Irreverent Mama

Friday, August 07, 2009

"How do you know when you're hungry?"

It was a question posed by the leader at the Weight Watchers meeting I attend periodically. (When you're losing weight, you go weekly. When you've reached your goal and maintained it for long enough, you only have to go in monthly. I am less reliable than that, but I do show up from time to time. Keeps me honest.)

Sadly, the leader is poor at leading discussions, so what could have been a fascinating discussion bottomed out after a few tentative offerings from the group.

That was a while back, and I'm still mulling it over, because my honest answer is "Damned if I know."


For the record, I'm slim. Not fat, not skinny, just smack in the middle of my healthy range. I come from a family of morbidly obese people, though, so when my forthy-something body starting hording those fat cells a few years back, I panicked a bit. Do I want to be 100+ pounds overweight like my mother, my brother, my sister, my aunt? Wheezing at the effort of crossing a room, groaning to get out of a chair? Suffering asthma, arthritis, fatty liver, diabetes, colon cancer, clogged arteries, heart attacks? Having to sleep with one of those machines that keeps your airways open? Every single one of those things is suffered by at least one member of my immediate family, and every single one of them can be connected to overweight. And my family isn't just overweight: they're morbidly obese.

Fat like that isn't about aesthetics or vanity, it's a quality of life issue -- it's a life-threatening issue -- and I want no part of it.

So, after floundering for a few months, unsuccessfully trying to slow the steady increase on my own, I joined the local Weight Watchers.

And it worked!

Four months later, I was 25 pounds lighter. (My family mocked me, you know. "YOU'RE not fat! What are you doing at WW?" In point of fact, with those 25 extra pounds on my body, I was technically overweight. Not fat like them, no, not wallowing in poundage, but as I said to my sister, "What? You mean I should wait until I'm a hundred pounds overweight before I do anything about it? I don't see how that would make it any easier.")

But... "How do you know when you're hungry?"

When I was younger, I knew I was hungry when I wanted to eat. Easy. And if I didn't want to eat, I wasn't hungry. Simple.


If 'hunger' is the drive to eat determined by your body's genuine needs, then I can't trust my 'want to eat' cues at all. Because, following them, I'd probably end up as fat as the rest of my family. I have days where all I want to do is eat. Every time I wander into the kitchen (and I work from home, so I can do it a LOT), I open a fridge or a cupboard, grazing, constantly hunting for something else to push into my mouth. (Mercifully, I have balancing days where I can forget to eat. Surely I'm 'hungry' on those days, and yet it's not recognized hunger that tells me I need to eat, it's the dizziness or the extreme fatigue.)

So, what's 'hunger', anyway?

I eat by the clock and by the charts. I don't obsess, I'm not bogged down by minutiae. I have general principles I adhere to, essentially Michael Pollan's basic guidelines: "Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not too Much." I drink lots of water. I avoid junk food.

But hunger? What the hell is hunger? When am I hungry?

Damned if I know.


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