Hunger, Hunger, Who’s Got the Hunger?

“Eat when you’re hungry; stop when you’re full!”

That’s the advice I got – we all get – to help me – us – lose weight.

Two questions.

How do I know I’m hungry? How do I know I’m full? Seemed like I’m always hungry and never full!

Thank goodness science and the weight loss experts stepped in to help me answer those questions! The scientific explanation put forth by the experts seemed perfectly plausible.

They explained:

Hunger happens when three or more hours have passed since I last ate. I may feel slightly lightheaded and perhaps a little irritable. My stomach is growling and the thought of food may make me actually start salivating.

Is it hunger that's irritating me or these kids who are fighting and out of control?

Is it hunger that’s irritating her or these kids who are fighting and out of control?

Fullness happens when I’m not hungry and not overfull.

Great! One of these scientific descriptions of hunger and full didn’t apply to me and the other was just, plain confusing. I have never salivated at the thought of food. What do scientists think fat people are? Pavlov’s dogs? Moreover I have never had my stomach growl when it’s empty but it will often make a lot of embarrassing noises right after I finish eating. As for irritable? I don’t need to be hungry to be irritated. Many things irritate me and hunger has nothing to do with it.

Obviously the “science of full” is less precise and therefore confusing. There were no real guidelines to apply to “full.” The experts used a balloon as a means of describing how a full belly felt.  They added some information that actually did help more than the balloon analogy, “if you eat fast you will eat more than you needed to be full because it takes 20 minutes after you start eating for your stomach to send the full signal to your brain.”

Then the experts shared some more of their science with me. They told me I need to have volume to be full. The volume, they tell us, comes from water, fiber, and air! Really?! Swear to God, if I eat air I’ll feel full???

These things are supposed to help me feel full because I get a larger serving since much of the volume comes from non caloric sources. They asserted that we ate in “units” and that regardless of what made up the unit, we needed to eat what looked to be about the same size unit to be full. I was skeptical, but then, they’re the experts!

One sandwich unit! I need to eat this whole thing before I'll recognize that I'm full?

One sandwich unit! I need to eat this whole thing before I’ll recognize that I’m full?

Experts also went on to say that fiber-rich foods will keep me feeling full longer and so will protein. “Carbohydrates,” they said, “the simple carb kind, with added sugars and fats will make me hungry soon after finishing the meal. On the other hand, the fiber-rich carbs will fill me up now and keep me feeling full later.

The experts’ advice wasn’t helping much. I felt hunger, extreme hunger, sometimes in less than thirty minutes after a meal that was supposed to “fill me up” and “keep me full!” The experts recommended oatmeal with strawberries as a good breakfast to keep me feeling full at least until 10am. Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 9.37.28 AMSo why didn’t that work?

A lunch of a huge salad topped with grilled chicken was suggested as a “keep you full” meal and more protein and vegetables and a whole grain for dinner was a “lower-calorie/filling evening meal.” Nah, I don’t think so! I’d feel full longer with a slice of pizza with some feta cheese sprinkled on it and a generous topping of spinach and tomatoes.

In between these allegedly filling meals I snacked on fruit and vegetables. And I seemed to be in a constant state of hunger. The advice from the experts was not working and I thought it was my fault. Maybe I just wasn’t recognizing the full and hungry cues? Maybe after years of just eating when I wanted to and eating what appealed to me at the moment destroyed my ability to distinguish hunger and satiety? I started to feel like the experts had a hidden agenda. Were these suggestions about staying satisfied while reducing calories or something else?

I don’t have a problem with eating nutritiously. Truth be known, I prefer  to eat food that nourishes me well while providing me with calories. My beef is when I am expected to pretend I don’t like to eat what tastes good because it’s not good for me. I think there’s room for both the tastiest of tasty foods and good nutrition too in a single diet.

The experience both frustrated and irritated me. Yup, irritated me (so maybe I really was hungry?)! Then I got to thinking three people in the same room can perceive the them temperature differently. One says she’s “cold,” one says he’s “hot,” and the third says, “it’s just right.”  People perceive pain differently too. What some people report to be the “worst pain” of their lives, other people say, “it didn’t even hurt.” So if we perceive pain and temperature differently, does it make sense that we will all feel full eating the same foods? What about preference? Some people love fish, some (like me) really hate fish. Even fresh, fresh, fresh fish which isn’t supposed to taste or smell fishy, does as far as I’m concerned.

Can the experts really know more about me than I do? I don’t think so. They may be experts about people in general, but I’m the expert of ME!

I also think that the experts have a lot to learn. Take the theory of “eating in units and needing to see a certain volume of food to be satisfied.” I think that’s conditioning. It’s a response taught to us and reinforced with years of “eat what’s on your plate” and “you can’t leave the table until you finish your supper.”

I would eat everything in the fruit and vegetable section of this plate but I'd be satisfied with only have as much rice and meat. I have reconditioned myself to ignore what I see on my plate and rely on what I feel in my belly.

I would eat everything in the fruit and vegetable section of this plate but I’d be satisfied with only have as much rice and meat. I have reconditioned myself to ignore what I see on my plate and rely on what I feel in my belly.

I think we once knew when we were full by recognizing how many calories our body needed at that moment just like we know when we’re hot, cold, or need to use the restroom. We also know when we have satisfied the need to be warmer, cooler, or when we’re done in the restroom. So it only makes sense to me to stop judging portions to be enough by what I see and shift the recognition of “full” to something I feel in my tummy.

On my Weight Watchers food plan I need to track my points to stay within my “food budget” the same way I need to track the dollars I spend to stay within my monetary budget. I need to set aside points and money for the essentials and I like to save a little bit for the treats.

In the case of my food, sometimes the treats are essentials! The doughnut for breakfast is a treat when the “healthful food” criteria is applied. It’s a lot of added sugar, fat, and nutritionally-lacking white flour, but it’s also a very satisfying breakfast when enjoyed with a cup of coffee.

One of these chocolate creme-filled beauties is my kind of stick-to-my-ribs breakfast. Some may be afraid of eating one and stopping there. I'll discuss that in another blog!

One of these chocolate creme-filled beauties is my kind of stick-to-my-ribs breakfast. Some may be afraid of eating one and stopping there. I’ll discuss that in another blog!

When I consider what food will best get me through the morning and give me the energy I need until lunch, it’s the doughnut. I don’t eat doughnuts every day and don’t even want to do that, but when I want one I’m not going to guilt myself out of either having it or enjoying it because “it’s not a healthy breakfast.”

With the right breakfast, not only am I satisfied until lunch, but it takes less to fill me up when I do eat lunch! A big salad, with a drizzle of real salad dressing, with or without protein and I’m good until dinner. Sometimes I don’t even care about lunch and prefer to eat dinner around 3pm. Then I’m satisfied for the rest of the night.

The point is when I eat to try to conform to the “experts” I am hungry and dissatisfied. When I think about it logically, why would “experts” know more about me than I do? Maybe the research applies to most of the people, but not all of the people.

If people have different perceptions of pain and comfort, hot and cold, and distinct preferences to what tastes good and what tastes bad does it really make sense that somebody who’s never met me can tell me what to eat to stay feeling full longer? I can’t accept that.

I’ll accept my daily points target and I’ll earn more points so that I can eat more by increasing my physical activity. I’m not going to build my food choices on what the experts tell me are the most satisfying foods because I’ve tried it and they’re wrong.

I’ll decide what to eat and when I want to eat it.

The experts advice about slowing down and waiting a bit before cleaning my plate or getting seconds turned out to have value for me. Now I know the difference between comfortably full and having eaten too much. I will listen to the experts and use their suggestions if they help me make changes to achieve success, but sometimes I just got to be the boss of me!

I'm the Boss of Me attitude is the most powerful attitude there is when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off!

I’m the Boss of Me attitude is the most powerful attitude there is when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off!

If some of the expert advice isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to listen to the real expert and that is YOU! You can be the boss of you and your own weight loss coach too!

How do you know you’re hungry and full? You must decide for yourself and it weight management is your goal you need to find out the answer in the way that works best to help you achieve your weight-related goals.

Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is the general manager of Weight Watchers of Maine. She is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. Her experience with her own weight management journey and raising girls has given her insight into the struggles families face with weight, healthy body image, food and physical activity. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news for more than ten years and appears monthly as a guest on FOX network morning program Good Day Maine.