Are You Hungry?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A few people have asked about health implications of this and if I’m hungry, so I’m going to write a little bit about the hunger part here, and hopefully will get to the health implications in a later post.

First, I’ll say that I’ve been much less hungry than I thought I would be. I was expecting the first couple of days to be really difficult, that I would really want to eat and it would be hard not to eat too much.

One of my concerns going into the project was that I would be so hungry that I would have to eat everything I bought every day just to get through the day. This would leave me with only a dollar each day, and no stored food to work with, which I knew was not going to work.

I knew that the only way this project would work would be if I could eat for less than a dollar in the beginning so I could build up a small pantry, then use my daily dollar to get fruits and vegetables and things that taste good to combine with the pantry staples. (This is in fact how I work normally, using an average of about $3 a day.)

I thought I’d be able to do that but wasn’t sure.

Fortunately, that’s pretty much how things have turned out so far.

If you read the California vegan people’s blog, you’ll note that they said they felt good the first few days — they actually felt lighter and had more energy. But they ran into trouble as the weeks wore on, and started feeling crabby and tired and run-down. And because they lacked energy, they stopped exercising, which Iikely made them feel even worse.

There are a number of differences between my project and theirs, but one of the biggest is that they ate exactly a dollar’s worth of food every day of the project. (They also ate things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and popcorn, which I think work fine on a $3 a day diet but not so well with $1 a day. With only a dollar, you need to maximize bulk, fiber, and nutrients with everything you eat. Certainly jelly would not be on my list of foods meeting those criteria.)

I am not eating exactly a dollar a day of food. I am eating an average of a dollar a day of food. So I could lowball it in the beginning in an effort to get to a place where I could eat actual meals.

Also I’ve continued to walk and bike — including biking to the stupid SuperTarget, which I realized after biking there two days in a row only seemed like a reasonable ride when I thought about it before the project started because usually when I would go over there I was already out running errands in that part of town so it wasn’t that much farther. To ride from my house to pick up a $0.24 can of tomato sauce is totally ridiculous. It’s like a 12-mile ride. So now I’m trying to manage the SuperTarget trips so I can go less often and get more while I’m there.

But I actually felt much better after my 12-mile bike ride last Monday.

I know that my body has at least 35,000 calories of stored energy in the form of fat available to it. (That’s nearly a month of energy just to work off what I’ve gained since September!) But when you limit your food intake, your body tends to become more efficient and work with fewer calories before it starts accessing its fat stores. (That’s why dieting alone doesn’t work to lose weight; you need to exercise as well.)

So I think exercising actually made my body more likely to dip into some of its stored fat, and that may be why I felt better and had more energy after my bike ride.

I’m not going to say I haven’t been hungry at all, because I have been, but it hasn’t been a crazy “oh my god I want to eat” kind of hunger. More like an undercurrent of hunger, mostly during the first five or six days.

The first weekend was bad because I had stuff going on both days and didn’t get meals at a regular time, so by the time I ate it was really late and I was really hungry. But since getting through the first week (through about Tuesday 2/17), I can honestly say that I’ve felt really good and haven’t really been hungry at all.

The other big difference between how I feel normally and how I’ve felt on the project, even on Saturday and Sunday, was that I didn’t expend hardly any psychic energy thinking about food. I knew what I had, I knew what I was going to eat, and that was that.

There were no internal debates about whether I should get something while I was out or wait until I got home, or get something from a vending machine to get me through, or any of those discussions my brain sometimes decides to have with me when I’m out working and I start to get hungry. It was actually kind of nice to not have to deal with that.

However this is primarily bcause I am doing a project where I said I’m only going to eat a dollar’s worth of food a day and I told everyone I know I was going to eat for a dollar a day and I started writing about it so everyone could see whether I could do it or not. (I am a very strong-willed person. If I decided to stand on my head for three weeks and told everyone I know I was going to stand on my head for three weeks and set up a web cam to record me standing on my head for three weeks, you can be sure that I would figure out some way to stand on my head for three weeks. And I’m sure everyone who knows me will attest to that.)

Also I was fully mentally prepared for hunger as part of this project for at least the first few days.

If I actually had no money and no food and no prospects of food or money in the foreseeable future, I would have spent a lot of psychic energy thinking about money and food and how to get money or food, and I would have felt very hungry.

And also — this is again where my project differs from the others — I’m not doing this to think about how other people would feel, or what this means to people who are subsisting on small amounts of food.

If I were, I would have been much more sensitive to my feelings of hunger, and I would have noted them, and possibly been upset by them. But because I was looking at the first week as a transition period that I needed to get through in order to get closer to where I wanted to be, it didn’t really bother me.

So what I’m saying is that, hunger, like beauty, is in the eye/stomach of the beholder.

It’s not really how hungry you are, it’s how you perceive your hunger. And that is going to depend on external circumstances as much as internal feelings.

So the short answer to the question of “Are you hungry?” is “No, I’m not.”

Thanks for asking.

10 Responses to “Are You Hungry?”

  1. Ellison Says:

    ok, this isn’t exactly related to the hunger thing, but it is related to the nutrition thing, especially the post from the How to Cook a Wolf book. I read a study when Sam started eating that if you put a variety of foods in front of a toddler, they will not eat a balanced meal. Nor will they even eat a balanced diet over the course of a day. However, given free choice, they will eat a perfectly balanced diet over the course of a week. Ok, it may be a month-I can’t remember exactly, but it was interesting because it was perfectly balanced. I found this totally fascinating, because what that means to me is that we probably know how to eat well and it is, as your excerpt pointed out, not really by eating the ‘balanced meal.’ I also love this study b/c it means I have no guilt about my kid eating whatever he wants as long as that particular item isn’t terribly bad for him and he always has a couple of choices. I figure he’ll take care of the rest. I haven’t figured out how to do this in my own life yet though. : )

    And I remember that Burl Ives song about the fox too-it seems so brutal now!

  2. lessisenough Says:

    Glad you remember the song too, you can join the sing-a-long with me and Ted and Sarah.

    I do think people make too much of being “balanced” and it’s been interesting having conversations on whether or not my current diet is “healthy”. I feel like it really is. But I was having a conversation today with a reporter from the New York Daily News (more on that later, I really need to get some work done tonight) and said that if I had been concerned about not losing weight on the project I would have structured it differently, so that I would be sure to get more calories every day. (Losing too much weight is hardly my biggest concern right now, so I didn’t want to design the project around that.)

    For instance, I would have started with a supply of baking supplies (oil, flour, sugar, eggs, etc.) so that I could make pancakes, muffins, biscuits, etc., and I would have determined the unit cost and charged myself $.15 for a cup of flour (or whatever) whenever I made something.

    So I was mentioning that and she said something about that not being healthy (baking, that is).

    So I guess it depends on your definition of healthy. If you think you need organic free range chicken and a lot of protein, and you think all carbs are bad — even homemade whole grain muffins — you probably wouldn’t consider my diet healthy. But I don’t feel like I need that to be healthy, and I feel like overall I’ve done a pretty good job.

    I’m definitely going to do the nutritional analysis when it’s done. This is probably the only chance I’ll have in my life that I’ll know EXACTLY what I ate for a full 30 days, including exact amounts. I don’t think I can pass that up.

    Just need to see who I can talk into helping me, I have a couple of ideas.

  3. juliet Says:


    Now I am worried about the free range toddlers from Ellison’s post. How many toddlers were used in the study? And where did they come from? The Daily News, huh, expect you will hit the AP wires soon, and get more calls soon. You touch a nerve with budget and nutition

  4. juliet Says:

    …am the media they know what they want to say before they start and will try to fit what you see into their story idea/hypothesis – it like a science experiment. Speaking of experiment I wonder how those toddlers arere.

  5. Ellison Says:

    just to clarify, as Becky would say-if you put twinkies and lollipops in front of toddlers along with peas they will not eat a well balanced diet-the point is that if they have a variety of healthy foods to choose from, they will balance the food groups themselves, just not at every meal or every day. The study was referenced in a book about kids 0-5 by Penelope Leach, but it’s at home so I’ll have to look it up later. The book is several years old, so I suspect the study is even older, but I brought it up to my pediatrician who pretty much said, yeah, put healthy food in front of your kid and then don’t get too worked up about specifics other than that. Ironically enough, most people recommend putting a few things from each group in front of kids and then just being ok with them not eating it, which I find is really wasteful. But there’s so many things about having kids that’s really wasteful!

  6. Paul Carpenter Says:

    OK, I read about this in the New York Post, which I have been reading instead of the New York Times, since the Times went up to $1.50.

    I was trying to get some clarification, and it looks like *somewhere* you have addressed my issue, but my question is this:

    The one dollar a day thing works for a while, but what is the cheapest *long-term sustainable* AND healthy diet in America today?

    I would assume a healthy diet would include things like copious amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, and these things are not cheap.

    Over what period would a diet of the grains that you ate in your article be healthy?

    Can you really eat nothing but rice and beans and oats for a year?

  7. lessisenough Says:

    I started with *nothing* to eat and only a dollar to work with, so the conditions of this project are highly artificial.

    The first week or so was grains and legumes because that was what I could get for that little money and not be totally hungry. On day three I bought a cabbage. Since the second week, I’ve been eating an orange almost every day, and this week I added spinach. As the project progresses, I expect to be increase the proportion of fruits and vegetables I’m eating.

    I’m not eating a huge amount of food, and I would not want to try to eat for a dollar a day indefinitely, but I eat for about $3 a day normally, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Obviously food prices vary widely in different regions in the country, but I would say that $3 a day is enough to eat very well, at least where I live.

    Also note that I will be performing a nutritional analysis of my food intake for the month at the end of the project, since I will know exactly what I ate and how much. I think it will be very interesting to see how that turns out.

  8. Paul Carpenter Says:

    Thank you very much for your response!

    Wow. Three dollars a day.

    You might be interested to note that here in New York City I spend about $20 a day on food. I think that is about average, or even a little under the average.

    But I do eat out every day. I live in a roommate situation, and it really is best to keep out of the kitchen (I find that tensions run quite high in roommate situations, and these are exacerbated by kitchen encounters), plus I live alone, so there is an extra value in going out to a “communal” meal in a restaurant.

    I will look foward to your nutritional analysis.

  9. Jesse Oliver Says:

    Hey, pretty amazing, very inspiring and wonderfully creative. Will read more soon and thank you for sharing your mission and success.

  10. Julie Says:

    Regardless, I am way impressed. So impressed I am going to try to do the same. I am feeding 4, not just myself. SO, I do have to consider the brats, I mean kids’ growth. BUT, I am going to work up a plan and see if I can make something work!

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