October 4, 2012

Are Some People Asking the Wrong Questions?

I've given a lot of thought to the following questions:

  • What triggers my binge eating?
  • How can I control/avoid binge eating?
  • Why is it so hard to eat small portions?
  • Etc., etc., etc.
Well, you know what? The question that's on my mind right now is, "Why is my appetite bigger than what is required to maintain a normal weight?" And part 2 of the question is, "How come my stomach happily accepts the large meals my appetite demands?" The assumption that my appetite IS bigger than my caloric needs is pretty much proven as my "natural" weight seems to be 50+ lbs. overweight.

I've decided to forgive myself for my large appetite by the way. Yes, I'd like to eat as little as I can manage without triggering massive binge eating and, yes, I'd like to gradually lose weight over time BUT I've demonstrated numerous times that I have great willpower over the short haul (6 to 12 months) only to face the long term reality that my choice is between being hungry 24/7 or being fat.  I have a naturally large appetite and I've always had it. It didn't develop gradually as I grew up or as I became fatter--I remember eating 2 large plates of supper and still wanting dessert when I was 6 years old. And yes, I was a chubby kid except for those times my family was too poor to buy enough food.

I follow a list of blogs focused on health and nutrition and many of them discuss why so many people are fat. They look at what types of foods we eat, when we eat, how fast we eat and how active/inactive we are. I don't see a lot of discussion about differing appetites. I define appetite as how much food feels like "enough" to turn off interest in eating more food.

For example, many people eat junk food frequently. Many of them eat a HANDFUL of chips and consider that a serving. Some eat a CEREAL BOWL full. But I, friends, eat the bag of chips--small, medium or large--and I'm just as happy to eat the last bite as the first.

Second example, let's say we're eating healthy--a meal of fruit, salad and veg/meat. Many people will eat 1/2 cup or less of the fruit, a cup or 2 of salad and about a cup each of vegetables and meat. So their total meal volume is between 4 and 5 cups and they'll consider that a huge meal. Okay, but if I follow my natural appetite I'll eat 2-4 cups of fruit, 3-5 cups of salad and still eat at least 2-3 cups of meat and vegetables. I'll be happily full but I definitely won't be forcing myself to eat the last bites.

I see a similar pattern with companion animals. With some cats, you can leave food out at all times and they'll maintain a nice weight; with others, you have to measure the food or they'll eat themselves fat.

I don't have a data-driven answer to my question, sadly, although I do have interesting background information. My father once confessed that my parents were so happy to have a healthy baby after the one before me died that they fed me each bottle/food meal until I spat the food out. In other words, from day one they conditioned me to eat as much food as I could hold. And I've already described my "natural" eating behavior from early childhood on.

When I had my son, I didn't follow my parents' example. I dished out a small portion of formula or food and when it was gone it was gone. My son is now 40 (gasp!) and has never had any problem with over-eating. He's been lean his entire life. But does that mean anything? His father had no weight problem either and ate whatever he wanted. I have an older brother (the one that died would have been the middle child) and while he has a healthy appetite he's never had as much trouble with his weight as I have and he eats smaller portions without willpower being involved.

So, I can't help wondering why I am cursed/blessed with my large appetite. Genetics? Parenting? What? I suppose it doesn't really matter, since it's not going to change, but I do wonder. What I do know is that it doesn't make me a bad person although the word glutton might/could apply.

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