Today I'm Thinking About Hunger
I think a lot about the obesity epidemic our country is facing. I see patients with diabetes, hypertension, back pain and depression, and I know if they could lose just a little bit of weight, their physical and emotional health would improve dramatically. The evidence is strong. Even a modest drop in weight will bring down sugar levels and blood pressure. It will improve sleep, mood, confidence and the ability to manage stress. But, it is hard. Even with great resources and support, losing weight and keeping it off is a challenge most people cannot overcome. For my patients, who have very little in the way of resources and support, it seems almost impossible.
There are days when the weight loss battle seems so futile, it feels our only hope is primary prevention. If we could reduce the risk of obesity in children and provide better nutritional guidance, perhaps the next generation can enjoy better health, not to mention take a huge burden off the healthcare system. This isn’t a new idea. There are documentaries, non-profits and medical departments dedicated to implementing change in our youth. We’ve blamed soda, sugar, processed foods and the farming industry. We’ve launched campaigns designed to encourage healthier diets. We’ve changed school lunch menus and banned snacks in schools. Maybe, someday, this will all have a positive impact.
To really make a change now, primary prevention efforts cannot only be limited to children. Most obese adults were not obese children. With all the healthier options, the nutritional labeling guidelines, the fad diets, the health scares and the education, sadly, we are not making a huge dent.
At the risk of oversimplifying the problem, I think we are ignoring one of the most significant contributors to the obesity epidemic. As a society, we have a paralyzing fear of hunger. (I cannot find a name for it, so I’m suggesting famish-phobia. I like the alliteration.) In a time when for many, food is always readily available, has our basic human survival instinct to hunt, gather and store evolved into the need to always have a full belly? Has our most essential parenting instinct, to nourish our children, evolved into the need to provide a snack at every turn? By ensuring food is always within reach, are we satiating a physical need or an emotional one?
Hunger is not the enemy. Hunger makes food taste better. It clears the head. It is the body’s way of keeping intake in balance, ensuring energy absorbed mirrors energy expended. It results in the utilization of stored fat, and acceptance of it is a great way to increase will power. Getting used to being hungry several times throughout the day, can eliminate the desire to snack and will significantly decrease your overall caloric intake. Try to look hunger in the eye, and instead of running from it, accept it as a natural human state.
For children, teaching them it is o.k. to be hungry will go a long way toward improving their overall relationship with food. “Hunger” is not always a problem you as a parent need to solve. Immediate satisfaction with food is a bad habit to form, and evidenced by statistics, is an even harder one to break. On top of that, inevitably, when kids are “hungry” they will make poor food choices, grabbing the first sweet treat they see. If they have patience, and wait for lunch or dinner, they will enjoy the benefits of a healthy meal, and you will enjoy the benefit of having children who will actually eat what you put before them.
Abolish the fear of hunger and ensure a healthier future for you and for your kids.