Fuel for the Right Reason
Fuel is another word for calories or energy that comes from food. Losing weight and fitness training requires you to do more than just monitor your calorie and nutrient numbers. It requires changing how you “go about” food. Take some time to work on eating fuel for the right reason.
Hunger vs. Appetite
Hunger is the need for nourishment. Do you know what your “hungry” feels like? Do you place enough time between the thought of eating and the actual process of eating? When you think of fueling yourself, associate fueling with doing. If you are going to be moving and doing, then fuel your body accordingly. If you are not going to be moving and doing, do you really need the fuel? My point: A parked car does not need gas!
Another thought on hunger is that eating food fixes hunger. Any food should do if you are truly hungry. If you are still looking for food or a treat after eating a nourishing meal then you are no longer fueling for the right reason. You may have switched to desiring food based on appetite, not true physical hunger.
Appetite is all in your head. You have an appetite center in your brain that was designed to help you regulate your fuel intake. The problem is that all through life we have learned to override this design. Focusing only on calories, for example, can be a problem by tempting you to eat by the numbers and thereby overriding your hunger cues. I am not saying that calories don’t matter…they do matter when trying to lose weight or fueling your body for sports performance. However, you should always figure your hunger level into the calorie equation.
An example of this hunger/appetite issue is the “Look at me now!” dilemma common to new runners (or new to a training program). The new runner thinks “I just ran a mile—that was hard for me—I deserve a treat (or I’m starving).” The reality is that yes, it may have been hard for you. The reality is also that one mile burns 100 calories (give or take a few), so the mile should not have made you hungry. What do you really need? You do need a high five from your training partners. You do need to stretch for your cool down. You don’t need a recovery snack after running a mile as that would only undo the calories you burned running. If you are due for nourishment, then plan and eat a meal according to your physical needs. If you are not due for fuel, then go about your business and eat when you are hungry. Celebrate the run with the satisfaction of having accomplished the run, not with eating unnecessary food!
The beauty of beginning a training program is you do not have to worry about carbohydrate depletion or dehydration. You do, however, need to listen to your body. If you are tired, then you need to plan in more rest. If your new training program is taking your meal preparation time and causing you to order fast food or grab junk calories, then you need to settle on what else can be sacrificed in order to get in both the training time and food that will nourish both the mind and body.
What about appetite? Rather than fueling for hunger, we eat because we are happy, mad, sad, glad, bored, tired, frustrated, elated, stressed…you get the picture. Start feeding the right need—fuel your physical hunger, not just your appetite. This will require you to put some distance between thinking about food and actually eating food. Each time you think about eating, pause and consider if it is a true need for fuel compared to an emotion or situational trigger (i.e., seeing the candy on the desk or smelling the popcorn from the break room). Remember that any food will feed hunger. If you are craving a certain food or having a “taste” for something—this is your head, not your hunger. There is no true physical need for chips or chocolate!
So should you disregard appetite altogether? No! Getting true satisfaction from eating is a blending of fueling for nourishment with getting a good experience from the food, i.e., good tasting food in an enjoyable experience. I truly think food is on this earth to be enjoyed. Don’t eat food you don’t like. Choose foods you enjoy eating. Find satisfaction in the creamy and crunchy, the great aromas, and the beautiful colors on your plate. Be sure that mealtime is without distraction or negativity (not a time for the news, paperwork or discipline). If you are blending positive “satisfiers” into your fueling time, it is more likely that your feeling of satisfaction will be extended. Have you ever eaten a bad burger (stomach stress) while driving in traffic (physical stress) listening to radio babble (mental stress)? You may have filled with fuel, but didn’t get any satisfaction from the mealtime. Thus you are looking to satisfy with a food treat in an hour or two. If you had taken the time to sit down to eat real food in a positive atmosphere, you can look back on that meal thinking “ yes, that was a good and filling sandwich and that orange was really sweet—I’m good for now—my stomach is comfortable and it was nice to have a few minutes of quiet. No need for a treat.” This is true food satisfaction. This a great feeling of control!
Fuel for the Right Reason Action Plan
Awareness precedes action. Here are some ideas to put your hunger—appetite issues into focus.Take a day or two to journal what you were thinking each time you consider eating food. If you are using fitness journal, this can be noted in the “Simple Food Journal”. At the end of the day compare how often you thought of eating because of true physical hunger vs. appetite (an emotion or situational trigger). Is this an area you where you need to do some work?
Define your personal feeling of hunger. What does it feel like to need nourishment? Let these feelings be your triggers to eat, separating hunger triggers from appetite triggers.
Question cravings. Nourishment can be attended to with any food. Cravings are based on emotion, not a physical need. Feed the right need!
Match your feelings to the correct non-food solution. For example, food does not fix stress. Certain foods like sugar and caffeine can actually add to your stress reaction. If you are reacting to stress, first work on your reaction. Practice deep breathing, or better yet, go do an activity that will cause you to breathe and will allow you to think of ways to better react to the stressor.
Give appetite time. The good news is that regular (consistent) rhythmic activity (like running) actually helps regulate the appetite center of the brain. Give it a few weeks to find your rhythm.
Read a great book, 3 Seconds: The Power of Thinking Twice” by Les Parrott, available in the Weight and Health Books section of
Jan's Online Bookstore
Talk to your nutrition coach via
Jan’s email about fueling for the right reason.