Forgetting What Hanger Feels Like

What’s your danger zone?

Mine used to be anywhere between 11:00am (sometimes as early as 10:30) and lunchtime.

I had another danger zone typically somewhere around 4:00pm (again, sometimes as early as 3:30), when I HAD TO EAT SOMETHING.

When Hanger Strikes

Hanger (or the combination of hunger and anger) can strike swiftly and without warning.

One memorable occasion was early in my relationship with Chico. We were heading up for an overnight in the mountains towards the end of our first summer together.

We’d breakfasted early on toast, jam and coffee (a typical Spanish breakfast). With our preparations, though, it took us a while to get on the road.

Then, on our way up to the mountains, we stopped to pick up a picnic lunch. We packed it away, ready to pull out on our bike excursion later. By the time we checked into our bed & breakfast and got on our bikes, it was AFTER FOUR PM.

Chico said, “Let’s cycle out a ways and stop to eat by the lake.”

He remembers this as the first time he ever saw my death stare. A cold glint appeared in my eye and I said, “No. We are eating NOW.”

Needless to say, we ate then.

Crippled by Hanger

It used to be that I could not fathom going to a grocery store between 10am and lunchtime.

If I ventured into a supermarket at that witching hour, I was sure to fall prey to the buy-all-the-food-because-I’m-so-hungry demon.

And don’t even THINK of having the kids with me when shopping at that hour. My hunger and their pestering would prove just the alchemy required to produce an EXPLOSION of hanger.

It could get ugly.

Hanger Evaporates

Today, though… Today, I went to the grocery store at 11:30am. I hadn’t had lunch.

I didn’t buy a single item that wasn’t on my list. I didn’t have a meltdown in the store when I couldn’t find the Babybel cheeses. I didn’t feel like I needed to stuff my face with food as soon as I got home.

Why was today different?

Probably, because finally, after working at it since September, I have managed to level out my blood sugar.

Gradually Getting Less Hangry

I’ve told the blog everything. I told you all when I decided to start counting calories. I told you of my frustration when I spent so much time feeling hungry.

I also told you about reading up on the benefits of a higher-fat, higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diet.

I gradually started to up my protein intake and make veggies my main source of carbohydrate. The impact on my weight was visible on the scale almost immediately.

Even without doing anything as drastic as the “induction phase’ of the Atkins diet, my body seemed to be responding to the changes.

But for a while, I still felt hungry. I’d even finish a meal and still feel hungry. The combination of that hunger and my frustration led to quite a bit of hanger, not gonna lie.

Then Suddenly, One Day, I Wasn’t Hangry

I can’t tell you exactly when it happened because it was so gradual.

The Bug has his lunch break from 10:30am to 11:30am. It’s a ridiculously early lunch. It used to be, however, that I was hungry enough to join the boys for lunch at about 11.

Then one day, as I got the boys’ lunch ready, I realized something.

I wasn’t hungry.

I didn’t feel like eating lunch with them. So instead, I brewed myself a cuppa and sat down with them while they ate.

Relief!

Without noticing it happening, I had succeeded: I had managed to get to a point where my blood sugar levels don’t dip and spike the way they used to.

Sure, I feel hungry. But it happens much less frequently and with far less urgency than it used to.

Generally, I find myself eating less, eating less frequently, thinking (and obsessing) less about food, and worrying less about snacks.

The Result

The result is that I feel a lot better. I’m slowly and gradually losing weight, a pound or two a week.

Back in September, when I started counting calories, I took out my tape measure and noted down some numbers.

The other day, when I was feeling a bit down, I decided to check my measurements.

The difference is dramatic. I can feel it in my clothes, but seeing the centimeters melt away really provided a much-needed boost.

Ongoing Debate

I know there’s a lot of debate about what constitutes a healthy diet. It’s one of those irrationally emotional arguments we get into.

Much like politics or religion, diet and nutrition are fast becoming one of those topics you shouldn’t raise at a dinner party.

I am in no way qualified to tell others what is best for them. All I know is that I have rarely felt better than I do now.

Not even when I lost weight successfully on Weight Watchers or during my short-lived stretch on Noom.

If I’m feeling good physically, emotionally (though there are still ups and downs), and about the way I look, then I figure I’m doing something right.

And I’m going to stick with it.

Rethinking Food

Yesterday I finished reading The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz.

This book isn’t new. It was published in 2014, and boy! Did it make a splash when it came out.

Basically the conclusion is this: nearly everything we think we know about healthy eating is wrong.

Saturated fat is not bad for you.

Cholesterol is not a reliable indicator of risk of heart disease.

Dietary fat found in butter, red meat, eggs and cheese is good for us. In fact, it’s necessary for healthy body functioning.

A Complete Upheaval

For decades, we have been told that the best possible diet involves cutting back on fat, especially saturated fat, and that if we are not getting healthier or thinner it must be because we are not trying hard enough.

But what if the low-fat diet is itself the problem? What if the very foods we’ve been denying ourselves—the creamy cheeses, the sizzling steaks—are themselves the key to reversing the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease?

In this thoroughly researched analysis, Teicholz meticulously combs through all the data that is the basis of the low-fat diet recommendation.

It turns out that the low-fat diet is based on a hypothesis. It was a hypothesis that there is a connection between dietary fat and heart disease.

That hypothesis has never been proved. And in fact, Teicholz finds in her analysis that study after study showed either no connection, or a very tenuous one.

But because of forceful personalities in the early nutrition science world who were pushing this hypothesis as truth, every time a study came up with unsatisfactory results, they were either manipulated or ignored.

To learn this is truly shocking.

The Result

This startling history demonstrates how nutrition science has gotten it so wrong.

How overzealous researchers, though perhaps beginning with the best intentions, through a combination of ego, bias, and premature institutional consensus, have allowed dangerous misrepresentations to become dietary dogma.

Americans today are heavier and unhealthier than we have ever been. More than 42% of Americans are obese, according to a recent article in the Washington Post.

And despite adhering to the USDA and NIH’s recommendations to reduce meat, egg and dairy consumption and to increase grain, vegetable and fruit consumption, as a nation we have never suffered more from chronic weight and diet-related diseases.

Incredible

In seems unbelievable that nutrition experts for the last 60 years could have been so incredibly wrong. That what we know to be fundamentally true (namely: vegetables & fruit are the healthiest foods, animal fats are the unhealthiest) can be so completely wrong.

Yet it’s true.

In fact, in the six years since her book was published, the scientific evidence backing Teicholz’s research has grown, and the studies have become even more robust.

More and more evidence is now pointing to sugar and carbohydrates as the main culprits in these diet-related diseases. And while more research is needed, it is not clear that whole grains in large quantities are that much better for us than refined white flour.

My Takeaway

This book was a dense read, and I didn’t get through it quickly. In my Goodreads review I gave it 4 out of 5 stars for that reason.

But the takeaway from this book, for me, was huge.

Though I had heard about the Atkins diet, and at one point it seemed that everyone I knew was cutting carbs, I had dismissed it as a fad (I even remember repeating the misinformation that Dr. Atkins died of a heart attack!).

But this year, when I started to increase my exercise and get really serious about tracking my food to trying to lose weight, I was feeling so incredibly frustrated that I felt hungry all the time.

That’s when my aunt recommended Atkins and The Big Fat Surprise. She said, “Just read the books and then decide what you want to do.”

I have read them. I’ve read them and I have given myself permission to eat more butter, more cheese, more eggs and more meat.

And by God do I feel good! And OH MAN DOES IT TASTE AMAZING. After an initial feeling of withdrawal, I eventually realized that I wasn’t obsessing over food anymore. That I was feeling satisfied after every meal and that feeling was lasting longer.

I’ve lost nine pounds. I feel more energetic. I feel less guilty about enjoying bacon at breakfast, or cheese for a snack.

HOWEVER

It is, I think, very important to note that eating a high-protein, high-fat diet is EXPENSIVE.

Meat, eggs and cheese are not cheap, especially if you’re trying to buy organic or free-range. A low-income mother could not afford to feed this kind of diet to her kids. A person struggling to make ends meet doesn’t have the money to eat a high-protein diet.

I am fortunate that I can afford to eat either meat, fish or eggs daily. Not everyone in this country has that chance.

And it’s heartbreaking that those who need health food the most are the ones who are suffering the most from diet-related diseases.

They’re also the ones who are dying of covid-19.

Noom: More of a Bust than a Boom

Yesterday I told you about my experiences with Weight Watchers (aka WW). Today, let me tell you all about Noom.

Noooooooom!

Okay, enough of that silliness.

First Off

The name is dumb. It means nothing. And part of the company’s “playful” and “cool” schtick is to try to push it as being sooooooo mysterious and aren’t you dyyyyyying to know what it means?

No. No, I am not.

Credit Where it’s Due

To give the company its due, I did learn about it through one of its sponsorships.

Noom sponsors NPR, and I am a big NPR listener (or at least I was until the pandemic made listening to the news an anxiety-provoking activity). So, well done Noom on hitting your target audience. Bravo.

Noom bills itself as a lifestyle-changing program, rather than a diet. Though, like any other diet, you are assigned a daily calorie budget with some extra weekly points you can use to “cheat” with–like in WW.

You then begin on a daily regimen of trite inanities.

What Now?

Yes, that’s what I said. You’re put through some pretty painfully dumb readings, quizzes and assignments.

Alright, I understand that this is a program designed for all Noom users, and that perhaps I am not what you would call average in terms of rapidity of thought and concept comprehension. Nor, however, am I an Einstein.

But PLEASE! I think what drove me most insane about Noom was the stupidly vapid, annoying and sometimes rather condescending tone of voice it uses in all its communications.

What You Actually Have To Do

  • On Noom, you weigh in daily. Weight Watchers and other programs I’ve heard of have you weigh in only once a week.

Noom argues, however, that weighing in daily helps you to conquer “scanxiety,” aka “scale anxiety” (See?! It’s these stupid terms that annoy me!).

Fine. I didn’t really mind that.

  • Then, you have to spend a good ten to 20 minutes on your phone, reading all the day’s articles, taking the quizzes and preparing for the day’s “assignments.”

At first, I diligently read all the articles, tried to absorb the “psych tricks” (“It’s all based on real psychology!” Is there such a think as fake psychology?), and obediently tried out the assignments.

It wasn’t all BS, though. I did glean some takeaways for portion control, tips for avoiding temptation at the grocery store, and even got a couple of nice recipes.

But spending that much time on my phone soon became undoable. I do not spend that much time on my phone in one sitting. As life butted in, I found myself dropping off halfway through an article to help dress a child, prepare breakfast, or (Heaven forbid!) actually go pee myself.

Then the day began and suddenly, I was behind on my assignments and felt like I had to try and play catch-up for the rest of the day.

  • And of course, you count calories. Foods are either green, yellow or red, and you’re steered towards a certain amount of each per day.

In the end, Noom is like any other program you’ve tried, just with jauntier lingo. The long and the short of it is that you have to count calories.

The database of known foods may be growing as people add in grocery store items and ingredients, but when I tried it, it was still quite limited. I mainly shop at Giant and Wegmans, and many basic products I bought there were not recognized.

And, naturally, I had to put in all my go-to recipes again and calculate how many portions they are (I dunno, I’ve made them up!), and how many calories a portion is.

Other Elements of the Noom Program

At the beginning you are assigned a coach. Your coach is a “health consultant” but is not a registered dietician.

I don’t know what qualifies a person to be a health consultant, but the supposed lady who was my coach seemed more like a robot giving automated responses. She was worse than useless.

After a period, you are also added to a support group. I think you’re matched up with others who began at more or less the same time, have similar lifestyles, goals and habits (they ask you about these things when you sign up).

Honestly, most of the time I ignored what was going on in my “support group” and what the group leader (another Noom employee) was posting there. She was supposedly setting challenges or giving motivating advice, but most of the time it just felt like even more stuff to read and assignments to complete.

All In All

Okay, so I did lose a little weight when I started Noom. That’s probably because my calorie intake was limited to 1,400 calories a day (whaaaaaaat? Yeeeeeeeeees, I know it’s ridiculous).

I spent a lot of time hungry. The “green foods” Noom suggests you focus on were not enough to fill me up. Lean proteins and even healthy fats like avocado, nuts and seeds are classified as “red foods,” so I avoided them.

Funny, but it seems to me like (in moderation) these are precisely the kinds of foods that help to satiate while also stabilizing blood sugar. But hey, I’m not an expert.

(Though it seems I already know more than my Noom “health coach” did.)

I fell behind in my readings and quizzes and soon became overwhelmed and unmotivated. My tracking fizzled, and before long I had quit and deleted the app.

And the weight crept back on.

In Conclusion

In terms of personalization, good coaching and support, Weight Watchers is definitely superior to Noom. Their database of known foods is also much better.

If you want to try a diet that encourages low-fat, low calorie consumption, and you don’t want stupid people talking to you as if you are the idiot, then skip Noom and use Weight Watchers. If you’re going to be hungry, you don’t want to feel like someone’s adding insult to the injury by belittling your intelligence.

Personally, I’m ready to try something else. Something drastic.

Watch this space.

Why WW Didn’t Work for Me

In this article, I refer to the company as both Weight Watchers and WW. The official name used to be Weight Watchers, but they recently rebranded to just WW. A lot of people still refer to the company by the long name, so I’m using both interchangeably.

I wrote a few days ago about my decision to count calories. Or, if not count calories, at least track everything that I eat.

This decision comes as I realize that I need to take my health (and the health of my lower back!) seriously. Not so much focused on a number when it comes to weight loss, but on my back feeling less pressure, feeling strong and healthy.

I’ve Tried WW Before

At the end of 2011, I was about as heavy as I am now. In 2010, I had surgery on my lower back which eliminated running from being my principal exercise.

In 2012, starting a new life in a new place, I decided to try and make some changes. I signed up for what was then Weight Watchers, which is now officially WW.

In the first week, I felt seriously hungry. I remember breaking down in tears at the thought that this was my future: feeling hungry all the time.

It Got Better

Gradually, it got better and just by tracking and eating less (not exercising regularly), I did manage to lose a good 10kg in about nine months.

I noticed, though, that Weight Watchers steered me heavily towards low-fat and low calorie options, and encouraged a lot of fruit consumption (high in sugar).

I was doing WW online, and I liked the app and the relative ease of tracking. However, putting all my recipes in (since I do mostly cook from scratch) was pretty tedious, and the database of known Canadian ingredients wasn’t huge.

At one point, when I had hit a plateau and wanted to try and re-motivate myself, I attended a couple of meetings.

Meetings Were a No-Go

The meetings heavily pushed Weight Watchers products. There were always arrays of packaged “healthy” foods: treats, salty snacks, prepared meals, all branded.

That was a bit of a turn-off. Also, the focus of the meetings didn’t seem right to me.

Instead of talking about making healthy lifestyle changes, the leader and other members seemed to focus on how to “cheat.”

They were constantly looking for ways to try and fool their taste buds or their stomachs into thinking they had eaten something they craved, or eaten more.

I stopped attending after two meetings.

Fizzled Out

Eventually, the whole process lost its charm, and my use of the app and tracking fizzled out.

I have actually twice signed up again for WW, only to let it drop. Once in 2018, when we were living in Germany. It is not huge in Germany, and I was using the American site. Tracking the ingredients and foods I was eating there was very difficult, and I soon gave up.

A second time was earlier this year.

Rebranded from Weight Watchers to WW

In early 2020, I tried again. Weight Watchers is now WW and the rebranding has included a revamping of their points system.

You are assigned a color, and based on your color, some foods are “allowed” and others are not.

If you are purple, you get fewer points for eating potatoes than if you are blue, for instance.

I also tried attending meetings again (this was pre-pandemic). But once again, though there was more sharing of tasty recipes in this group, there was a lot of talk about “fooling” yourself into think you’re eating what you’re not.

Already a bit skeptical, when the pandemic hit I didn’t bother to try the virtual meetings. I also found that their points system didn’t work for me, and I gave up tracking again.

Eventually, I canceled my membership yet again.

An Individualized Approach

After thinking about it and wondering why I found it so hard to stick with WW, I have come to a couple of conclusions.

  • Firstly, I don’t like being told what to do by someone (or some entity) I don’t know and respect. With the online version, I don’t have any personal interaction (minus the online discussions, and let’s not even go there). And in the face-to-face meetings I attended, I couldn’t respect the person leading.
  • Secondly, despite having lost weight on WW before, I wasn’t really building lasting habits. I don’t think any app or program can do that for me, and WW certainly didn’t. I lost a lot of weight, looked great in the photos at my wedding, and then went back to old habits.

It’s not like I don’t know what I need to do. And it’s not like I am a weak-willed person who cannot discipline herself enough to build new habits.

But I think that I need something more personalized and more tailored than Weight Watchers offers.

That’s When I Tried Noom.

I’ll tell you about that another time.

(Spoiler alert: IT SUCKED.)