Have you forgotten how to be hungry?

Lynn Llewellyn
Monday, November 22, 2010
"If you skip breakfast you'll end up chasing your hunger all day."
Lynn Llewellyn

Too many of us abandon our healthy eating plans, or don't even start them, because we're convinced we'll be constantly ravenous. Lynn Llewellyn asks why we're so afraid of a rumbly tummy.

How many times have you promised yourself that you’ll stick to your healthy eating plan, only to give in at the first twinge of hunger? Before you give up on healthy eating all together, it pays to understand why the slightest tummy rumble has you running for the snack box.

Hunger is the most powerful primitive urge known to humans. It's one of those pre-programmed instincts designed to make sure we start looking for food long before we starve.

And while that would have been handy when our food supply depended on what we could hunt and gather, today it's not something we need for survival.

Hunger is a powerful motivator, so it's certainly able to override your willpower — but there are ways to harness your urge to eat and actually use it as a weight-loss tool.

Are you really hungry?
George Blair-West is a medical doctor, psychiatrist and author of Weight Loss For Food Lovers: Understanding Our Minds And Why We Sabotage Our Weight Loss ($29.95, Tower Books). "Physical hunger occurs below the neck as a sensation in your stomach when you're due for another meal. When you've eaten something, your physical hunger is satisfied," Dr Blair-West explains.

"Emotional hunger usually involves a desire for a particular food. It happens at any time. It can be triggered by things like TV ads or even talking about food and, once you've eaten, it’s more likely to produce feelings of guilt than a feeling of satisfaction, he says."

Mindless eating can take the blame for most of our weight problems. Dr Blair-West prescribes 'mindfulness' to his patients battling obesity. "Before you eat, ask yourself, 'Am I hungry?'" he suggests. "While you're eating, after about three or four mouthfuls, ask yourself , 'Am I still hungry?'

"Eating until you are full rather than eating until you are no longer hungry are two different things, as it takes 20 minutes for the brain to register that the stomach is full — and you can eat a lot in 20 minutes," he says.

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Ditch the distractions
If you tend to eat at your computer, while watching TV, driving or talking on the phone, you're at risk of overeating before you even know what's happened.

Mindful eating means giving your entire attention to your food and Dr Blair-West says this is a possible explanation for French people having fewer weight-related health issues than the rest of us even though they eat foods considered fattening.

"You can't effectively monitor what you're eating unless you are fully present in the moment," he says. "French people tend to focus on their meals and they stop doing other things when it’s time to eat," he says.

Love lunch
Dr Blair-West advocates making lunch the main meal of the day. "Allow yourself a good solid lunch that includes some protein, proven to be the most satisfying of all food components and an ideal antidote to hunger," he says.

"With so many low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat available, making protein part of your lunch is easy and will reduce the chances of you being starving by mid-afternoon."

Feed your need
Depriving yourself of food you truly love is a recipe for diet failure, says Dr Blair-West. If you deny yourself the foods to which you have a strong emotional attachment, you will eventually become so hungry for them you'll probably end up eating more than you normally would.

"If you are mindful of your cravings you have two choices when they occur," he says. "You can distract yourself somehow — we call it urge surfing, where you ride the waves of cravings until they abate."

Or you can give in to them in a managed way. The idea is that if you allow yourself a little of what you really desire every day — preferably at morning tea time, when you are much less likely to binge on them — you can avoid powerful cravings getting out of control by mid-afternoon.

Start right
You've heard it before but here it is again: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. "The evidence shows that people who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off are those who eat a good breakfast," Dr Blair-West says.

"If you skip breakfast you'll end up chasing your hunger all day."

Plan ahead
"It's important to pre-plan for hunger by starting with a decent breakfast and having healthy snacks on hand for when they're needed," says Dr Blair-West. "It can also be helpful to write a list of things you can do when food cravings strike.

"Your list might include things like breathing exercises, having a bath, pampering yourself, telephoning a friend or getting some exercise."

Sleep on it
Recent research shows that people who regularly sleep five hours a night rather than eight have elevated levels of ghrelin, the so-called 'hunger hormone', and reduced levels of leptin, a hormone that tells your body when to stop eating. The increased hunger that results explains why people who sleep less are more likely to be obese. So sleep more to weigh less!

Bought to you by Slimming & Health magazine.

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