Rarely are people honest about just how much food we need to eat in order to be healthy. It’s more than you’d think. But really, who actually knows? It’s so variable from person to person, and is dependent on metabolic function, sleep, physical and mental activity, stress, and so many other variables – it’s impossible to calculate.
So how do you tell?
Hunger should be enjoyed, as food should be enjoyed. To eat is to celebrate life. There’s pleasure in hunger, there’s anticipation with the knowledge that the payoff’s going to be awesome. There’s comfort in hunger, too, because there’s comfort in feeding, and to sit and wait on food, and contemplate what’s coming – this is an incredibly rare pleasure, that really should be a daily one.
But if you’re dieting – hunger’s excruciating. Firstly, it never abates. Secondly, it feels all-consuming. Thirdly... oh, fuck it, those first two make it almost unbearable.
But what is dieting? Dieting is nothing more than failing to feed yourself.
What makes hunger unbearable is the absence of satiety. It’s the guilt that surrounds hunger in the first place, and the overwhelming socially-accepted but seriously fucked up underlying belief that food is the enemy and it must be vanquished.
Because really – if a war against obesity isn’t a war against a country’s own citizens, then it’s a war against food. Remember food, that thing that is essential to life? That thing that prolongs life? If food is medicine, it’s the best medicine of all, because it prolongs life more effectively than any other medicine I’ve ever heard of.
All food. It enables healing, tissue regeneration, it prevents osteoporosis, and you can use it to treat depression. It’s versatile, it is.
Guess what? You need to eat more. I know you think you eat too much, but that’s only because you’ve been misled. Says I. Hard as it may be to believe.
If you’ve dieted a couple of times, or if you’ve done any critical research into the science, it might be apparent to you, by now, that calorie restriction does not work.
If it isn’t, you may wish to abandon this post, because I’m not here to convince you of the bleedingly-obvious. That’s not my agenda. I’m trying to break down the prejudice, one step at a time, and encourage you to eat more.
The thing is – despite the obvious truth that restricting food intake fails us all, we are loathe to believe otherwise. Why? Because the alternatives are too horrific to contemplate. What is the alternative to caloric restriction?
And that suggestion fills us with fear, apprehension, dread and shame. Eating food – we are taught – will make us fat.
Oh, it’s okay, I must be talking about ‘good food’.
Nope. All food. I don’t care.
It’s completely illogical – I don’t know how it works – if eating less food (calorie restriction) makes us thinner, then surely eating more food would make us fatter? I don’t want to be fatter, so I’ll continue to restrict! Except that – well – eating less food doesn’t actually make us thinner, so is eating more really going to make us fatter? And if so – why? What’s good about being fat – there must be something good about it, or the body wouldn’t do it. Our bodies would resist it.
And sometimes they do. When the metabolism’s revving fast, you can eat a lot, and you don’t gain weight. When it’s slow, you can eat very little, and you don’t lose weight. Sometimes you continue to gain. Oh my God, it does your head in to think on it for too long! Yet still, we keep coming back to the same body-hating rhetoric. Just restrict. Just restrict. As if that could possibly be the answer?
Why must we constantly try to diminish ourselves? Trivialise ourselves?
Anyway – when is hunger enjoyable? When you know satiety is on the way!
But If I allow myself to enjoy it, I won’t be able to stop. I’ll become a pig! It’s not enjoyment that creates an obsession with food, it’s deprivation – because it’s a survival imperative. Enjoying food isn’t the problem. That would be too simple, and too easily fixed.
When you experience hunger, and eat, you build trust with yourself. You build self-esteem and confidence by eating, because it builds you as a person. It nourishes you. When you diet and restrict, you erode confidence and self-esteem, because all you are telling yourself is that you cannot be trusted, and that you don’t deserve to be healthy. That’s what you tell yourself when you diet, when you fail to feed yourself.
But when you succeed, when you feed yourself to satisfaction, you experience joy and an improved sense of self-worth - in the long term. In the short term, there’s shame and regret (enter Bulimia, among other things).
Few people admit that all cravings are a sign of depletion, deficiency. But it’s obvious. What’s hunger? The sign that you need to eat. What’s severe hunger (cravings)? The sign that you really need to eat. It’s not a sign that you’re weak, immoral, or that your body can’t be trusted. Overwhelming hunger is not a sign that you eat too much sugar – thinking that you need to eat less sugar is a sign of fuck-all.
My sugar cravings have reduced over the last year, I don’t have the chocolate cravings I used to, and I put it down to two things: eating more fat and protein, and not judging myself for eating sugar. So I guess I’ve lost perspective, because I stopped thinking of it as a bad thing. Or maybe I gained perspective?
Either way, I’m better off.
Here’s the thing. When I tell people they can fight sugar cravings by eating more fat and protein, they tend not to believe me. But it’s not immediate – if you’re depleted, you crave sugar, because you’re depleted and sugar gives you energy. So if you try eating more fat and protein for a week or two, and you find you’re still craving sugar – you’re liable to think me a liar.
But it’s just not long enough. What if you’re systemically depleted? What if your hormones are fried, and your metabolism could be out-run by a tortise? If you’re like me, you probably need to dedicate a whole year to eating huge amounts of food. My metabolism’s back on track. My insulin sensitivity is stellar. I have no complaints, and I don’t experience cravings like I used to – because I’m not depleted. I don’t get sick anymore, because I don’t diet. I’m working out how to feed myself, and as an added benefit, I started to trust myself too.
I had to promise myself, a couple of times, out loud over the course of the last year “it’s okay, Chris, you’ll never diet again”. It’s a funny spot to reach, promising yourself that, and recognising the necessity of it.
And I’m sick of this lifestyle changes bullshit too, just while we’re on topic. You can’t call a diet a lifestyle change and pretend it’s not a diet. The only way to change your life, in a way that’ll take, is to move from thing you like to thing you like. And then, one day you’ll be living a life you like. It’s not to try to stick out depletion from now until doomsday. Call that a life?
Then, of course, there’s the other strangely counterintuitive way to bring sugar cravings to a halt: eat sugar freely. Funny that. If you’re honest with yourself, if you promise never to diet again - you’ll reach a point where you don’t crave it any more. And then you’re truly free. And you’ve done yourself no harm in the process. And the obsessiveness declines, over time. But I think it’s not something you can do, until you’re well and truly over being lied to, because it seems to require a massive shift in one’s world view. It requires you to stop hating and fearing fat. And that can be tough, because as long as you hate and fear fat, and you have contempt for the weakness you see in your body, you’ll believe that dieting is necessary.
And all it does is hold us back, and chain us to the wheel.
As you start to trust yourself, you may start to trust that if you’re free to do what you want, everything actually will be okay. That trust takes time to develop.
The thing with cravings is – there’s a reason. And that reason has nothing to do with you, as a moral individual. The sooner you accept that you can’t out-smart a biological imperative, a survival response, the sooner it starts to become easier. The sooner you accept that hunger is not a sign of moral decay, the sooner you’ll be able to embrace yourself, to love yourself and realise that this is you, it’s all you, and then the idea of favourite or most hated body parts begins to fade away. I don’t care if you identify as an emotional eater – being an emotional eater is only another sign of depletion. If you weren’t trying to deprive yourself of food, if you weren’t failing to feed yourself, you wouldn’t be any more emotional about food than anyone else. You’re emotional about it because you believe you shouldn’t be having it, and this leads you to doubt and mistrust yourself, rather than doubt and mistrust the hypocrites who are telling you you’re too fat and you should eat less.
We’re all emotional about food - because when it’s in short supply, it could spell the end for us! And what - are we supposed to be robots? Food = fuel? If food really did equal fuel, in a society obsessed with weight loss, nobody would ever eat. Cravings keep you alive, when you fail to do so!
So anyway - if in doubt, eat more.
If you’re exercising more, eat more.
If you’re hungry, enjoy it – enjoy it all the way through to the meal and beyond, and enjoy your satiety.
If you’re not sleeping, eat more. Or maybe sleep more.
If you’re trying to give up coffee (or any stimulant that allows you to function when you’re failing to feed yourself), eat more.
If you want to lose weight, eat more, because God help me, eating less isn’t getting anyone anywhere at all. And maybe, in time, your metabolism will un-fuck itself. Your hormones will start working again. You’ll have more energy, and you’ll feel younger.
And please, stop shaming yourself for being hungry, for being human.
It’s enough to drive a person completely bonkers.