If you had asked me how often I was hungry when I was an obese, 300 pound, size 28 woman I would have said, “ALL THE TIME!” Because I thought I felt hunger all day long. It seemed to me that from the time I woke in the morning to the time I went to bed at night all I could think about was food.
There were many a day where I started eating before breakfast with a little brownie or two, had some sort of sweet breakfast, ate a snack or two, or three; then had a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger, large fries (or two) and a diet coke for lunch. A few more snacking episodes happened between 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. then I went off somewhere for dinner, and back home later to enjoy yet another healthy, filling snack of chips, cheese, and ice cream. Why did I eat so much? I was hungry.
Or so I said. But I wasn’t that hungry. I didn’t need 4000 calories a day to keep me healthy, nor did those 4000 calories sustain my health or move me anywhere near where I wanted to be.
I had fallen into the trap of false hunger. I was eating when I wasn’t really physically hungry, and did so by using the “hunger excuse.” Are you familiar with that excuse? I need these crackers because I’m starving. I “need” this extra biscuit because I’m hungry. I “need” this King Sized Hershey bar because I’ve had a bad day. I did this all day long for years. I used the hunger excuse instead of really looking behind my excuse at the reason for my over-eating. For me, learning to disassociate myself from the excuses and work on the behind-the-scenes emotions was difficult. But as hard as it was, staying in the place where I had landed would have been harder.
Hunger is an important signal. It’s wise to learn the difference between the feeling of true physical hunger and the feeling of the hunger excuse. Here’s some things that I did when I was learning to eat because I truly needed food and how I learned to make a different choice when what I needed wasn’t food, but rather another type of comfort.
1. Gave myself permission to “feel” the emotions of the moment. This may sound strange, but I found that I often turned to food when I was upset. So by telling myself, “Yes, that situation is bad, but you don’t need to eat through it.” I was able to learn to disassociate the hunger excuses I was trying to use with the emotion of the desire to eat.
2. Waited before I ate between meals. I literally ate all day long. If I started to graze mindlessly between meals I put the timer on for 15 minutes and made myself wait. I really thought about whether I was really hungry or not. If I was, then I had something healthy.
3. Carefully planned my food. Before I started to get healthy, when the feeling of hunger struck I just ate. Anything. Instead of eating just anything, I began planning for snacks, meals, and even treats. It helped remind me to eat because I needed to eat, and not because I thought I should.
I pulled out the hunger excuse as a reason to fill any emotions I didn’t like with food. You may use the hunger excuse in a different way, or if you are lucky, this isn’t even a problem for you. But in my experience, most of us who are weight challenged often struggle with eating when we are not really hungry.
Do you relate to the “hunger excuse?” How have you overcome it? Diane