By Naomi Rabon, NW Fitness Team Trainer
It’s no secret that for most people nutrition is the hardest part about getting healthier or reaching physical transformation goals.
Let’s face it: we all “love” food. We wouldn’t survive without it.
FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD
Those two phrases “I love (insert food item here, such as almond butter)” and “I can’t live without (said food)” may seem like light-hearted comments.
But this is a form of self-talk that can – over time – subconsciously lead to unhealthy, addictive emotional attachments to certain foods creating a seemingly uncontrollable emotional and psychological relationship with that food, or with food in general.
You love your dad, not pizza. You enjoy pizza very much and take delight and pleasure in eating it on occasion, but you don’t love it (though you may have convinced yourself that you do lol), and you can certainly live the rest of your life without ever eating a slice of pizza again, even if you shudder at that thought.
I’m not saying you can’t eat pizza ever again (or whatever your vice food is). I’m simply stating that your body will still function the rest of your life without it.
LIVIN’ LA VIDA VULCAN
We live in a food-obsessed world, and since I can remember I have been fascinated by nutrition (fascinated by, not obsessed with). From a purely scientific and physiological standpoint, food intake is all chemistry and biology.
Nutrition – in a nutshell – is nothing more than adding a base (food) to a solution (your body) in a chemistry lab and seeing the response (gaining muscle, losing fat, slowing metabolism, accumulating fat, improved/declining blood profile, etc.). If we were all Vulcans with no emotional attachments to food, this is likely how we would view it on our plate:
And since we are all now Vulcans, it would be logical to also choose the most nutrient-dense food sources since our bodies not only need the energy (calories) from foods, but also vitamins and minerals for optimal, efficient health, function and productivity. How awesome would it be if we had some kind of internal computer that registered the calories, fat, protein, carbs, sugars and other nutrients every time we ate food and told us when we were going over on one macro and in need of another. Kind of like an internal My Fitness Pal lol!
Alas, we’re not Vulcans. And for most of use, eating food can have little to do with being truly are hungry and even less to do with what our bodies actually need. When your brain starts thinking about food and all the things you’d like to eat, is your body truly in need of energy and/or nourishment? How can you tell the difference between true hunger and “false” hunger (which can be just as intense!)?
APPETITE VS. HUNGER
The difference lies in your appetite as opposed to your hunger..
“Now appetite is not the same as hunger. When you have an appetite for something, or a craving, you can be perfectly full/not hungry but still eat. Such as stuffing one self during a thanksgiving meal, or any other time when continuing to eat when no longer hungry,” says Kate Zir, RN.
“To put it very simply, with hunger you eat due to a physical need, with appetite/craving, you eat for enjoyment. Although you can definitely like and enjoy a meal when you are hungry.” (source: Kate Zir, RN, https://www.quora.com/Is-hunger-mental-or-physical)
In addition to the sheer enjoyment of eating, here are a few other reasons for a false sense of hunger, or “appetite”:
Stress can cause hormones in your body to illicit a physical hunger.
When you are tired or fatigued, your body’s response is to tell you that it needs energy.
You are tired because you need rest/sleep, not because you need energy from calories. But your awake brain will tell you that you are hungry because you are obviously not sleeping, so it will say “hey, let’s get energy from calories” when what you really need is sleep. No amount of calories will solve your exhaustion if what you need is sleep.
Dehydration can trigger similar sensations in the body as hunger. In addition, drinking large amounts of water can fill the stomach and expand certain foods in the digestive system to make you feel more full and send signals to the brain that it is time to stop eating.
We learn eating habits and patterns at a young age, such as finishing all the food on our plates, and eating because our parents tell us it’s time to eat, not necessarily because we are hungry. Over time, this can create an inability for us to naturally determine from a physical standpoint when we are full (eating everything on our plate, even if our bodies tell us we’re full) and eating when we aren’t hungry (eating based on a clock or because it’s “lunchtime” even if our bodies aren’t telling us we’re hungry.” Also what we eat can be a habit developed over time that becomes a physical craving or addiction. Our bodies don’t need Poptarts or Oreos … or even sugar for that matter. There is no such thing as essential sugar ?
Stress can cause your body to trigger an emotional or psychological desire for food as a comfort to create a positive experience during a negative, stressful event
When are minds are not busy, or we don’t have any activities to keep us occupied, it’s easy to want to much or snack on something. Not because we need it, or even want it (have you ever found yourself eating something and not only were you not hungry, but you didn’t even crave or enjoy whatever it was you were eating? You couldn’t even explain why you were eating it?)
We develop healthy or unhealthy eating patterns when we are young that can create a sense of “this is just how I eat because this is how I’ve always eaten, or what I’ve always eaten” even if it’s not healthy or nourishing for our bodies. Ask yourself if what you are eating is truly nourishing your body, or if you are craving it because you developed a habit of eating it and now you legitimately feel like you need to eat this food?
In a previous Tip Me Tuesday: Become A Dieting Expert, I offer suggestions on exercises you can do to help you become better at controlling your appetite/hunger and feeling like you have a better handle on the nutritional aspect of your health and fitness regime.
I offer one last piece of advice: when you start having a desire for food (a craving, thoughts of certain foods dancing in your head, etc.), do the following:
1. Turn your thoughts away from whatever food you’re thinking about, and away from any food in general.
2. Think instead about your stomach. Your actual, physical stomach.
3. Drink 8 oz. of water, no matter how long it takes you.
4. Sit down somewhere comfortable and put both of your hands on your stomach. Take three deep breath in and out, focusing on how your stomach feels.
5. Ask yourself, are you really hungry? Are you still feeling the sensations of physical hunger in your stomach? If so, you most likely have true hunger and should eat a healthy, nourishing snack or meal with a rational head, not making an irrational impulsive food choice based on mental cravings.
Every time your mind starts thinking about food, turn your attention to your physical stomach. The thought of food, coupled with an emotional desire for it – then add on fatigue or lack of sleep and old habitual eating patterns to that lethal combination – and you will most likely succumb to anything (and everything) in your fridge or pantry.
But if you try instead to focus on your physical stomach and what your body is telling you, practice your dieting expert exercises in addition to the steps listed above, and you should be well on your way to learning how to eat foods that will nourish your body when you’re hungry instead of being a slave to your appetite.
EATING FOR A PURPOSE – EVEN WHEN YOU MAY NOT BE HUNGRY
If you are eating for a specific body composition transformation goal, such as one of Nicole’s Transformation Challenges, prepping to lean out for a competition, training in the “offseason” to build more muscle, or tackling any other type of specific body re-composition goal, it may require you to eat more or less than your body is accustomed to.
There is always an adjustment period of either feeling like you can’t eat the amount of food required to achieve the goal, or you have to eat more often than you normally do – when you aren’t hungry. In these specific instances, you are “re-training” your body’s hunger signals to adjust to a new eating schedule, whether it is more or less than what your body is use to.
An extreme example of this is when people attempt 4,000 calorie a day diets, or – on the other end of the spectrum – when people attempt long periods of water fasting (I’ve read anywhere between two day water fasts and up to 40 days of no food, just water!). With the 4,000 calories per day diets (you can do a search on Youtube and find plenty of these challenges), it is always almost unbearable at first but the body eventually adjusts to the daily high caloric intake.
With the water fasts, most of what I’ve read shows that people tend to be extremely hungry the first 2-3 days, then they are no longer hungry. Additionally, it can take 5-7 days after the water fast is over to slowly adjust back to a regular daily intake of food because the body is so use to not having any food in its system.
These are just examples of how the body is able to adapt to the eating routine you introduce to it. So the next time you feel like you just can’t eat the amount of food required on a meal plan for a specific fitness program, or you start decreasing calories in order to lose weight or lean out, just know that your body will start to adapt to the new eating regime after a few days.
Tip Me Tuesday: My 45 Day Summer Abs Challenge Experience
Tip Me Tuesday: Gaining vs Losing Part II
Tip Me Tuesday: The Heart Of The Fitness Process
Tip Me Tuesday: Learn To Count On You
Tip Me Tuesday: Find Your Fitness Auto Pilot Mode
Tip Me Tuesday: Take Ownership Of Your Nutrition
ABOUT NAOMI RABON
One of the trainers on Nicole’s elite NW Fitness Training Team, Naomi is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is a NPC Figure competitor who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 12 years.