For most of my life, my appetite has felt like a huge source of embarrassment.
When I was 8, my mom, who was a single mother at the time, would go out for a 2-mile jog (as one did in the 80s!) and leave me home by myself for 20 minutes. It was my favorite moment of the week because I would sneak a piece of cheese and a pretzel rod.
Then, when I was 11, I’d go to a friend’s house after school, whose mom was also a kind of babysitter. I remember all the kids there would get a Dixie cup’s worth of cheeseballs or some other after-school snack, and I’d look around at the other kids and wonder why they all weren’t still starving like me. There must be something wrong with me.
In Junior high school, I kept a secret box of Little Debbie cakes in my bedroom under my bed (sorry, mom!) for when I was wanting to eat more and still felt starving after dinner. (I don’t know about you, but I always had to ask if I wanted something to eat)
I remember going to brunch with Jade for the first time when we’d just started dating and—gasp!—ordering a huge stack of pancakes, while Jade ordered an omelet. Haha!
And I even remember when I was training for my first figure competition and would buy a Three Musketeers bar during the week to eat on the weekend when my roommate would be out of the house. I’d hide the candy bar in my bathroom cabinet until she was gone so I could eat with no one seeing me or judging me.
These are just a few of the many, MANY stories of incessant hunger, cravings and obsession with food.
WHY AM I ALWAYS HUNGRY?
It’s funny, when I talk about #moderation365 now, oftentimes I get the same response from women that I would have given back then: “Are you crazy! I could NEVER stop at one bite! I could never just eat one cookie! I could never just have a slice of pizza! You don’t know me, I have a HUGE appetite, always have!”
And I get it. I do. That’s how I felt the first 30 years of my life.
But something happened about 5 years ago that completely changed not only my mindset around food, but the actual outcomes of how I felt.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t have the biggest appetite. I could have a few bites of something and not have to polish it off, and I could seemingly manage my cravings without effort.
That shift happened when I started implementing 3 key things:
1) Preemptive cheats.
You have heard me talk about them before (like here and here). I consider these “nutritional gimmes” that help build nutritional relief into your day. They are types of foods and quantities of those foods that take the edge off of hunger and cravings earlier so that by the time you reach Friday night, you’re not feeling so deprived that you want to eat everything in sight.
To me, I use things like avocado, cheese, bacon and other fattier meats, dark chocolate, frozen yogurt, wine and even bites of straight-up desserts.
I know a lot of people don’t like the word “cheat” but honestly, it’s only offensive if you think it is. To me, preemptive cheats are actually THE OPPOSITE of traditional cheats and cheat meals and cheat days because they allow for you to eat something satisfying daily. You don’t have to wait until the weekend, or for a time when you’ve somehow earned it.
With preemptive cheats, you have something daily or every other day to feel satisfied.
Meals don’t happen in isolation. So what you chose to eat for breakfast directly impacts what you’ll choose for lunch, and whether or not you’ll eat the entire kitchen that night.
And how satisfied (or not) you feel on Monday EVEN impacts how likely you are to binge the following weekend.
When you incorporate preemptive cheats regularly (these aren’t balls out cheats!), you are in effect managing your appetite and cravings preventatively.
And over time, you’ll actually feel less hungry and crave things less. Yes, really. Because your physiology changes. It takes 6-12 months to start experiencing the difference but one day you’ll wake up and realize that you haven’t binged in months, and it will because you’ve finally allowed yourself some wiggle room in your daily nutrition.
80% tight every day will beat 4 days super clean followed by 3 days of all-out binging every time. #moderation365
2) I started being nicer to myself.
Whenever I talk about self-compassion (the practice of giving yourself the benefit of the doubt and quitting the negative self-talk), people tend to check out: “Yeah, yeah, Jill, just give me the facts: what should I eat and how should I exercise?!”
But the key is this: self-compassion is a compliance tool!
Most of us already know what to eat. We already know how to exercise. But what we don’t know is how to implement that knowledge consistently.
When I ask women the #1 thing they’re struggling with when it comes to fitness or nutrition, they often say “consistency” and “not sabotaging myself.” These things are not about what to do, but instead about implementation and actually doing what we already know.
Speaking kindly to yourself and moving on more quickly from perceived “bad choices” is one of the best ways to be more consistent and actually take action AGAIN on the things we already know to do.
Think about it. If I binge all weekend long and go to bed bloated as hell Sunday night, when I wake up on Monday morning, I have a choice:
I can stew and self-berate and feel remorseful, and spend all of my mental energy telling myself why I suck so bad. Only to use up precious mental space on shit that is in the past.
OR, I can look back on the weekend with an inquisitive mind, ask clinically, “what happened there?” and get strategic for what I want to proactively DO this coming week. I can spend my finite mental energy DOING the things I know to do. I can give myself the benefit of the doubt and say, you know that, this weekend wasn’t awesome, but it’s over now, how can I do better next week? What things do I need to get in place for my FUTURE success?
Showing yourself that kind of compassion is a compliance tool. It helps you stay more consistent over the long run.
Guilt, shame and remorse aren’t lasting motivators. Telling yourself you suck isn’t a sustainable strategy to achieving a body you love.
You can never hate yourself into leanness.
3) I stopped doing hours and hours of exercise.
I had a light bulb moment (though I didn’t know it at the time) when I was training for one of my figure competitions and I was doing around 2 hours of cardio a day.
I was visiting my parents in Boston and my mom and I were out shopping. We’d pulled into a mall parking lot and I jumped out and immediately opened up the trunk and starting putting together my 99% lean ground turkey concoction with this special 10 mg-sodium salsa I brought from NC (!!!) and my mom just watched me, horrified and grossed out.
Meanwhile, this was like the 4th meal like this I’d eaten that day and it was just 2pm.
My mom—who was always supportive BTW but who understandably just didn’t get it—just looked at me and said, “Jill, if you didn’t work out so much, you probably wouldn’t have to eat so much.”
At the time, I scoffed. She didn’t know.
I had a huge appetite! I was starving all the time! This was my curse! No one else got it!
But later on, years later, I think back to that story and realized she was exactly right. It was preciously because I was always doing so much exercise that my hunger and cravings were off the charts 24/7.
If you have ever trained for a marathon or drastically increased your exercise volume, you get this. You feel like you spend all day just trying to keep yourself from not eating constantly.
I did this for 12 years: exercise a ton, then eat a ton. Then, because of all the eating, I’d feel guilty, so I’d then have to exercise more, burn those cals off, and then end up even hungrier.
This cycle is not uncommon. And it has to do with hormones.
Adding more and more exercise to your regimen is not benign when it comes to hunger and cravings. Sure you’re burning more cals, but how many more calories are you eating later?
When you engage in long workouts, you pace. Your intensity is compromised (automatically, it has to be) and intensity matters when it comes to hormones and physique results.
Elevated stress hormones (like cortisol and the catecholamines) can be chronically elevated to the point that they overtake the beneficial effects of the anabolic hormones, testosterone and growth hormone—which are also elevated during exercise, particularly short, intense bouts and weight-training. Stress hormones dominate when the mode is mostly cardio, mostly moderate-intensity and done for hours.
Outcomes over time can include potential overtraining, adrenal fatigue, insatiable hunger, relentless cravings, water retention, muscle loss, listlessness and lack of motivation to exercise, a physique that has a harder time responding to exercise, not to mention you might end up spending all your time at the gym and hate life (like I did!).
The type, duration and intensity of your exercise impacts hunger and cravings.
For best results, choose exercise that includes heavier weight lifting, shorter in duration and more intense than feels comfy.
I don’t ever spend longer than 30 minutes exercising. Ever. Been that way for the last 3 years.
And miraculously, not only does my physique look more cut and athletic due to the intensity, but I no longer spend all my time obsessed with when the next time I’ll be able to eat my cold, dry turkey/salad Tupperware meal out of a trunk in a mall parking lot! Looooololol.
More exercise doesn’t equal better results. Better quality workouts do.
Short, intense, weight-based, with plenty of rest and recovery time thrown in.
Some tweetables for you: