Life and Everyday

Head hunger vs. real hunger


It’s been 14 months since I had the gastric sleeve surgery.  I started out at 346 pounds and weight 241 pounds now.  Total lost is 105 pounds.    Not exactly where I want to be at this time, but I hope to be on a role again soon.

head hunger – I don’t like it!!

Head hunger, you know it, we all do. That feeling of hunger from smelling the homemade cinnamon rolls in the oven or the sight of freshly baked cupcakes at the grocery store, or maybe for you it could even be watching the Food Network Channel. This is the hunger from our senses versus from our physical need for refueling. Indulging occasionally usually will cause no harm, it’s when the hunger consistently comes from above the neck that we become disconnected from the body’s hunger cues and indifference to what types of foods your body really needs.

It has become a popular term to describe a mental craving for food versus a physical hunger.  Head hunger often times to seem so powerful that it actually forces me to eat food that I know will cause me to gain weight or slow down my process.  Foods like chips, sweets, pasta, baked cakes, cookies, etc., that go against every rule of weight loss surgery.  Yet these foods are the ones I run to when I experience head hunger.

From what I have read and what I know that weight loss surgery reduces physical appetite during the initial months following the surgery.  I had a complete loss of appetite which was awesome because the weight just came off those first 6-8 months.  My doctor told me when they did the sleeve surgery, they take out that part of the stomach that causes the hunger hormone.  Whew!  I thought!!  I won’t have to FEEL hungry any more.  But out of nowhere….WHAM….comes the head hunger!!

I know there is an emotional attachment to food.  I talk about that in therapy just about every week.  It’s kinda of like a game sometimes.  If I eat these Oreo’s now…..I will work out for an extra 20 minutes at the gym.  Bargaining.  But often I don’t work out that much longer either.

Before I had weight loss surgery, I had another head game going on.  I wanted to lose weight, to be healthier, to be more attractive, to be able to play and run with my daughter without passing out, to walk a flight of stairs without being winded, and on and on my list goes.  I spent so much time thinking about all these things that I planned and planned on how to convince my insurance company to let me go ahead with surgery.  I came up against a battle with the State of Iowa when medical assistance was going to stop paying for part of the surgery.  You can read about that in a few posts I wrote last year about getting ready for surgery.  This kind of head hunger was different though.  I wanted this so badly, I planned and wrote and tried to figure out how to convince my doctors, the insurance company, my family and friends and mostly myself, that this would be the BEST thing I have ever done.

Hunger is defined as the painful sensation caused by a lack of food that initiates food-seeking behavior. (hmmmm)

Hunger is not an emergency.  It never has been for me.  My parents always provided for me.  I never went hungry, hence the problem with being overweight.  My mom was/ is a cook/baker by trade.  She was and still is cooking for people all the time.  But I can’t blame her for my being overweight.  She didn’t put the food in my mouth.  Though having it around all the time didn’t help much.  The only one to blame for not eating right is ME….yup…it’s ME!!!

So just how do we banish the head hunger?   This sensory drive to eat foods we know are not what the body wants or needs.

Here are some tricks for learning to treat hunger the way as a condition that comes and goes.

  • Drink water or flavored water to curb hunger pangs.

  • Ignore the hunger and acknowledge that you will survive.

  • Establish a predictable and consistent eating schedule so your body becomes accustomed to when you will eat.

  • Eat protein first thing in the morning and again at lunch and dinner.

  • Minimize visual cues that trigger hunger pangs (avoid/ignore the tv, food network channel; place snack foods in closed cupboards; avoid the office break room, etc.)

  • Take a brisk walk before giving in to hunger (this will rev your metabolism).

Just as hunger is not an emergency, it is also not a failure. Associating hunger with feelings of failure often leads to destructive eating and inappropriate food choices.

Here are a few things I have learned about “normal” eating when I was dealing with bulimia years ago in my teens and 20’s (gasp…lol):

  • knowing to eat when hunger cues are present and continuing until you are satisfied

  • trusting your body knows how to make adjustments for any missteps in eating

  • under eating sometimes and wishing you could have more

  • Choosing food you like, enjoying it until you are satisfied not just stopping because you “should”

  • 3 square meals a day or grazing all day long

  • takes up some time and attention but is not the only important aspect of your day

  • stopping eating when satisfied knowing you can have more another time

  • letting yourself eat sometimes because you are bored, tired happy or sad because you want to

  • being flexible, knowing eating varies in response to schedule, emotions, hunger, health and availability

Letting go of the rules of this eating disorder I had made concrete in my life is not as easy, yet it is very possible and very liberating. I think the same rules apply to weight loss surgery.  I know the tools.  I go back and get out my binder with all my information in it and read.  I keep track of my food again.  I start up my exercise routine again.  I get back on the wagon and go!!


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