Friday, September 21, 2007

Dealing With Hunger

Hunger. That is one powerful word when you are on any weight loss journey. Whether you have had WLS or following a more conventional weight loss regimen, you deal with hunger cues. You know how it is. Your day is just bopping along and BAM you are starving. Is it really hunger?

In our society there are people who know true hunger. But for the most of us we really have no idea what true hunger is. We've been conditioned to food so readily. A good bit of this can be emotional hunger. In WLS circles we call this "head hunger". How do you deal with it?

I have always been an emotional eater. During my weight loss, better health journey, I've usually been of the mind to simply feed the hunger, no matter the cause. My first choice has always been to sit down and eat. I believe in listening to cues from my body first. So I eat. Most who have WLS will not do this. But I believe they may be wrong. My opinion only of course.

When you have a malabsorptive procedure like the RNY surgery I had, a large portion of the intestine is bypassed. Meaning you absorb far less nutrients than someone with a normal digestive system. Hence the reason for the rapid weight loss. But you can possibly be starving your body of vital nutrients. So what you may think is "head hunger" may actually be your bodies signal that something is missing. You need to be feeding it what it needs. Most don't want to give in because they are caught up in the whole calorie counting thing. That is a rant for another day.

The real thing about this is---is it hunger or just merely cravings. I received a good article in my email on how to deal with cravings. It was written by Dr Jonny Bowden. He is a board-certified nutrition specialist and a nationally known expert on weight loss and nutrition. He has a Master’s Degree in psychology and counseling and a PhD in nutrition, and has earned six national certifications in personal training and exercise. He is board certified by the American College of Nutrition.

How to Fight Cravings and Win

Think back to high school biology and you'll probably have a memory buried somewhere of a Russian researcher named Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov, you may recall, repeatedly rang a dinner bell right before feeding his dogs a big, juicy steak. Eventually, the dogs would salivate at the sound of the bell. Pavlov had trained his dogs to have a physiological response to a neutral stimulus - a bell - simply because the bell was associated with food.

Think about that the next time you're at the movies and pass the popcorn stand.

Our brains are wired in much the same way as the brains of Pavlov's dogs. We associate all sorts of things with food - from a holiday celebration to a fight with our spouse. Food nourishes us - but it also comforts us, soothes us and even medicates us when we're feeling anxious, lonely or tired. And it helps us celebrate when we're feeling happy. Put that together with the fact that obscene amounts of food are everywhere and you have a perfect recipe for eating disorders and mass obesity.

But just as we were conditioned to associate food - and overeating - with all sorts of things, we can undo that conditioning. It's not easy - but it's also not as hard as you might think. And it generally takes no more than 21 days.

Our overeating triggers are actually chains of events - like Christmas tree lights that go on in sequence. A stressful argument leads to feeling helpless which leads to a journey into the kitchen which leads to ten packs of ring-dings. Usually the chain of events is faster and shorter - think of feeling stress and immediately reaching for a cigarette.

So here's the trick: short circuit the chain.

On my CD audiobook "Change Your Body Change Your Life" I call this short-circuiting "putting a chink in the link". Break the circuit and the remaining lights don't fire up. You can accomplish the same thing with your overeating triggers.

First, isolate exactly what your five biggest triggers are. (Write them down.)

Now comes the part where you put a "chink in the link". You're going to substitute a new activity for the destructive activity (much like an addict learns to go to the gym and get "high" from running). Try any one of these simple activities next time you hit one of your triggers:

* Brush your teeth
* Eat a pickle (eating something completely different from what you're craving tricks the brain and kills the craving - try eating a hot pepper when you're craving chocolate and you'll instantly see what I mean)
* Reward yourself with a relaxing activity you normally wouldn't do - i.e. a warm bath or uninterrupted reading of glossy magazines!
* Go for a walk (the endorphins released will often balance the chemistry of a craving brain)
* Write down what you're feeling. Try "being" with that feeling for five minutes.

Most cravings (and overeating triggers) only last 15 minutes. If you can outwait - or outwit - them, you can beat them. Tell yourself "I can have this food" (thus eliminating thoughts of deprivation) but "I have to wait just 15 minutes".

You'll be amazed (and happily surprised) at how differently you'll feel a quarter hour later.
I have used these techniques myself. Even though I advocate eating when hunger strikes. It may not really be hunger after all. I'm still wanting something even after eating. I make sure what I eat is a nice fat laden protein source like beef, shrimp, or eggs. But I'm still not satisfied. So this is where these techniques come in handy.

However you deal with your hunger---these tips will come in handy. Just never give in to the cravings for junk. When I say eat to fill that hunger, I mean food. Don't go stuffing yourself with a bag of chips, a half gallon of ice cream or the like. Get some real food.

Another tip on these lines. Drink some water. Thirst, dehydration can actually show itself as hunger.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your post! It's funny, I was thinking of writing a post that's kind of an off-shoot of what you've mentioned here. Now I'm really inspired!

So, Jonny Bowden. I like the guy. As a matter of fact, a couple years ago when his book came out (I forget the name--maybe 'Living the Low-Carb Life' or something like that...) he and I emailed and talked about his book and blog--nice man, definitely well-read and obviously educated.

I don't know much about his past, but I am indeed wondering (not to sound corny here [what? me corny?]) if he's ever struggled with his weight or any kind of addiction. Again, I don't know much about his private life and it's definitely none of my business.

But...I do know about my experiences and of those close to me (family and friends struggling with carbohydrate addiction and excess weight) and I'm not sure if grabbing a hot pepper or a salty pickle will short circuit what to me seems like permanent, terminal damage to the brain's receptors/craving mechanisms, located wherever they are.

Of course, I doubt (with rare cases being the exception) most Americans do know what true hunger is, unless that person's gone a few days without so much as ingesting a sip of water (like those poor folks struggling in impovershed, tribal/warring lands) but again, that just doesn't happen here.

What's happened here is we've all been poisoned for long, extended periods of time via refined carbohydrates, MSG, food additives, artificial flavorings, etc., that have wrecked us metabolically.

This is why, I think, Weight Watchers does so well while trying to low-carb is an arduous task--with WW, you get to eat basically whatever you want, as long as you stay within your points (calorie) range; therefore the addiction isn't really dealt with head-on.

When embarking on a low-carbohydrate journey, mere humans are asked to act superhuman, to avoid certain foods that are heavy triggers. Forget about the fact that we live in an inescapable, carbohydrate-laden world. It's very difficult--and perhaps twice as hard for the WLS patient, since that person's gone through so much hell to begin with and probably feels he has so much more at stake.

(I've obviously tried all those cute little 'tricks' in attempting to short-circuit what they tell me my brain thinks it wants me to ingest; I don't totally buy it.)

I'm being totally honest here, and I don't mean to sound horrendous,(and I apologize up front, right now)but I sincerely believe (after trying every single appetite suppressant in the form of prescriptions, various supplements, and even drinking a gallon of water before a meal) that the only thing that would probably shut down the appetite/hunger/craving of someone with a severely damaged metabolism/carbohydrate addiction would be a round of chemotherapy. Gross, right? But if you look at how many of us are out there walking around overweight and sick with diabetes, heart disease, etc., it makes one realize how strong a force we're trying to deal with here.

Sandi Hooper said...

Great post, Bama. Thanks for reminding me of this stuff!