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The hunger games. June 14, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, and I’m starving. It’s already 10:12 a.m., and I haven’t had anything to eat since a few mouthfuls of leftovers around 6:30 last night, just before rushing off with our friend Ben to watch “The Hunger Games” at a nearby theatre.

Watching the movie made me think about the nature of hunger, and what it meant for those of us with unlimited access to food on demand. With so much food, such a huge variety of food, and food within such easy, convenient reach at all times, how can we ever know if we’re really hungry or just tempted?

One thing I think we all know is that eating just because the food is there, because we’re bored, depressed, or nervous, because a coworker brought in doughnuts or Mom’s urging us to have a second helping, because we just saw an ad for something that looked really yummy, because our kids’ plates are still half-full and we hate to waste food, or even because it’s “time” for breakfast, lunch or supper is a bad idea. Unless, of course, you’re trying to bulk up to try out for “The Biggest Loser.”

The opposite is just as self-defeating. Pushing off meals because we’re busy, rushed, or stressed, skipping meals to try to lose weight, ignoring our bodies’ cries of “Please! Please feed me!”

These behaviors tend not just to unbalance our blood sugar and bodily functions, leading to weight gain (as the body desperately attempts to conserve every calorie in an instinctual response to starvation) and metabolic disorders. They also push our weakened bodies towards high-fat, high-sugar foods, trying to make up for the lack, resulting in overdoses of chips, fried chicken (or fried anything), candy, ice cream, doughnuts, soda, and the like. Ahhh!!! Blessed relief. But at what cost?

Over the years, I’ve come up with a few tricks for taming hunger, satisfying my body’s legitimate needs without sliding down the slippery slope of endless indulgence. Here are some that work for me:

* Stay hydrated. It’s so easy to mistake thirst for hunger. I take a big glass of water with me to bed and drink it throughout the night, then begin the morning with a second glass, followed by several cups of green tea. Whenever I start craving food, I ask myself if I really want something to eat or just need something to drink. It’s surprising how often I just need to get rehydrated.

* Eat only when you’re hungry. When and how often you’re hungry varies with your metabolism, how often you eat, what you eat, and how much you eat. Listen to your body: Do you feel a vague ache in your lower belly? Has it been hours since you last ate? Sounds like you’re genuinely in need of some food.

* Eat just ’til you’re not hungry. Sure, that portion on your plate could feed a herd of elephants. But, hey, you paid good money for that food, or you’re at Grandma’s and can’t bear to hurt her feelings. So you keep shoveling it in until you feel like a contestant on an all-you-can-eat competition. Suddenly, bulimia starts making sense. Instead, back away from the table! Eat until you feel satisfied, but are tempted to take just a few more bites. That’s the time to stop, while the food still looks good but you know you’ve had enough. This is why God created doggy bags, so you can take those leftovers home and have them for two yummy lunches or a second supper. And Grandma’s hardly likely to be offended if you tell her you’re full now, but her food is so delicious you’d be so grateful if you could take the rest home and eat it later. After all, it will remind you of her. 

* Snack sensibly. It happens to all of us: It’s not yet mealtime, but we realize we’re ravenous. This is where epic disasters can happen, when the “Oh God there’s nothing around here to eat so let’s go out and get something hugely caloric” impulse strikes. To fight it, make sure you have healthy, low-cal snacks with you at all times, and make sure you exert portion control. Eat a handful of almonds, pistachios, pecans, or walnuts, not half a bag. If you need more, pair them with half a banana or a small apple. Or pair a cheese stick or cheese square with your fruit and/or nuts.

* Listen up. If you listen to your body, you’ll know when you’ve had enough, and then it’s easy to avoid mindless eating. Just because there’s a bag or a plate or a giant cup of food or drink before you doesn’t mean you have to eat or drink it. If you pay attention to your body, it will tell you exactly when enough is enough, down to the last sip or forkful. Honor that knowledge and you’ll never be overstuffed again.

* Make healthy choices. Give fresh fruits and veggies a chance. When you really taste them, you’ll wonder what all the chocolate volcano cake and Hollandaise sauce hype was about. A delicious slice of ripe cantaloupe, with perhaps a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper; a perfect tangerine; fresh-picked asparagus cooked just to tenderness, with a squeeze of lemon and some melted butter.

No elaborate, heavy salad dressing could possibly compete with fresh Romaine or arugula leaves dipped in a little salted olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. No chocolate-covered strawberry could ever compete with a delicious, perfectly ripe, perfectly plain strawberry. No cherry pie, clafouti, or jam with a bowl of beautiful, ripe cherries. Keep it simple, enjoy the flavors and textures, and know when you’ve had enough.  

Would Katniss Everdeen approve of these ideas of moderation? I think so. You can find out more about Katniss’s menu preferences in an amazing book, The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook (Emily Ansara Baines, Adams Media, 2012). “Live simply that others may simply live” never seemed more timely.

             ‘Til next time,