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Is Hunger Really a Matter of Willpower?

How many times do you hear people say, “I just need more willpower so I can lose weight”, or “I can’t stop eating”? I hear people say things like this quite often. The other day someone said the reason our culture has such a health epidemic is because we have problems with “self control.”

There is also a perception that if we only exercised more, we’d be healthier and lose weight. What’s funny is that I used to work at a health club for three years, and during that time, I never observed any noticeable change in the overall weight profile of members who exercised there. In general throughout, I don’t notice people losing weight because they exercise more.

Some people maintain that their weight has some bearing on their genetic “predisposition” to keep it off. And yet, our obesity problem has become an epidemic in just the last generation, so how could the genetic profiles have that much impact on this factor? Not to mention the fact that even most conventional doctors will tell patients that genetics really only amounts to, at maximum, 20 percent of your risk factor.

Let’s face it, based on those conclusions, your lifestyle is the over-riding factor here, and it comes in at about 80 percent.

What are our cultural habits and beliefs about health and weight loss?

A belief that more exercise will do the trick

More exercise doesn’t cause weight loss. It requires more energy to perform, and thus really only makes you more hungry. Although exercise is good for building our musscles and stamina, boosts our mood and emotional states to a positive condition as well as gets our lymph moving and clears out toxins, if we don’t feed ourselves properly to provide the needed energy for that exercise, the systems in your body will become overtaxed and can collapse from too much activity and not enough nutrients very easily. Your body will not be in a weight-shedding mode then, but rather, a fat-holding mode.

Whole Health Source, one of my favorite web sites for information on health with good research backing up the articles is managed by Stephan Guyanet. He has some fascinating data on the weight-loss/exercise connection. He doesn’t dismiss exercise as a useful tool for many health-related benefits, only that throughout history, the weight-loss/exercise connection that we’ve come to believe in modern times as the cure-all for weight loss issues is not as critical as we’ve thought. It’s actually much more important to maintain a healthy, nutrient-dense diet with plenty of fats and proteins and participate in intermittent, high-intensity activity to achieve maximum health benefit.

Also, check out this other post on the same web site which shows graph data displaying information about trends in weight gain and leisure-time activity versus meat, vegetable, and carbohydrate consumption, and what those numbers mean in relation to the  massive increase in obesity epidemic that has been going on for over the last two decades.  It’s really quite surprising how much weight we’ve gained collectively even though we’ve been exercising more and eating more carbohydrates and vegetables, and less meat. This is just what the experts tell us we must do to be healthy…and yet, we’re not!

It’s “fine in moderation

People often talk about how anything is fine in moderation, and too much of anything is bad. But is that really true? Let’s take the example of high fructose corn syrup, which is a subject we’ve been hearing a lot about on commercials, message boards, news stories, and many other places.

High fructose corn syrup is an artificially-produced substance made from corn, and the consumption of it has been blamed for myriad health issues that are becoming more acute and publicized in medical and health news circles. The Corn Grower’s Association has defended this product to the nth degree, but that’s what you would expect from an industry selling a product. But much research and study has been devoted to proving this substance harmful to human health.

Proponents of HFCS say it’s fine to consume it in moderation, but the problem with that statement is that this substance is not consumed in moderation by many people – it’s found in millions and millions of products in the grocery store. And people consume far too many processed foods. If you pick up the average product in a store sold in a package, jar, can, or box, it is likely to contain HFCS or some other sweetener that can be damaging to human health when consumed too often, even “in moderation”.  The definition of “moderation”, as it turns out, is pretty subjective. And, we’ve also learned that moderation isn’t so moderate after all. Moderation for many, is weekly and daily.

“If I just watch my calories and fat grams, I’ll lose weight”

Ever since I was a little kid, I remember hearing people talking about how lower calories and fat were healthier to eat, and if they could just get their calorie count down and eat less fat, they’d be healthier and lose weight. I’ve never been a calorie or fat counter, and I’ve always been thin. For many years I thought it was just because I had a fast metabolism and I was “lucky”. Of course, I also ate a lot of processed foods a great deal of my life so this almost appears as an oxymoron. But as time went on, I noticed that I was starting to actually gain weight, and then in my 30s I started having many noticeable signs of health issues – some I had ignored for years and some that were actually new and were rapidly becoming more acute as time went on.

What I’ve learned is that people need real fat and calories from real food to be healthy, and yes…even to maintain a healthy weight. What I’ve observed too is that most people who have trouble with their weight are counting calories, fat grams, and are eating a lot of artificial and processed foods. I’ve also had conversations with many, many people over the last five years who can testify to the fact that when they stopped dieting and counting calories and fat, they actually lost weight and became healthier.

So, is hunger really a matter of willpower?

A big part of the answer lies in the amount of processed foods people consume and are available.

A diet containing liberal amounts of fat does not contribute to health issues or weight gain. If it did, populations around the globe with high fat intake in the diets would be obese – in fact, throughout history, everywhere where people consumed native diets rich in fat and protein, their populations have had few health problems, including a lack of obesity – the inuit (high fat from whale blubber and seal meat), masai (who consumed milk, meat, and blood), and the tokelau (50 percent of diet comprised with saturated fat).

It’s true that people are overeating, more than ever in history. But have you ever wondered what is the real cause? Is it because they are just hedonistic gluttons who need to get ahold of themselves and use self-control? And, is hunger really a matter of willpower? In  a world where gastric bypass procedures have surpassed the amount of open heart surgeries – which are also numerous – it’s time to examine the reason why people are growing in weight and disease, but seemingly are not receiving the nutrition they need from what they eat.

What if the problem is really that we are overfed but undernourished?

Some points to counter the “eat fat, gain weight” hypothesis that has been forwarded for so many years:

Too many carbohydrates

What causes weight gain is carbohydrates, not fat. Insulin production is regulated by carbohydrate intake, not fat. When we  consume carbohydrates, a hormonal response is generated called insulin secretion.  The response tells the body to create stores of fat. So the less carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be. Adhering to the The Standard American Diet, replete with sugar, flour and many other refined carbohydrates creates an exaggerated version of this response, and thus are especially able to cause weight gain in those who regularly consume them.

Not enough fats and protein

Another part of the answer is the recommendation by most mainstream health sources to avoid saturated fats. Saturated fats are one of the most significant sources of nutrients, in which we are sorely lacking.

In her book, The Diet Cure, Julia Ross explains that fat deficiency causes fat cravings. Low-fat dieting has become such a problem that people are replacing the healthy fats they so desperately need for carbohydrates, as touted by mainstream medical health sources:

“Although many of our clients have avoided fat, overeating sweets and starches instead, many are addicted to fatty foods like cheese, butter, [which are healthy], and potato or corn chips [which are not healthy]. When we add certain oils to their diets, they lose interest in rich foods and their weights drop. Low-fat dieting depletes our bodies of essential fatty nutrients. In reaction, our bodies signal us via cravings to eat more fats. But the kinds of fats in the junk food that we binge on in response to those cravings do not satisfy our nutritional needs, and we actually put on weight as we become fat deficient.”

She also tells us that many other genetic backgrounds other than those already mentioned with very high percentage of fat in their diets such as Scandinavian, Celtic, Irish, and Mediterranean who traditionally consumed high fat quantities from dairy foods, fish, and other high fat sources are prone to many modern health issues such as alcohol abuse and depression because they are not consuming enough healthy fats as compared to nutrient-depleted foods like refined grains, sugars, and carbohydrates.

The act of limiting calories doesn’t just cause people to put on pounds, it also leads to serious overall nutritional deficiencies in the body not only from reducing essential fatty acids but other nutrients such as Vitamins A, D, and E – essential for immune system function, elimination of free-radicals, and protect our eyesight and reduce against disorders liver disease and stroke.  It is precisely this this type of eating mentality which has caused the increase in incidence of Diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Adrenal exhaustion, baby!

You may not realize it, but along with all the other issues low-fat dieting causes, adrenal exhaustion is one of the worst problems we experience as a result of depriving our bodies of the nutrition we need. Have you ever felt exhausted but try as you might, sleep eludes you (which causes further exhaustion)? This is one of the most common symptoms caused by low-fat dieting that indicates adrenal exhaustion. In The Diet Cure, Julia Ross talks about how our adrenal glands – very important organs that guard against stress and help our thyroid regulate our weight – become so overtaxed from lack of nutrition and rest, they can no longer adequately perform their normal function and shoot into overdrive. This happens when we are hungry and don’t eat or eat junk instead of nutrient-dense foods.

The very foods we are told to avoid by mainstream health authorities – foods with saturated fats and cholesterol – are those which contain many vitamins and minerals our populations are sorely lacking in:

  • Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2 (the “X” factor, as discussed in Dr. Weston A. Price’s book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration)
  • Vitamin B complex, in particular B1, B5, B6, B12
  • Minerals calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, iodine, phosphorus, selenium, boron
  • Essential fatty acids DHA and EPA from Omega 3s
  • CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), and important antioxidant
These nutrients are essential to almost every bodily function and organ system.  These are necessary to maintain optimal bone, brain, cardiovascular and respiratory systems, nervous system, immunity, digestion, hormonal (endocrine), detoxification and excretory processes. A great deal of mainstream health authority tells us to avoid fat and eat more vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and other carbohydrate and plant-based foods.  Read this in-depth analysis by Chris Masterjohn about why vegetarian and vegan diets are grossly deficient in all these essential nutrients that are vital to good health.

The culprits of weight gain and degenerative disease:

Foods too high in Omega 6s as compared to Omega 3s – very common in developed countries where processed foods are frequently eaten. Sources of these fatty acids occur in the following  foods we consume all-too-frequently:

  • Grains – and in particular, the packaged, processed varieties not soaked or sprouted with proper preparation
  • White flour or other processed flour foods
  • Refined sugar
  • Vegetable oils such as canola, corn, soybean,  cottonseed, safflower, corn, peanut, soybean, and other modern fats used for salad or cooking.

The primary agents that help us to keep weight off, maintain healthy hearts and organ systems, and good overall health that is free from disease and illness:

Meats, game, poultry, eggs, and dairy from healthy animals and fowl on pasture that are humanely and sustainably-raised. Animal fat is only garbage fat if you are eating the processed, conventionally produced variety. Source is of great importance both in terms of nutrient content and presence of chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics which are always found in meat and meat products that come from commercial sources.

Some people believe they are more suited to a vegetarian-based diet because they don’t do well eating meat or animal fats, but still have persistent health issues and weight gain anyway. One of the first things that comes to mind is that when you are eating commercially-produced meats and meat products, those foods are not nutritionally-balanced and contain chemicals like pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics and GMOs.  Those foods will wreak havoc on your digestive system and render it unable to digest foods. If you can’t digest your food, you will be in big trouble.  But the general reason anyone eating those substances does not experience good health is because those foods are not really food, and they are harming their health! Switching to real, healthy fats that are free from chemicals and other dangerous substances, and that are nutritionally complete would yield quite different results.

When you eat real foods from nature, your body gets full at the right time, and it’s much harder to overeat and become fat and unhealthy from those foods. By providing your body with the nutrition it needs, and thus it feels full and satiated, just as it is supposed to. When you feed your body nutritionally-deficient foods, you might feel you can eat all day long and never feel full.

Want more information on managing your hunger and maintaining a healthy weight?

The importance of dietary fats

Fat-free, low-fat, and non-fat do not equal health

Want to lose weight? DETOX!

Are you nutritionally fit?

Do eating habits or exercise dictate weight?

11 replies on “Is Hunger Really a Matter of Willpower?”

While I think exercise is very important, and everyone should do at LEAST some kind every day, it is not the end all, be all of weight loss. I agree that Americans have MAJOR self-control issues, and YES food is 80% of the weight loss effort. I think Americans just take for granted pharmaceuticals ‘curing’ everything, but as I’ve learned a lot of them make a situation worse if not the cause of other major health concerns that may not be readily evident. Eat Great Food and you’ll live a long and happy life. (and I mean organic, raw, as natural as you can get it, in as many colors as you manage and in proper portions. Still can eat too much of a good thing you know!)

Tiffany: Hunger is a biochemical response, not a self-control issue. It is your lean tissues saying they’re not getting enough energy. Obese people are overweight to begin with because they keep their energy stored rather than letting it out between meals to feed their lean tissues. It goes back to excess insulin in the blood. This is NOT a self-control problem. It is a physical problem. Until it is addressed, the weight problems and overeating will continue.

I have cut most carbs out of my diet and even when I’m hungry, I don’t feel like I’m ravenously starving. And I hardly ever get hungry. When I do eat, I don’t need to eat much. It isn’t anything to do with calories, because I am getting lots of calories from the stored fat I am now mobilizing–yep, I’m losing weight. It has to do with my body being able to access the energy it needs. I got that figured out, so my body’s adjusting back to a more normal state now rather than too heavy and constantly starving.

The only real discipline it took on my part was deciding that the weight loss was more important than the rice and the pasta. Changing my metabolism over was most of the work involved, though. Once I had that tackled, the rest came easy.

The main points I tried to get across in this post was simply to say that hunger is a need everyone has, and if you are hungry even after you have eaten a meal, it’s likely due to the fact that you didn’t get the nutrition you needed out of what you ate – in many cases it’s due to our heavy consumption of processed and nutrient-depleted foods. If you eat healthy food most of the time, you’ll find your hunger is satiated with less food than it would take if you were eating processed foods – which don’t satisfy and generally cause weight gain. Being hungry does not mean you need more willpower, it means you need more food that will provide nutrients to keep your body running.

There’s no argument that overeating is bad for people, but eating the right types of food will eliminate overeating in general. If you are eating real foods with real fats, you will get enough and overeating is very unlikely to occur. If you eat fake foods with processed ingredients, you are not likely to feel full, and will keep eating, which leads to weight gain and health issues.

Well,take it from me, a person who has been overweight all her life, ( earliest memories @ age 3) but this past month, as I have changed to eating a more whole foods way, and eating sprouted grains, my body has stopped all cravings!! It has been a eye opener for me. The HUGEST difference is when i get up in the morning, i am driven first thing to see what I coulkd shove on my mouth, as I have always chalked that up to me being a food addict….I have had it for years, and years. Now, i get up, that isnt there at all. I eat when i am actually hungry. I can wait till my body tells me. This has helped me to understand what all that crap in the other foods is actually doing to people. It SO isnt about willpower, or self discipline, or diet….I have been through everything under the sun trying to lose weight, all of my life. Right now, it is just falling off naturally, as i quit putting on the wrong stuff. It makes me filled with joy to have discovered how awesome it can be to be free from what i thought was a defect in me. It is actually in the food, that the big corps. want to put in to make us more fat, more addicted, more sick, as they get fat on $$, we get fat and sick and depressed thinking it is us that is flawed. =0( So sad. I hope to share this with as many people as possible, although, the world has been groomed to listen to what the “news” or doctors say. I pray , there is a way, for more to find out what whole foods can really do to this dying & sick population,

Bethany – good for you! I wish you the best in your health endeavors and may you continue to enjoy good health in the future. I am always elated to hear these stories, because it means there are more and more people getting free of the web of deception created by mainstream medical advice, and becoming healthier and happier. It breaks my heart to see someone struggling with weight and health issues, when there are almost always natural and dietary things that can be done to eliminate or at the very least alleviate symptoms or health issues that are causing a great deal of misery, discomfort, or pain. The more people who share their testimony, the more the message will get out, one person at a time! 🙂

I’ve noticed, too, that the “full” feeling you get with processed foods is different than the one you get with real foods. For instance, over this past weekend we were obligated to eat at a greasy spoon type restaurant with family while traveling. After “enjoying” a dinner of iceberg lettuce salad bar, canned mixed veggies, and fries and fish deep fried in some sort of rancid oil, I just felt bloated and nasty. I was so glad I had packed some kombucha. (Don’t leave home without it!) Tonight, we had some stir fried grass fed steak and veggies one rice cooked with stock, and a bit of vanilla Bavarian creme for desert with duck eggs yolks and organic cream. Yummers! My tummy was pleasantly full and peaceful.

Hi Laurie – yes, I have the same experience. When I eat processed foods I still feel hungry later. Today was a good example. We stopped at an “authentic” Mexican restaurant and I discovered after asking the server about whether they used real lard in their refried beans that they do in fact use vegetable lard. Yuck! I had a feeling that was the case, but you can still find traditional Mexican and other restaurants that do use real lard from healthy animals on pasture. Afterwards, I was sitting in the car and started craving sweets – which I don’t do very often, and I know what my body needed was real fat. So tonight when we stopped at the hotel, I ate lamb shanks (from the restaurant nearby) cooked in butter and some odds and ends from our food stash in the car like some raw cheese, nuts, and Kerrgold butter. Also, I have my fermented cod liver oil with me too. Hopefully that will make up for my fat deficiency from that terrible meal at the Mexican restaurant. 🙂

You totally lost me at processed cereal and soy nuts. Until then you had some credibility. Not so much now.

Hi Shannon – thank you for pointing that out. Originally I intended to include the information you came across because it showed statistics of deficiencies in the U.S., which is important. It was an excerpt from the Washington Post, and since I didn’t write it, the recommendations had information I don’t agree with. I’ve replaced that information with something more along the lines of what I do recommend including eating saturated fats and cholesterol which contain vital nutrients. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you’d know that I don’t advocate soy, processed cereals, or low-fat foods. Thank you for catching that and bringing it to my attention, I appreciate your astuteness!

Good article–I agree whole heartedly. Just a minor point: Toward the end you list refined sugar among the sources of certain fatty acid that are detrimental to health and weight loss. Just want to point out that refined sugar is a source of two things: fructose and glucose, neigher of which is a fatty acid of any kind. The body turns excess of both into fatty acids, but not the ones in the paragraph above. Scientific accuracy is important if we are to reach the believers of the wrong paradigm (if we indeed can.) Just saying…

Sorry, I should have proofed that comment better before hitting the post button. Fatty acid = fatty acids and neigher = neither. Is there an edit button?

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