Friday, July 8, 2011

It's Not a Psychological Failure

Occasionally, well, perhaps more often than that, I will run across a woman who is so frustrated with herself because she was hungry and ate and ate and ate. These are always women who have been "dieting" and are perplexed about incessant and increasingly irresistible hunger. They view eating a lot as a failure of will and are disappointed in themselves.

I've written before that I sometimes simply have to just eat, and at those times, I will eat a lot. I recognized this a long time ago as the predictable physiological outcome of consistent deprivation and that it's not about mental desire to eat more, but biological pressure. For those women who are confused, I would recommend that they view what they are doing from the body's point of view rather than their own more highly developed mental viewpoint.

From the body's point of view, it is being consistently deprived of necessary energy. It has been successfully "saving" energy as fat on your body for a long time and is pleased to have reserves on hand for need. Suddenly, it is having to use those reserves day-in and day-out. It's like a miser who suddenly finds the cash flow has utterly dried up and now he has to constantly take from savings. There is utter biological panic at the idea of being under-fueled constantly over a long period of time. The more extreme the deprivation, the more extreme the response from the body.

As far as your body is concerned, you are not getting fit and healthy. In fact, as far as your body is concerned, you are slowly dying of starvation. Its priority is to send as many biochemical cues to you as possible to get you to eat more and stop the starvation which it is reading as the current state of affairs. Unlike the miser, who may have an account book somewhere telling him exactly how much is in the savings account, the body does not know you've got energy to spare hanging off your hips and belly. It only knows that it's constantly diving into savings and is uncertain when it will run out.

So, the body says, "I'm going to die and I must act to pressure you into stopping this." That insatiable hunger is the culmination of a week, a month, or however long it has been of deprivation. The nice thing is that you can deal with this effectively by stopping with the head games and just eating once in awhile. Cue the body occasionally such that it thinks you're not starving every single day. This isn't "cheating". It isn't about "giving in." It's about occasionally succumbing to a biological need such that the body stops going into panic mode and driving you insane with hunger.

I haven't plateaued in my weight loss, and I do wonder (though can never know) if this is because I've never practiced extreme deprivation (usually eating between 1500-1800 calories) and do occasionally just respond to these super hungry times by eating until I'm full. That's right, not "just sated", not "no longer hungry", but damn good and full. Is it possible that I'm cuing my body occasionally such that it feels all is well and I'm not starving to death and there's no need to cling to fat reserves? I don't know, but it is possible.

I also wonder at times if a lot of women who have turned to fat acceptance after dieting, many of whom pushed themselves hard and cut calories far back and eventually stopped losing, wouldn't have suffered metabolic damage had they practiced more moderate behavior. As far as I can tell based on weight loss and calorie consumption values (and I've been eating consistently more since the beginning of this year and exercising no more), I have not suffered any sort of metabolic slowdown from modest deprivation.

I also know that I am careful about exercise in terms of never doing it too hard and allowing for resting periods for my modest weight lifting and stretching when the muscles are aching or the glycogen reserves seem unusually low (signaled by unusually difficult muscle movement). In other words, I'm not doing anything which would cue my body to believe more exertion and damage is going on than necessary. I'm also not pushing so hard that it would need to be consuming the muscle mass instead of the fat.

I'm not saying that my way is the right way, but I am saying that it's not a psychological issue when you deprive yourself everyday of food and then find yourself starving and wanting to eat and eat and eat. It's your body seeing what is happening to it from another perspective. Yes, you can fight it, but perhaps only to your own detriment. Starvation reactions are real and proven, no matter how many people want to deny them in order to validate the irrational  notion that the body is simply a calculator into which calories in and calories out can be input and predictable results will occur. Give your body a break. Give your self-esteem a break, too, and just eat once in awhile and stop beating yourself up for it. It's not going to sabotage your weight control efforts as long as you're reading it as a real cue and not acting on emotional needs to binge.