How to eat only when you’re hungry ? (Post 1)

(the answer to this question is a work in progress 🙂 )

Following the responses of two readers of this blog, “Cath” and “A Canadian Reader”, I want to take the time to address their concerns to the best of my knowledge and experience. Their comments made me want to re-start a project that I thought about 2 years ago, but that I gave up on, because I thought I lost the credibility to do it. Now, I feel like I’m gaining back that credibility, and it could be the time to restart it 🙂 !

Here is, in a nutshell, the project. There are tons of books on the specific actions to take to lose weight : calorie control, counting the points, not mixing your proteins and your carbs, or eating only when you’re hungry (the one I just followed, and the only one I believe in after decades of struggle), but there is no literature to help you make the mind shift to have healthy eating habits. Losing weight is treated as a technical challenge (just measure and reduce your intake of food, or just listen to your stomach and eat when you are hungry) but in fact, becoming healthy is an “adaptive challenge”, because it requires you to adapt your current way of thinking. Most time, adapting your way of thinking means giving up on things that you always held as truth, and this could cause internal or external conflict. But it could also sometimes be a smooth and effortless process. I have mentioned several times the book “Easy Way to Stop Smoking” by Allen Carr, because it really helped me make the mind adaptation necessary to become a non-smoker and to realize that when I thought, when I was sure I needed a cigarette, I really didn’t.

(for more on the topic of technical versus adaptive challenges, you can buy the article of the author of the concept, published in the Harvard Business Review here, or you can get a summary here … it’s originally a business concept that I learned during the MBA, but it can be applied in non-business situations that require growth/change)

So now that I am convinced that not restricting food, and eating when (but only when) you are hungry is the definite way to become healthy, I realize that it wasn’t easy to bring myself to follow this rule, and that other people are still struggling with it.

I know that Paul McKenna thinks that an adaptive challenge can be overcome with Neuro Linguistic Programming (N.L.P.), but I must admit: I don’t have faith in NLP anymore. I think people need more guidance than just doing NLP exercizes that will supposedly put them in the right mindset.

The best way to address other people’s concerns, I guess, is to address what’s been said to me directly, so I will answer my two readers, and we’ll see what happens from there.

A Canadian Reader

You mention in your comment that you feel anger because if you listened only to your stomach, you eat so little food that this doesn’t satisfy you psychologically. Now, this is a very interesting comment.

First of all, let me tell you that even though I am big and tall, when I listen only to my stomach, I eat very little as well. For example, I said that I managed to lose weight by eating pizza, but listen to this: when I order a pizza, I rarely eat more than 2 slices, because my stomach is not hungry for more. I usually end up tossing the pizza away, or giving it to other people. Same with French fries, I usually eat only half (if even that) of the box, because my stomach is full very easily. Similarly, I usually eat only half of a hamburger. I find that with fruits and veggies, my stomach is not filled as fast, so I can eat more. So I have experienced the same thing as you do: I eat very little quantities of food because when I listen to my stomach signal, I don’t need as much.

This was a strange experience for me, because I was taught by my mother (not taught directly, but taught through imitation of habits), that a real satisfying meal contains a first course, a main course, cheese and dessert, and with huge quantities of food in the main course plate, and also usually a substantially big dessert. So it was very surprising to me to see how little food I ate by only listening to my stomach. But I guess I was able to accept that because in the past I had tried drastic diets where I ate very little food (I don’t believe in these diets anymore, because I always ended up putting back on more weight than I lost, due to the frustration it created). After having followed my stomach for 30 days, I have to tell you that the quantities that I need to fill my stomach and satisfy my hunger are much less than what I thought.

Second, it is very interesting to read that a small meal doesn’t satisfy yourself psychologically. Maybe you could tell me a little bit more on that, so that I could tell you if there is anything in my experience that could help. The concept of eating when you’re hungry and stopping if you think you’re not hungry any longer is all about recognizing that eating is here to satisfy your stomach and your biological need to eat, but not to satisfy your brain. I understand that overeating has a psychological function to you. I’ve done it for 29 years (and I may do it in the future again, because it’s only been 30 days that I have done something else). I don’t fully understand the ropes of it. McKenna says that it acts like a drug, as overeating releases a chemical in your brain. Maybe. I know from experience that overeating is an addictive behavior, and that it is used to escape reality, so it is fair to say that it is like a drug. And yes, the first reaction of a drug addict when you take the drug away is : “fuck you !” or “how can I possibly live without it?”

So when you say “a small meal doesn’t satisfy me psychologically”, what goes in your mind exactly ?

For me, when I see that I am full after eating very little, I think: “wow, this is amazing. I’m not hungry after eating so little, surely, that means my body is going to trim, I’ll shed weight and I’ll become healthier… This is going to speed things up.” And I don’t care that I ate so little, because I know that if I feel hungry one hour later, I will eat something.

Finally, I am not sure Allen Carr’s book could help you stop overeat. In my case, it didn’t work, because the situations he describes are very specific to smoking. I had to figure out on my own how to manage to follow healthy eating habits.

Cath

Hey! So for your information, I spent 3,5 years in Boston, I studied film and writing at Emerson College, and then spent my final semester in Los Angeles.

To answer your comment:

First you say that you’re not good at stopping eating when you think you’re full. It would be interesting to have more details about that, so that I can tell you if I identify with some of the things that go through your mind.

Second, you mention that your main point of struggle is that you do something else while you eat. I sometimes do too, but only if a) it doesn’t distract me from actually enjoying what I am eating, and b) I can still be in touch with the sensations of my stomach. I do think that in the beginning, it was better for me to give up other activities when I ate, because I wanted to be in touch with my feelings.

By following the “I can make you thin” rules for 30 days, I became very respectful of the act of eating, and of food. I was very disrespectful of it, because there were so many negative feelings attached to eating: guilt, anger, pride, etc. Now, I’m not kidding when I say I love food. I do love all types of food, and the act of eating, either on my own, either in the company of others. I’ve understood it as a biological need, and I honor it as an act of nature. I do not see it as a waste of time if I only eat without doing anything else, on the contrary. I see it as a way to reconnect with my body, and also a sensual experience; I take the opportunity to smell and taste everything.

How does that resonate with you?

***

I really hope that we’re going to get this discussion going, and that maybe other people will join too and share if they’re struggling to apply this principle. I’m sure it could be a constructive experience for all people involved.

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5 Responses to “How to eat only when you’re hungry ? (Post 1)”

  1. Leigh Says:

    WOW! I am from California and I came across your blog by accident and am SOOOO thankful I did. I have known about Paul McKenna’s program since December, but have not been able to get it together. Today was my first day back on and then I come across your blog! How is that for timing?!?!

    This was just what I need to read to get it going. I am so relieved to hear a common sense approach to PM. I have always done programs with an “all or nothing” approach, and seeing how you have followed the golden rules, but kept true to what worked for you. 🙂 Very inspirational!!

    I struggle with a lot of self-loathing, etc. (childhood issues), and it is nice to see that you were able to get through those kinds of emotions (stress, etc) without failing!

    I didn’t mean to write a book, but your blog has me very excited 🙂 Thank you again!

    Merci!!

    Leigh

  2. A Canadian Reader Says:

    Hi 30-day (can I call you something else?),

    Thank you so much for responding directly to my comments. (I still marvel at the power of the Internet, which enables people from around the world to connect and help each other!).

    I think that you have put your finger on the bobo, so to speak. The strange thing is that I am still struggling to flesh out for myself this feeling of being psychologically unsatisfied. Somehow I feel hard done by–that others are getting what I should be able to have too, but am denied.

    There is a strong feeling of “why me?”.

    I really need to explore this feeling a lot more. I have already started a long post which I’ll put up on my blog in the next day or two, but once again, I’d like to thank you for nudging me in the right direction. I’d very much like to continue this discussion.

    Wendy

    • thirtydaytrials Says:

      yeah, you can call me B.

      Ah, it’s funny you mention that, because I have experienced this feeling of “Why Me?” a few times too … why were most people educated to naturally follow their hunger, and why did I have to end up in the pool of people who overeat?

      Then, recently I’ve come to accept a more philosophical view that we all have our own struggles and challenges that seem to have been given by fate and assigned at random. You and I struggle with a similar issue, but there are hundreds or thousands of other problems. I know that looking at other people’s misfortune doesn’t really solve your problems. But it helps gaining perspective.

      Also, yes, I too was denied a healthy food education but it doesn’t mean that this education is denied to me now. I can still train myself and learn ways to accept this new way of eating, nobody would be preventing me, but myself.

      Also, a thing that helps me when I find myself saying in my head: “this is not what i want” or “this is not satisfying” is to reply: “ok, then what do you want? Write it down. Express it.” So maybe I could ask you this question: what is a psychologically satisfying meal to you? What does it mean? Express it in words!

      Just throwing ideas out there, I’m by no means an expert.

  3. wellness retreat Says:

    Interesting blog, I am not overweight yet I have started to listen to my body a lot more. Believe it or not, most people overeat, even if they don’t look overweight. Even if it doesn’t seem to affect everybody’s body weight, it indeed affects their health. I have lost a few kilos since adjusting to ‘eat when I’m hungry’ lifestyle, which at first bothered me since I liked the way I looked. BUt I feel much healthier now!

  4. raquel Says:

    hi my name is raquel. its funny because ive been looking for a blog like this. i’ve dieted, binged, lost weight, gained weight since i was 14. im 24 now and ive recently tried to take this approach of eating when im hungry and i love it but i find it very difficult. i find that im nervous when i feel like i ate to much or if i get to a meal and im not hungry but i want to be. its very hard to be around food and not eat if your noy hungry. but i really do love this approach. you wrtoe to try this for 30 days. ive tried it plenty of times for 30 days but i continue to binge. theres something that im missing! please respond

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