Let’s say you are working out on the treadmill and you had cereal or a shake a few hours before. Suddenly you feel hungry—very hungry. What should you do? You’ll have water with you so drink some water. When you are finished with your workout and your hunger reappears, have something right away. If your hunger remains strong during your workout, stop and get something light—fruit juice or a small smoothie, and if you have quite a ways to go, have a bit more so you feel energized and satisfied but not full.
Haley worked as a legal assistant after her first baby was born. She was 26. She began her recovery after eight years of dieting, including her latest attempt to lose her “baby weight.” Haley said she was glad for permission to eat—just that—to be able to eat. As she got off the feast or famine cycle, she noticed she couldn’t tolerate going hungry—at all. This was a big change for her. Her hunger often hit so hard that it was impossible to miss and she learned quickly to keep good food with her. Actually, many of those in recovery report this change. When they were dieting, they were comfortable going hungry, but when they began to eat on time, satisfying their hunger every time it occurred, their bodies began to send strong, undeniable signals.
Haley’s challenge was obvious, and she was up to it because of the relief she felt at not having to go hungry anymore. Her strong hunger signals actually made it easier for her to stay on track. She lost 22 pounds, but it was not as much as she had wanted to. This was distressing to her until she weighed in at the doctor who said Haley’s BMI was 22, well within the optimal range. Right through a second pregnancy, Haley’s been diet-free and fat free for four years.
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Some bodies are naturally tolerant of going hungry, which I’ve described as a problem for weight sensitive people. For example, Chuck got off the cycle and experienced hunger in a rather pleasant, gradual way. Mid-morning, usually at about 10:30, he’d notice an empty feeling and a vague interest in getting something to drink and eat. But he didn’t feel compelled by it. Although this subtle message from his body was less urgent, it was just as important for Chuck to learn to respond, knowing it had been three hours since breakfast.
Traitors in the House
Many people ask me about living in a household where other people are dieting or not committed to eating healthfully. This is a bit of a challenge, but there are tactics that can make it less difficult. The biggest problem I’ve found for those who share their homes with sloppy eaters is the pervasiveness of poor-quality food. These tempting items may interfere with your recovery, but we live in a real world with really bad food all around us. It’s important to get used to avoiding the junk and, if you have the opportunity to practice staying away from it at home, do just that. This is a program of prevention—preventing overeating and eating poor-quality foods—by eating great food consistently. A person in recovery, if she has stayed off the feast or famine cycle, and consistently followed the basics, should have little trouble saying no to borderline and pleasure foods, even if they are in her own home or office. Stay fed-up and you’ll be able to just say no.
Barbara weighed 245 when she came for counseling. She was 5’4” She had dieted off and on for 18 years, with a starting weight of 152. When she told her husband, Rod, her plan of never going hungry because going hungry eventually made her gain weight, he laughed at her. She felt hurt but determined. And it seemed as if Rod was determined, too—to derail her efforts. This is an irony of close relationships and it is not uncommon with this program. Family members will insist on bringing potato chips and dip, baked sweets like brownies, ice cream and favorite candies home while the person they say they care about struggles to change something extremely important in her life. It’s just too bad. Unfortunately, Barbara was unable to recover. She struggled with eating on time and eating quality foods consistently, partly because her husband actually fought against her efforts to get off the feast or famine cycle.
How Important is it to Avoid Borderline and Pleasure Foods?
Invariably, my clients who continue to choose borderline and pleasure foods and struggle with cravings for these poor-quality foods are not eating high-quality food on time. They remain on the feast or famine cycle. The avoidance of low-class food is crucial to recovery for the vast majority of people and unless these poor quality foods become very scarce in the diet of a person wanting to lose weight, there’s little hope for recovery. If there were an easier way, surely we would have discovered it by now. You simply have to choose.
Are borderline foods ever OK? First of all, if you’re interested in losing weight, eating foods with a lot of fat and/or sugar will definitely hold you back. Fat is concentrated calories that doesn’t require much energy to maintain or digest, and sugar is non-nutritive and great for building fat. Your goal in recovery is to optimize your food quality, which means you minimize the rest. This doesn’t mean that you can’t occasionally have bacon or sausage with your eggs (morning is the best time to eat foods higher in fat) it just means that borderlines are exceptional foods for once in a while. What is once in a while? It’s about every two weeks.
Are You Serious?
They say that if you aim for nothing, that’s what you’ll hit. Although it is unwise to be too rigid about a specific weight-loss goal in a time frame, keeping your aim steady on great-quality food, eating on time, paying attention to fuel-full signals and exercising at least three or four times a week, is essential to your success. But, it’s easy to slack off and become complacent.
I’ve coached people who are stuck and tell me they’re eating fried foods and desserts once or twice a week, because they want to. They figure if they want to then they have the right. And they do. When I ask them about their goal concerning their weight invariably they say they want to lose weight, but what harm can cheating do if they follow all the other “rules?” I’ll tell you. Low class foods send your body the wrong message and that message is, “Time to store up for winter.” It’s certainly fine for people to eat whatever they want whenever they want, but they have to accept their bodies’ sensitivity to the food supply. That means having realistic goals.
If you don’t really care that much about losing weight, go ahead and eat whatever you like, any time you want. Nobody’s saying you can’t. This isn’t a legalistic program; it’s a program that requires the personal responsibility of each individual in recovery. There are no “rules,” but only information, guidelines and suggestions. Your food choices will reflect your goal—what you’re aiming for. A borderline or pleasure food once in a while should not derail your recovery, but who knows?
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