Dear blog friend,
Lately, I have been very interested in the mechanisms of hunger.
I read and recommend the book When Food is Food and Love is Love by Geneen Roth. I read and recommend the book, The Obesity Code, by Dr. Jason Fong. Both authors shed light on this important health-and-wellness topic. Roth’s emphasis is healing our bodies emotionally so that we can be at peace around food and confident in our choices. Dr. Fong’s emphasis is on regulating insulin to help burn fat and improve our health.
Learning how to work with your hunger is essential on the get-and-stay-healthy spectrum. In particular, your weight, your ability to resist disease, your brain, your metabolism, your hormonal system, and your gut are all intimately connected with this basic function of your body, namely hunger.
I just read this excerpt from my book, Health Matters. And I recommend that you do too. (Learn more about my book here.) The only thing I would add to the chapter that I wrote is that this chance to get in touch with your body is also an opportunity to do some healing and reflection of your emotions. Hunger and food are invariably linked with beliefs about eating, what we deserve, how we feel about our shape and size, and even a sense of our own worthiness.
Let’s call this a practice. Here I am, having been on this journey for over twenty years, and to this day I deliberately have a point of focus regarding food, hunger, and satiety. I love to eat, but I prefer not to eat too much. I enjoy being hungry like I describe in the chapter, and I also enjoy the freedom that comes from living life fully in particular when it’s not time to eat. There are many nuances, and I think you will discover these on your own as you focus on your body along the way. Practice connecting with your body so you, too, can make good choices, nourish yourself well, and enjoy food without guilt and other debilitating emotions.
Be well. Eat heartily. Love your body. And thanks for being part of the Health Matters community.
With love and encouragement,
Wait Until You Are Hungry
Copyright© 2018 Rosie Bank. All Rights Reserved
1 billion people in the world are chronically hungry. 1 billion people are overweight. (Mark Bittman)
By now, your body knows the difference between “empty-belly hunger” and the urgency that comes from the absence of available blood glucose. The latter is not hunger in the sense that you are out of food. But you are certainly out of fuel. It is often referred to as a “crash,” when the level of glucose in your blood plummets. The need to refuel by eating something if your blood glucose is precipitously low is real. While I want to show you the benefits of waiting until you are empty-belly hungry before you eat, I do recognize that the feeling of being about to keel over due to low blood sugar is an exception. And yet, for many of you who experienced this challenge in the past, it may be less of a problem now, given what you have learned and incorporated into your daily habits.
Being able to wait until you are hungry to eat teaches some important lessons:
- To be more aware of your body
- To learn the effect that different kinds of food have on your appetite, satiety, and energy level
- To support normal and ideal hormonal function
- To support optimal digestion and absorption of your food
- To remain free from food as a preoccupation until your belly is empty
- To get more done and have more fun
These last two goals are personal to me, and perhaps they are to you, too. They represent being able to live and enjoy life, without the constant distraction of an obsession with food. I think of this as keeping food out of our way but having it available when it is time to refuel and refill.
Personally, I enjoy the feeling of being empty-belly hungry for a variety of reasons. First, I know that my body has done a good job of using up the energy that came from burning calories from the food I had eaten earlier. Next, I get excited to eat. It is the most natural thing in the world to have an appetite in response to my empty stomach telling my brain that it’s time to fill up again. And last, I enjoy realizing that three, four, and sometimes five or more hours have passed since the last time I ate and that I have been in “production mode.” Since I was addicted to food in the past, to this day, I enjoy the freedom to stay focused.
An efficient metabolism enables you to go three to five hours after you eat before you are hungry again. This means that you are extracting energy from your food properly, that the energy is sustained, rather than spiking up and crashing down, and that you might be making good decisions about what you are eating.
Here is an example. In theory, and consistent with what foods from different food groups do after you eat them, if you have potato chips and a candy bar for lunch, you would probably be much hungrier much more quickly than if you had a green salad with a scoop of salmon, some avocado, and some dry roasted almonds. The chips and candy will cause a rapid rise in your blood glucose.
By now you know that your blood glucose can rise more rapidly in the absence of foods that complement the carbohydrates, namely fats and proteins. The faster your blood glucose rises, the faster it comes down, and you run out of energy even if there is still food in your stomach. This is the infamous late-morning crash, which happens a couple of hours after a breakfast of coffee, orange juice, and a bagel.
Salad, salmon, nuts, and avocado contain a terrific combination of proteins, complex carbs, heart-healthy fats, and lots of fiber. Fiber slows down the absorption of carbohydrates, which is another way of saying that you have more sustained energy. Do you remember this from Week #5, “Eat Your Veggies”?
What does this have to do with waiting until you are hungry before eating? In his book Mastering Leptin: Your Guide to Permanent Weight Loss and Optimum Health, Byron J. Richards encourages his readers to allow their bodies to complete the digestion process from one meal before cranking it up again by taking in additional food. The information in this book inspired me to allow one meal to finish moving through my digestive organs before I began another. If you practice this, you might find that your body receives a meal much better if it is not still dealing with the previous meal. This is a powerful weight-loss strategy because it encourages you to become sensitive to hunger and satiety.
The digestion process has many mini-steps, from an opening of the tube at the mouth to elimination at the other end. And these processes rely on a variety of biochemical juices and hormones in our bodies that play specific roles at specific times. If your body is in the middle of digesting your food and you try to reset it from the beginning, this might tax your body and compromise optimal digestion, absorption, and elimination.
Taking in food before you are hungry is not a felony. But it is not ideal. Aren’t we shooting for astonishing? Do you like the idea of putting your food to work for you and letting your body do its thing before you interrupt its natural rhythm?
This week, give yourself the gift of tuning in yet again. You have already learned how to nourish your body in new ways. While you maintain this practice, take yourself to the next level. Learn to listen to the subtle messages that your body is designed to give you. By now, those of you who formerly had issues with blood glucose and energy levels are probably thriving. This lesson is an invitation for you and your body to become more in sync. Just as you have learned to stop before you were stuffed, waiting to eat until you are hungry is a higher level of performance.
Some of my clients have no idea what hunger feels like. They have never experienced hunger. People have told me that they dread hunger, that they do anything to avoid it. I believe this is a mistake. Being hungry a few hours after you eat is as natural as having to pee. To categorically avoid this most natural sensation (and that is all it is) means to skip over how our bodies are designed to function. Haven’t you come too far to allow this to happen?
In my erstwhile food-addiction days, I had no idea what hunger was. Noticing natural cues from my body became essential to allow me to get free. I believe you will find something similar.
Befriend your hunger. Get to know its message and nuances. For some of you, having an experience of real, physical hunger that comes from your body and your stomach will be sensational. How would you describe how it feels to be hungry? What are the sensations in your body that tell you that your stomach is empty? Knowing that you will not starve, is there anything pleasant about an empty-belly hunger?
If this is something you have avoided in the past, it might be a breakthrough for you to understand that your hunger is an acceptable experience and a message from your body. Since no one reading this book is at risk of starving to death, experiencing hunger will broaden your body awareness, especially if you have avoided this sensation in the past.
Learn to distinguish the physical sensation of hunger from the thought or impulse of wanting to eat, which is completely different. The latter is in your head. It is different from the former, a bodily sensation. If you do hear that thought, check in with your stomach. You may experience physical cravings as well. As you can see, you have a lot to sort through—all part of your self-and-health mastery.
Also, waiting until you are hungry is different than being too busy to eat, or overriding, ignoring, or dismissing your body’s hunger signals. Dismissing hunger is not a healthy practice. If you are busy and you are hungry, but you would like to finish a project you are working on or for some other reason postpone eating (perhaps you want to finish writing a blog post or wait thirty minutes to meet your friend for lunch), a big glass of water tastes delicious and effectively enables your body to wait without punishment.
Look out for two things when you practice this week’s lesson. First, you will enjoy continued weight loss (if that is one of your goals during this program). Second, your food will taste even more divine. Try it. I believe you will appreciate how you feel and how you look. And oh! How food tastes when you are hungry! It’s worth waiting for.
Rosie Bank is Board Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and the founder of Health Matters Coaching. She is the author of the book, Health Matters. Rosie is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and is certified by The Center for Nutrition Studies (e-Cornell) in Plant Based Nutrition. Rosie is an international speaker, blogger, and the founder of Health Matters podcast. She is certified as a Nutrition and Wellness Consultant through the American Fitness Professional Association and as a Nutrition Advisor through Sanoviv Medical Institute. Rosie founded The Vitality Club in Brentwood, CA in 2018.
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