Hunger is a potent fear for many. It is a scary fact that many people snack all day long in order to avoid getting hungry. And what will happen if we allow hunger to arrive? We would be ravenous and eat anything that was not nailed down. We would eat our best friend’s first child. We would eat until we burst a gut. In other words, we would be hopelessly out of control.
Now let’s get a little rational here. I’m talking hunger, not starvation. Food is never further away than your refrigerator or a local convenience store that is open 24/7. The scenario is not that you are on a deserted island with no food. We tend to eat each meal as if it is our last. Like food will never be there again for us. But it is. Three meals a day, every day. We never need to eat it all right now because we can always eat it again later or tomorrow if we want. We’re lucky that way. We have an overabundance of food.
Where did this fear of hunger come from? Dieting. We eat those little tiny meals that the diet dictocrats tell us to eat on the schedule they prescribe and we are famished. We hyper-focus on when we are “allowed” to eat again and count the minutes until the next rice cake. The low calorie meals don’t satisfy. An hour after eating, we’re feeling hunger pangs again. The only way to quell it is to take a permitted snack. And another. And another. We put up with the whole thing because we are desperate to lose weight. And in the process we learn a distorted way of eating. We override our natural instincts and become slaves to diet mentality.
In one of my workshops almost none of the participants ate three meals each day. When I asked them to fill out food diaries the first week, they fabricated meals to put into the breakfast, lunch and dinner slots. Most said they were not eating snacks in between. Except for one woman who admitted to only snacking and not eating meals. One by one, the others fessed up – they, too, were grazing like cows on pasture all day. They could not discern one meal from another because they ate constantly. No one knew what it meant to feel hungry because they never got hungry. And no one knew what it meant to be satisfied because they never stopped eating.
That would explain why the “meals” they recorded were so small – they were nothing more than snacks that happened to fall at mealtimes. It’s easy to eat small “meals” if you don’t allow yourself to get hungry. The funny part was that most of these women did not acknowledge all the eating that went on in between “meals.” Like if they ate at other than mealtimes, the food didn’t count. And that seemed really to be at the bottom of the whole charade – they could fool themselves into thinking that they really weren’t eating much – certainly those who ate “meals” with them saw small quantities being consumed. It was all the eating that wasn’t seen, that wasn’t counted, that explained why these women were overweight.
Snacking is the antithesis of normalized eating. If you eat enough food to satisfy at each of three meals, you should remain sated for at least 4 if not 6 hours after. Sometimes, patients don’t believe me on this one. It’s been so long since they ate only 3 meals per day (if ever) that they can’t remember what that feels like. The diet doctors that told you to eat three small meals and snacks in between are wrong. They’re blatantly telling you not to trust your intuitive ability to know when you want to eat and when you’ve had enough. Continuing this practice keeps you in diet mentality.
If you are paying attention to your signals of hunger and satiety, you will not starve and you will not overeat. If you have gotten yourself into the above scenario, it may take some time and practice before you can normalize your eating patterns. And to trust your body to do the right thing.