There is a myth in the health world that goes something like this:

“If you only eat healthy foods, and leave out the other categories of food that are not healthy, you can eat all of the healthy foods you like and you will reach a normal weight.”

All diets have a marketing gimmick.  But for 99% of them, a missing key has been left out – a practice that must be learned in order to attain and maintain a normal weight.

In this post I talk about the lost key to weight control.

Popular diet books all share a persuasive message that weight control is all about eating certain (non-fattening) foods and not eating other (fattening) foods. Some of the most popular diets are:

  • sugar-free
  • fat-free / low-fat
  • gluten-free
  • low carb
  • high protein
  • low GI
  • vegan

Some of these are healthy, beneficial ways to eat.  I personally follow an unprocessed food vegan diet, which means it is also sugar-free.

However, weight control takes more than following a diet plan.  To make the diet plan work, you have to use this missing key:

Our Hunger Signals

In order to get to and stay at a normal weight – we must get back in touch with our hunger signals and let them guide us.

In a world where we are led by our 5 senses, this can at first glance appear just too hard.  We more easily understand detailed diet plans, calorie counters, strict measured portions at each meal.  While all of these methods can be beneficial as guidelines, they still don’t work as effectively long-term and across all situations as our natural hunger mechanism.

If you can learn to meditate – you can learn to ‘hear’ your hunger signals

Most people know today that meditation is extremely helpful to help control stress.  There is a realm beyond what we can see, feel, taste, touch and hear – and getting in touch with it is vital for mental and physical health.

It’s exactly the same for weight control.  We need to learn how to tap back into the ‘small voice’ inside.

Here are some tips that helped me learn this invaluable lesson:

1) Eat only when hungry

From infancy, we are trained to eat at set times in the day, to clean the plate and to eat whenever friends come over.  Few of us are taught that we should only eat when hungry.  Therefore we embark on a lifetime of what the medieval writers would have called “gluttony” – the practice of eating when we are not hungry and continuing to eat after we are full.

Of course, it is all the harder for us when most convenience foods are full of fat, sugar and salt which cause food cravings  – but the fact remains – we learn young to ignore the small voice telling us if we need to eat or not, and eventually it simply stops ‘speaking’ to us.  But it is still there.

I’m hoping this article will encourage you to start heeding it and let it grow strong and loud.

am-i-hungry-paper-lunch-bag What is “hungry”?  Simply put, it’s when you feel kind of empty.  (I could get more complicated than this – there are different types of hunger – but let’s keep it simple right now.)

Today, many people don’t know that feeling that their stomach is ’empty’.  So many of us suffer from some degree of hypoglycemia  that we never let ourselves get anywhere near the “being hungry” point.  People with hypoglycaemia are told to keep on eating, all day long, which always ends up meaning ‘more calories’  – and more weight.  (Hypoglycaemia is a food addiction side effect which I will write on in a future article).  Dr Joel Fuhrman says in Eat to Live that ‘Hunger is an experience that many people fear.’  And so we become slaves to the tyranny of our appetites.

To get back in touch with those hunger signals may take several weeks of mindfulness:  Before eating a mouthful of anything, ask yourself – “Am I really hungry?”  If not, prolong the pleasure of eating a little longer – get busy doing something else.

Find out what being hungry feels like – then you can really enjoy your meal.

I found this image helpful – begin to identify these different states of ‘full-ness’, and make sure you always reach 2 or 1 before eating, or drinking, anything but water.

From http://nourishmovethrive.ca

From http://nourishmovethrive.ca

Registered dietitian Jaclyn Chute says,

“Tuning into your hunger and fullness signals can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight and can improve your relationship with food.”

A related thought is:

2) Stop eating before you are too full

As well as getting back in touch with feeling hungry before eating, we also need to learn how much food we each need to eat in order to never feel overfull, but have enough food to get us to the next mealtime.  It’s about fine-tuning.  It may seem tricky as an adult, but children do it perfectly all the time – till we ruin it for them by giving them tempting sweets and snacks when they are not hungry yet.

This cat can feel its stomach!

This cat can feel its stomach!

We shouldn’t be able to feel our stomachs, just like we shouldn’t be able to ‘feel’ our liver or pancreas. My rule of thumb is – if my stomach feels uncomfortable after a meal, I ate too much.

Get used to asking yourself during a meal if you have had enough – will cleaning your plate leave you able to ‘feel your stomach’ – will you feel overfull if you have a hot chocolate drink after dinner?  Try and avoid ever feeling that way – and learn to appreciate always feeling satisfied and light, not groggy and over-full.

A comment on snacking

"I've had enough!"

“I’ve had enough!”

If you snack between meals, you will soon find that you are actually full after just a few mouthfuls of a normal sized meal.  And if you stop eating then in order to not get ‘over full’, you will end up not being able to get to the following meal without snacking – you have set up a vicious circle that isn’t easily broken.  The way to break this habit is to get busy and miss one between-meal snack – or make it tiny (such as one piece of fruit).  Your aim is to get to the next meal time good and hungry.

This way of thinking is not about depriving yourself – it is about learning how to enjoy food more than you ever did before.

Finally

Be patient – it takes self-discipline and mindfulness for the satiety mechanism inside of you, dulled from years of being ignored, to become sharp and dependable again.

Work up to a black belt - and be patient!

Work up to a black belt

Each time you do it, it will get easier.  You’re developing ‘muscle memory’ in your mind.

Try this challenge for a few weeks and watch those kilos start to drop off.

You are finally breaking free from your appetite ruling your life.

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