Yesterday I wrote about why it is a bad idea to tell a hungry fat person to eat less. I am still nervous about being arrested by the diet police, so I thought I should follow up quickly with a post about what I think should be done instead!
All joking aside though, anyone who is overweight or obese and experiencing excruciating hunger pangs is in serious crisis and is in dire need of intervention. I know this from personal experience. I have absolutely no doubt that such a person is in just as much physical, psychological and social trouble as an alcoholic, drug addict or a person with a serious eating disorder. Although this is still a hotly contested topic, I do feel that the term “addict” is entirely appropriate for someone in this situation.
It is a very complex problem – if it wasn’t we would have solved it by now instead of holding crisis talks about how to address an “obesity epidemic!” Hungry fat people are most likely dealing with some or all of the following:
1) They are malnourished from eating a calorie dense, nutrient poor diet. Hunger signals that are really the body’s cry for nutrients are misinterpreted as a demand to take in more calories, and so a vicious cycle is set up.
2) They constantly ride a roller coaster of sugar highs and lows, always inevitably hurtling towards the next sugar fix.
3) The hormones that regulate appetite and fat storage (Leptin, Ghrelin and Insulin) are in disarray, and will work together to keep the person fat, come hell or high water.
4) They no longer understand the difference between “eating” and “substance abuse” so instead of nourishing their bodies they are abusing sugar, salt and fat to achieve hit after hit of pleasure (at the expense of health and sanity!)
5) They are overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and despair as they know they need to do something but have lost count of all the times they have tried and failed.
So when I say that fat people are hungry I am not merely referring to the fact that they get slightly peckish between snacks and after swinging by the drive through are no longer hungry. I am referring to chronic, long term hunger that rages unabated for days, weeks, months and years. A situation akin to starvation. I have lost a lot of weight in my life and gained even more and, like many people, I always felt that my problem with food was particularly insidious because “an alcoholic can commit to never drinking again, but food addicts still have to eat.” This thinking had me feeling like a victim, which of course is completely unproductive, until I had a life changing insight: there is a world of difference between food, and drugs pretending to be food! Once I understood this difference I realized that it was in fact possible to take a journey to recovery exactly like any addict trying to get sober. One that involves taking responsibility for your health and eating more real food in order to get off fake food drugs.
As a veteran yo-yo dieter I kept making the same fatal mistake over and over again. Yes, you guessed it, exactly like a crazy person! I would start a diet, no matter how extreme and unsustainable, in a bid to just get the weight off, and I would tell myself that once I had lost the weight I would figure out how to keep it off. I once lost 30 kg by eating 1 energy bar and a handful of appetite suppressants a day. Everyone was super impressed and proud of me, when really they should have been dragging me off to the psychiatric ward of the nearest hospital! This was socially sanctioned madness because everyone and their mother likes to tell fat people to eat less! What I didn’t realize was that the decision to start a diet involving eating less was nothing more than a stage in the “try hard – give up” cycle of addiction! Now I consider myself to be an intelligent person, so I can’t explain why it took me so long to realize that in order to get a different result I would need a different strategy. But let’s let bygones be bygones – for whatever reason what I am doing now is different, dramatically successful and 100% sustainable.
The breakthrough came when I began to discuss my experience of hunger with my husband. He had no idea what I was talking about, and although he loves to eat as much as the next person, he says that he has never experienced “hunger” in the way that I described it. This allowed me to figure out that what I felt on a daily basis was not the same thing that every human on the planet felt, but some were just able to ignore. News flash: Skinny people do not have super powers, after all! Winning the Hunger Games has absolutely NOTHING to do with will power! This lead me to give up on trying to lose weight and made me decide to just figure out how to stop being hungry. It was the best decision I ever made! I also decided that I would lose weight in exactly the same way that I hope to keep it off, and that I would never “go on diet” again.
I figured out a workable strategy through reading books, searching the Internet and experimenting to learn what worked and what did not. I am happy to say that I have not felt “unnatural zombie hunger” in months. For some specifics, see my next post: “Top 10 Tips to Win at the Hunger Games.” Besides not being hungry anymore, I have painlessly lost 25 kilograms (55 pounds), my type II diabetes is controlled without medication and I have gone from being hypertensive to having blood pressure on the low end of normal. The jury is still out because I know that I could still relapse. I also still have 36 kgs left that I need to lose, but all early indications are that something is finally working!