ancient science of acupuncture that works on the basis of clearing the energetic blocks in your body that stir up your negative emotions. I also recommend using The Hunger Scale which can be found in Pt 3 of this article series. This is a numbered scale that measures different levels of hunger by defining what is occurring in the body. Remember learning how to master food and feel safe around what you may now consideration ‘temptation’ is a process. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to learn a great deal about yourself.To my way of thinking, self acceptance begins by making peace with food.
In your quest to learning how to eat intuitively, I urge you not to make the same mistake that I did. If you find yourself consistently unable to stop eating, heed your body’s warning and look at what is behind your hunger. If you’re eating and thinking about food more often than every 5-9 hours, it’s not your body that’s hungry, it’s your heart. In order to heal your hungry heart, you’ve got to deal with those things in your life that are causing your body to cry out for help. The road to making peace with food and friends with your body is yours. All you have to do is be gentle with yourself and deal with the buggin’ you’s along the way. Take good care of yourself and know that I’m here for you.