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The (Dieting) Hunger Games

Sohee Lee

Tick tock, tick tock. It’s been mere minutes since your last meal, yet your stomach is growling.

You’re dieting. What did you expect? That it would be all sunshine and rainbows, that you’d glance at a glazed donut and not feel a flicker of desire, that you’d be bursting with energy at all hours of the day? Well then I have news for you: dieting ain’t easy.

The steps required are straightforward enough. You eat less, move some, and catch your zzz’s. But the simplicity of it all fools you. How many of you have triumphantly embarked on a dieting journey, fully confident that you’d slash away at your back rolls and chomp down on your broccoli, boldly rejecting temptation at every turn, day after day? Your enthusiasm amuses me. And interestingly enough, your overconfidence will likely backfire.

Enter the Dunning-Kruger effect. This phenomenon suggests that individuals who believe their skills are better than they actually are tend to gravely overestimate their true abilities, and consequently fail. If you think you have iron, unwavering willpower that will stand intact in the face of every distraction, you have a higher chance of losing control. You see this in students who apply to schools way above their calibre and are surprised when they’re not accepted; you see it in tone-deaf hopefuls auditioning for American Idol. Such people lack the cognitive awareness to accurately assess their own performance and strengths. To put it bluntly, you’re so sure that you’re good - great, even - that you fail to see how much you really suck.

Dieters are not immune to this. Why is it that over-optimistic individuals are more likely to flop? Because it never crosses their minds that there will come a place and time when their resolve will be seriously put to the test. You feel good now, but it won’t always be this way. You’re hit with a bout of hunger and it catches you so off guard that you panic and binge on a plate of brownies in a desperate attempt to alleviate the uncomfortable sensation. Such setbacks in isolation won’t derail your goals, but you’re so surprised that you stumbled in the first place that you give up entirely on your goals.

The human mind is truly fascinating, don’t you think?

The more you actively try to fight the hunger, the more difficult the process will be. If you can accept that hunger is a part of dieting, I promise that the inner voices screaming inside your head will quiet down. Expect it. Change the way you see it; it’s not a threat and it certainly won’t kill you. There are worse things you could be feeling right now.

Fortunately, there are some strategies to combat, or at least minimize, hunger. Below are 5 tactics I use to deal with hunger.

1. Be realistic with your expectations.

So you want to lose 15lbs in one week? Sorry, but this isn’t The Biggest Loser; this is real life. If you think you can starve your way to a lean body, then I'm not going to stop you from trying. But I guarantee that it won’t be fun and you probably won’t succeed. You can’t go from zero to hero overnight (unless you’re Hercules). Don’t go all gung-ho in the gym, forget about strict 100% clean eating (can someone give me a scientific description of what that even is?), and incorporate your favorite foods into your diet every so often. Life should consist of work, friends, family, and so on and so forth; it should not consist of dieting and dieting only. Set a reasonable time-frame for your goals and put together a feasible, maintainable diet for yourself before you move ahead.

2. Moderate exercise.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, but it happens to enough people that I think it’s worth mentioning here. Some individuals have reported that exercise increases their appetite. There’s a good amount of research on topic that’s really very complicated, and of course there are both physiological and psychological factors at play here, but I think that the latter tends to be more of an issue. On the one hand, there are people who will get in a workout and think to themselves, “Why would I waste the time I spent in the gym by ruining my diet?” and thus, exercise will act as the Diet Police of sorts. On the other hand, there are others who convince themselves after a hard, long run that they’ve earned the food and they deserve those bagels. You’ve been warned. More is not always better.

3. Be smart with your food choices. 

[Tweet "When it comes to the diet itself, there are lots of things you can do to maximize satiety."] Focus on lean proteins. When I’m hungrier than usual, I’ll reach for some cottage cheese instead of a slice of Ezekiel bread because I know it will satisfy me more. Throw in a good dose of healthy fats to your meals, too - dietary fats slow gastric emptying. Eggs with avocado and white fish topped with some cheese are a few of my favorites. Fill up on fibrous vegetables; they’ll help add volume to your food without excess calories. Don’t drink your calories. Chug that water. Plan ahead.

4. Consider changing your eating habits.

Do larger, infrequent meals leave you feeling heavy and lethargic? Do tiny, bite-sized meals piss you off? Does eating first thing in the morning only make you hungrier? It may make sense to re-assess not only what you’re eating but also when and how much. When I wake up, the last thing I want to do is immediately fill my belly with food, so I sip on some coffee in the early hours instead. It’s normally around 2p.m. by the time I eat my first meal of the day, and it’s a big one (LeanGains for the win!) - just the way I like it. It doesn’t make sense to eat if you’re not even hungry yet, so why force it? I encourage you to play around with different meal patterns and figure out what works best for you.

5. Find your Big Girl pants.

Dig them out of the back of your closet; you know they’re in there somewhere. Pick the lint off if you have to, but I’m going to need you to slide them on. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? They’re going to stay on for the rest of this journey if you want to succeed. Sometimes, despite all the efforts you’re making, you just need to suck it up and do what you need to do to get where you need to be. If you’re constantly making excuses as to why you still haven’t shed those 50lbs of excess weight, perhaps you need to ask yourself if your health is really a priority to you at all. Stop talking the talk and walk the walk.

Nobody likes hunger; it’s never fun. But alas, we’ve figured out a way to take part in the Dieting Hunger Games - and if you play your cards right, you may even win.

God Speed.


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