Monday, December 30, 2013

Hunger and Appetite

I had weight loss surgery seven years ago. Some parts of my life have gotten easier, other parts more complicated. My relationship with hunger and appetite has changed and these changes seem permanent.

I love and loathe food. I like the sensation of eating, of teasing out the specifics of texture and flavor, finding new spices and new ways to prepare food. I am the foodie who can't eat much.

I had my surgery to break my addiction to eating and over eating. I still fall into the assumption that eating less is better. And since my surgery appears to have permanently altered my sensations of hunger and appetite, it's hard to remember to eat much less eat enough. And, as is expected, when you aren't eating enough calories, you really do gain weight.

Most bodies won't allow you to thrive on less than 1,000 calories per day. For some, you can eat that amount and maintain. Most people seem to do better on 1,200 or more calories per day. Last year I tried tracking my calories and discovered I was lucky to eat 700 calories on any given day. Why did that happen? How did that happen?

I am not hungry nor do I have much of an appetite for specific foods. To a certain extent I got my wish in that I have a kind of separation between loving food and loving to eat. But there's a burden I hadn't expected in needing to keep track of when I eat, what I eat, and how much I eat. I certainly still love my food but I do not love to eat. I do not consider myself to have a positive relationship with food at all.

So how do I (or anyone else) manage to eat in a way that is health and whole/unscrewed with? Prepare in advance. When you're over tired and under caloried, preparing food is quite possibly the absolute last thing you want to do. The answer is not to power through the tired to eat heathily. No, the answer is to be smarter about what food choices will be available when you are over tired and under caloried. So make some healthy food when you do have time and energy and put it away for when you'll need it. Freeze it if you have to. Otherwise keep prepared food available in the fridge or cupboard so that you can just open it up and eat.

What does this look like? Make some one-dish meals that you can freeze. Make some salads that you can keep handy. Salads like tuna, ham, shrimp, lobster, salmon, chicken, beef. Whatever floats your boat. You can mix with mayonnaise or an oil/vinegar base. And guess what? Condiments are not evil. Just use them in a reasonable manner. If you need to tempt yourself to eat, mix in some more if that is going to help make sure you actually eat instead of just look at it.

Make egg-heavy breakfast burritos. You can purchase parboiled or frozen hashbrowns, salsa, chile, tortillas, and whatever meat you like. Make an assembly line with kids or friends or partners. Honestly, do what you have to in order to ensure food gets prepared. Have a party. Invite friends to help out and share in the cost and come away with something to show. Play with the idea. Who knows what ideas you might have?

What shouldn't you do?

Do not try to replace healthy food with convenient food. It may be possible but there's going to be a trade off. One trade off is nutritional value. Convenience foods are undeniably tasty, especially when flavored by fatigue, memory, or appetite. But think about it. Take some time to really taste convenience foods. Do they really taste good? If I take the time and really turn on my taste buds, I find that everything is too much of something: too salty, too sweet, maybe an underlying bitter taste. But when you're bolting food because your body is undernourished, things taste pretty good.

A second trade off is how long this convenience food keeps you satiated and feeling full. Most of the time I find that I'm wandering into the kitchen with an "urge" for something that I just can't quite identify within an hour or so. For me, a problem with processed food is that it isn't very dense and just doesn't stay with me as long as whole food does.

Finally there's the issue of economic cost. Healthy yet convenient food is expensive. And in a time of rising food costs, paying the premium price is simply impossible. And you know something? Even if this food is closer to being whole in spite of its convenience, it still isn't either whole or nutritious. There are simply a great deal of chemicals that must be added to food (for shelf stability and hygiene) that deplete it. Modern manufacturing methods strip foods of their nutrients in order to remain convenient.

So, do I do any of this? Sometimes. Sometimes I buy Hot Pockets and live to regret my decisions. Sometimes I live on stuff like greek yogurt, coffee with protein powder, and carrots with peanut butter. And when I feel bad, I have to remember the only person I have to blame for this is myself. Then I haul my butt into the kitchen and start all over again trying to be a little more healthy than I was.

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