Thursday, May 21, 2015

Habit 2: Witnessing the Energy of Longing

Image compliments of
Habit 2 in Georgie Fear's Lean Habits For Lifelong Weight Loss: Mastering 4 Core Eating Behaviors to Stay Slim Forever is basically this:
"Commit to feeling steady hunger for 30 to 60 minutes before each meal."
Further in the chapter, we get more information in this choice quote:
"It may be helpful to remind yourself that hunger is not an emergency, and that feeling appropriately hungry for each meal is your assurance that you're eating just the right amount for fat loss."


I travel back, backwards in time, to my beloved babysitters' house.  I remember so clearly the summer days when the clock would trudge between 11am and noon, when lunch was served.  I can feel myself standing near the refrigerator, getting another drink.  Wondering when lunch will come, wondering what I'll get to eat.

My Dad, bless his heart, likes to say that my favorite food when I was a kid was cheerios with ketchup.  My guess is that, had I some different choices on the menu, that might not have been the case.  Now, with my minimal research into nutrition I know that I respond very well to protein, and lots of it, first thing in the morning.  It sets me up for an amazing day.  However, at this time, I was a child of the 80s, when the low fat diet was all the rage (but please, a few more servings of margerine soaked pasta over here, ok?)

So come 11am, I'm queasy with hunger, blood-sugar crashed, feeling unstable.  The word "hangry" hadn't been invented yet, and I was also a people pleaser and would never had lashed out at grown-ups.  I just felt gnawing hunger on a regular basis, and this developed into practiced anxiety and fear in my nervous system.  For more about stress and the autonomic nervous system, check out this post.

Deep fear and anxiety around hunger.  OK... so that's what we're dealing with here.  We're working to unwire about 35 years of reaction based on these early childhood memories.


For many of us who deal with compulsive food issues (both on the indulging and restricting side), we had family situations that were unsafe in some way.  Maybe a parent was unpredictable or frequently angry or abusive.  In these kind of situations, full emotional expression was not on the docket.  We spent so much of our time "reading the room" and trying to avoid angry outbursts that any emotional "bursts" (read: normal feelings) were dangerous.

This kind of wiring (also in the nervous system... fight or flight) is extremely tricky.  Many people develop compulsive behaviors to cope with strong feelings that arise, because feeling the feelings, expressing the feelings, in any way, is not safe.  

Feelings include - fear, anxiety, anger, happiness, joy, frustration, boredom, and more.  If a compulsive behavior helps you NOT FEEL the feelings to their full extent, you've somehow protected yourself from the scary consequences of feeling that feeling - like getting screamed at.

However, as a grown-up, I, at least, live in my own house, with my family, and have few people screaming at me.  In fact, I can't think of a single person in my day-to-day life who would treat me like that, including my parents, whom I both have developed loving relationships with.

But taking away my compulsive overeating, I have to feel my strong feelings.  I have to witness the energy of longing.  I have to feel the deeper hungers... for love, for understanding, for deep friendship, for fulfilling work, for some of us... for connection with the Divine (as you understand it). The Sufi poet Hafiz (or Hafez) always nails the quest for the Beloved Divine connection:

“Every child has known God,

Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does Anything weird,
But the God who knows only 4 words.
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come Dance with Me , come dance.” 
― Hāfez
How often do we experience that kind of joy?  For me, my daily grind offers me joy on a limited basis.  I'm working on it (especially seeing the joy of the mundane as the blessing it is)... but I think we all struggle with joy in this hustle-bustle consumer's paradise of modern day America.


As an emotional eater for many years, I was scared when I saw this habit!  I decided to continue to eat 3-4 meals a day (habit 1) and just watch.  I decided to pare down a meal that I was having on a regular basis - my breakfast.

One of the key safety factors was having food on hand for lunch and knowing that I was truly safe in experimenting with my hunger.

For breakfast, I'd been having my Raw Meal Shake, a small low fat greek yogurt, and a swirl of coconut oil in the yogurt.  As I got curious about this habit, and felt ready to experiment with my hunger (that alone probably took a week), I decided to drop one thing at a time and see what happened.  Another factor to my success, strangely, was that I was nursing a sprained ankle and not working out at lunch, so I had extra time and bandwidth to dedicate to this experiment.

One day, I pared down the tablespoon of coconut oil in the yogurt.  Wow... I'm still not hungry till 1pm!

The next day, or maybe two days later, I took a HUGE RISK and didn't eat the yogurt.  This felt like a huge risk.  I paid close attention (but went on with my daily work as usual).  I was shocked that I didn't really feel anything in my stomach till after noon.

Wait, you've gotta be kidding me.  This 300 cal nutrient rich shake is lasting me till 12:30 or so before I feel true sensation in my stomach?  Holy moly.  This shows me how much I've been eating on a regular basis beyond my true caloric needs.

You see letting hunger be a guide in learning what's right for your EXACT METABOLISM right now is a huge revalation!  Hunger goes from being the enemy to being the friend that's going to get me exactly what I've deeply longed for - which is a body that is not overweight and can function in the world, chase after my kid, do all the yoga I like, and not experience joint damage.

My grown-up hunger, after a shake that supplies 34 g protein, a 40% recommended daily fiber intake, and is pure veggie?!?!  It's creepy crawly stomach sensation hunger.  It is not blood sugar crashing hangry hunger.

I'd also like to add that I do not think everyone should run out and buy this shake.  This happens to work for my lifestyle because I have to be at work early and have a kid and I just can't get my yoga done in the am and get to work on time while eating eggs and spinach, which is my favorite breakfast of all time (especially if there's a slice of bacon thrown in there....)

So once I had a breakfast amount that seemed to satisfy me for a good few hours (shake at 8:30 or 9am)  but left me feeling antsy and wanting to eat between 12-1, I wrapped up the experiment.  The last thing I do to burn some "hungry" minutes, since the experiment is over.... is that I often have a lunch appointment of some kind.  Therapy, acupuncture, the gym, a pilates class...  I'm always back at my desk and ready to DIG IN to lunch at 1pm.  I'm never distracted by hunger during these activities but am always aware of how I am really ready to eat at 1.  So I do NOT advise sitting around wallowing in hunger once you've got a sense of it.  There's no need to torture yourself!

Stay tuned on what IS torture for me, which is cooking dinner without eating dinner before it hits the table!  Now that is still torture for me.

I think I'll bring this to a close... congratulations, reader, for making it this far.

Open up to witnessing the longing!  Join me... let me know how your practice is going in the comments, and please share.

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