Thursday, October 29, 2009


Many years ago, my husband had some problems with his throat being too sensitive and sore for a long period of time. His work involves talking a lot every day so he had to expose himself to pain unavoidably on the job. When he came home though, he wanted to reduce the strain on his throat so he asked that we not talk. In fact, he didn’t want to utter a word if he could avoid it and would clap his hands once or twice for yes or no.

Initially, I understood that he wanted to give his throat every chance to heal by resting his voice when he could. However, it didn’t seem to get better as time went on. Time went by, and I was shut out of conversations with him for months. This was very stressful for both of us, but as the more gregarious person, and as someone who had far fewer social interactions at work, this wore on me much harder than him. Eventually, my husband started talking again because the strain on me was too difficult, and it was starting to have an impact on our relationship.

One thing that my husband realized as a result of this was that he was probably making his situation worse by treating his throat with kid gloves, at least past a certain point. By treating it as something that needed to be protected and reducing strain, he was making it weaker, just like a muscle that atrophies. Now, when he has throat problems, he only doesn’t talk for a maximum time of a week then starts talking again to try and “toughen” up his tender throat’s speaking endurance.

I mention this experience because I think many aspects of our biology work in a similar fashion. That is, we have to condition them to tolerate things that are outside of what they are used to. This comes to mind mainly in regards to hunger. When I first started trying to control my eating, the hunger at times nearly drove me mad. It occupied my mind and body and I found it unbearable at times. I think this is because my brain was so unaccustomed to tolerating hunger that it sent very urgent signals to me about this new and strange condition. In essence, I had a sort of “bio-panic” to hunger pangs.

Now, when I get hungry, it’s still very uncomfortable, but it’s probably about 70% as bad as it once was at its worst point, and about 50% of what it was before in general. I think that by tolerating hunger more often and by gradually reducing the amount of food I eat, I’ve trained my brain not to send such panicked and urgent signals to me when I’m hungry. In essence, I'm attempting to condition my body to tolerate hunger just as my husband had to condition his throat to deal with more talking when it was weak.

Don’t get me wrong about this. Being hungry is still a difficult and unpleasant experience for me. It’s supposed to be for everyone because that discomfort drives survival. Those who are sluggish to respond to hunger cues were more likely to die because they didn’t seek nourishment aggressively enough to survive. That being said, I think that people who can maintain a healthy weight have a less urgent biological response to hunger and can resist the urge to eat better than those of us who are quite overweight.

My hope is that my body can be re-trained to send less loud and painful hunger signals. If the hunger signal strength can be turned down to a low enough volume, it will be more bearable and easier to resist eating as time goes by. This is something that I'd hoped for when I started this type of behavioral change, but I had doubts that it'd work. I'm happy to say that it does appear to be working to some extent at this point.

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