Daily Archives: November 5, 2015

Our Long Lost Friend…Hunger

A few days ago, I recall a commute to work from about 5 years ago.  It was a normal drive to work, 45 minutes of think time.  Sometimes I listened to the radio, sometimes I rode in silence.  Sometimes I called people.  On this morning, it was me and my thoughts cruising into work.  I remember this drive specifically because it ultimately changed the way I eat.  As I drove, this thought bounced into my head:

“When was the last time my stomach growled?”

i tri man

I kept driving in silence, thinking about this.  It occurred to me that it had been a long time since I had experienced the sensation of a growling stomach.  As I kept driving, I realized that it had in fact been many YEARS since I had truly felt hungry…you know that deep uncomfortable physical sensation of really needing food.  It had been so long that I was unable to remember what it physically felt like to be hungry.  As I rode in my car, carrying extra weight, feeling out of shape and very bad about myself, my new revelation about my lack of connection with my body and it’s needs bounced around in my mind.

I ate.  I ate frequently.  I ate because I FELT like I needed to eat…. mentally.  I ate because eating felt good, food tasted good, because I was craving a flavor, feeling stressed or bored and eating distracted me.  I did not eat because I truly needed fuel.  Food was something more than just nourishment for my body.  Food was very much a part of my emotional life, and I used it to help me manage my feelings.

This was a huge wake up call for me.  But despite the fact that this new information had come to me, old habits die hard.  I continued on my emotional eating train for many more weeks, but the truth that I didn’t need to be eating kept tapping on my shoulder, reminding me that this wasn’t part of any solution that was going to get me feeling better about myself.  Like a giant gorilla hanging on me, every time I stuffed things into my mouth, I could hear that ape jumping around

“But you’re not really hungry.  This is why you are gaining weight.  You don’t need that.” 

Man, I hated that monkey.

Hungry Monkey

Eventually, I grew weary of the mental battle between myself and the ape and decided to get back in touch with my hunger.  I would wake up tomorrow and purposefully not eat breakfast and possibly lunch until I heard my stomach growl, until I felt the physical sensation of hunger.  I would pay attention to what I was thinking and feeling, but until I heard the sound, no food.  Now, you may be thinking that this sounds extreme.  Perhaps it is.  But it was what I needed to do to get back in touch with my body.

The experiment was a great lesson for me, helping me to understand how far out of touch with my hunger that I was.  When I finally heard my stomach growl, I was already experiencing the long forgotten sensation of hunger.  It is a physical sensation, deep in  your core, a hollow and uncomfortable feeling.  It is unmistakable.  My stomach finally roared like a hungry bear.

Hungry Bear

When I was experiencing hunger, my thoughts were not my normal cravings thoughts, my thoughts were very much focused on my discomfort.  On that day, prior to experiencing that sensation, mentally I had many feelings about eating, many thoughts about eating, and many cravings for food.  I repeated this experiment for several days, at different times, making sure that I was in fact hungry before I ate.  The volume of thoughts and cravings I had about food when I wasn’t truly hungry was astounding.

If I was listening only to my thoughts and cravings as the criteria for eating, it was no surprise that I was eating more than I needed and thus gaining weight.  I also recognized the pattern that after eating something high in sugar or highly processed (snack foods, sweets, fast foods) that within an hour to two hours, I was thinking about food and eating again.    The quality of my food (or lack of quality) was leading to blood sugar swings that were contributing to my cravings.

Being out of touch with true hunger and subjecting ourselves to extremes in blood sugar as a result of less than healthy food choices is a common component to undesired weight gain.  It is a vicious cycle.  It feeds on itself.  You feel bad for being unfit.  Your emotions get overwhelming.  You think of food, something that would taste good, make you feel better.  You eat the food (donuts, chips, ice cream, French fries, etc..) and then you feel full and your emotions are at bay for a moment.  But then fairly quickly you feel bad about what you ate, and start mentally beating yourself up and telling yourself what a horrible person you are for having eaten like that.  Meanwhile, your blood sugar has skyrocketed and your body dumps a ton of insulin out into your blood do deal with the sugar.  And in about 2 hours your blood sugar plummets and you start craving food again.  And this time, it’s worse because not only are you craving food because your blood sugar has bottomed out, but you are mentally stressed because you have been beating yourself up over the last meal or snack.  Your emotions are even higher or more uncomfortable and you need to soothe yourself even more than you did before.  And so the cycle keeps playing, over and over.

This cycle isn’t relate to hunger.

This cycle can be broken.  You can shake the monkey… and find your inner bear.  Get in touch with your real hunger again and start the process of learning to eat only when you are hungry today.

i tri man

** None of the information on this site is intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor.  Always seek the input of your medical provider regarding changes in diet and physical activity levels.

What Gets Measured Gets Fixed

I had a boss tell me once that “what get measured gets fixed.”

i tri man

What he meant was that when things weren’t going as expected you had to take stock of the situation. He believed, and I wholeheartedly agree, that in order to affect change, in order to right the ship, to fix things, you first have to measure what is happening now. It is only when you measure the current state that you can determine what the real issues are. Once you know what the issues are, you can then and only then begin to build a plan to fix the issues.

I’ve had many folks ask me “what should I do to start eating healthier?”

Healthy Food

My response, “Let’s figure out what you are eating now and then figure out the small changes you can begin to make that will start your journey.” Eating better, getting fit, finding balance and leading a healthier lifestyle is a process. Most of us don’t go cold turkey from our old habits and just start eating kale, quinoa, and lean organic protein for every meal. The reality of getting healthier is that it is a process. You will make small changes that last. Eventually you will add on to those first changes with more changes until you reach a point where you are truly eating healthy. Slow, methodical changes that you can live with are the keys to lasting health and fitness. But before you can start making methodical changes, you must first know where you are so that you can determine what you are willing and need to change.

On of the greatest tools that I have found is My Fitness Pal.  There are many other options out there like Spark People , but I’ve found that My Fitness Pal is the easiest to use and has an awesome free App that has one of the most complete food databases.

My Fitness Pal

Having found myself on the journey from unhealthy to fit, as I began measuring where I was, I also realized that there were some key mistakes that I made along the way that slowed my progress.  Having a cool App on your phone to track your food and exercise activities won’t make you fit all by itself.  In fact, if you fall into some of the traps I list below, you could end up fooling yourself and actually contributing to the difficulty of your journey.

Here are some of the key pitfalls to watch out for as you begin keeping track of where you are.

  • Overestimating your activity level
    When setting up your My Fitness Pal account, you can select (and edit at anytime) your activity level.  Your activity level along with your weekly weight loss goals will determine your recommend calorie intake – basically how much food you can eat.  Sometimes we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we are not as active as we think we are.  Sometimes we don’t recognize how inactive we are compared to the “average”.  Just to give you an idea, I am a triathlete and I exercise 15 – 25 hours per week depending on where I am in my training schedule.  I compete in 4 – 6 triathlons throughout the spring and summer months.  I compete in half Ironman distance triathlons.  During my normal work week, I have a desk job.  I am able to get up and move around and often walk around briskly to see folks throughout my office building.  My activity level is set on “Lightly Active.”  For my age (43) and weight (136 lbs.) my daily calorie target is 1550 calories.  For most of you, “Sedentary” or “Lightly Active” will be the proper setting.
  • Underestimating how much you are eating
    Beginning to read labels, recognize what a portion is and what the recommend serving size is are all keys to getting the most out of your calorie tracker.  If you pour a bowl of cereal and call that a serving size, then you will woefully be underestimating your calorie intake.  A typical serving size of cereal is 1/2 cup to 1 cup depending on the brand and cereal.  I’m not sure about you, but the first time I actually measure a proper serving of the cereal I was eating, I was completely shocked and then deflated.  1/2 cup to 1 cup of cereal is not very much – especially if you have a large bowls (as is typical).  If you are underestimating how much you are eating, then you will not see the results that you are wanting to see.
  • Overestimating the amount of effort / calories you are burning during your exercise
    Another pitfall in beginning to track your food and exercise is overestimating your calories burned during exercising.  My Fitness Pal does have fairly accurate exercise caloric counts.  With some of the exercises, you can choose your effort level.  For example, aerobics is a category that has several different levels of effort (light, moderate, vigorous).  If this is your first time starting out exercising and you find the exercise difficult, you may be tempted to select vigorous.  However, I would caution you that this may overestimate how many calories you have burned.  Vigorous aerobics would be a high intensity for someone who is fit.  Most likely, if you are just getting started, your effort level (from a calorie tracking perspective) will be light or moderate.  Don’t be discouraged.  Remember, measuring where we are is key to being able to affect change.  Be honest and accurate in what you are recording.  In the long run, accurate recording will pay off.

Healthy Eating