Allow me to vent just a tad… There’s been an advertisement on the radio lately for some doctor’s weight loss plan. He states that on his plan you’ll have “no hunger, no cravings” and also “no” to several other things I can’t remember off the top of my head. He also says he can help you lose 20-40 pounds in 40 days. Sounds a bit fishy to me, don’t you think? A pound of weight loss PER DAY and you’ll never feel hunger? Hmmm. Anyway, the point of this post isn’t to talk smack about his specific program (I don’t know anything else about it, and that’s not really my style anyway!). But his ad made me wonder: why on earth are people so afraid of hunger? Why is never feeling hunger seen as a selling point?
To an extent, I get it. Really, I do. The fundamental truth of fat loss remains that we need to burn more energy (calories) than we consume. The vast majority of diets therefore do their best to get people into a deep level of calorie restriction. The amount of restriction tends to be pretty high, unfortunately. So the person trying to stick to the severe diet ends up struggling to get by on only a fraction of the calories they’re used to eating. This tends to mean a lot of hunger! If you’re looking to drop weight quickly, and are super dedicated, you can probably handle it for a period of time. Many of us have done this at some point. However, let’s be honest, that process kind of sucks, right?? If your only experience with hunger has been the extreme kind that comes with restrictive diets, it’s no wonder you’d want to avoid it!
Hunger is simply a bodily signal. It is a sign that your body sends you to let you know about the current state of your internal affairs. Our bodies send us lots of signals: a signal when our bladder is full and we should use the bathroom soon, a signal when we’re tired and should probably sleep soon, a signal when we’re too warm and should probably cool down soon, etc. None of these are dire emergencies (must pee RIGHT NOW!!!!), nor are they things to be afraid of. They are nudges toward some outcome the body needs (to pee, to sleep, to find some A/C). Hunger is the same way. Your body is telling you that it needs some nourishment soon. It’s is NOT telling you that if you don’t put something in your mouth this very second that all hell is going to break loose and the world will come to an end![bctt tweet=”When it comes to fat loss, making friends with your hunger can be very helpful!” username=”raisingnutritn”]
Feeling hunger before we eat lets us know that we’re on the right track. It means that we’re eating in response to our body’s need for food, which is pretty much exactly what’s supposed to happen! If hunger doesn’t arrive before our meals, it’s a sign that our body doesn’t actually need more food right now. If we want to get into a calorie deficit to lose weight, and we’re eating when we’re not hungry, then we’re probably not getting into that deficit!
We don’t need to suffer through hours of it, but we also don’t need to eat the second we feel it. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. A very first step might be to stop eating when you’re NOT hungry. Eating when you’re not hungry in order to prevent feeling hungry later just tends to mean we’re taking in too many calories.
This goes hand in hand with the idea of eating actual meals during the day, rather than snacking frequently. Frequent snacking can sometimes be a sign that we’re afraid of hunger, and are constantly eating in order to prevent hunger from occurring. If you eat fully satisfying meals, your hunger will stay away longer. This means that you’ll be able to avoid ending up hungry two hours after breakfast and then feeling the need to snack or nibble in order to survive the few hours until lunch. Instead, you’ll be able to sail more comfortably through your morning and get hungry closer to lunch time, meaning a much more tolerable level of hunger! A tolerable level of hunger means reassurance that you’re not eating too much, and that you’re eating in response to an actual bodily need – a definite win!
If the idea of feeling hungry currently scares you, I’d encourage you to think about why that is. I’m willing to bet that you’ve had some negative experiences with it, as most dieters have (having to endure it for what felt like forever!). But just because it’s been a bear to suffer through in the past, doesn’t mean it has to always be that way. You can absolutely learn to feel it, without panicking, if you start small and practice.
The amount of hunger that feels tolerable is going to be different for each person. With our coaching clients, we like to work with them toward feeling hunger for about 30-60 minutes before a meal. Of course, not everyone is comfortable with that from the get-go! So we scale it to what feels tolerable for them. Even Georgie Fear, the nutrition mastermind behind One By One’s coaching (and my awesome mentor!), admits that she had to make friends with her hunger at a very slow pace. She started with allowing herself to feel hunger for only 5 minutes before eating.
If that is what you feel you can handle, then start there! You can increase the amount of time you’re able to feel it as you get more practice. I know it can be scary, but I also know that nothing horrendous will happen to you if you feel it for a few minutes. Sometimes we just need the experience of trying it out, and realizing it’s not nearly as scary as we thought, in order to believe it ourselves!
The moral of the story here is that I hope you won’t let anyone tell you that you should fear hunger, or that hunger is something to avoid at all costs. If someone is telling you they have a magic fat loss secret that involves never feeling hunger, be skeptical! Hunger is a good thing (in the right amount). It helps you know that you’re on the right track with your fat loss goals, and it means you’re tuning into and honoring your body’s signals.
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