One out of four American men and nearly half of American women are on a diet to lose weight. For most of my adult life, I contributed to this statistic.
If you’ve tried to diet to lose weight, you know how uncomfortable you are with a growling stomach and a clock telling you it isn’t time to eat for another hour. Even then, the allotted portion of food will barely take the edge off your hunger, and you’ll be in the same condition two hours later.
Even more discouraging is the fact that if you do manage to lose a few pounds through your heroic dieting efforts, you may inadvertently trigger a boomerang effect. After dieting, you may end up overcompensating by eating anything and everything in sight until you’ve not only regained the weight you lost but added a few more pounds as well.
Forty years of experience in failed dieting attempts makes me an expert, and I can state with authority that dieting doesn’t work because it requires a willingness to live in a constant state of frustration and deprivation. Like most of us, I am unwilling to spend my days battling my instincts and then feeling bad when I lose the battle.
What’s the solution? Ask yourself a single three-word question every time you want to eat: Am I hungry?
Dr. Edward Abramson, author of Body Intelligence, concludes that “only a small part of our eating is actually triggered by physical hunger. Most of the time we're eating in response to external food cues like the sight of others eating or in response to an emotional upset.”
I decided to test Dr. Abramson’s conclusion that we usually eat in response to a need other than hunger.
Each time I begin to eat, I ask myself the question, Am I hungry? If the answer is yes, I quickly assess how hungry I am—from starving (rarely) to moderately hungry to not even a tiny bit hungry. If I’m not hungry, I don’t eat. And when I am hungry, I frequently find that a small amount of food satisfies my hunger, and I am able to reduce my portions without feeling deprived.
Answering the question enables me to distinguish between eating when I am hungry versus eating in response to an external cue. So far, I’ve identified nine types of dysfunctional eating unrelated to hunger:
Recreational: going out to lunch with a girlfriend and eating more than usual just for the fun of it
Preventive: eating a quick snack before heading out to run errands to avoid hunger later
Convenience: grabbing and eating whatever is handy—even though the food doesn’t appeal to me—because I am rushing
Celebratory: eating a piece of wedding cake, for example, to honor the occasion
Comfort: eating to reassure myself that all will be well
Fatigue: eating to compensate for lack of energy at the end of a tiring day
Time-Based: eating because the clock says it is lunchtime
Reward: eating after enduring a demanding day or finishing a challenging task
Thirst-Based: eating food when my body craves water
Once I identified the kinds of eating that had nothing to do with hunger, I could reduce or eliminate them without a sense of hardship. I was delightfully surprised to discover that simply asking and answering the question saved me from eating surplus calories.
Don’t get me wrong. Losing weight still involves focus and effort. Keeping a food journal, monitoring weight, setting goals, learning new ways to cook more healthfully and teaming up with others to provide mutual support continue to be essential, ongoing tasks.
But losing weight does not have to involve frustration and deprivation. Instead of dieting, each time you want to eat, ask and answer a simple question, Am I hungry?
This simple question will help you identify the surplus calories you would otherwise consume that have nothing to do with hunger. These pound-accumulating calories can be eliminated without a sense of sacrifice or deprivation. Instead of battling your body, you’ll be relying on your body’s intelligence. In harmony with yourself, you can sustain your eating program until you reach your weight-loss goal. Equally important, you’ll possess a valuable tool to help you maintain your new shape.
question works magic. All you need to do is remember to ask it.
"People forget how fast you did a job - but they remember how well you did it" Howard Newton