30 December 2009

What the Weight Watchers Hungry Monster Does Not Teach Us About Hunger and Cravings

This is the time of year when people begin holding the intention of a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight or get more fit. At this point it has become a tradition, one which half of the world is initially fired up at the beginning of the year to fulfill. Weight Watchers, like most other weight loss programs, is now happily feeding this enthusiasm with an all out inundation of commercials, some of which depict the infamous “Hungry Monster”. This is a fuzzy, orange, big-eyed character who is suppose to represent the pesky rambling in our tummy called hunger which causes us to eat cookies, ice cream and similar foods, totally sabotaging our weight loss goals.

Upon conducting a quick online research of Mr. Hungry Monster, I found him to be quite popular. The first three pages of Google were filled only with raves and praises for this unique puppet. Most people were asking questions of where they could purchase him. One blog post referred to Hungry Monster as representing a "beast inside of them that was controlling what they eat” and that they need to retrain it so that they can eat healthier. The bottom line is that people love this orange, fur ball monster, and most seem to want to take him home as well.

So any criticism of the Hungry Monster concept would seem quite out of place, and could probably be grounds for an all out barrage of insults. But here goes. Although Hungry Monster is marketed as a playful symbol of hunger, he is portrayed as a mischievous and trouble making character which we certainly need to tame. Therefore hunger is something we need to tame. What is sad is that people actually do believe that something as natural as hunger, real physical hunger, is a bad thing.

The body has devised hunger to indicate to us when it is in a real physiological need for food. However when we make hunger the enemy, what we are really doing is confusing hunger with cravings. Cravings most often have nothing to do with physical hunger and are always focused on a specific food. Two types of cravings are emotional cravings and physical cravings.

Emotional cravings or “psychological hunger” occurs when food is used to escape from an undesired feeling, to deal with stress or provide comfort and ‘good feelings”. Physical cravings are often associated with some sort of deficiency the body is experiencing as often happens with structured diets where there is the tendency to exempt many foods. This lack of balanced eating can lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals. The body may crave foods containing the missing carbs and nutrients it is short of.

Dieting is often a major cause of food cravings. When you can’t eat a food, you will want it more. The moment you get the chance "to cheat" and taste that forbidden fruit, you are likely to overdo it, because you know that it may be a long time before you can have that food again.

Other potential sources of food cravings include:

1. Low serotonin levels which may cause cravings for carbohydrates (mostly high sugar choices). Carbohydrates help ensure the body has sufficient tryptophan to allow the brain to produce desirable serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone essential for relaxation and sleep.

2. Environmental cues: A fast food commercial on TV or passing near the actual building like McDonald's, Wendy’s etc. could create a craving for fast food items. Certain activities strongly associated with a specific food can trigger a craving for that food, eg. traditional holiday foods during the Christmas season, candy or popcorn and other snack foods while watching television at home.

So if you intend on embarking on a weight management plan for the New Year, a good initial move would be to better understand hunger and cravings, so you can identify them easily when they occur. Ignoring true hunger, as the Weight Watcher’s “Hungry Monster” campaign would suggest, is not necessarily the angle to take.

It is important to take in enough calories and nutrition. It is equally wise to not skip meals or to exempt as many foods as possible as part of a restrictive eating plan, since these practices can cause unnecessary cravings which are the real source of overeating.

To Your Enjoyable and Guilt-free Food Experiences,

P.S: To assist you in managing food cravings you might want to take a look at Am I Hungry, a comprehensive, non-diet alternative program consisting of books, workshops, coaching etc.


JD at I Do Things

Excellent post!

I follow Weight Watchers (more or less . . . less, lately), but I haven't seen this Hungry Monster.

I agree that a lot of people have misconceptions about hunger. When you're hungry: eat. Eat sensibly, if possible. Being hungry isn't a sign that something's wrong.

But being too full is!

Timothy Nohe

As of today, the "Hungry Monster" got the ax. I am with you. Adios and don't let the door hit you. Anyway, your comments are based entirely on the commercials. What Weight Watchers has been trying to teach for the past 16 months is not that real physical hunger is a bad thing. They are teaching that we need to satisfy that hunger with something having fewer calories or better calories. For example, I was feeling famished when I got up this morning. A bowl of cereal would have filled me up and lasted me until what? 9:00. Then I would go hit the snack machine for crackers and a Coke. Then a burger and fries for lunch ... get the point? With Weight Watchers' Hungry Monster campaign, actually Momentum Plan, here's my day now: I had a three egg white omelet with feta cheese, a cup of non-fat milk, and three small clementines. Around 10:00 I will probably feel hungry so I will have an apple. Come lunch I will probably have a sandwich of whole grain bread and four slices from an Oscar Mayer's Sub Kit I get at Sam's Club, a cup of fat free milk, and an Orange. The idea is to eat a little slower so my body can hear the cues that I have fed it, and not scarf down everything in sight until I don't feel grumbly anymore. That lunch, which is actually plenty, will take about twenty minutes to register in my brain. I am NOT taught to ignore real hunger. Nor am I taught to ignore the emotional or stress cues, but to redirect them. I use a walk, a run, a bike ride, a glass of water (lots of water) or chewing gum to handle those "false hunger" cues.

Non-Diet Tips   © 2008. Template Recipes by Emporium Digital