Hungry For a Change

So many of us want to lose weight, but we don’t know where to start. We’ve tried diets and tracking calories and IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). These things all give short-term results, and if you can stick with them, you could be lean for life, but the problem is that they’re very hard to stick to. They also come with unexpected downsides, like losing touch with your natural sense of hunger and fullness.

If, like me, you’re hungry for real change, a final solution, to be lean permanently and sustainably, read on.

I believe the answer is a permanent change in core habits around eating. I just finished Registered Dietitian Georgie Fear’s book Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss a week or two ago. Her focus is to help people lose weight without unnecessary restriction or obsession.

I’ve done a lot of calorie counting in the past, which has led me straight into the jaws of obsession. I’m done with that. The love affair with perfection and rapid, unsustainable change is over.

Before and while I was reading Georgie’s book, I read as many of her articles and listened to as many podcasts where she was a featured guest as I could. That gave me even more information, encouragement and insight. I am determined to succeed with her approach.

So what is her approach? It comes down to four core habits:

  1. Eat 3 or 4 meals a day without snacking.
  2. Feel hunger for 30-60 minutes before each meal.
  3. Eat just enough.
  4. Eat mostly whole foods.

Let’s break these down one by one and I’ll show you how I’ve been implementing them in the last few weeks. Because of these changes, I’m down five pounds and counting with no restriction or measuring required.

Eat 3 or 4 meals a day without snacking

There is a lot of misunderstanding in the fitness world about meal timing and the need for frequent feeding. The traditional recommendation is to eat 6-8 meals a day. You have to consistently give your body protein to prevent your muscle wasting away. It’s also said that eating frequently will boost your metabolism (whatever the hell that means).

Some people go the opposite way, and advocate One Meal a Day (OMAD), or Intermittent Fasting (IF), where you essentially skip breakfast and restrict your feeding to a specified time window.

Georgie advocates 3 or 4 more or less evenly spaced meals a day, a suggestion based on research on satiety. It turns out that we are generally more satisfied eating larger meals (400+ calories) than snacking all the time, or grazing. Two meals a day or less tends to make us ravenous and have less control when we do eat. It’s harder to slow down and register the food. I have found this myself. Whenever I’ve tried to do IF, I am so hungry and uncomfortable, and have had some scary binge sessions where I felt out of control.

Eating more than 4 meals a day just makes it harder to have big, satisfying meals that register with all the appetite regulation pathways of our physiology. As Georgie says, there can be a kind of perma-hunger with the 6-8 meals approach, where you’re always just a little hungry—maddening!

I’ve been applying this habit by planning for 3 meals each day. If I need that 4th meal, I’ll have it, and I’ll eat just enough so that I make sure I’m still hungry for my next meal (or at least that’s my goal). If I eat a 4th meal, it’s almost always between lunch and dinner, which is usually my longest span between meals.

For me, the 4th meal is more of a snack, but the words you use, meal or snack, don’t really matter. We could call them eating bouts. It’s just the number of 30- to 45-minute chunks of time you put food in your mouth each day.

Feel hunger for 30-60 minutes before each meal

Feeling hungry before each meal means becoming aware of a belly-centered empty or hollow feeling before you eat. It’s important that the feeling is in your belly, not your throat, head, or elsewhere. A lot of people experience feelings of lightheadedness or irritability when “hungry”. That’s not what we’re talking about. Georgie actually mentions these feelings, and says that when we eat a good amount of both fat and carbs, we become quite flexible in our fuel source, and experience less of a hangry feeling if we don’t eat for a few hours.

People who advocate IF also talk about how their hypoglycemic type symptoms go away after a few weeks of being on IF. After a few weeks of following Georgie’s habits, I experience less negative symptoms of hunger, and mostly just feel the emptiness in my belly when I’ve gone a few hours without food.

I don’t necessarily like doing this habit, but the thing that keeps me going is that I know whenever I feel hungry for 30-60 minutes before my meal, I’m on target with my weight loss. If I eat when I’m not hungry, I’m probably eating less from biological need, and more just because I want to. It’s also nice to feel truly ready for more food when you eat. It enhances the enjoyment of the experience. Once you get used to allowing hunger to be there for 30-60 minutes, it starts to become quite natural.

Eat just enough

Eating just enough means eating until satisfied, but no more. It’s a range, a spectrum. You want to feel great and satisfied after each meal, but you don’t want to eat any extra. The key is noticing when you’re starting to feel full, then stopping at the right place. I think this one just takes practice. It’s kind of intuitive, and you just have to do it enough to learn what just enough feels like in your body.

Just enough can also vary depending on what kind of foods you’re eating. Ice cream, being rich in calories, may feel different than veggie stir-fry. Eating slowly and really enjoying and registering the pleasure of your meals helps to increase your awareness of how satisfied you are.

And if you go over and feel uncomfortably full, no big deal. That’s just useful information for next time. No guilt necessary. You’ll get the hang of it.

Eat mostly whole foods

Georgie often discounts the need for this habit, since many of the clients who come to her are already eating this way. But if you’re choosing a lot of packaged, processed foods, or going to fast food restaurants a lot, this is probably something to work on. I think most of us could use some improvement here. I sometimes choose processed vegan burgers and cheeses rather than beans and fresh vegetables.

The more consistently you make your plate look like one half vegetables and fruits, one quarter starchy vegetables or grains, and one quarter protein, the easier it will be to lose weight. And of course there are great health benefits to eating that way as well!

Putting it all together

There are 16 habits in Georgie’s book, and they’re all great, but if you just adopted these first four core behaviors, that would likely go a very long way toward meeting your weight loss goals. These habits have worked gangbusters for me. It’s also an awesome feeling to get in touch with your own sense of hunger and satisfaction, and not have to worry about tracking any numbers. This method helps return you to a relationship of trust with your body, instead of seeing your body as the enemy.

This is a beautiful, life-affirming method of losing weight, and it’s pretty damn easy once you get the hang of it. I really haven’t felt very uncomfortable or deprived. When I was counting calories and macros, I often felt a license to eat all of my calorie allotment for the day, even if I wasn’t hungry. And if I was ravenous at the end of the day, there was nothing to do but go to bed hungry, or go off-program. Counting doesn’t encourage getting in touch with your natural hunger, but instead holds you rigidly to a number.

Ditch the numbers and pick up these four habits, and give yourself the gift of lifetime, sustainable weight loss.

If you’d like to learn more about these principles and the other 12 habits, pick up a copy of Georgie’s book.