Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hunger Management

How to use up the protective coating of fat that is living between you and your authentic self.

If I had to pick the one skill that you simply must have to effect and keep your physical transformation, it would have to be the ability to manage appetite.  There are many different hungers that manifest as an immediate desire for food.  You know the feelings.  There is straightforward physical hunger.  The kind you feel early in the afternoon after a productive morning of work or errands when the subtle hollowness in your tummy tugs at your mind saying, "look at the clock, it's time for food."

Then there is the hunger of avoidance, one of my personal favorites.  This hunger kindly gets between you and vaguely unpleasant tasks like bills and overdue phone calls.  This itch to eat gets you up and away from the chore of the moment and into the kitchen where a brief kind of peace is to be found.

Recently, I learned about "Limbic Hunger"  which is a kind of primitive response to eating tasty food.  The theory is that the basic primitive part of the brain responds to eating by signaling the impulse to eat more, eat it all, before someone else does!"

There are so many feelings, events, and circumstances that call up our hunger, how are we to manage?  Especially when we want to put the body into a state where it will use fat stores as fuel, instead of calling to us to top off the tank with more food.

I have a very simple technique for you.

Simply plan and record what you will eat sometime before the first bite of the day.  Really?  It's that simple?  Yes, or at least it will become so, and I'll tell you why.

If you've taken more than a brief stab at learning about fat burning, you've probably heard that people who write down what they eat lose twice as much weight as those who don't.  In a study sponsored by Kaiser Permanente that appeared in the August 2008 issue of the American Journal of PreventiveMedicine,  two-thirds of the study subjects lost nine pounds or more during the six-month study. But those who kept a food diary every day of the week dropped up to 20 pounds, more than twice as much as those who didn't record their every bite.  


Twenty pounds.  Nice, but I think we can upgrade this technique to make it even more effective.  There are free websites such as Spark People and Fitday that will let you easily record what you eat each day.  They have huge searchable databases of all kinds of foods, and once you establish a pattern of typical foods it's quick and easy to hop on one of these websites before you go to bed or when you first get up to make your choices about what you're going to eat that day.  By recording your daily menu before you eat you establish your intention to follow a plan.  When you stick to that plan, you don't have to make food choices on the fly, you establish boundaries around what you will eat, and you become aware of the impulses that try to draw you away from your plan.  Even if you give in to the impulse to eat more than you've written down you're still ahead of the game because now you can examine why you chose to eat more.  Did you try to cut your calories too much?  Was there a food on your menu that you just couldn't resist having a bit more of?  Did you get behind schedule and end up ravenous?


Learn the Skill of Awareness
If you're anything like me, your hungry subconscious would like nothing more than to see you take a free-form approach to eating.  Just last night, we had an early dinner and I wasn't all that hungry, so I didn't eat much of my salad or my grass fed steak.  I drank a planned glass of wine while my husband and I watched the World Series, and then, around 8:30, I got seriously hungry.  Did I eat?  Yes I did.  I ate the rest of the steak  which was cool because it was planned.  But I also got into the cheddar.  Oops.  What did I learn?  The combination of alcohol and an unusually early dinner is likely to lead me astray, and I need to plan for that.


If you adopt this habit will you need to use it for the rest of your life?  That depends.  I see the periods of strong commitment to pre-planning eating and exercise as times of being "In Training".  When I did my first transformation contest it lasted 12 weeks, and that was a period of clear and intense commitment to changing my habits.  I have been able to maintain the changes in my body by returning to the techniques that work both when I find my size creeping up, and when I want to go further along the road to the figure I really want.  I agree that we need to develop a lifestyle of healthy satisfying eating, but I also believe that periods of physical change require an extra effort.  Planning what you eat before you eat it can help you make sure those efforts pay off.