Avoidance of Hunger

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.

Diet Mentality

What do I mean by “diet mentality?”  Of course, “being on a diet” means you are in diet mentality.  But many people who don’t think of themselves as “being on a diet” are also in diet mentality.  It occurs when you are eating in a prescribed way, usually involving the monitoring of food intake by some arbitrary guideline like calorie totals, fat or carbohydrate content of foods, glycemic index, portion size control, prescribed times to eat meals and snacks, avoidance of hunger, compulsively weighing yourself on the scale, obsessively thinking about food all day – what you can and cannot eat – and any other forced and unnatural relationship with food.  In other words, a way of eating that requires a deprivation of any kind.  Eating low-fat food is deprivation. Eliminating a food or food group from your eating repertoire is deprivation. Having to calculate anything is deprivation.

If you’ve lived most of your life in diet mentality, and most of us have, you may think this a normal course of events, a perfectly sane way to live.  It is not.  Dieting is something relatively new in human development.  And as soon as some people realized it would be a way to profit from other folks’ insecurities about themselves, the diet industry was born.   We’ve heard all the scientific information that will make the next great diet a success, but alas, it never is.  Yet for some reason we just keep on trying the next new diet, and the next.  Why?  Because we don’t seem to know that there is any other way.

How about just eating what you want when you’re hungry?  Don’t trust yourself?  We’ve learned over the years that we are not to be trusted making a food choice. We obviously don’t know what is good for us or we wouldn’t be trying to lose weight in the first place. If we’re given free rein to make food choices we might always pick Twinkies rather than something good for us.  If we are not told what to eat and how much to eat, we will always make bad choices.  At least that’s what we think.  But maybe our bodies are smarter than we are.  And just maybe given free choice, knowing we can have a Twinkie anytime we want, that Twinkie will seem a lot less important to us.  Do you really think all you will ever want to eat again is Twinkies?  Probably not.

Millions of people make food choices every day without consulting the scientists or the diet doctors or the government agencies.  They eat balanced diets just the way their ancestors have always done.  They scoff at us for being so foolish.  And they stay slimmer, have less chronic disease, and have longer life expectancies than us.  Yet they’ve not spent one day of their lives in diet mentality.  You can be one of those people.

Hunger and Satiety

Eat when you are hungry.  Stop when you are satisfied.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  It should be simple but as it turns out, it’s not.  We all have the ability to do this naturally and as toddlers, we do.  Toddlers know when they want to eat and also know when they’ve had enough.  It is at this crucial part of our development where things generally go wrong.  Parents think they know better how much to feed their child and so exercise all kinds of tomfoolery, or worse, dictatorial authority, to get their little ones to eat more.  They also tend to choose the appropriate times for meals, regardless of whether that is also the time their child is hungry.  If you are a parent and you are doing this, STOP!  Your little one is perfectly capable of knowing when they want to eat and when they’ve had enough.  Just provide them with healthy food and then relax and let them make their own decisions about when and how much.  They do truly know better than you.

Chances are, you were also coaxed by your parents to ignore your body’s innate ability to know when and how much to eat.  I bet you can remember being told that there were starving children in the world and so it was your duty to finish everything on your plate lest it go to waste in a world where hunger was felt by millions.  There really is no connection between the hungry masses’ access to food and the scraps on our plates.  Just a simple trick to play at our guilt and cause us to eat more than we wish.  We are being asked by our parents to bypass our natural instinct to know when we’ve had enough and instead determine our “portion” by what’s on our plates – a dilemma that we will see later, comes back to haunt us in spades.

If you have learned bad habits, it can be hard to change unless change is what you truly desire.  Diet mentality is not a normal response to food.  It’s a learned response to food.  The first step in shutting down your calculated eating patterns is to be aware that you practice them.  The only way back to our innate abilities is to bring awareness to our eating.  To stop eating at prescribed times instead of when we actually feel hungry.  To tap into our desires to eat certain foods and do that rather than what we were told to eat by a diet prescription.  To understand physically what it feels like to be satisfied by food and be able to stop before we reach the stage of overeating into a groan.  At first, it requires deliberate effort and practice.  But eventually, the natural instinct returns.  Soon it becomes the default reaction to eating.  When you are free to feel hungry and to satisfy that hunger with the food of your choice, you are liberated from diet mentality.  For many people, this alone is enough to cause weight loss and maintenance of a normal weight for a lifetime.

Stop Dieting NOW

Eating should be a joyful activity.  We do it, hopefully three times each day, to keep our bodies running.  However, diet mentality is so pervasive in our society that eating has become a painful activity fraught with psychological, emotional, and cultural implications.  We deprive ourselves, fret over food choices, and punish ourselves regularly for not getting it all “just right.”  These many dramas are played out with the support of corporate interests, government, the medical profession, and often, even our own mothers to the point that we don’t know there is another way to live, another way to eat.  Fortunately, there are many other cultures around the world where these daily dramas do not exist.  We have an opportunity to learn what works so well in those cultures that we seem to have forgotten over the last 40 years.  Overweight and chronic illness do not have to be the norm.  These conditions are mostly caused by poor lifestyle choices and can almost always be reversed by making better choices.

Key factors in any weight stabilization plan:

1.  Learning to eat when hungry and stop when satisfied.

2.  Procuring, preparing and eating food from quality sources – not fast food, junk food, processed and packaged food.

3.  No deprivation.  No calorie counting, no carb counting, no fat counting, no glycemic index counting.  Eat what you like and when you want as long as you start eating when you are hungry and stop eating when you are satisfied.

4.  Get some moderate exercise every day.  This is actually more important for your health than your weight.  You don’t have to go to a gym – just do what you were meant to do – walk, climb, lift, pull, push, bend.

5.  Don’t be fooled by ploys like Weight Watcher’s now saying they are not a diet.  It’s become fashionable to say diets are taboo but only if you are not a diet in sheep’s clothing.  For Weight Watchers to say they are not a diet, they would have to stop telling you to eat low-fat products and stop asking you to count anything, points or otherwise. If you are hyper-focused on how much and what goes in your mouth, you are on a diet.  Let go of diet mentality.

6.  Be aware of health issues that will thwart your efforts to lose weight.  Food addictions (most commonly to sugar, alcohol and caffeine) and food allergies and sensitivities (most commonly to cow dairy, wheat, egg, soy, corn)  – both may be indications of deeper health issues.  If you suffer frequently from indigestion, insomnia, fatigue, stress, frequent respiratory infections, thyroid or hormone issues, your weight may be affected.  If you take prescription or over-the-counter medications regularly, they may be causing overweight.  If you have one or more chronic conditions you may be unable to lose weight.  Dieting may have caused these conditions and can exacerbate them further.

You don’t need to give up; you only need to change the way you think about weight loss.  Bringing some sanity back to the way you approach food is at the very least, liberating.  But far more than that, it will most likely change your life for the better in myriad ways.

LETTER: The New York Times

Children: Higher Expectations Help Fight Asthma
By Eric Nagourney

Published: October 13, 2008


To the Editor:

Having suffered asthma myself I can tell you that the best way to raise parents’ expectations for their asthmatic children is not by having them accept that asthma is a chronic ailment and administer drugs more aggressively as suggested in Mr. Nagourney’s article but to offer them the hope of curing the illness without the use of drugs at all.  I cured my asthma using acupuncture, naturopathy, and homeopathy after the conventional doctors had given up on me.  They told me that my asthma would be chronic and debilitating and the best I could look forward to was a lifetime using steroidal drugs and inhalers.  Refusing to accept those terms, I sought and found relief and a total cure elsewhere.  I’ve not had an asthma attack since 1995.

Unfortunately, conventional doctors have a limited bag of tricks when it comes to many so-called “chronic” illnesses.  Worse yet is that they won’t admit to their limitations and leave you uninformed that there may be options for a cure with which they are unfamiliar.  My asthma was so severe that had I not sought alternative ideas for healing, I might not be alive today.

Asthma in children is particularly difficult for many reasons.  These children tend to miss school, must opt out of activities that could bring on an asthma attack, and have drugs administered at school all of which bring physical and psychological hardship upon the child.  In addition, the drugs themselves could be doing more harm than good by causing a cascade of physiological events that can further debilitate the child. Not to mention the hardship of having to experience the inability to breathe.  This is a tough way to start out in life.

For parents who are interested in a cure, there are two books I recommend they read to inform themselves of their options – one is the newly published The Allergy and Asthma Cure: A Complete 8-Step Nutritional Programby Dr. Fred Pescatore and the other is Reversing Asthma: Breathe Easier with This Revolutionary New Programby Dr. Richard Firshein.  Curing asthma is possible.


Lynn M. Klein
Certified Holistic Health Counselor

Michael Pollan Does It Again!

Comments on “Farmer In Chief” New York Times Magazine, October 9, 2008


Bravo to Michael Pollan for putting the issue of sustainable agriculture into play in the political arena.  As he aptly points out, without cheap fuel to produce and transport food, “cheap food” is a thing of the past.  This is the perfect time to reconsider this country’s farm policies that were led far astray 40 years ago.  Instead of subsidizing single crops of corn, soy, wheat, and cotton, farmers should be encouraged to go back to the old ways of farming many varieties of fruits, vegetables, grains and farm animals in synergies with one another and with the natural environment.  It’s time to break the stranglehold of the large industrial farms and animal feed lots.

Now that substandard food has become as pricey as wholesome food, we have even more incentive to opt for wholesome food.  Sustainable farming has the double advantage of using less fossil fuels to produce and transport food thereby saving the environment from the assault of chemicals; and, also providing healthy food for a malnourished nation that has seen exponential increases in obesity and the many chronic illnesses of industrialization.

Farm issues always seem to draw a yawn in political circles.  Urban politicians seem far removed from the matter – something only rural people are concerned about.  Actually, the farm policies of our nation and our states are of the utmost importance to ALL citizens, even those working in skyscrapers in large cities.  Farm issues are closely linked to the economy, to energy issues, to the environment, to healthcare, and to national security issues.  Farm policy rightfully belongs in the spotlight.  As Pollan points out, this is something everyone can agree on.

Diets Don’t Work

I did a little blog surfing tonight and it has my head spinning.  So many people out there are dieting and recording every morsel they ate, how much they exercised, how much weight they lost (or didn’t lose!) – this is totally obsessive.  One woman proudly consumed under 1,000 calories today and photographed her dinner (some Tilapia and a can of green beans) and all I could think was that this was not a way to live.  What’s wrong with this picture?

First of all, no one can live on this kind of diet for the long haul.  It’s way too restrictive and doesn’t provide enough nourishment for the body to function properly.  Calorie restricted diets are just not good methods for permanent weight loss.  They inevitably backfire for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they rely heavily on deprivation and willpower.  It is estimated that 95% of dieters regain any weight lost once they are “off” the diet, and often regain more weight than was lost.

Calorie restriction alerts the body to a famine.  We are biologically programmed to conserve fat when a real or perceived famine is present.  Unfortunately for dieters, this very smart hard-wiring of the human body that worked very well for our ancestors is the very thing that will foil their efforts to lose weight and keep it off.  The less food we eat, the slower we burn calories as our metabolism decelerates to conserve energy.  After an initial weight loss which is comprised mostly of water and not fat, dieters experience a steady decline in their ability to lose weight and eventually hit a “plateau” where no matter how dedicated they are to calorie restriction and exercise, they can no longer drop an ounce of weight. 

Low calorie dieting provokes cravings and binges.  We can all be stalwart for some period of time, but eventually, deprivation becomes too hard to bear.  Some brave souls actually report on their blogs when they’ve hit the wall and succumbed to a bag of cookies, or as one of my clients reported, 14 ice cream sandwiches when no one was looking.  It seems that one of these binges can erase months of hard work almost overnight.

The most often overlooked aspect of calorie-restricted diets is that they don’t take into consideration the physiological conditions that can be hampering your weight loss.  Often these conditions have been caused by prior attempts at low-calorie dieting!  Nutritional deficiencies caused by low calorie dieting and/or the typical American diet can be responsible for a cascade of events affecting hormone levels and thyroid function, digestive imbalances, and immune function resulting in a wide variety of conditions which mostly go unrecognized or written off as unimportant.  Often, weight that won’t go away despite your best efforts can be related to one or more of these conditions.

Another factor mostly ignored in calorie restricted dieting is the body’s natural instinct to know when to eat and how much to eat without gaining weight.  After rigidly practicing low calorie dieting, we unlearn the ability to notice these signs and possibly even disrupt the hormones that operate this efficient system.  What diet have you ever been on that told you to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied?  Counting calories totally circumvents your natural ability to determine what foods to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat.

Dieting is bad for your health and won’t give you the lasting results you seek.  So why is everyone still dieting?  Probably because they don’t know there’s another way to deal with the problem of overweight.



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