Alice A 35-year-old middle school teacher, Alice didn’t really believe the adaptation ideas when she first heard them She had gained 30 pounds during the 10 years after graduating from college. She agreed with the adaptation concepts but the notion of losing weight by eating when she got hungry, even only great food, sounded ludicrous to her. So she kept dieting and she kept losing and she kept gaining it back. When she reached her top weight, 38 extra pounds, she decided that maybe dieting wasn’t the answer for her after all. Alice figured her famine sensitivity was moderate and her last diet was over two years before. So she started tuning in to her body for cues to eat and cues to stop. She was doing the best she could but still, nothing happened. For six months, nothing happened. Discouraged and ready to quit, Alice contacted me. I advised her to take a closer look at her new eating patterns, looking for trouble spots. Although she ate a solid breakfast, she was getting too hungry in the middle of the morning and overeating at lunch. As a teacher, it was very difficult to get even a small snack in at that time because she was doing individual meetings with her kids while they were eating snacks. And Alice also found herself shaky while she fixed dinner, trying to hold off for the meal with her husband. She struggled with hunger after dinner every night.
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Here are the simple changes Alice made to get back on track: During the midmorning meeting with her kids, Alice decided to eat a snack, too. Why not? This was so practical and easy, she wondered why she didn’t think of it before. Getting too hungry before dinner was rather easy to fix, too. She started taking fruit and nuts in her car for her drive home. By the time she got there, she felt much calmer and ready to relax for a few minutes before cooking, without all that discomfort. If her husband was delayed and she was hungry, Alice went ahead and ate without him. Her evening hunger disappeared.
These were two famines Alice experienced almost every day. Once she discovered them, she was able to make adjustments and get on with her recovery. A month later, her eating became a comfortable routine and within six months her clothes were getting noticeably roomier.
Here’s the checklist of signs that you are in recovery, consistently applying the principles:
1. Clear hunger and fullness signals
2. Intolerance of excess hunger
3. Boredom/disinterest with eating
4. Easy ability to avoid pleasure food, borderline food
5. Plenty of energy, positive outlook
6. No eating from non-hunger cues
7. Easily avoids after supper eating
8. No excess hunger
9. No make-up eating/overeating
10. Tolerates eating lighter foods/smaller amounts
This is the list you want to describe you, consistently moving along in your recovery. Contrast it with the symptoms of the feast or famine cycle above. As a dieter, that list is an accurate picture of your former war with your body. This new list—symptoms showing you’re off the cycle—reflects the experiences that mark a brand-new chapter in your life with your body. Use these lists to check up on yourself, especially at the beginning stage of your recovery, which is quite different for everybody. The best way to tell if you are moving beyond this first stage is your awareness of a rhythm—an ease in your eating pattern. You sense that this way of eating has become second nature to you. You wonder why you ever lived any other way.
Fear of Famine—Overdoing it
Many in recovery develop a fear of famines—the least amount of hunger that may go unsatisfied right
away. Recovery is designed to eradicate fear about food and eating, so this is ironic. But it is understandable, too. Since going hungry regularly is the stimulus for fat storage, then anytime you are even a tiny bit hungry and not eating immediately, you might be tempted to think you are you risking tripping the fat storage lever. But once you are off the feast or famine cycle, mild hunger that does not lead to cycle symptoms is a normal part of recovery.
Fear of going hungry is not what this program is all about. After you are securely off the feast or famine cycle, the immediacy of eating is not as crucial, but we have to be careful here. It’s easy to get really sloppy and rationalize eating too late and getting into trouble. At rest, once you’re off the cycle, it’s OK to tolerate mild hunger for perhaps 30 or 45 minutes, even an hour. Remember, hunger is not the problem—excessive hunger is the problem So eating in a way that prevents excessive hunger is the simple goal. Don’t panic, just plan. The important thing in these situations is that you are not physically active and the hunger is not too strong. If you don’t tolerate going this long and develop symptoms of the feast or famine cycle, close the hunger/eat gap.
Remember, you are learning how to eat like naturally thin people. As I mentioned, the only time to be especially careful about closing in on the hunger/eat connection is when you are physically active.