Learning to Sense Hunger (or, why you should stop eating like a zombie)

Posted on June 5, 2011

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super fabulous graphic from Whole9, whose Paleo-&-then-some-website is chock-full of lifestyle improvement whatnot

May was quite the journey nutritionally around Fit for Real Life! I’m still going back through my recipe section and Paleo-ifying everything! Prior to adopting Paleo as an eating approach full-on, I had bits and pieces of it down pat. Gluten free – got it. Eat real food – got it. Eat more protein – got it. And so my recipes all match that, but now that I understand the science behind all grains, dairy & legumes, and their damaging effects to health & performance, I need to re-write everything to include a grain-free/dairy-free option.

“Oh, just leave it. It’s not so bad once in a while Kate.” Yeah, I hear you, but here’s the problem(s) with that logic:

1. Eating rat poison once in a while is still bad, eating it less often doesn’t make it any better. Some foods act as poisons to your body, how often do you really want to put them in your mouth?

2. “Once in a while” is a total lie for most people, even I said, “oh, I eat a piece of dark chocolate ‘once in a while'”, when after doing the 30 days chocolate free, I found that I clearly eat dark chocolate more than once in a while if I’m craving it & missing it, a piece here, a piece there. It’s hard to be honest with yourself about letting in the foods that are nutritionally weak, but tastefully yummy.

3. It’s a slippery slope from “once in a while” down into the abyss of sweetened coffee, sweetened oatmeal, fruit with meals, chocolate or ice cream or a cookie later in the day. Think about it. How many sweet-ish things do you eat per day? Not so much? That’s what I thought. Then I went 30 days without stevia, honey, vanilla-flavored Via, chocolate, ice cream, fruit snacks, etc. Do I eat this stuff every day? Nope. But I ate it enough that it was noticeable when I didn’t have it. Now, post-30 days, the sweet taste is where it belongs, on the far-back burner, NOT making some kind of appearance every day.

So anyways, sure, do the ‘once in a while’ thing, but be mindful….watch out for the poison, the lies & the abyss. My recipes will soon offer a grain-free/dairy-free option. Read the 30 Day Challenge section of posts to catch up on what I ate, how I cooked it, how I survived, and how my workouts went during it all.

Ok, onward! For those of you that are athletes, with your Garmins & power meters, think of how you feel when you train with those vs. when you don’t. Think of when your coach tells you to run naked & learn to FEEL your intensity levels. For the non-athletes in the group, think of when you learn to drive a car. If you can remember, you probably glanced at the speedometer a ton in the beginning, not really sure if the speed you were going was the correct speed. Now, you probably can come within 5mph of the correct speed without really glancing at the speedometer.

Both of those scenarios are about learning to feel. Feel the correct tempo/speed/pace/level of “hard” without needing data to tell you if you’re right or wrong is huge when it comes to performing your best. As a former data addict, I can attest, data is cool. Until it messes up your ability to sense things, to be able to fine-tune your efforts to match the result you’re reaching for. I was required by the lovely Jen Harrison to get rid of my data for the month leading up to a race if I was going to successfully follow her plan. That meant, no heart rate monitor, no GPS for much of the runs…just me, myself, & a timer. When the time was up, I was done. Did I feel like I executed the intensity/paces she wanted me to? In the beginning, I could tell you, H-E-Double Hockey Sticks NO!

How is anyone supposed to know ANYTHING without data?? Allow me to back my Paleo tooshie up about 1000+ years to when Greeks trained for their Olympics without GPS units, heart rate monitors & power meters. Right, so clearly you CAN train without this kind of data…much like you can learn to feed yourself without A) someone telling you “eat now!” B) your cravings telling you “EAT NOW!” C) society saying “DON’T EAT NOW, YOU”LL GET FAT!”

But we lose our ability to feel what our body needs when it comes to food. I read a news story the other day (is this really news?) that was talking about Lady Gaga’s trainer. Harley Pasternek. And here’s what Harley says about eating…”Eat 5 times a day. That way, you’re never hungry. You’re eating because it’s time to eat, not because your hungry. You don’t have to think about the food then.”

That quote has so many things wrong with it, it’s not even funny. My last hope is that Harley was horribly misquoted and doesn’t actually want you to never be hungry. Never being hungry is a sign things have gone very wrong for your metabolic system. On the opposite side, always feeling a bit hungry, is a problem as well. It’s an indicator that there’s likely some hypoglycemia going on, which means you’re not as insulin-sensitive as you should be, which is a precursor to all sorts of inflammation & disease.

It is so important to get back to knowing your body’s cues & signals if you’ve gotten away from them. Part of optimal health is being able to sense ‘hunger’ from boredom, fear, pain or any other emotion. It’s also important to be able to acknowledge ‘eating for health or pleasure’ (remember the 80/20 rule!) vs. eating to self-medicate. Essentially, stop eating like a zombie and start eating the way you were made to – by sensing your body’s needs & serving them appropriately.

Consider how you eat your way through your day. The body is incredibly intuitive, but only when those intuitive signals are not blunted by sugar, opiod-inducing grains & dairy, excessive caffeine or alcohol. Remove any or all of these from your diet for a period of time (weeks are better than days, but if making the first change in your ways in decades, even days off these things will create a noticeable difference) & see how you feel. Do you start to notice that you don’t actually need that sweet after lunch? That you really are more satisfied when you eat vegetables with breakfast? That you’re completely satiated when you eat a higher amount of fat in your diet?

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Posted in: optimal health