Subscribe via RSS or e-mail      

Hunger Won’t Be Denied: True or False?

States of mind


Recently I came across an assertion that seriously disturbed me: that when we’re “hungry” we “have to eat.” This claim bothered me because it (like a lot of misguided dieting advice) was in a popular diet book, because I think many people believe it, and because it’s wrong.

Pictures of Food
The source of the statement was Dr. Shapiro’s Picture Perfect Weight Loss, a book that offers weight loss advice, examples, and especially a large number of full-color photo spreads of different foods that contain the same amount of calories. For instance, Shapiro graphically displays how a person could eat four ears of corn on the cob and get the same calories as in one medium serving of french fries. I found the pictures interesting and somewhat instructive, although the calorie counts need to be understood as examples (for instance, he counts 70 calories for a slice of whole wheat bread, whereas the loaf in my fridge is 110 calories per slice) and although Shapiro pays only limited attention to nutrition. Mainly, he wants to show that the physical amount of food you eat can vary a lot for the same number of calories, and does that well.

But Shapiro makes a number of imperfect assertions about weight loss, and the one I felt was particularly damaging was this: “The urge to eat is a need that must be filled.” (The emphasis is Shapiro’s.) He continues, “If we don’t respond to that urge, the need-to-eat feelings … will get the upper hand.”

He goes on to reassure the reader that this doesn’t mean all is lost, because the reader can learn to choose much lower-calorie foods and eat whenever they like. The fact that a person can eat much more for fewer calories is certainly true, though the idea that no restraint in eating is necessary in order to lose weight and keep it off is, for many of us, simply wrong.

Misconceptions about hunger
I’m surprised a little that Shapiro says this, because he acknowledges some of the complexity of hunger (which is really a variety of physical and psychological feelings), although he seems to complete miss or ignore some important psychological elements. Ideas about “needing” to eat, including Shapiro’s claim that hunger means we “have to” eat and there’s nothing we can do about it are all broken ideas, also known as cognitive distortions. In other words, most of our behavior is driven not by what we experience directly, but by what we tell ourselves about what we experience.

In essence, Shapiro is saying “I don’t know how anyone can possibly not act on hunger, so it can’t be done.” Put in that way, I think the flaw is obvious: just because Shapiro doesn’t know how to handle hunger other than by administering food doesn’t mean that nobody does.

For Shapiro’s information, and that of anyone else who shares his belief, I’d like to point out that hunger is always temporary, and that if you ever want to find a way to put hunger off, there are 24 of them here.

Different People Succeed in Different Ways
I don’t mean to pick on Shapiro especially. I think his food comparisons are very useful despite some minor limitations, and frankly he seems to be like a lot of professionals who have seen successful weight loss (especially those who have only seen it from the outside) who seem to feel that because it’s been accomplished one way, there’s no other possible way to do it successfully. I find the same idea in many books on writing, even by very talented and successful writers: “This is the way to do it. If you don’t do it this way, you’ll fail.” If psychology teaches us anything, it’s that different people succeed in different ways, so what I am doing my best to offer with this site is the other approach, which is to say: “Here are all of the tools for tackling this task that I can find. Take the ones that work for you and run with them.” And if one of those tools is being able to outsmart hunger when you don’t want to eat, all the better.

Photo by Petra Brown

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Allowed tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

%d bloggers like this: