The Hunger Excuse

cheezitsIf 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

42 thoughts on “The Hunger Excuse

  1. Monica says:

    Me too! That was my go to reason for eating. I was hungry, or so I said. But I really wasn’t. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can sometimes “slap down” that dragon and put him back where he should be.

    Thanks Diane for another great post that motivates me.

  2. Mia says:

    I really can relate to your post today! (“You were talking to me”! How many times do you hear that?? ) I had to learn that 1) Hunger will not kill me! I won’t die of it. and 2) Everyday, for at least some part of the day, I will be hungry. And that’s OK!

    I still get that surge of “hunger” when I get really upset. Thankfully, it is not often, but when it happens I’m like…”What IS THIS??” And I basically tell myself, you can not eat. Sorry kid! I”m still learning but these times are so striking that I am reminded of that time in my life where I did eat constantly and whatever. One thing that I recognize with this type of “Hunger” is that if I eat, and eat something I had not planned on, I will only end up feeling WORSE! And that is not what I want.

    Thanks, Diane! You put into words, thoughts and feelings that I find difficult to formulate!

    Mia

  3. Laura says:

    You are so right in what you say, however for me, because I am hypoglycemic (diagnosed, not self diagnosed!) I am always fearing my blood sugar will “crash” as soon as I start getting hungry because many times I have tried to wait and then am shaking and heart beating fast in what seems like no time. I have never been a classic “binger” but I am definitely a grazer because of being scared of my blood sugar. It’s a battle.
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..A New Day =-.

  4. Laura says:

    I have never been here, but I’m obese. This post has make me think about what thing brought me to obese.

    I have always loved to walk. If I had to move any distance until 2 miles, I always walked it: no bus, no metro, no car: only walk.

    I always have done 3-5 meals at a day, and they were low calorie meals with compared with the other people which was eating with me.

    So… which was the problem?

    Well, one of the problems was something called genetics, I know it, and I can’t do anything with it.

    But there was another problem. I loved chocolate cookies. And once a week, I eat a chocolate cookie in spite of a low fat yogourt. Once a week, I eat chocolate in the breakfast in spite of ham. It was only a few piece of chocolate, and once a week. But that added to the cookies and did twice a week.

    So, I ended up eating things I mustn’t eat because they were high in calories (some cheese, some chocolate, some olives, some…) almost every day. It was only once a day (or once almost every day), the rest of the meals were like someone’s who is doing diet. But all was adding. I thought.

    And I know I have to live without all these things. Sometimes is hard. It’s very hard when I look to other people. My best friends are very thin, do no exercise and they eat what they want. I exercise, and I tried not to eat many things, but I was obese. That’s my luck.

    But sometimes I’m happy with my luck. I like to exercise. And I like to eat correctly. I know that I’m overweight, but… I think that I’m healtier than many thin people. My problem makes me exercise and eat healtier. And this is my best gift.

    (Sorry for the very large comment! And for the mistakes in English. My English is very bad!)

    • Diane says:

      Laura,

      I’m so glad that you commented today – please don’t apologize for the length of your comment. I enjoyed reading it and I know the others will too. You bring up a good point about the fact that you can be in better shape because you exercise than a thin friend who doesn’t. I’ve seen that myself as well.

      I understand the love of chocolate – I have it too! It would be hard for me to give it up completely, but by starting to make good choices everyday like you have been, you will see results. And great job on the exercise!

  5. Chris says:

    There was one occasion when I deliberately, consciously, intentionally reached for a donut to “drug” myself with sugar. At the time I was expecting a particularly stressful meeting. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “I feel so very distressed now, I need, no, I DESERVE this donut.”

    Fortunately, I only had ONE donut, instead of finishing a whole box of dozen. And such occasions were few and far between. Which explains how I managed to stay in the overweight range, instead of gaining weight all the way up to the obese range. But this extremely dangerous tendency was there for real, and I’m so relieved that I recognized the problem early on and nipped it in the bud. After all, it doesn’t take that many pounds for me to fall into obesity. At my height I would be considered medically obese only at 165 pounds or so.

    It’s been a long time since I last felt this terrible false desire. Should I ever encounter this demon again, I will burn it into my brain that those stressful events/people/whatever absolutely do NOT worth to mess my hard-earned slim body over.

  6. Joanna Sutter says:

    It takes discipline to listen to your body and really determine if it’s hungry. Once you get in the habit of not eating all day long, it’s easier to stick to a healthier cycle.

    Sometimes I mistake hunger for thirst, so I drink a glass of water and reevaluate my hunger level. If I know I’m just eating because I’m bored or have had an emotional day, I read, paint my nails, brush my teeth, or take a bath. It’s hard to eat and do any of that!
    .-= Joanna Sutter´s last blog ..Let’s Make Whoopie =-.

  7. Alixandra Hice says:

    The “hunger excuse” is universal. We’ve become so adept at working through our issues by way of our mouth, haven’t we? Sad? Eat!, Lonely? Eat! Crabby? Eat! Tired? Eat! Angry? Eat! Hurt? Eat, eat, eat. You know why? Because eating food is pleasurable. It’s something that always provides comfort. It is typically associated with social {translation: fun} activities, and eating food is satisfying. It can make your forget your troubles, if only temporarily, but it has the power to calm emotional waters and bring peace and that full belly feeling we like so much. We equate fullness with fullness of life. And therein lies the problem. Instead of recognizing our issues and dealing with those in a quest to achieve fullness of life we look to it’s quick, cheap, immediately gratifying imitation: food. That is one MF of a habit to break too, as we all sadly know.

    I read two books recently: Seven Secrets of Slim People and Intuitive Eating. Both were similar in context – the former being stupid and trite and the latter having more logical and practical merit – but there was something inherently askew with the principles. In a nutshell, both books suggest that to gain dominion over your poor eating habits and get fit forever, you never have to deny yourself a thing or count calories, so long as you eat only when you are hungry and never when you’re not. Makes sense. Easy fix, right? Well – yeah if you’re the kind of person who only eats to negate hunger. But we all know better. People who suffer from obesity and eating disorders use food as a tool, as a weapon, as a soothing balm. We have forgotten to use food as nourishment strictly for our physical bodies. No, we have put pressure on food to be the magic elixir for everything that ails us… and when it only numbs that pain for an instant, we keep piling it on and on and on. So advising us to “rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10 and eat only when it is between a 3 and 5” is absolutely ludicrous. I don’t know about you, but I ate because I liked to eat. I like to eat good food. I liked the taste. I liked the feeling of eating. I liked cleaning my plate and going back for seconds. I liked feeling so full I couldn’t shove one more forkful into my mouth. There WAS NO SUCH THING as hunger between a rating of 3 and 5. Hunger was an accessory I wore like jewelry.

    A whole chain reaction of things had to happen for me to get control of my overeating, but I also know I will deal with my love of food and potential to misuse it for the rest of my life. Most days I will eat healthy and well and low fat and I will exercise and drink plenty of water and fill myself with vitamins and minerals and calcium and fiber – and some days I will give myself permission to have the spaghetti I love so much. But I will also make conscious decisions and I will be accountable for my eating and I will not let it ever control me again. I’ve made peace with food. Food is now my good friend, not my frenemy.
    .-= Alixandra Hice´s last blog ..Alix’s Beauty Tips =-.

  8. Marisa (Trim The Fat) says:

    I have used the hunger excuse a lot, but since August, I have been working on realizing the difference between hunger and feeding the feelings. It takes a lot of work, and I’m not always good at it, but I am making progress and that’s very freeing.

    I really like your tip of setting the timer! That is brilliant -I will try that!

    Btw, I knew this was going to be a good post for me to read when I saw Cheez-its!!! LOL! Call it divine intervention 🙂

  9. Marcelle says:

    I have to ask you this…DID YOU REALLY EAT SO MUCH???
    The Diane I’ve met since she lost all the weight is so different I struggle to imagine you were like that back then…
    You have come on an amazing journey…
    .-= Marcelle´s last blog ..Morning Surprise =-.

    • Diane says:

      Marcelle – I’m ashamed to say it but yes, I honestly did eat that much. Not every day, but many days out of the week I just ate all day long. I’m sorry I did that to myself, but am glad I live a healthier life now.

  10. Lori says:

    I have done better with this, but there are still occasions where I’m stressed or upset, that I have a hard time not reaching for something comforting. Usually that’s when I want pop and something sugary. It’s definitely better, but there are still those moments…

  11. Amy H. says:

    One of the toughest things I deal with is reconciling my hunger with portion sizes. I’ll serve up a big helping of dinner for myself and 3/4 of the way through I’ll feel full. It’s so hard for me to stop! I’m just starting to recognize this and feel OK about not eating all of what I’ve served myself. I don’t want to waste the food! Truly listening to hunger is a skill set in progress for me.
    .-= Amy H.´s last blog ..That’s More Like It… =-.

  12. Shelley B says:

    My go to phrase was always “I could eat” – anytime anyone asked me if I was hungry. Yeah, no hunger recognition was happening with me!

    I still struggle with your #1 – some days I hate having to “feel” these emotions without a crutch.
    .-= Shelley B´s last blog ..Wednesday Workout Update =-.

  13. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    Diane… so many of us have been here! When I was eating & overweight, I did not even think about was I hungry. For me it was all about the sweets & carbs & such. It was not 1 brownie but 4. Not 1 piece of toats with butter & cinnamon sugar but 4. It was 8 cookies, not 2 and so how. I loved the sweet stuff & my bread & butter & I just ate it casue I liked it & wanted it.

    Now, I really have learned to eat consciously & mindfully. I am aware of what I am feeling, I try to slow donw to let the food settle & really understand the hunger vs. I just want to eat. It took me a long time though!

  14. Sunny says:

    I don’t care who it is, there isn’t a single, solitary overweight (let alone obese) person who isn’t caught up in the emotional (over)eating syndrome. Lots of my earliest posts were about that very thing, because I knew if I didn’t get a handle on my emotional baggage that led to my being obese, I was never going to break free. Only when a person digs deep within, and finds the hidden child and deals with that child’s remaining issues, can one solve the overeating problem at the very core of their existence. 🙂
    .-= Sunny´s last blog ..Happy Hump Day! =-.

  15. Melissa says:

    Even now at my goal weight, I am struggling with this. I got on the scale this morning and was a little disappointed with a very slight gain. I know it’s been the “I’m hungry” snacking that may or may not be hunger.
    For me, the more frenzied everything gets, the more I find myself doing this. UUGGHH!!
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Shaving off the minutes =-.

  16. brenda says:

    I have always had to be ‘the care taker’ of things (my parents in their last years, my special needs son, the animals in our home,ect.), and always used food to ‘take care of me’. I always felt I was “hungry”, but being an emotional eater, I often mistaked Happy, sad, nervous, worried, and even excited for “hungry”. I often have to stop and ask myself if I am ‘hungry’ or just feeling emotion now.

    also, I have found when I am actually “thirsty”, my body mistakes it for hunger. I usually drink a 1/2 bottle of water and then decide if I’m hungry after 15 mintues. 9 out of 10 times I am THIRSTY.
    .-= brenda´s last blog ..Motivation and staying focused =-.

  17. vickie says:

    Pavlov’s dogs – it wasn’t the hunger – it was the bell. Loved this posting – you did a good job – I added a link to it on my blog today.
    .-= vickie´s last blog .. =-.

  18. Cari (aka Gastric Bypass Barbie) says:

    I’ve been addressing this very issue with several people from my support group. I guess you could say it’s a real HOT BUTTON.

    I don’t know if I can explain this very well, but hunger can be a terrifying feeling for someone who has had weight loss surgery — specifically, gastric bypass. That is because (in most instances), the hunger hormone “ghrelin” is turned off for a “honeymoon” period — which lasts anywhere from 1-2 years. During that time, many of us really don’t “feel hungry” — we just eat because we HAVE to.

    That’s why this tool can be so powerful. By BYPASSING the hunger trigger, we can focus on what matters most — the emotional stuff. Of course, not everyone takes advantage of the tool while they have it, so when the ghrelin turns back on, they are overwhelmed with hunger and return to their old behaviors.

    So, with all of that said, I’ve been asking people why they FEAR hunger, when it is a normal feeling? As Dr. Laura likes to say, you can’t “fix normal.” We shouldn’t be trying to change the feeling, we should change how we respond to it (or don’t respond, in most cases.) We can examine the “whys” and “hows” — but I believe it’s best not to put too much energy into that aspect of it. “Why ask why?” — I’ve actually written something about this that will post tomorrow 😉 How ironic!

    At the end of the day, HUNGER is not the enemy; the sooner we learn to accept it, the healthier we’ll be. At least that’s what I keep telling myself — LOL.
    .-= Cari (aka Gastric Bypass Barbie)´s last blog ..Driving an RV is a Lot Like Being Fat. =-.

  19. Pam says:

    I didn’t really use the hunger excuse – I just ate for every other reason – boredom, celebration, sadness, anger. I hardly ever allowed myself the chance to GET hungry! Now, I do wait to feel hunger, but even water can make the pangs go away most of the time, which tells me I could cut back even further, and will over time.
    .-= Pam´s last blog ..One Week! =-.

  20. josie says:

    I wrote about this on another blog the other day. It wasn’t until I actually started this life change that I recognized what true hunger was! I honestly didn’t even know what “being hungry” physically felt like because like you, I ate WHENEVER I wanted to and for whatever reason I had at the moment. Sad? ate. Happy? ate. Mad? ate. Tired? ate. Bored? ate. It didn’t matter. So, it’s been nice over the last couple of months to just try to listen to my body…and feed it for the proper reason -nourishment. Great post, Diane!
    .-= josie´s last blog ..Tangible Results and an Awkward Compliment =-.

  21. Jill Knapp says:

    Emotional hunger was my problem. Feeding my feelings and not just eating for health! It took years to learn that I needed to deal with the emotional stuff so I would stop stuffing myself with food!!

    Great Post!! ~Jill

    P.S Thanks Diane

  22. Valerie says:

    I guess I am the lone dissenter to the premise of this post. I *was* hungry. It wasn’t an excuse, it was reality. It was self-induced, a result of poor choices in foods that I ate that were all sugar & refined carbohydrates and sent my body crashing from blood sugar highs to blood sugar lows, but it was a real hunger. For me, it was understanding this relationship between the kinds of foods that I was eating and my body’s physical response to them that allowed me to choose different foods and get past it.

    Sure, I still deal with emotional & stress eating, boredom eating, eating just because something tastes good, but when my body isn’t also reeling from the blood sugar roller coaster, those things are manageable.

    To me, calling hunger an excuse suggests that this is a moral issue, a failing in our character that we can’t control our food. I reject that view. When I was 300+ pounds, I would berate myself for being weak, giving in to the hunger excuse, but now I realize I was at war with my physiology. It wasn’t a moral issue, I wasn’t a lesser version of myself who was using an excuse to justify eating, I was reacting to a real physiological need.

    Even now, when there are non-physiological issues that affect my hunger, like stress, boredom or pleasure-seeking, I don’t think it’s a reflection of my character or person in how I react to it. Years of blaming myself for my obesity, hating myself for it has left me with a less than healthy relationship with food. I’m working to change that as best I can, but it will never be fixed completely. I do my best everyday, somedays the results are better than others but I don’t think it serves any purpose to give myself a hard time about it when I falter.

    I know I’m overreacting to your post, you don’t mean to imply that people that use the hunger excuse as you call it are weak or bad or whatever. I know I’m oversensitive to any implication in that regard because of my own history and self-loathing I felt at being obese for over 25 years and feeling unable to change it, but I wanted to take an opportunity to share another side of the story in case you have any readers that might feel differently.

    • Diane says:

      Valerie – I’m so glad that you wrote what you did! And congratulations on your amazing weight loss. I understand exactly what you are saying. My point in the post was to share that for me, and for other people I know, learning to identify the differences between true physical hunger and emotional needs is an important step in our weight loss journey.

      I like that you pointed out that the quality of foods we eat has a direct impact on how our bodies register hunger and react to it.

      It wasn’t my intent to imply that emotional/stress eating is a moral issue, and I’m sorry if anyone takes it that way. I still have to be careful when I’m stressed/bored/upset that I don’t run to food, and I don’t feel that it’s a moral issue, but rather a learned behavior. (Speaking for myself!)

      Thanks again, and I’m glad that you spoke your mind!

  23. Stacy says:

    Whenever I’m hungry between meals I will *usually* drink a glass of water. I drink at least 8-10 glasses of water a day and now if I don’t get enough water my body craves it. I can’t imagine quenching a thirst with soda anymore, because I need that water! I think that was one reason I produced so much milk when I was nursing, too. My body was hydrated so it didn’t have an issue with it.

    I feel for people that have an emotional eating issue. I had it once when I was younger and dealing with loss. I mean, I still love to eat, but I don’t turn to it when I’m feeling upset. Generally snack food goes stale in our house. We had those yummy peanut butter girl scout cookies up above the fridge for a good month and I finally threw the package away half eaten. I don’t know how we manage to not snack, even with stuff we love to eat in the house. I guess I’m usually too busy doing things with my hands to start grazing.

    Now if I could just get my basement finished and my exercise area set back up, I’d be all set! Right now my body is craving exercise and my sheetrock dusty elliptical is looking a bit sad.
    .-= Stacy´s last blog ..Patience.wearing.thin…very, very thin =-.

  24. Kat says:

    I can definitely relate to the emotional hunger thing. I think it is somewhat physical too, depending on my diet. When I eat cleanly, I am less hungry and more able to combat cravings. David Kessler wrote a book about this called the End of Overeating. Apparently eating fat and sugar makes you want more fat and sugar. This isn’t too surprising if you think about it. I am working on planning meals better. It really makes a big difference; from both a diet and budget perspective. Thank you very much for your nice comment on my blog yesterday. It made my day!

  25. liesl says:

    I make a cup of tea or coffee with skim milk and no sugar. It fills my tummy even when I am hubgry and just gives me something to “consume” when I have the munchies or need to be distracted. Also, I tend to keep my hands busy – sewing, embroidery, crochet.

  26. mamajuliana says:

    Hunger? I thought I was always hungry and that was the reason why I did not want to lose weight. If I was hungry all the time when I was fat…how could I ever handle actually eating less? It was a real fear for a while…

    It took actually taking the step to try to eat less to make me see that I wasn’t hungry all the time…I just wanted to eat all the time.

    I was so out of touch with my own body that I couldn’t tell what was real…

    Thank you for another great post! I admire you so much!!!!!
    .-= mamajuliana´s last blog ..My walking habit =-.

  27. Taryl says:

    I am so blessed that the primary resource I was brought to at the near-beginning of my weight loss journey was “The Don’t Go Hungry Diet” by Dr. Amanda Sainsbury-Salis, and her primary (and extremely well researched) focus is in recognizing hunger and satiety cues, and not eating when I am not hungry, as well as not overeating to satisfy hunger. She posits that our body has very sophisticated regulatory systems for fat storage and weight management, just as it does for temperature and eveything else, and that if we do not ignore the cues of this delicate system and eat to our hunger our weight will gradually drift downward to our natural setpoint, or our body’s comfortable weight. Her only limiters are that we eat healthy foods (unprocessed, mostly fruits and veggies) most of the time, and exercise moderately (8-10k steps per day), as this is crucial to good health and weight management.

    I lost weight effortlessly with her approach, and even what I do today is only a modification of her basic method. Calorie counting helps me be aware of my food and lose written at a slightly faster rate than if I just eat intuitively, but observing hunger cues and emotions that go with my eating, as well as journalling my food, are lifelong skills I picked up from Dr. Amanda, and ones that are crucial to my success.
    .-= Taryl´s last blog ..All or nothing? =-.

  28. MackAttack says:

    i notice that when my stress levels go up I feel more of a NEED for food. I need to sit back, recognize that I’m stressed and not hungry and try to find a new way to make myself feel better…
    .-= MackAttack´s last blog ..new clothing =-.

  29. Andrea@WellnessNotes says:

    I think I used the hunger excuse mainly when I felt emotionally hungry and turned to food for a period in my life. During that time, in addition to many stressful events taking place, I taught night classes in addition to working during the day, and I was very stressed and burned out. I would eat dinner before teaching my classes and then come home after work and eat another dinner, often with more calories than the first one. I told myself I was hungry, but honestly, it was just to quiet myself down, to not feel the stress…

    I had to realize that I had to find different ways to deal with the stress. Ultimately, I ended up making changes in my work schedule and prioritizing things. I finally put myself first, and it has truly made everyone’s life better.

  30. Sagan says:

    I use this excuse ALL THE TIME.

    What I’ve found is that often I’m not actually hungry. I’m really hungry for something else. Love or affection or something. There’s a lot of root causes beneath that “I’m hungry for food and need food ASAP” excuse. I’m still struggling with this one. But my awareness of it helps a lot.
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..Judgments Based on First Impressions =-.

  31. Struggler says:

    I’m a terrible snacker, mainly (I think) when I’m bored. Right now I’m getting away with it because of all the running I’m doing, but I need to watch this habit in future.
    I read recently, when you find you’re “hungry”, ask yourself if you’re hungry for steamed chicken with broccoli. If the answer is No, then you’re not genuinely hungry. If it’s hunger, the chicken will sound good!
    .-= Struggler´s last blog ..Still some gas in the tank =-.

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