Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hunger (Revisited)

You can't talk about your relationship with food and weight without addressing hunger, and it's a topic I've broached on more than one occasion in the past. For those who have not seen those posts (or have forgotten them), it's my feeling that humans were meant to deal with a little hunger and that part of modern living is that we've made it so easy to eat anytime, anyplace, and anywhere that we've increasingly lost the ability to tolerate even mild hunger. I feel that there is a "sweet spot" on hunger at which we are uncomfortable but not in actual deep discomfort and that is the time at which we should eat.

I've done hunger conditioning to help extend my ability to endure hunger, and, as I've said before, my goal is to not starve myself until I want to gnaw off an appendage, but simply to put up with feeling hungry for a little while. Ultimately, the goal is to eat when I feel concretely hungry rather than vaguely and mildly so. At best, I can tolerate (grudgingly and with difficulty) a rumbling stomach for a few hours before eating. At worst, I never even get past the "I'm a bit peckish, what's to nosh?" stage. More often than not, I'm landing on the latter and only doing the former when forced by circumstances. I don't see this as a failing, but it is something to keep in mind. The way in which I trained myself to deal with hunger is like a muscle. I haven't flexed it as much recently as I did initially, and it has grown weaker. My hunger tolerance was once stronger than it is now.

One of the things which continues to be a challenge for me is choosing to deal with hunger prophylactically. That is, I don't eat because I'm hungry, but I eat because I anticipate that I will be hungry later during a time when I have no access to food or no ability to eat (such as when I'm working). This relates to fear of hunger as I've written about before and a desire to deal with all stress in the most expeditious manner.

The discomfort for me as a lifelong fat person is acute when I feel hungry. To some extent, that has changed, but I still don't bear it as well as someone like my husband who has been thin or only moderately overweight for most of his life. He can delay his responses because the pain he suffers is less because his biochemical processes aren't screaming as loudly at him to eat. Despite weighing in the 170's-180's now, I'm hardly having skinny person reactions to food. I still have a fat person's response though not as strongly as I once did. I don't get headaches anymore or feel as weak as I did initially when hungry. I also don't have the same energy crashes, but my stomach still sends potent "pain" signals.

The reason I'm revisiting this topic isn't that I have been allowing my hunger tolerance to atrophy (though I have, to a small extent, and I feel it sometimes at work between lunch and dinner). I'm talking about it again because of a study I read about which suggests that there may be health benefits in eating only when hungry. This study, at least to me, also suggests that modern lifestyles with ready access to food may be a large contributor to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. If waiting to eat until hungry improves blood glucose numbers, then perhaps a lifelong ability to eat before one has actually become hungry is a piece of the higher incidence of diabetes puzzle.

I want to restate, quite emphatically, because so often people misinterpret the words of others, that I'm in no way advocating waiting until one is famished to eat. I do believe that waiting until one is feeling the actual discomfort of hunger is not a bad idea. Frankly, I think that waiting until you are ravaged by hunger to eat is an invitation to binge eat. Even now, I struggle when I come home from work and am very, very hungry (due to unavoidable delays based on a schedule I have zero input into) not to eat and eat and eat. It seems to take longer to gain satiety when I'm super hungry than when I'm modestly so. However, I do think that a little hunger is good, and the aforementioned study might go a tiny distance toward supporting that on a scientific level. I'm going to go back to making efforts to "stretch" my hunger tolerance, not just because of this study, but simply because I know it can be done and that it'll make my situation at work easier in the long run.