31 years, 20 pounds and embarrassing quantities of ice cream pints and pizza slices later, I have finally learned how to be comfortable with being hungry. Before you get the wrong idea about my eating habits, let me quickly tell you what I mean is that I no longer want to rip someone’s head off on my train ride home from work when my stomach starts to grumble. That, my friends, is what you call being hungry+angry…hangry. It’s not a cute look. Not even on me.
I used to think that feeling hungry was the worst feeling in the WORLD. So much in fact, I would eat even when I wasn’t hungry in anticipation of the event that my tummy might rumble. Don’t get me wrong, having an apple, raw veggies, a handful of nuts or a yogurt for a late afternoon snack is a great way to keep blood sugar levels steady and stave off hunger, especially if you are eating a later dinner. But there’s a difference between being prepared and being flat out ridiculous. I was the latter. I seriously needed to Slow…my…roll.
Back in the old days of excessive emotional eating, I would get a bag of pretzels on my 60-minute commute home from work every single day whether I actually wanted them or not. The thought of getting even a teensy bit hungry on my journey home made me so uneasy. Ironically, because of habits like these, I don’t think I would have even known what being hungry felt like at the time!
So, back to the pretzels. A 200-calorie bag of pretzels if fairly innocuous compared to the damage I could have done, but that’s besides the point. I didn’t want them (not really), and I sure as heck didn’t need them, but I was sucked into this habit that I had no intention of breaking. And once I finally got home, it was time to make the big decision about what to have for dinner. I was rarely prepared, or kept food I actually wanted to eat in my fridge, so I’d eat spoonfuls of peanut butter until I made up my mind, which was usually a Lean Cuisine meal or Amy’s burrito.
(But dinner doesn’t have to be so stressful. Now, if I have a sweet potato and salad ingredients, I’m good to go!)
One of the biggest issues with being fearful of hunger is that so many mindless calories pass your lips that you don’t even really taste, let alone enjoy. Did you know that you need to cut out 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week? Are bags of pretzels and spoonfuls of PB really worth those precious calories? I don’t think so.
So instead of putting my energy into coming up with tasty, healthy dinners, my focus was on trying to prevent hunger. And because I had snacked so much before my actual meal, I’d feel guilty while I was eating it, which made it so much less enjoyable. Now, that’s what I remind myself of when I start to mindlessly munch on carrots and hummus or nuts right before making dinner: How much better it will be to eat a meal on an empty stomach, guilt-free.
Needless to say, I have come a long way with tuning into my hunger levels and being OK with feeling hungry until I am able to make a clear, mindful decision about what I’m going to eat. For instance, last Friday night Luke offered to cook dinner. (Yes, please!) But when he came home at 7:30 with the groceries, I got a little antsy upon realizing it would most likely be 9pm by the time we actually sat down to eat. But even though I was feeling a little hungry, I poured a tall glass of water and went to the bedroom to read Us Weekly instead of rummaging through my cabinets or nibbling on veggies. There’s nothing like a little celebrity gossip to take your mind off food—the distraction method actually works!
About 90 minutes later I sat at the dinner table with this delicious meal in front of me: Luke’s General Tso’s Chicken with brown rice and broccoli. It was tasty! Here are the cooking instructions:
Chicken: Crack an egg (or two) into a bowl and beat it well. Coat chicken cutlets in egg, then roll each piece in whole wheat bread crumbs. Cook over stovetop about 4-5 minutes each side and pour in General Tso’s sauce with just a couple minutes remaining. (We used Iron Chef brand—you can get it most places, including Walmart). Mix well and evenly coat. Add a touch of water to the pan for moisture if it looks like the chicken is sticking to it.
Brown rice: The water-grain ratio is always 2:1, so if you have one cup of grains, use 2 cups of water. For this meal, we used 1 cup of water and one cup of low-sodium vegetable broth for a bit more flavor. I also stirred in McCormick’s Cuban seasoning at the end—love that stuff! Follow cooking time on package. Simmer on low heat with closed lid and add water if the rice is soaking it up too quickly.
Broccoli: Boil for about six minutes. Shake off excess water in colander. Add lemon. Done.
I ate up all the broccoli first, and even though I wasn’t feeling full, I decided to stop before I reached the I-need-to-unzip-my-jeans-asap point. Leftovers—score!
I’m curious: Do you handle your hunger levels well? Do you get hangry sometimes? What are your tricks for not snacking too much before dinner? Do share!