Most of us have shared the experience of struggling through a diet, feeling deprived, and craving those very foods we are forbidden to have. When the diet is finally over, we vow to maintain control as we sample minute amounts of the previously forbidden food. Next we rationalize a little more won’t hurt. We end up eating more than we intended and polish off the rest since we have already been bad. Before we know it the lost weight reappears along with a little extra. Why does this happen and why do we seem to have no control over this process?

    Our bodies were designed with a keen adaptation mechanism to accommodate conditions of feast and famine. We have become adept at storing energy as fat during feast times and skillful at conserving energy during times of famine. For the average person the body considers less than 1000 calories per day a famine. Famine promotes activation of two adaptive mechanisms: (1) reduction of metabolic rate and (2) use of muscle for energy. Rapid weight changes usually do not indicate fat changes. Each pound of muscle is packaged with three pounds of water. A rapid loss of five pounds on the scale usually means one pound of fat, one pound of muscle and three pounds of water. If severe deprivation continues, over time the metabolic rate drops and lean body mass is compromised. When normal caloric intake is resumed, the body, still in the famine mode, will store these extra calories as fat. The resulting body composition actually will  be higher in fat and lower in lean body mass. Since the amount of lean body mass helps determine metabolic rate, the body’s energy requirements will remain lower than before the diet started.

    Dieting over the years has changed according to the latest best selling book. Different techniques are used but the primary goal of most popular diets is to go against the body’s natural internal cues of hunger and fullness. In the past we have heard: "Starch is bad. Potatoes and bread are fattening. Never eat sugar. Carbs are bad. Eat mostly carbohydrate and very little fat. Eat all the fat and protein you want. Fat and carbs are bad. Eat only high protein low fat foods."

    Diet restrictions such as these trigger the compensation survival mechanisms that put the control of eating behavior at a subcognitive level i.e.-- a binge or Mind Hunger. We become confused about what to eat or when to eat. We don’t know how much to eat. We begin to crave all the foods we are told not to eat. As each new diet becomes harder and harder to follow, bingeing or overcompensation eating becomes more common. Despite our best efforts weight gain continues or escalates and emotions and cognition become distorted due to perceived failure and rejection. Self-esteem and body image plummet resulting in the lack of ability to apply self-control techniques which require high self-esteem and good cognitive functioning to follow through. Society calls this lack of will power. The result is a cycle of emotional eating which seems endless. We can learn to short circuit this cycle by becoming more focused on the body’s internal cues of hunger and fullness and by understanding how the body uses the basic components of food which provide energy. In this way we are no longer succumbing to Mind Hunger but learning to trust our bodies to be the gauge for our food intake. Eating is no longer a matter of will power it is a matter of choice.

    Overcoming Mind-Hunger in order to live diet free encompasses changing one's relationship with food, improving body image through movement, and realizing how emotions influence the decision to eat. The Overcoming Mind-Hunger Program strives to normalize eating patterns and remove the stigma of forbidden foods. When a food is no longer forbidden, it does not have the power to call from the refrigerator in the middle of the night. It no longer conjures up the image of uncontrollable eating. Relying on internal cues of hunger and fullness will undermine the tension created by fear of eating bad foods.  Identifying emotions underlying the desire to eat when not hungry diminishes the feelings of deprivation, guilt and failure which go hand in hand with dieting. Long term goals which focus on small positive changes have been shown to be the most effective in making life style changes. The quick fix, although tempting, just does not work.

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