I have never been hungry and I suspect that you haven’t either.
In common with the majority of women in the western world I have been on diets and felt hungry, but this lifestyle choice can hardly be compared to the hunger that huge swathes of the world’s population experience every day.
By hardly ever feeling hungry I am disconnected from my body.
I eat because it is a designated meal time, or because I’m bored, or because there is something in the fridge that I find impossible to resist. I never eat solely to sustain my being. My prompt to eat is always social and never biological.
There is a huge problem here in Scotland, and increasingly throughout the developed world, with obesity. Millions struggle with their weight and resort to ever more extreme measures to lose weight. Most women when asked about their life goals, will put losing weight towards the top of the list but find it impossible to do so.
It should be the easiest thing in the world. No-one forces us to eat. Our own weight is one of the very few things that we can control in a century where our fates are often in the hands of others; our employers and governments to name two. But we are surrounded by so much that it is difficult to deny ourselves these pleasures. We have become accustomed with our food intake, as with many things in our lives, to taking what we want rather than what we need.
We accrue money so that we can buy bigger homes, with rooms we never use and bedrooms no-one sleeps in. We buy bigger cars when most of us drive alone. We buy second homes which we live in for only a few weeks each year. We gather possessions around us when the world’s population has so little.
So, starting today, I am embarking on a project to take a closer look at what I need, starting with food. I am going to discover what it is like to feel hunger.
In order to eat just what I need I must learn to respond to signals from within my body rather than responding to external stimuli. Put simply, I need to learn to eat just when I’m hungry and to stop eating when that feeling goes away again. I need to become familiar with the feeling of hunger, so that I can recognise what it is, and what it isn’t.
So for the next couple of weeks I’m only going to eat small portions of very simple food, like plain rice, a maximum of twice a day. The reason for eating just simple foods is that by limiting the range of tastes and textures in my diet I will become used to eating for sustenance rather than for pleasure. This is a discipline that I will need if I am to continue this project beyond the next few weeks.
And I’ll continue this blog to tell you how I get on!
DAY ONE – Monday
I headed to Edinburgh without breakfast, not totally unheard of but I do usually take a piece of toast to eat in the car if I’ve missed my porridge. I met Jackie for lunch and, since Urban Angel had no vegetarian soup on the menu today, I had a small portion of beetroot risotto. I didn’t arrive home til after 7pm and I expected to feel uncomfortable preparing an evening meal for Anne that I wasn’t going to eat myself. But it was OK and I didn’t feel at all hungry all day.
I still wasn’t hungry when I got up, which surprised me, so off to Glasgow without breakfast or car snack. In explaining this project to Lindsey I realised that it was also about discipline and thinking time. I have blogged about my reasons for being a vegetarian elsewhere but there are similarities in that the doing without gave me time to think the issue through more clearly. I wandered into Sainsburys to see if I could find a carton of ready prepared boiled rice but the nearest thing they had was vegetarian sushi. To eat sushi would have been eating for pleasure so I decided to search out a Greggs and buy a plain white roll. Glasgow is full of Greggs but today I couldn’t find one! The search for a Greggs to buy a single white roll added a surreal, hunter-gatherer element to the experience, which I rather enjoyed! I expected to get tired and hungry while playing badminton but I actually played a lot better and my reactions were quicker than they had been of late so I hope this is a real and lasting benefit! When I got home, I had a small bowl of cold, plain rice that had been left over from Annes meal yesterday. I still don’t feel hungry but I am getting a bit bored with green tea already!
I’m not hungry. I’m amazed but I really am not hungry so there is little more to say other than “how much fat must I have laid down before Monday so that I am still not hungry on Wednesday?” Maybe I should consider hibernating as I seem to have the metabolism for it! For the record I’ve had two small bowls of plain rice, one with a few roasted root vegetables. There would have been more vegetables but I forgot that they were in the oven and burnt the lot. I salvaged a few and eating them certainly fitted with the plan of not eating for pleasure!
Well, a cup of rice and a handful of mushrooms today. I do feel something today. It’s not a feeling that I would have described as hunger. The feelings I have experienced before, the kind you get when on a diet or comimg to the end of a really long walk when you’d forgotten to take a packed lunch, have been sharp pangs, You know the kind of thing. I’m sure that you have felt hungry. What I am feeling is as if my stomach is being gently squeezed. It’s as if it is clay and being gently pressed into a slightly smaller shape. It isn’t sore. I am constantly aware of the feeling and it is a constant reminder to my brain from my body that something different is happening. I haven’t felt like eating more but I have had to make a big change in my eating habits. I’m a grazer by nature and will tend to pick at food. If I open the cupboard to get a tea bag I might also grab a handful of peanuts! I’ve had to be on my guard today against that reflex. Apart from that I’m fine…but I would love a big glass of red wine!
I skipped breakfast in order to have a planning meeting for the3rdi magazine in Java Lava cafe in Crieff. Paul brews the best coffee in Scotland and he can’t believe that I’m drinking green tea instead of his perfect coffee! I got back up the road and my tummy was rumbling so bowl of rice time. I sprinkled on a couple of sultanas and was blown away by the taste – so beautifully sweet. Maybe the lasting legacy of this project will be an improvement in my taste and enjoyment of simple foods.
By tea time, and my second bowl of rice of the day and I’m still not hungry. Most days, as you will have read, I have had a single small cup of rice, cooked and eaten as two meals. Five days in and I’m not hungry. To be honest the project is at risk of being a complete damp squib. I am becoming less, not more compassionate. Next time I see journalists explaining that people have had to survive on a cup of rice a day I’m likely to think that they have never had it so good!
Hmmm, what’s that phrase about pigeons coming home to roost?! Today was really difficult. Through the week I live a fairly solitary existence if I’m working from home. Weekends are full of food, wine and friends. This morning, despite the heavy overnight snowfall, I drove to the Corbenic Advent Fair. Thomas, the community’s baker had the full range of his delicious breads and biscuits on sale. He is a continental master baker so you can imagine the wonderful smells. Escaping to the coffee house and there were more cakes, this time baked by the community’s staff. Since these young people come from across Europe there was a huge range of delicious baking on sale. I took myself out of temptations reach by walking the dog around the snow covered grounds. That part of Perthshire is magnificent, particularly in the snow when there is an amazing feeling of isolation and peace.
I usually watch Strictly Come Dancing with red wine in hand, or perhaps a gin and tonic – or both! A cup of green tea didn’t come close.
Today has been really hard and I suspect Sunday will be just as difficult. Serves me right for being smug!
DAY SEVEN – Sunday
Yes, Sunday was hard! Snowed in and just wanted mulled wine and comfort food. This is the point though, I guess. To eat just out of habit, because I always eat when nthere is nothing else to do, is the habit I’m trying to break. Two bowls of rice with a handful of veg between the and lots of green tea. You bored yet?
DAY EIGHT – Monday
Snowed in again so the appointments I had in Edinburgh turned into conference calls. I found myself thinking about what fantastic meal I was going to cook myself when this project ends on Saturday. When I first explained this madness to Lindsey last week she related the story of having to fast for a day each year when she was at school. She explained that the day was bracketed between two huge feasts. The total amount of food consumed in the days around the feast was probably more than would have been consumed in an ordinary 3 day period, thus negating any benefit in terms of releasing some of the worlds food resources. The day without food did give that valuable thinking time and the day is still remembered 20 years on. So even if I binge on Saturday night the project wont have failed completely but since one of my aims was to find a way of eating just what I needed rather than what I wantedit wont have been a complete success either.
DAYS NINE to ELEVEN – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
The snow fell and fell and fell and then fell some more and to be honest the days merged into 1! I’ve been snowed in in Crieff and so I haven’t had to face the challenges of lunch with a colleague in Glasgow, champagne and food at a reception in Edinburgh or a meeting at the Scottish Parliament as these dates, along with everything else in my diary has had to be rescheduled.
With temptation reduced to a minimum, and getting even less of a problem as J emptied the fridge and the snow prevented a restocking shopping trip, it has been easy to stick to my two bowls of rice a day. I can, however, confirm that a cup of rice a day, with a sprinkling of vegetables is enough to stave off hunger!
COMPLETION and REFLECTION – Five Days On
I refrained for writing up this blog as soon as I’d completed the project in order to have time to reflect.
Living on a single cup of rice a day was actually really easy.
It may have been more difficult had the snow not fallen so heavily, preventing me from the temptations that would have come with appointments with friends and colleagues.
Not being a foodie helped me too. If I’m working from home, particularly if I am in the house on my own all day and into the evening, I struggle to decide what to eat and, as a consequence, eat rubbish. I’ve been known to eat such delocasies as mushy peas on toast and mashed potato with HP sauce, neither of which qualifies as a proper meal! For me, knowing what I was going to eat at lunchtime and for supper was a huge bonus. So much so that I have found myself longing for that simplicity and removal of the decision making process.
I had expected to feel short of energy but in fact I found the opposite to be true. I had far more energy each evening than usual. A bowl of rice and green tea turned out to be far better in this regard than my usual large meal and glass of red wine.
Knowing what I was going to eat also stopped me thinking about food. Had I been on a traditional diet, reducing food intake in order to lose weight, I’m sure that a large part of my mental process would have been taken up with thoughts about food, cravings and thinking about foods that had been forbidden. Any time I had been on this kind of diet I had become mildly obsessed by food. This time was different. I think the simpicity of the diet, the monotony if you will, dampened my cravings.
As I said when I started out on this project the intentions had nothing to do with weight loss. But did I lose weight? I don’t think so. I never weigh myself so I have no starting point from which to measure any losses, or gains. My impression from the fit of my clothes is that I’m just the same.
I did have time to reflect on the feeling of hunger, which was one of my aims. The feeliong wasn’t as strong as I had expected it to be but I do now know what it is and I have to say I much prefer the feeling that I could eat a little more to the feeling of having eaten enough to feel full.
Just so that you know, my break-fast meal was a glass of red wine, which tasted devine, goats cheese tart and a few parsnip chips. Since then I have maintained the routine of two meals a day. I find that I prefer a cup of green tea each morning to my previous favourite, porridge and/or toast. The portions have been much smaller than I’d eaten previously and I have achieved, so far, my aim to eat just enough.
Would I do it again? I hope that I don’t have to. The point is that I do seem to have retrained my mind and body to eat for fuel more than out of boredom, which was my previous starting point. I hope that I retain these lessons but if I find myself drifting back towards all day grazing I will return to my rice diet.