January 1, 2012

Weight Loss Tactics for 2012 - Part I

If you have a goal to lose weight this year, there are a few things you'll want to consider. The points I've listed below will be a series of posts over the next week or so:  
  • Your chances for success will be improved if you eat in a way that minimizes physical hunger while helping you to recognize and manage emotional hunger. 
  • It's better to let weight loss occur slowly and comfortably rather than punishing yourself with harsh restrictions that may cause you to give up and even gain more weight than you started with.
  • Light activity such as walking and doing household chores are helpful for both health and weight loss. Again, you don't have to punish  yourself but the more you can move around the better. 
  • It's possible to lose weight on many different diets but you'll enjoy the best health results if you eat healthy whole foods while you're losing and doing so will make it easier for you to keep the weight off.
  • Emotional highs/lows must be carefully managed to stay on course with weight loss, particularly if you are a binge eater.
Avoiding/Managing Hunger.  Since you want to lose weight and we're coming off the holidays, I'm going to assume you've been eating at least some highly sweetened foods such as baked goods. If you now change to eating healthy whole foods (meat, vegetables, fruits) you are probably going to experience emotional hunger.

What is the difference between physical and emotional hunger? Physical hunger occurs when you have absorbed and used the nutrients from the last food you ate. Now, if you're like me you're carrying around excess body fat, and you're not in any danger of starving, but your body would much rather work on new food than go to the trouble of releasing stored fat. Physical hunger is fine and it's not going to spoil your weight loss effort. You can and do ignore physical hunger until it's convenient to eat.

Emotional hunger is a different story. Have you ever gone into the kitchen and opened the fridge or cupboard and thought, "There's nothing in here to eat?" That's emotional hunger, because you're looking at a lot of food and if it was physical hunger everything would look GOOD. Emotional hunger is a craving for a specific food or type of food and nothing else will do. It is almost always something that's not healthy or nutritious--think chips or ice cream or cookies. The irony of emotional hunger is that you don't really need the food you're craving but the urge is much more powerful and upsetting than true hunger. You "need" the food and it can become the most important thing in your world at that moment.

So, if your attempt to lose weight is going to succeed it's important to avoid physical hunger by eating the right things. And avoiding physical hunger will also be an important piece in your efforts to manage emotional cravings. How you do that will probably change over time, but for now just remember that you FEED physical hunger and DISTRACT emotional hunger.

Feed your physical hunger. What are your favorite meats, vegetables and fruits? Fill your fridge, freezer and cupboards with them. Read this post about what an ancestral eating shopping list looks like.

One of the best things you can do is get out the slow-cooker and make a nice home-made stew. Buy some meat that includes bones, or separate packages of bones and meat, and cook them in the slow-cooker for a few hours. When the meat/bones are simmering nicely add whatever vegetables you wish (remember that corn, barley, rice and noodles are NOT vegetables.) Cook the stew until all the bones are clean and fish them out. Then refrigerate the stew and re-heat a bowl whenever you're hungry. If you're "hungry" but don't want the stew, guess what? That's emotional hunger and we'll address that in a minute. I recommend a thorough re-heating of the stew every 4 days or so if it's not all eaten yet.

Eat your first meal of the day as early or late as you like but here's the rule: the first meal has to be mostly meat and/or eggs. The goal is to eat a filling meal that will take your body a while to digest. Why? If you eat enough meat/eggs to fill you up, you won't be physically hungry for hours. You could eat your slow-cooked stew, but make sure you eat lots of meat. For the first meal, I'd think of something like chuck steak and eggs and use the stew for later meals. You can have a salad with oil and vinegar any time you like and you can have 1 or 2 cups of fruit per day.

If you are going to work, you'll want to take food with you. A portable salad or cut-up vegetables, a piece of fruit, a can of tuna (in olive oil) or salmon, leftover meat or boiled eggs, etc. Take plenty because you don't want to be at the mercy of vending machines, cafeteria or restaurant.

Distract your emotional hunger. Okay, back to the cupboard "with nothing in it." Make sure that's true--before you begin trying to lose weight, get rid of all the foods you don't want to eat. If you're going to try ancestral eating, that means giving away or discarding foods that include grains or sugar or soy or processed seed oils. Pretty much everything in a bag or a box with a list of ingredients is probably not a good match for ancestral eating. Let's just say, if cravings strike you don't want a cupboard full of chips and cookies!

Since you're not physically hungry, real food won't be appealing and that's your signal that you are suffering from emotional hunger. You don't want to feed that, you want to distract it. 

If weather permits, this is a great time to go for a walk or a drive because movement is good for you and it may temporarily kill cravings. Take a shower or clean out a storage closet. If you have a pet, groom it or play with it. Do a Google search on "ancestral eating" or "paleo diet." If you have a yard, do something outside.

Update 1/15/12: Check out this link on the subject of distracting emotional hunger from Health on TODAY.

If you are at work, catch up on phone calls or change what you're working on (if you can) so you have to concentrate. At lunch time or after work you can get up and do the walk or drive. 

Good options are to go to big-box stores or large businesses that don't offer food such as clothing, hardware or garden centers. Walk around, read labels, etc.

Social contact may be great or risky--being around people can be a great distraction but it needs to be situations or people that won't tempt you with the foods you're trying to avoid.

You will do whatever is most important to you. If losing weight and enjoying better health are what you truly want, your physical and emotional hunger can't stop you and neither can other people. You may need to learn new habits and you may need to fight against old habits and attitudes.

It's about you. You'll only struggle if you aren't sure what you want OR if you believe that you don't have control. Well, you do have control of what you eat and, to a great extent, how you feel. You can make it happen and you aren't alone. There are web sites, books and forums available to provide information and reinforce your new reality.

To go directly to Part 2, click here.


  1. Very good tips. Emotional eating is a really, really hard nut to crack.

    I've found that being on a good vitamin and mineral supplement plan helps, too (I'm roughly doing the Perfect Health Diet recommendations).

  2. I had an ah-ha! moment when I read what you wrote about the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. As usual, your posts inspire me and calm me. Thanks!

  3. @Steph, supplements are a subject of debate right now but in moderation I think they're good since it's harder for women to get enough vitamins and minerals while eating carefully to lose weight.

    @Kathleen, thanks much and I'm glad you liked the post. I first thought I'd cover all points in one post, then I realized it would be a book. :-))