Picture this: It’s 11 a.m. and you’re hungry, but it’s “not time for lunch yet” so, instead of honoring that hunger, you chug down a big glass of water, distract yourself with some screen time, or go for a walk as you wait for a more acceptable hour to have the usual salad. The rest of your day unfolds in a pretty unremarkable way until your post-dinner Netflix session, when you find yourself unable to stop obsessing over a tub of ice cream neatly tucked away in your freezer.
And the truth of the matter is that biology always wins.
Eventually, you walk up to the freezer, don’t even bother putting the ice cream in a bowl, and work your way through the entire tub in one sitting. It feels really good… until it suddenly doesn’t. Minutes later, your anxiety skyrockets and you feel all the guilt about eating so much ice cream. You wonder why you are the only person on Earth who can’t “reign in” their out-of-control appetite. You officially decide that hunger is your worst enemy.
If this sounds familiar to you, the reality is that you are not alone and this is far from unusual. That’s because when we try to control, ignore, or delay our appetite, we are in fact working against our own biology. And the truth of the matter is that biology always wins.
Whenever we restrict our food intake, even if only by a little (these attempts can work in the short term and allow us to lose some weight at the start), overtime our bodies sense this as “famine”. This activates our stress hormones; adrenaline and cortisol rise as a survival mechanism to hold onto stores of glucose, fat, and energy to ensure we are able to scavenge for food. On top of this, our metabolism slows down to preserve energy, while ghrelin, the hunger hormone, gradually starts increasing. This in turn leads to a heightened fixation on food and increased cravings that can sometimes lead to bingeing. Why is the body doing this? It is prioritizing eating and satiation as a way to stop you from eating less and, well, dying.
This leads to a heightened fixation on food and increased cravings that can sometimes lead to bingeing.
In fact, a lack of hunger is usually a sign that something is really wrong with our bodies or health. So why are we so scared of our appetite? Well, our fear of hunger is rooted in weight bias. We are terrified that we might become fat, which is a legitimate fear in a culture that unjustly correlates a higher body weight with laziness and that discriminates against bigger people. But although most of us internalize fatphobic beliefs, none of these are rooted in scientific evidence. In fact, science tells us that:
- Weight cannot be controlled over long periods of time. Yes, dieting might make you lose a few kilograms in the short term, but it usually leaves behind a whole host of hormonal issues that usually make you gain back the weight over two to five years. The stricter the diet, the greater the rebound.
- There is body diversity in the world. Just as we are not all meant to be tall and have blue eyes or small feet, we are not all meant to be thin. And that’s fine!
- If left to intuitive eating, one can learn to listen to natural hunger and fullness cues and feel truly nourished by food. The body will start learning to relax again and your metabolism can go about its business full steam ahead, burning more calories and using nutrients in an effective way, without having to trigger the starvation alarm and the endless cycle of under- and overeating.
Are you worried? Are you thinking, “Dieting and restriction is all I know! What else can I do to take care of my weight and health?”
The best way to attain your natural set weight and to finally feel normal around food is to let go of the idea that you have to control your body weight. Body weight is widely influenced by your genetics; it is not “just a willpower issue”. Additionally, health should not be confused with the pursuit of thinness, especially if the latter encourages dangerous eating behaviors. In fact, there are many more factors than food and exercise to take into account in order to assess true health. Some of these we have limited control over, including access to quality healthcare, social status, whether we experienced trauma or discrimination, what environment we grew up in, etc.
If you are willing to come off the dieting rollercoaster and want to learn how to unlock greater health and the intuitive eater in you, join our next Flourish workshop held on Saturday, October 12 at Raw Coffee, in Dubai.
Dr. Aarti Javeri is a GP at Northwest Clinic in Dubai. She specializes in Diabetes, Weight Management, Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine. She is also the founder of Sustain Health.
Florence Gillet is an Eating Psychology Coach, a ‘Health At Every Size’ practitioner and the founder of www.beyondbodyimage.com.