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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?

Healthy Living Real Food

Is Eating Between Meals Healthy?

Do you find that in order to get through the day you snack a lot or eat between meals? Many health experts say eating small, frequent meals is a good idea to maintain health, weight, and blood sugar levels. But snacking between meals and eating “all day long” has really just become a symptom of so many health ailments in our culture. Eating between meals can actually lead to health issues and disease. Here’s why:

Frequent hunger is a sign that you are not feeling satisfied and are therefore not getting adequate nutritional requirements out of meals. The result is that you must supplement with something in addition to what you have already eaten. Because most people lack the time (and often the desire) to prepare something healthful, what ends up being eaten are foods with little to no nutritional value. Frequent eating helps to promote cravings in the body. Many people feed their cravings with unhealthy choices such as convenience foods or processed snacks loaded with hydrogenated, rancid oils and fats, refined sugars, and white flours. Eating these foods regularly can cause weight gain, irritability, fatigue, and headaches which lead to many other health disorders such as heart disease, auto-immune problems, Diabetes, high-blood pressure, and cancer.

When the body has not completed the digestive process, it cannot fully perform the task at hand to handle additional food coming in. This sets the stage for digestive and metabolic problems. Incoming food only gets partially-digested. As a result, the first batch of food in the digestive process begins to rot and becomes a source of toxins to the body.

Eating off-schedule from regular meals times also greatly disturbs the natural biorhythms of the body. Because the body performs certain functions on a time schedule, irregular eating habits disrupt the natural clock-work of bodily processes. For instance, the largest meal of the day should be consumed at lunchtime. If your largest meals are eaten during breakfast or dinner, this can alter your body’s regular schedule of digestion and toxin removal and cause issues. Similarly, if you eat meals late at night, you disrupt a major toxin dump which normally occurs between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. This allows unflushed toxins to remain in the body, causing health issues. Late-night eating interrupts this cleansing process performed by the liver. To allow this process to occur, meals should be eaten no later than 7 p.m.

To get control of food cravings and get your body back on track for being healthy, here are some things to be aware of when your body is craving something to eat:

  • When you feel the urge to eat between meals, it can often be a sign of dehydration. When you feel hungry between meals, try drinking 8 or more ounces of filtered water and wait ten or fifteen minutes. If you still feel hungry, carefully consider the choices you make for a snack.
  • If you feel the need to eat something sweet, try a piece of fruit instead of a processed, sugary product such as a muffin, cookie, or pastry.
  • The best way to avoid the temptation of eating foods that are unhealthy in the first place is to remove those items from your home. Don’t purchase processed foods. Stick to real, whole and traditionally- prepared foods: this includes organic meats, poultry, game animals, and dairy products that chemical, and hormone/antibiotic-free, organic fruits and vegetables that are pesticide/herbicide-free, real oils and fats like butter, tallow, lard, olive oil, palm oil, and coconut oils, and whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and rice (all soaked or sprouted). Read labels and become educated about what is healthy to eat. If a food is conventionally-produced or has anything added to it, it is likely not a healthy choice for consumption.
  • Make your biggest meal of the day at lunch time. The body is designed to handle the largest intake of food at mid-day. Avoid eating larger meals at breakfast (when the body is just getting going) or dinner (when the body is starting to wind down for the day).
  • If you do get the urge for a snack, remember your body needs something substantive. Eat foods like organic fresh fruits and vegetables, raw cheeses and nuts, sprouted grain breads with real butter or raw almond butter, raw milk or yogurt made from raw milk and organic fruit for smoothies, cut-up leftover organic meats and poultry, freshly juiced fruits and vegetables (stick to greens and low glycemic fruits such as berries, while avoiding carrots and beets which have high sugar content for juicing) with olive oil or coconut oil added for necessary fats that will keep you from becoming hungry again soon. Use a bit of raw honey or Stevia for added sweetness if desired.

When you start focusing on getting more nutrition out of meals and eating real, whole foods, you will find that your in-between meal eating will become less and less over time. This is because your body will receive the nutrition it needs from the meals you eat. You should notice an improved sense of well-being and more energy from picking up good eating habits while discarding those which can cause your health to be less than optimal. If you find yourself still needing snacks in between meals, make healthier choices about those foods and give your body the substance and nutrition it needs with real food.

This article is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays Carnival. Please visit this site and read the other real food posts listed there.