The (Dieting) Hunger Games

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The (Dieting) Hunger Games

April 26, 2012

Tick tock, tick tock. It’s been mere minutes since your last meal, yet your stomach is growling.

You’re dieting. What did you expect? That it would be all sunshine and rainbows, that you’d glance at a glazed donut and not feel a flicker of desire, that you’d be bursting with energy at all hours of the day? Well then I have news for you: dieting ain’t easy.

The steps required are straightforward enough. You eat less, move some, and catch your zzz’s. But the simplicity of it all fools you. How many of you have triumphantly embarked on a dieting journey, fully confident that you’d slash away at your back rolls and chomp down on your broccoli, boldly rejecting temptation at every turn, day after day? Your enthusiasm amuses me. And interestingly enough, your overconfidence will likely backfire.

Enter the Dunning-Kruger effect. This phenomenon suggests that individuals who believe their skills are better than they actually are tend to gravely overestimate their true abilities, and consequently fail. If you think you have iron, unwavering willpower that will stand intact in the face of every distraction, you have a higher chance of losing control. You see this in students who apply to schools way above their calibre and are surprised when they’re not accepted; you see it in tone-deaf hopefuls auditioning for American Idol. Such people lack the cognitive awareness to accurately assess their own performance and strengths. To put it bluntly, you’re so sure that you’re good – great, even – that you fail to see how much you really suck.

Dieters are not immune to this. Why is it that over-optimistic individuals are more likely to flop? Because it never crosses their minds that there will come a place and time when their resolve will be seriously put to the test. You feel good now, but it won’t always be this way. You’re hit with a bout of hunger and it catches you so off guard that you panic and binge on a plate of brownies in a desperate attempt to alleviate the uncomfortable sensation. Such setbacks in isolation won’t derail your goals, but you’re so surprised that you stumbled in the first place that you give up entirely on your goals.

The human mind is truly fascinating, don’t you think?

The more you actively try to fight the hunger, the more difficult the process will be. If you can accept that hunger is a part of dieting, I promise that the inner voices screaming inside your head will quiet down. Expect it. Change the way you see it; it’s not a threat and it certainly won’t kill you. There are worse things you could be feeling right now.

Fortunately, there are some strategies to combat, or at least minimize, hunger. Below are 5 tactics I use to deal with hunger.

1. Be realistic with your expectations. So you want to lose 15lbs in one week? Sorry, but this isn’t The Biggest Loser; this is real life. If you think you can starve your way to a lean body, then I’m not going to stop you from trying. But I guarantee that it won’t be fun and you probably won’t succeed. You can’t go from zero to hero overnight (unless you’re Hercules). Don’t go all gung-ho in the gym, forget about strict 100% clean eating (can someone give me a scientific description of what that even is?), and incorporate your favorite foods into your diet every so often. Life should consist of work, friends, family, and so on and so forth; it should not consist of dieting and dieting only. Set a reasonable time-frame for your goals and put together a feasible, maintainable diet for yourself before you move ahead.

2. Moderate exercise. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but it happens to enough people that I think it’s worth mentioning here. Some individuals have reported that exercise increases their appetite. There’s a good amount of research on topic that’s really very complicated, and of course there are both physiological and psychological factors at play here, but I think that the latter tends to be more of an issue. On the one hand, there are people who will get in a workout and think to themselves, “Why would I waste the time I spent in the gym by ruining my diet?” and thus, exercise will act as the Diet Police of sorts. On the other hand, there are others who convince themselves after a hard, long run that they’ve earned the food and they deserve those bagels. You’ve been warned. More is not always better.

3. Be smart with your food choices. [Tweet “When it comes to the diet itself, there are lots of things you can do to maximize satiety.”] Focus on lean proteins. When I’m hungrier than usual, I’ll reach for some cottage cheese instead of a slice of Ezekiel bread because I know it will satisfy me more. Throw in a good dose of healthy fats to your meals, too – dietary fats slow gastric emptying. Eggs with avocado and white fish topped with some cheese are a few of my favorites. Fill up on fibrous vegetables; they’ll help add volume to your food without excess calories. Don’t drink your calories. Chug that water. Plan ahead.

4. Consider changing your eating habits. Do larger, infrequent meals leave you feeling heavy and lethargic? Do tiny, bite-sized meals piss you off? Does eating first thing in the morning only make you hungrier? It may make sense to re-assess not only what you’re eating but also when and how much. When I wake up, the last thing I want to do is immediately fill my belly with food, so I sip on some coffee in the early hours instead. It’s normally around 2p.m. by the time I eat my first meal of the day, and it’s a big one (LeanGains for the win!) – just the way I like it. It doesn’t make sense to eat if you’re not even hungry yet, so why force it? I encourage you to play around with different meal patterns and figure out what works best for you.

5. Find your Big Girl pants. Dig them out of the back of your closet; you know they’re in there somewhere. Pick the lint off if you have to, but I’m going to need you to slide them on. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? They’re going to stay on for the rest of this journey if you want to succeed. Sometimes, despite all the efforts you’re making, you just need to suck it up and do what you need to do to get where you need to be. If you’re constantly making excuses as to why you still haven’t shed those 50lbs of excess weight, perhaps you need to ask yourself if your health is really a priority to you at all. Stop talking the talk and walk the walk.

Katniss In The Hunger Games

Nobody likes hunger; it’s never fun. But alas, we’ve figured out a way to take part in the Dieting Hunger Games – and if you play your cards right, you may even win.

God Speed.

14 Comments
  1. Clement 7 years ago

    Dan John has a saying – I’m paraphrasing here – that fat loss is a sprint; muscle building is a marathon. I tend to agree with him, but you also have a point: people should aim to push themselves while dieting, but setting unrealistic expectations invariably leads to disillusionment and failure.

    That said, I’ve found that PSMFs work quite well. I’ve tried one for 21 days and although brutal, it was effective. It made me lose 8kg in that time frame (most of it fat), but it also sapped my energy – one of the side effects of cutting calories and one which I absolutely hate – and made every day, every training session, a lethargic, frustrating one. I guess that if you really do set such a lofty fat loss goal, you have to mentally prepare yourself for hell, if not failure. It’s one or the other, anyway.

    I especially like point 2, as the diet should be the main focus when one focuses on fat loss. The training should be there just to maintain the muscle and fatigue from too many training sessions or failing to hit unrealistic numbers in the gym would only serve to burn you out mentally and physically.

    By the way, you’ve got a great blog going here. Congratulations on your recent success with the website!

    • Sohee Lee 7 years ago

      I agree with most of what Dan John has to say about anything fitness-related, but I would venture to say that “fat loss is a sprint” is not a mindset I would recommend for most. Same with PSMF. I know so many people who have tried, and failed, to adhere to PSMF for even just a few days. I’m not saying it doesn’t work; rather, most people are not able to stick with it long enough to see any appreciable results. And for the general masses, I would not advise such strict dieting.

      Thanks, Clement!

  2. Annie 7 years ago

    Sohee, I think you’re right on with your posts about dieting. I’m a Weight Watchers leader and much of what you say here, I talk about in the meeting room. Learning WHAT to eat is as important as HOW MUCH of it. Portion control, a sensible diet, the occasional treat, and moderate exercise can all lead to success at the scale.

    • Sohee Lee 7 years ago

      Exactly. We want to avoid yo-yo dieting and push for lasting fat-loss results.

  3. hclippinger 7 years ago

    I really enjoyed your article, thank you! I have been struggling to become a breakfast eater for YEARS now. I just can’t seem to develop a morning appetite and it’s so helpful to see that someone out there does not stick to the “eat right when you wake up, otherwise you’ve screwed your whole day” mindset. I’m thinking about trying something like leangains but I’m hesitant to be actively fasting as I have a history with eating disorders and I don’t know if I’d be going in the wrong direction. Do you have any advice? I try to eat small meals (and by small I mean SMALL, 100 cals or so) during the day, maybe 1 at 12 and 1 at 4 or so and then have a larger meal at night. I’m overwhelmed by the full sensation I get from eating anything during the daylight hours but don’t have a problem eating a normal dinner (probably bc I’ve only consumed about 300-400 cals for the day by then?) Should I be training myself to eat a larger lunch around 2 or is it ok to have the larger meal at dinner instead of lunch?

  4. Melissa Leon 4 years ago

    May the macros be ever in your favor 🙂

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