To eat less is not a strategy to lose weight for many among us. It is survival. It is saving the food you would eat so your children can eat. And, in addition to the reality that this type of weight loss leads to weight gain, it is also a tragedy that hunger is all too present among us.
A few years ago I was in Chicago on a blustery Spring day to meet top executives of America's Second Harvest. Now called Feeding America it is a premiere resource to feed the hungry in America. According to the latest data, in the majority of states one in six kids is "food insecure" – parents don't know where their child's next meal is coming from.
Feeding America, and Ramona
Feeding America is the largest network of food banks in the nation. Receiving donated food from major food manufacturers and grocery store chains, as well as supporting scores of food drives, it feeds those who would otherwise go hungry. For many on food stamps, it supplements an otherwise meager cupboard.
I got a chance to talk to Ramona when I was in Feeding America’s conference room. She was a bright and cheery woman in her mid-forty's. She now worked at Feeding America, but she used to be one of it's recipients. Her story touched me deeply.
Back then Ramona was a single mother with three children, two of them pre-school age. She worked two jobs in South Chicago to support her family. Despite her mother's advanced diabetes, she would take the bus over to watch the kids while Ramona worked. On days when mom was too sick to come over, Ramona either had to skip work at her minimum wage jobs, or her oldest daughter had to stay home from second grade to watch the other two.
She spoke of a day when mom had a doctors appointment and couldn’t come over until noon. Her oldest was already in school, but Ramona needed cash so badly that she couldn’t afford to take any time off work. So her neighbor across the hall said she would "look in on the little ones". With no credit and no cash, to feed her kids Ramona felt she had no other choice. After all these years that wrenching decision still haunted her.
Ramona also took night classes working on her college degree in social work. It took her almost 12 years to get it done.
Starving to feed her kids
During this time, when the kids were still quite young, Ramona started getting extra food from the America's Second Harvest (now Feeding America) food bank in her area. Many days, especially at the end of the month, before her next paycheck and after the food stamps were all gone, her supermarket “shopping” consisted of whatever was available at the food bank. Once a month it was the only food they had. When the food wouldn’t stretch, she didn’t eat.
All during this conversation with me Ramona was very mater-of-fact. Her dark eyes would peer into mine as she wanted me to understand the great pride she had that her kids were now doing so well at school.
Shopping for food at a food bank
Then she said something surprising. Knowing my background, and why I was there, she said,"You know, starving so your kids can eat is the surest way I know to gain weight."
She explained how frequently her food stamps would run out about three weeks into the month, so she would go to the food bank. Sometimes the only food on the shelves were starchy boxed foods, or sugary cereals, or foods with high fat content. Healthy eating wasn't an option. Eating what was available was a necessity.
Then, when finally the food stamps came, feeling deprived and hungry, they sometimes ate more then they should. Fresh produce, she said, was their treat.
Ramona gained about 80 extra pounds in those lean years. Her kids had become overweight too. Now only a couple of years off food stamps, she had lost some of her extra weight, and was intent on losing the rest. One thing she knew for sure, "Not eating is the best way I know to gain weight," she repeated.
With her college degree, she went to work for Feeding America (then America's Second Harvest), with a passion for helping others eat. Her story and countless others like hers finally got the food producers and grocery stores to find ways to bring more fresh produce to the shelves of America's food banks. There is never enough, but at least there is a bit more to go around.
Eating less and healthy weight loss
Hopefully, as you read this, with frequent articles on this blog advocating you eat less to lower your weight, you don’t need to eat less just to feed your children.
But, there is a lot of truth to what Ramona said. Your body undergoes a lot of changes when you don't eat enough consistently. The “eating less” talked about here is not the same thing as starving yourself. (See previous post: Don’t Not Eat: Rule 5 to Control Your Appetite).
Your body needs a rich assortment of nutrients from a wide variety of sources. And the fresher that food is, the less processed it is, the better it is for your body.
When I talk about eating less here, it is about lowering the number of calories you consume, but not drastically. If you are overweight and cut 200-300 calories out of your daily diet, you will lose weight. Going from 2200 calories a day to 1900 is not about starving yourself.
When you consistently over eat by just a little, you gain a little, steadily. When you eat less regularly, you lose weight, steadily.
Eating less means making wise food choices. It is about being aware of not only what you put in your mouth, but how much.
Losing weight is a mindful choice. A choice you make one bite at a time.
Without credit or cash, eating less like Ramona could force you to control your appetite. If your situation is a bit better than that, controlling your appetite, eating less (in the right way), is a sure path to healthy weight loss.
PS: Ramona's story touched me. There are tens of thousands of others like her’s. And more every day. If you would like to help feed a family or two through their challenging times, donate to your local food bank, or contact Feeding America. Put fresh produce on someone’s table tonight.
How do you control your appetite?
Conclusion 16: Spend all your cash. Max out your credit cards.
How do you control your appetite?
Rule 17: Have Surgery
VP Programs Development, ScaleDown for Life
VP Education, GoZonkers Inc.
Founder, CelebrateLifeNutrition.com – Satisfy Your Hunger
©2009 Laura Gontchar. All Rights Reserved.