Hunger

It’s said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but I don’t think I’m headed for Hell. At least not this month. That said, I really wish I had the time and energy to write all the stuff crowding my head right now. Since I don’t, only the loudest, most strident thought gets the 25 minute bucket I presently have available.

The last couple of months, I have found myself getting reaquainted with hunger and what it actually feels like. Part of me feels like an absolute moron for saying that outloud (to trainer J this morning) or in print (to my fat loss group yesterday), but apparently I am not alone in this particular defect. My doctor is an obesity specialist and hears this same sentiment a lot from patients. Honestly, just having him tell me that was a major relief. And trainer J, with his recent return to intermittent fasting as an eating strategy, knew precisely what I was talking about as well. It apparently comes up routinely when chatting with clients about weight loss.

Apparently it’s far more common that I realized.

For me, as I have been slowly falling into a better habit of healthier food choices and routines as part of following an outlined eating strategy, I am finding myself actually becoming hungry as my reason for eating. Before arriving at my present spot on the impulse scale, I would eat because I was bored, I was craving a specific (junky, sugary, salty) food, eating/food just sounded like a good idea, because of the time of day or the activity I was pursuing. None of those impulses have anything at all to do with hunger.

Now, I drink a protein shake before I go to the gym, because I feel like I need some fuel to get through my workouts. Distractions abound for me in the gym, and if I feel anything remotely like a food trigger, it is worse than any friend coming up to say hi and chat for a minute. I’m typically very hungry when I get home – a sign I am doing something right and burning calories – so I eat a piece of fruit. It’s kind of a 2 part breakfast. Lunch lately has been a sandwich with meat and cheese and a piece of fruit, typically about 5 hours after protein shake and 3 hours after fruit. The way my day goes, though, I don’t always get to eat my whole lunch in one sitting. So maybe it’s half a sandwich at 11 and piece of fruit at 1:30 in the afternoon. I feel hungry when lunch time arrives, and if I don’t eat both pieces at once I am ready for that piece of fruit when I have a moment to eat it. Dinner can be tricky – sometimes it’s 5-ish, more often it 6-ish. But since I now understand my hungry feelings, I can tell the difference between desperate hunger (blood sugar approaching 60, eat NOW) and regular time for dinner hunger (make something, sit down and eat it while it’s still hot).

While it might not sound like much, it’s a major breakthrough for me with my eating consistency. At first the habit withdrawal from my routine snacking and mindless consumption made me think I was in desperate hunger, but testing my sugar stated clearly that no, I’m in psychological food withdrawal and body does not require more food.

I think I am taking the first cautious steps toward trusting body and the biofeedback it provides me. For years – years! – I have found that body would says things like “I’m hungry! Let’s have a cookie!” (or worse) all the freaking time. As I have begun educating myself and developing my self-discipline muscle, I am learning that mind is very powerful and addicted to its own hedonistic wants.

And it’s not so much denial as redirecting. I still eat the occasional cookie. I still eat pizza with a salad a couple of times per month. What feels different in my own head is that I can sometimes stop with the single cookie, but not always, so I limit my temptation to when I am somewhere and can obtain just a single cookie. The pizza – the only junk food I allow myself with any regularity – I have trained myself into only so much (1 slice if it’s a large pizza, no more than 2 if it’s a small or medium pizza), no more, and always with a salad. The compromise is working for me and makes it far easier for me to forego other less healthy choices.

But eating when I’m hungry is retraining my thinking and hopefully reshaping my relationship with food and the nearly lifetime habit of constant, unrestrained grazing. I eat A LOT of chicken and broccoli, but I happen to really like both chicken and broccoli. However, my range of foods and tastes I enjoy is pretty limited, so I tend to eat the same meals over and and over again, week after week. Most nights it’s chicken on a salad, or with vegetables and a smaller portion of rice or potatoes. I do not eat a lot of beef and even less pork, so I work with chicken and shrimp, both of which are mainstays on the grocery list every week. Thus far it’s helping me overhaul my eating habits.

Cutting out snacking has been a challenge, but a challenge I am overcoming. On the nights I got to the gym after work (in addition to my mornings), I have a protein bar or protein shake midafternoon, then eat a late dinner, typically a salad. Other than that, though, I don’t snack anymore. I might break my midday meal and eat my apple or whatever else I’ve brought in midafternoon, but I don’t really count that as a snack. It’s more like extending lunch.

It took more than a year to get here. In January 2015, I started thinking about and thinking I would work at overhauling my eating habits. I had done a pretty good job of getting consistent with the exercise and believed I was ready to address my eating. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. I did better, but in truth it’s only been the last 3 or 4 months where my full attention was directed at the eating process and my own personal strengths and weaknesses.

To be clear: I do not diet. I am pursuing an eating strategy (higher protein, lower carbohydrates, LOTS of vegetables and fruits). I don’t have expectations of quick and easy results or quick fixes. My habits and behaviors have to change permanently, so I have to discern what I can and am willing to implement as far as feeding myself. Like with the exercise, I celebrate my tiny successes and work at evaluating circumstances that may cause me to backslide into old behaviors and habits. I accept it is also a process that spans the balance of my life, and no, I cannot live the rest of my life without a cookie or slice of pizza, so I try to be realistic and find the balance between moderation and zero self control. Right now, things where I know I have zero self control I simply avoid, period. It’s not forever, but I’m in a new phase of training and have to develop some discipline.

My reintroduction to hunger and what it feels like – a big step forward for me. Even if it does sound kind of silly.