Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Feast or Famine?



Meet Callie, my canine love.

You could learn a lot from a dog about eating and appetite.

Well, not my dog. As many of you dog lovers know, you have a choice when it comes to feeding your pooch—you can go with regular meals or allow the dog to free feed, meaning she has constant access to food.

Callie’s on a meal plan—she eats two meals a day. She’s a healthy weight, but outside of mealtime, you’d think she was slowly starving to death. Luckily for her, the sidewalks of Manhattan provide ample opportunity for her to indulge her cravings. Despite my best efforts at leash control, Callie has dined on pizza, soft pretzels, French bread, and, on occasion, a whole chicken discarded outside a restaurant. She’ll even, outside the local bars, mop up vomit from the night before. I know, I must be so proud. . . .

If Callie were to free feed (and, at this point it may be too late, and I’m not really trying to cure her of an eating disorder), her food dish would remain full, and she’d graze throughout the day—a bite here, a nibble there, maybe even a full meal in the morning or after some rigorous play. Because the food would always be available, she wouldn’t feel the need to so desperately scavenge the sidewalk gutters. She’d follow her appetite, instead of relying on the external cues of mealtimes. She’d likely be less anxious and obsessive around food.

As a human, you may restrict your intake to designated mealtimes, and to certain foods at that (the hallmark of the diet). As a result, cravings develop and bingeing becomes your way of guaranteeing satisfaction within the realm of these restrictions. If you’re to remove the restrictions and free feed, the likelihood is (after some adjustment time), you’ll learn to follow your appetite, eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full. . . because you’ll know that the food will always be there, and you won’t have to scramble on the sidewalk to retrieve it.

13 comments:

PalmTreeChick said...

Good Point, drstacey.

I usually eat when I'm hungry (most of the time), but many times I'm not eating what I really want to be eating.

At night is really the only time I won't eat if I am hungry, which I know I should have something because your body goes into "starvation mode" when your sleeping because you're not eating for 8 hours.

(My cat tends to clean up her brother's puke, so don't feel too bad.)

:)

Haley-O said...

Doc, have you read Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch? It is all about eating when you're hungry and stopping when your full, and it explores the problems of food restrictions, dieting, "inner policing," etc.. I read it a long time ago and haven't forgotten it's lessons. I also saw it on my own prenatal/postpartum psychologist's bookshelf, so I think that means it's pretty reputable....(There's a link to it on my blog, by the way, if you want to get there easily; the other anti-diet book I have up there is The Seven Secrets of Slim People, which is also based on combatting dieting and encouraging the eat-when-your-hungry-stop-when-your-full idea, etc.).

From my cats I learned that what you eat does not necessarily determine your longevity.... I gave Simba the best food available, and he died at only 10 years old. Meanwhile, Miss Tigger was an outdoor cat and lived on Friskies for most of her life, and she's almost 12 and completely youthful and healthy. So, at least where food is concerned, I think it's the stress about food that can kill us, not any of those "bad" foods....I also learned this from an old lady in my building in university--she was still dancing and teaching dancing at 90 years old, and she lived on bacon and eggs and anything in a can....

Sorry to ramble on...!

ps22 said...

I agree. My family cat is now 16 years old (!) and she is teeny. She has always been able to free feed on her dry food all day and also has 2 meals/day of the wet, canned food - none of which she overeats. She's a little slower, but is otherwise as playful as the day she came home!

PTC - Does your hunger prevent you from falling asleep? I too get a bit hungry at night and its a tough call. I shouldn't fall asleep hungry, but have to be careful because it may wake me up in the middle of the night. My method and suggestion is to eat/drink something that will satiate you (I eat string cheese lately), without spiking your blood sugar (or being too heavy) so it won't disrupt your sleep cycle. Dr. Stacey - thoughts?

PalmTreeChick said...

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night starving, and can't wait til morning when I can eat. I hate that feeling when I am trying to sleep.

PalmTreeChick said...

By the way, Callie's a cutey!

Haley-O said...

Callie is soooo adorable. I just wanted to point out that these eat-when-your-hungry-stop-when-your-full philosophies can get dangerous, too....Because it IS okay to overeat now and then, and it IS okay to eat when you're not hungry. Intuitive Eating makes that clear, but The Seven Secrets of Slim People does not. Therefore, I much prefer Intuitive Eating. Just FYI.

caygraymomma said...

Interesting theory. How though do you account for those that do not have the ability to feel full? I have two cats that free feed. One is healthy weight and one is overweight. Is there not a n emotional and/or chemical tendancy within a portion of the population to overeat or is that more of an addiction to numb what ails?

Curious and your blog is quite interesting. It runs close to my subject line. Thanks, I'll be coming back.

drstaceyny said...

ps/PTC--I think you're right--a snack is the best way to go. If you're routinely waking up in the middle of the night from hunger (like PTC suggests), then it's possible you haven't eaten enough. I know some people are cautious about eating late at night. I can understand not wanting to overeat, but if you're hungry, I think it's important to listen to your body's signals--the same way you reach for water when thirsty and get up to go to the bathroom when you had to go. If you're prone to having difficulty sleeping after a large meal (I know I'm not!), then sticking with something small makes sense.

Haley--I will definitely read IE. Thanks for the rec. It sounds similar to the work of Geneen Roth, as well as the philosophy called Overcoming Overeating (Hirshman and Munter, who wrote the book by the same name), which I draw from quite frequently. You're right to be cautious about these methods, too--used rigidly, they become restrictive diets themselves! I think what constitutes a healthy eating philosophy is ultimately one that is flexible.

cgm--I'm not sure with cats, but with people, emotions play a huge role. In fact, if you're sitting down to eat for emotional reasons (i.e., you're not physiologically hungry), how do you know when to stop? Most ppl use food emotionally at some points, it's just that some (a lot) tend to use it frequently. I think the capacity to recognize biological "fullness" is lost when we're using food for emotional reasons. Babies know exactly when they're full. Thanks for stopping by. . .

allisonsky said...

Hi all,
I found this latest post by Dr. Stacey very humerous. However, my dog has been free fed since she was 6 weeks old,and is now 9 and a half. She is a smart one, she picks at her food throughout the day, a bite here a nibble there, knowing that the "goods" are coming later. She eats everything my kids drop on the floor, and now even get's up on the table when were not looking and eats right off our plates!!! I don't think she cares what we think anymore at all. And we can't forget her favorite desert, which she attempts to eat on her walk everynight......Duck Poop...... Then after everyone has gone to bed she slithers out of our room and eats the rest of what's in her bowl. Smart dog..... or Eating disorder???????

drstaceyny said...

Duck poop?!?! I'm going with smart dog--I'm sure she likes the human food more than her kibble. To make this a fair test, you'd have to allow her to free-feed on your food (which remains a forbidden fruit for her). (Not that I'm suggesting you do this!)

allisonsky said...

Dear Dr. Stacey,
Yup, you are right about the people food. However, I guess it is tooooooo late after 9 and a half years. But, that would make an excellent research paper. Get a puppy, leave food everywhere around the house, all the time, and see if the dog eats and pukes,over and over again. Or...... would the dog just eat when it was hungry. That sounds like a great study for your book. When are you getting your new puppy???? You could be famous. No one has done a study like that. You could get a litter, have a control group, etc. etc.....I defintely see an episode of this experiment on Oprah. This leads me to the next thought. If I had cookies, chocolate, ice cream, Starbucks coffee, and pizza available in my house all the time, would I know it was readily available and not want it as much????

Flowerchild said...

My great big white standard poodle has his IAMs food in his dish; the standard 4 cups a day. He nibbles throughout the day, here and there. He doesn't seem concerned with his food at all. When the end of the day comes, he has eaten most of it. However, if we leave the house or are out of his sight for an hour or so, he'll jump up on the counter or table and eat whatever he can. One time he ate uncooked rice out of the pantry. Another time, a dirty diaper out of the trash. Sometimes he will hide the food in a plant or under some dirty laundry. Once, a roommate of mine came home with a load of groceries and couldn't find the tortillas she thought she had bought. Gee, she said, I must have left them in the cart. A month later we found the tortillas hidden in the back of her closet, half eaten. My poodle has food issues. Or something.

Lina said...

I can relate to this analogy with respect to my eating disoder. If I restrict for a given period of time, consuming an ounce of food, especially chocolate will trigger an increasing appetite. This will usually manifest into a binge/purge cycle.