That’s right, humans. You’re allowed to be hungry!
Seems obvious . . . We all know that we have to eat to live – and yet, I find that ‘hunger shame’ runs rampant among dieters and ex-dieters – and it’s massively in the way of accessing a balanced relationship with food.
This week, I got an email from a client of mine, hitting the nail on the head about this concept. I asked her if I could share it with you so that everyone could benefit from her breakthrough du jour. Here’s what she wrote:
Thanks to experiences with Weight Watchers and similar, I’ve been treating hunger as a problematic feeling, rather than a normal cue from my body. For example:
~If I’m hungry, I’m afraid that it’s going to cause me to overeat. But now, if I eat mindfully, I won’t overeat, or am a whole lot less likely to, even if I’m starving.
~If I’m hungry “too soon” after eating, I feel like I’m failing and that I shouldn’t be hungry yet.
~When I’ve eaten to the point of satiety, I often eat more out of a fear that if I don’t, I’ll be hungry later . . . Which is especially bonkers because I live in a place where I am probably never more than 5 minutes from being able to eat. 24/7
I had this realization all of a sudden, and then it became obvious that hunger is actually just a signal from my body that it’d like some nourishment, pure and simple, no need to find it disturbing. And I can eat now, or in a bit, and eat what I want without overeating . . . because there’s always more if I want it later.
Amen! To me, this is such a simple but potent breakthrough.
As she describes, one of the side effects of the “eat less, exercise more/control your appetite/get more willpower” mentality (aka dieting) is a very real ‘forgetting’ of how to recognize and respond to our body’s natural hunger for food.
In the dieting framework, our desire for food becomes the enemy – there to tempt us and thwart our efforts to be healthy and thin. We enter into a war we will never, I repeat never, win: woman against her appetite.
For dieters, the sensation of hunger becomes somehow dangerous and definitely unwanted. And usually, it initiates a series of behaviors and thought patterns that eventually cycle right back to some version of “I cheated, I gave in, I fell off the wagon, I have no willpower, I’m fat and worthless, I’ll only eat salad until I’m skinny”.
This is backwards. When we try to regulate our hunger with mental constructions of what, how much, and when we should eat – we miss out on one of the most untapped resources on the planet: Body Wisdom.
AND . . . trust me when I tell you that a suppressed appetite with come back with a vengeance. Every time.
So next time hunger strikes, welcome it. Get curious about your hunger. Remind yourself that it’s ok to be hungry. It’s healthy to be hungry.
Don’t get me wrong, the whole ‘hunger thing’ gets complex. Is it emotional hunger or physical hunger? What foods am I hungry for? Am I nutrient deficient or do I just need more food? Maybe I’m just dehydrated?
These are all important questions, and they’re some of my favorite explorations to work with. However, in order to go there, we have to first get on board with this fundamental agreement:
I T I S O K T O B E H U N G R Y !
Put this post to use:
- Awareness . . . Notice what happens when you feel hunger. See if you can excavate the unconscious associations, thoughts and behaviors that happen when you feel hungry. When do you treat hunger as ok, or appropriate? When do you judge it? What is your relationship with your appetite?
- Make amends with your appetite. Give your body unconditional permission to be hungry. Know that hunger is merely a sensation in the body, a messenger. Know that you live in a place with an abundance of food, and no one is rationing you . . . except you.
- Deeper dive . . . If you try to control or suppress your appetite, consider where else in your life you might try to control or suppress your desires . . . in sex, work, play . . .? Or if you find yourself constantly overtaken by intense desire for food – check out how this might be a balancing act of other areas of tight control in your life.
Does this hit home for you? Leave a comment and let us know whatcha think!
I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly, and expecting a different result. And yet, here’s a story I hear almost every day: “Once upon a time, I got on a diet. Then I couldn’t stick to it and cheated. Then I got back on the diet, Then fell off it . . .” Repeat ad naseam.
Here’s a different story that I subscribe to:
If your diet is not working for you, it’s the diet’s fault, not yours.
It really is that simple.
Unfortunately, the diet industry and nutrition “experts” try to sell us on one-size-fits-all diets.
Miraculous solutions that will make you skinny, cure cancer, and save the world. And here’s the kicker: for some people, they DO! However, we’re missing the boat on one huge truth: Every BODY is unique, and has different dietary needs. Moreover, every HUMAN being is a complex mix of experiences, emotions, beliefs, and stressors that powerfully influence food choices, behavior, and metabolism. If you’re not tending to the ‘whole picture’ of who you are and what your body needs, the diet will probably fail. And tragically, you’ll probably blame yourself.
One of my favorite things to tell my clients is, “You’re sick of falling off the wagon? I have good news – We’re going to put you on a wagon you simply cannot fall off of.”
Here’s the ‘wagon’ I encourage my clients to hop on:
- I’m committed to a lifelong experiment of figuring out what works for my body
- My relationship with myself and my body is the most intimate, longest term relationship I will EVER have, so I’m going to nurture it, no matter what. AND I’ll forgive myself when I don’t.
Guess what? This wagon leads to balance in the body. It honors the human experience. From this place, you can explore, learn, be curious, and gain insight about yourself. In this scenario, no ‘magic diet’ is more powerful than YOU, your intuition, your experience.
Want to hop on the Naked Hunger wagon? I can help – [intlink id="90" type="page"]read more about Naked Hunger Coaching to see if it’s your next step. [/intlink]
Crazy rain today! Just a few minutes ago, I’m looking out the window at the downpour and remembering my college summers in Maine – when it rained like this, we would just run outside in our work clothes, arms wide open, screaming and laughing and dancing, and getting soaked to the bone. Best feeling ever. Those were the days . . . A fancy professional grown up now, I turn back to my laptop to attend to my oh-so-important-and-very-long to do list.
Pause. That is absolutely not okay!
After working through the “Well then I’ll have to change, well I don’t have time, well I have a client in 20 minutes, well that’s absurd, etc”, I’m out the door, tromping across my muddy yard in bare feet, letting it drench me, laughing at the ridiculousness, really and truly marveling at good ole Mama Nature.
Now you may be thinking, “Ok flower child, hippie nut-bar from Boulder . . . take it easy.” (Or is that just the voice in my head?) Fair enough, but I think there’s a worthwhile nugget here.
The fact is, when we let ourselves “grow out of” our naturalness, our wildness, our playfulness . . . symptom happens. Often, one contributing factor in compulsive eating, weight gain, digestive distress . . . you name it . . . is the deprived part of us that wants to let loose and dance in the damn rain!
I get it, the demands of ‘grown up’ life can sometimes make it hard to embody this instinctual self. However, as an advocate for your health and happiness, I’d like to suggest you fit it in to your schedule.
It was just another Monday evening, winding down, checking in with Facebook, the usual . . . And then I see this, the status of an acquaintance/colleague of mine that sent me through the roof! He wrote:
“Nothing quite angers me like watching fat people eat with reckless abandon”
Well, my friends, nothing quite angers ME like the prejudice, judgment, and misconceptions about weight and overweight people in this country.
What ensued was a debate that kept me up well past my bedtime, and has spurred a lot of thought for me in the days since. I am so frustrated and saddened by the cultural attitude toward the so-called “obesity epidemic”. I believe it is massively in the way of healing the problem from the inside-out.
In this post, I’m going to share with you the conversation we had, and some of my thoughts since.
These are my un-edited reactions and philosophies that inform the way I work with my clients and try to show up in the world. It’s longer than usual, but I just can’t get myself to cut anything out! I hope it serves, and deepens this very important conversation in your own life.
But first, please know: This is a good guy who is doing what he feels will help his clients and the issue at large. I by no means have the full story of his approach, his experience, or his opinions. This is a cultural critique inspired by our disagreements, not a personal attack.
I believe that overweight people may be the most prejudiced against of anyone these days.
The outright and implied judgments by thin and overweight people alike are astounding, repulsive, and most importantly – not working.
Don’t get me wrong — Do many Americans need nutrition education and empowerment? Yes. Do we desperately need an overhaul in the food industry so that people have access to real food, instead of de-natured, chemicalized junk? OH YES! Do we, as a collective, need a wake up call to start nourishing ourselves on a deeper level? Absolutely.
However, holier-than-thou, simplistic assumptions are most certainly not what we need.
Look at the numbers – over half of Americans are reported to be overweight. With these kind of statistics, we simply cannot possibly point fingers at the fat girl “eating with reckless abandon”. This is a collective issue. Yes – it is personalized in the individual, but that individual is an expression of our culture! And in that sense, every one of us is responsible, accountable, and included in this societal struggle.
Jungian psychologists talk about the concept of the “shadow”. The shadow is our darkness – the hidden, often repressed, usually subconscious dark side that comes out in distorted ways when it’s not tended to. Every one of us has a shadow, as does every society as a whole. It is my belief that the “obesity epidemic” is one expression of our collective shadow – the areas where we are out of alignment, suffering, and in need as a society. Typically, people like to ignore the shadow, judge it, and project it onto others. Unfortunately, this only makes it stronger and more distorted. As any good therapist will tell you, the shadow needs to be understood, honored, and tended to.
When someone stands in judgment of another, he is almost always in judgment of himself. Likewise, someone’s ability to have compassion for others is directly proportional to his ability to have compassion for himself. There is always pain in judgment.
The bottom line here: People gain weight for very good reasons. People eat with “reckless abandon” for very good reasons. And as with any unwanted symptom, or behavior, we need to address it with curiosity, compassion, and love. That’s when healing happens.
Discipline is a dirty word. In the realm of health, diet, and fitness, discipline shows up as the attempt to control with rules and restriction, and punishing oneself when it doesn’t work.
In the simplest of terms, discipline creates stress and thus, it’s a bad idea. Humans aren’t made to sustain long-term physiologic stress response, and as we stretch the proverbial rubber band, we can expect it to snap eventually.
And yet, thousands of people are scrambling to achieve more, more, MORE discipline in order to get what they want. The media lures us in with promises of hard tummies, teeny waists, and happy lives if we can just follow the program, stick to the rules, and muster enough discipline to get it right.
Suggestion: Eliminate discipline from your vocabulary. Throw it out.
For many of the women I work with, this is terrifying, and feels completely out of the question. “If I threw out discipline, I’d be 300 pounds and eat nothing but pizza, ice cream, and French fries.” If you can relate, bear with me and read on . . .
The extreme opposite of discipline looks like zero self-control, ultimate permissiveness, and unconscious actions. Not always ideal either.
So where does that leave us?
We need a new paradigm that empowers us to make long-lasting positive change, without getting sucked into the discipline disaster. Where do we turn for those times when life asks us to make a radical course correction, or powerfully say “no” to that which no longer serves us? What’s the difference between decisions we follow through on, and those we can’t uphold?
Try this on: What if we replaced “Discipline” with “Commitment”?
I’ll hash out the distinction:
- Discipline is contraction, and commitment is e x p a n s i o n.
- Discipline happens in the Sympathetic Nervous System (Stress Response), and Commitment happens in the Parasympathetic Nervous System (Relaxation Response).
- Have you ever noticed that when you try to discipline yourself, your rebellious streak is around the corner, followed by a load of criticism? Commitment doesn’t trigger your inner rebel and critic . . . it invites your inner Leader (much more productive).
- While discipline punishes, commitment rewards.
- When you’re trying to discipline yourself, food easily becomes the ENEMY. When you are run by deeper commitments, food is a powerful ally.
- Discipline is pretty much guaranteed to fail with little, to no flexibility. Commitment EVOLVES.
- Discipline is driven by “I Should”, which feels pretty darn powerless. Commitment is driven by “I Could”, an empowered choice.
- Put simply, discipline is about what you say NO to. Commitment is about what you say YES to.
So next time your hear yourself wishing for more willpower, or berating yourself for your lack of discipline . . . wash your mouth out, say I!
Better yet, see if you can shift your perspective, getting clear on what you’re really committed to and why.
Hint: You can’t have a deep commitment to lose 15 pounds or never ever eat a processed food. (That’s discipline parading as commitment.)
Rather, these are merely the side-effects of a grounded commitment that works for you. For example, can you commit to listening to your body? Can you commit to unconditional acceptance of what is? Can you commit to truth-telling, with yourself and others?
Starting from there, the rest falls into place.
So the question of the hour . . . what are you committed to?