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Unmet physical needs

We’ve been suffering the most terrible heat wave this last week in Cape Town. Temperatures have been in the high 30s during the day, dipping only just into the 20s at night. Not a breath of wind, the hot, heavy air felt thick and oppressive. During that time, I’ve been trying to work on a project to no avail. I do not have air conditioning…

For almost a whole week long, I found myself completely unable to think of anything other than how hot it was and how uncomfortable I was feeling.

You could say that I (and everybody else!) was obsessed with the weather. Totally fixated. I sat down at my computer a couple of times to work, but kept checking an online weather updater instead to see if maybe something was about to change. Everything revolved around the weather.

The claustrophobically high temperature made me irritable. Small things which normally would not bother me seemed like enormous impositions. My poor husband got snapped at a couple of times for no good reason. I didn’t answer any e-mails and didn’t return phone calls. I think I needed all my energy to just try and stay calm. There was nothing left for anything else.

Now on a lovely cool morning, I am happily sitting at my computer, attending to the tasks at hand. Reflecting on the experience, I see that I had a stock standard response to being subjected to physically challenging conditions.

Humans and other mammals have internal drives to survive. We don’t cope well when one of the five basic needs for life are not fully satisfied. When we have inadequate air, water, food or sleep or are subjected to extreme temperatures, there are predictable, reliable consequences.

Unmet physical needs

When the basic needs for life are not fully met, you can expect the following: You will be constantly thinking about what is missing - sleep, water, air, food or warmth/cooling. It will be hard to concentrate or think about anything else. There will be a powerful craving to satisfy the need (tiredness, thirst, hunger etc.) Until satisfied, the craving will be very uncomfortable. You may become irritable and self-centred. It will be hard to think about anyone else’s needs. When the need is finally met, more than a normal amount will be needed in order to feel satisfied.

Take a minute to think about this. Imagine being in a stuffy room where you feel there is inadequate air to breathe. What is the only thing you can think about? Fresh air of course! When you get into the fresh air, you’re gulping it up aren’t you?

Or picture yourself going on a day-long walk with no access to anything to drink. Enjoying the scenery? Or are you focusing on the dryness in your mouth and searching for relief?

Why do we expect it to be any different with unsatisfied hunger needs?

At the start of the New Year, I am again amazed to see and hear many people talking about calorie restricted dieting for weight loss.

Consequences of dieting

Weight loss dieting is about trying to eat less than you need, and keeping it up over a period of time. Dieters are meant to overpower or repress their hunger drive. Many are able to do this in the short term, but they will suffer significant side effects.

A description of a dieter from Kathy Kater’s Healthy Body Image: “A dieter is almost constantly thinking about food. When dieting, it is hard to concentrate on or think about anything else. There is a powerful craving for food, especially fast-energy foods like sweets and high-fat foods. Not satisfying hunger is very uncomfortable. It is not surprising that dieters may feel irritable and may think most about their own needs. (Do you agree with me that it is spectacularly dumb for companies to launch in-house “Biggest Loser” competitions in a drive to increase the health and productivity of their workforce?)

An enormous hunger is felt when a dieter stops dieting. This makes a dieter feel he or she cannot get enough food. It is normal to expect to rapidly eat a large amount of food when going off a diet - far more than a normal amount. Dieters may not know they are full until they feel stuffed. The longer and more often a dieter diets, the more overeating occurs. Dieting is one of the most common causes of overeating. After losing weight on a diet, most people regain the weight plus added kilograms. The more people diet, the harder they find it to tell when they are full and when they are still hungry. They may always feel hungry even if they are not. If they stop dieting long enough, they may get back their normal hunger sensor.”

But what if I have a real weight problem???!!

There are plenty of people that weigh more than they ought to and that are in poor physical shape. Wanting to “do something about it” is not a bad thing. There are many things that can be done. But please believe me: restricting the amount you eat to less than your body needs is not the answer. Weight regulation is NOT about the simple calculation of energy in energy out- that method backfires horribly for the reasons mentioned above. Figuring out what is interfering with an individual’s ability to regulate their eating and correcting that is a complex task that must address their habits, attitudes, beliefs and practices. It can be done!

Sound Bite

You can lose weight by “dieting” for a while, but you will be fighting against your nature the whole time Kathy Kater

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