A small update in my Weight Loss Journey, Formerly Fat.
A little over a year ago, Karey discovered these Kind Energy Peanut Butter Bars, which she got in a sample pack. We liked them, so we ordered a pack of 12 from Amazon. Amazon, being Amazon, sent us 72 instead of 12. And we’re still eating them down (We have about 5 left, and you’d be surprised but they’re still pretty tasty past their “Best Buy” date). Anyway, I just ate one. Because I think I’m hungry. By the time I finish with this post, I will hopefully know if I was or not.
If you’re asking yourself “How do you not know if you’re hungry?”, then you probably have a normally functioning metabolism and body. Turns out a lot of people don’t know their own hunger cues anymore, according to this article from MSU Extension, which actually lists your hunger cues:
- “Empty stomach
- Stomach growling
- Light-headed feeling
- Lack of energy
The article then goes on to talk about how lots of things can cause you to be disconnected from your true hunger cues – and it’s not just that “people eat when they’re bored” – they bring up good points about how stress can cause you to alter your food schedule, and so can being busy. It is true – some people do get so distracted with work that they forget to eat. We tend to applaud those folks as workaholics and we degrade the “boredom eaters” as having no self control when both of them have exactly the same problem: They don’t know when when they’re hungry! Interesting how society praises one of them and not the other, right?
Anyway, for a long time when I was really fat, my eating schedule was hardly what others expected. As I’ve noted in the past, people have a misconception that fat people eat all the freaking time, but many do not. I was fat because when I did eat, I was capable of eating a tremendous amount of food. We’re talking entire entrée, appetizer, and dessert at a chain restaurant. My favorite times of year were Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl and Red Lobster’s Shrimp Fest because I could sample all of the varieties of pasta and/or shrimp. I had the capacity.
And when you have the capacity, you also don’t care about regular food schedules. For most of my life, I didn’t eat breakfast regularly. I’d skip it – I wasn’t really hungry when I woke up. In fact, if it were up to me, I probably would have eaten at exactly 2 times during the day: 10-11 AM and 4-6 PM. Snacking was pretty rare for me, maybe 2-3 times per month I’d grab something between meals. Of course since my capacity was large, I could easily put away 3,500 calories or so as a snack. I was fat not because I ate all the time, it was because when I ate… I really ate.
Back to the present day, my habits have changed slightly. I still don’t get hungry when I first wake up – it takes about an hour before I want to eat. This works well since my morning routine typically has me exercising at the start, doing some reading, and then eating later on. I eat lunch and dinner, but generally less food at each than when I was heavy. I more or less have 2 “schedules” of food – weekdays (7:30 AM, 11:30 AM, 5:30 PM), and Weekends (9-10 AM, 3-4 PM, and a late supper). My highest calorie meals tend to be my mid-day meals, although that can be swapped with my third meal. Snacks do happen, typically on weekends (since I go to bed later – I don’t tend to eat 2-3 hours before bed). My body is pretty well trained to expect food at these times. I also don’t deny myself little treats between meals if the opportunity presents itself (e.g., cake at a mid-afternoon celebration, donuts in the break room at 10 AM), especially since I went on maintenance mode.
So… how do I know I’m hungry? Good question – I eat regularly enough that it’s pretty rare that I’m absolutely famished by the time a meal rolls around. But I do notice a few things. And they aren’t any of the list I quoted above.
- “Empty Stomach” – well, that’s not so much a feeling as something obvious when you haven’t eaten in awhile, right? If I haven’t eaten in 2-4 hours, my stomach is empty.
- Stomach growling? My stomach makes all kinds of weird noises here and there, usually after I finish eating or am digesting. What’s a growl without a lion or tiger anyway?
- Headache? I get 1-2 headaches per year. I’m very fortunate in that regard.
- Light-headed feeling? I have some signs of Athletic Heart Syndrome thanks for my daily cardio, so the only time I get light headed is when I stand up suddenly after resting.
- Grumpiness is one I can’t really judge (although I probably do display it) – after all, no one thinks they’re grumpy most of the time they are.
- Lack of Energy? I’m not on the verge of starvation here.
- And finally, Shakiness/Weakness? Nope.
But, undoubtedly, I do have signs of hunger that I’m starting to notice. Remember how I mentioned I just ate one of those Kind bars earlier? That was around 45 minutes ago. And I feel quite different now than I did an hour ago. Here are my signs of hunger as I’ve noted them:
- Inability to think about anything other than food. For example, yesterday I didn’t eat until 10:15 after waking at 6:30… and I couldn’t stop thinking about the food I was going to eat for a solid hour beforehand.
- Feeling of uneasiness / blah feeling. Yesterday I felt really “off” until I ate in the morning.
- Heightened sensitivity to everything (which does make me grumpy – the room is too cold, the people are too loud, the lights are too dim). Yesterday, at one point, I wrote in my daily log “I am so cold and hungry”. Thankfully I ate 20 minutes later!
When I get one or more of those, and it’s been 2-4 hours since I last ate, I have started to put 2 and 2 together. And I eat something. And I feel better. Physically. Psychologically I’m still working through some stuff related to food that complicates matters. Allow me to explain (you’ve made it this far, you’re allowing me a lot already). Here are a few facts:
- When I was fat, I prided myself on not snacking. After all, the stereotype of the fat snacker was something I was actively trying to avoid feeding into.
- When I was fat, my body didn’t signal to me that I was full until 50-75 minutes after I finished eating. This is much longer than you normally see in weight loss advice columns (e.g., “If you want to lose weight, wait 10 minutes after you eat and see if you’re still hungry” – yeah… I always was). This led to me associating large portions with satiety. Why eat something as small as one energy bar? Even now I have to actively tell myself that I will be full when I finish the portion I’ve taken. And very rarely am I wrong (If I am, I take a little more).
- When I was fat, and still today, I associate food with celebration and enjoyment. This is pretty common – think about all of the celebratory events in your life – food is always present. So the idea of having a small snack alone in my office instead of going out with friends, or seeing my wife at home, or socializing in some way around food seemed like a waste. After all, if I was going to eat, I was going to enjoy it, right?
- Today I’m hyper sensitive to calorie counts and macros given my last 2 years. This is great if you want a walking dictionary of food facts and I’m around, but not so great when dialog goes through my head.
Let me explain this to you in terms of the dialog that entered my brain right before I ate that Kind bar that got me thinking about this blog post. In fact, it’s probably why this blog post exists.
11:25 AM: “Hmm… what should I do for lunch? I planned X… but do I want Y? Z? What are my friends doing?”
11:30 AM: “Lunch is going to be so good… normally if I eat alone I’m eating right now… but I still haven’t decided on what to do. I brought some lunch I could eat alone. Or I could go home and eat leftovers. I’ll wait to see what others are doing!”
11:32 AM: “Why isn’t anyone texting me back. I’m kinda feeling off. Maybe I should just eat by myself? Or those leftovers at home – half a meal from the Mexican place last night – that would be a good amount of food. But then I’d need to eat fewer calories at dinner, and I’d wanted to have a higher calorie dinner tonight… and if I eat a snack now…. that’s 250 calories that I can’t have at dinner or lunch! Why is food so hard?!?”
11:34 AM: “I’ll distract myself. I just got an email from King Arthur. Maybe I should buy some baking mixes online…. but those prices are too high….but the food is good… wait a minute, why am I thinking about food again?!?”
11:35 AM: “I’m an idiot – I should just eat one of those Kind bars in my bag”
See what happened there? Lots of debate that ultimately led me eating the kind bar. And ya know what happened in the last hour since then?
- I felt better within 10 minutes.
- I ended up working on a few projects when I didn’t hear back from anyone.
- I wrote this blog post, and drank some Coke Zero.
- At 12:35 PM all I’ve eaten was that one Kind bar. I’ll probably have some more lunch after I finish this post.
So in sum, over the last year, my struggle hasn’t been so much avoiding large meals (e.g., “retro-eating”), it’s been:
- figuring out when to eat between meals or when to start a meal earlier than my “usual” times.
- not feeling guilty over a snack when I’m obviously telling myself I need one.
- getting comfortable with being a “grazer” on some days.
- getting used to the idea that I should always have some healthy snacks in my backpack in case I need them.
These are all big changes to me, and probably everyday life to the rest of you. But in the event you’re reading this and going “So when I feel blah and everything bugs me, I might just be hungry?!?”, I hope this helps you. And if you’ve been thin your entire life and wondered how those around you who were heavy thought, maybe this helped you too. Be well and stay warm,
(Today’s Weight: 195.2 lb, 220 lb lower than where I started!)