My client’s story of how a single 24 hour fast changed his perception of impulsive eating
I’ve said many times that hunger is the enemy of dieting. I’ve written articles, recorded videos, and responded to clients old and new. I told you that designing your diet to combat hunger will be the best thing you can ever do.
But what if hunger is more complicated? What if what you think of as hunger is actually a combination of food reward, impulse, and environment?
Here’s how I helped a past client gain control of his diet using one 24 hour fast.
“I had been working with Steve for some time. During that time I managed to lose a significant amount of body fat under his guidance. But, I was finding myself having these full on “blowout weeks” where I would go off the rails and eat whatever I felt like.”
Have you experienced this too? Everything is going to plan, and then you have a bad day, that spirals into a bad week. Often the feeling is one of a complete lack of control.
“It was as if I was completely controlled by my impulses and had lost all perspective on my goals.”
My clients usually know more than enough to design their own diet. Sticking to it is a different story and this was no different.
“The reason I hired Steve was not due to a lack of applicable knowledge on the “academic” side of nutrition. Rather it was for the accountability and adherence aspect, with which I have always struggled.”
Food reward and choice
As I’ve said before, it’s much easier to blame weight gain on something other than ourselves. In reality, weight gain, maintenance, or loss comes down to your food choices.
You make an amazing amount of choices throughout the day. Some choices are concurrent, like whether to eat the Mars bar or the apple that are both on the table in front of you. Some choices involve time, like cooking your normal dinner tonight vs stopping for Pizza. Both choices involve a certain gratification or reward from making a food choice.
In my client’s case, it was the immediate, concurrent choice, that was the problem.
What were you thinking about while you were driving into the petrol station? What were you thinking about while you were paying? Chances are you went from
How much petrol should I put in?
I’m going to smash two Snickers bars
In a heartbeat.
This is impulsivity.
The more impulsive you are, the less self-control you have when faced with making food choices. In your modern environment, you have access to pretty much any food you want, almost within arms reach. If you exert a high food reward, are impulsive, and have access to any food whenever you want it, then you have a problem.
Solving this problem comes down to acknowledging one thing. You are not hungry. But, you need a way to prove that to yourself. Here’s how we did it.
The 24-hour experiment
“Steve suggested that I do a day of fasting as an experiment to help me better understand how I experience hunger and how this relates to my food choices. I ate my final meal the night before the planned day, and then had no more food until the same time the following evening. For a total of 24 hours I didn’t consume any food. It was an illuminating experience.”
This is not something that everyone will want to do, but it’s a great way to find out how hungry you actually are. In this case, he was up for experimenting and trying stuff. It worked like a charm.
“I realised throughout the course of the day that I did not really experience proper hunger. There were a few moments where the feeling of, “I could eat now,” floated across my mind, but I think it is important to make a distinction between this and true hunger. “
The fasting experience demonstrated the lack of power the impulses had over me, because I had made the choice in advance to not eat anything.
One simple 24-hour experiment is also likely to pay off long term. By recognising what was causing the blowout weeks in the first place, you learn to avoid them in the future.
“I think that part of the reason I was prone to these weeks of unconstrained eating is that I felt that I was being deprived of things that I thought I needed. By eating a bunch of junk, I thought I was relieving myself of this negative state of deprivation.”
What can you take away from this? Do you need to fast for 24 hours too? Here are some action points to think about. If you think food reward and impulsivity are issues that you’d like to tackle, try the below:
- Before eating a food that doesn’t quite align with your current goals, stop and ask yourself why you’re eating it. Sounds simple I know, but if your answer isn’t good, rethinking is in order.
- Ask yourself if you’re hungry. Really, just ask yourself.
- Plan ahead. Have food at home so you don’t stop to get something at the mercy of your impulses on the way back from work.
- Perform an audit of your food environment. Don’t let trigger foods find a home where you don’t want them.
- If you want, give a 24 hour fast a go to see if it changes your perception of hunger, but don’t worry too much about this. It’s the perception that is important, not the fasting.
Most of all, practice awareness. You’ll need it.
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