A Subconscious Fear of Famine and the Effect on Your Children?
The Famine Response
In 2012-14, there are still over 804 million people in the world who do not have enough food to eat – about 13.5% of populations in developing countries (4). Although enough food is produced to feed the world one and a half times over, there are many people all over the world who are starving, even in some of our own communities. The reasons are inequality and poverty, rather than scarcity of food (5).
On the flip side, for the first time in our evolutionary history, most of us are lucky to have a year-round abundance of food. But it was not always like this. If we take a look at the survival of animals, we can see how they adapt to seasons of scarcity by overeating and/or storing food. We did the same. It was the basis for our continuation as a race.
The brain itself has an inbuilt mechanism for making sure that we don’t starve. It doesn’t know that we have supermarkets we can go to when we run out of food. Our human genetics haven’t quite evolved to complement the availability of food we enjoy. When you are hungry, the brain will send overwhelming signals through your chemistry to get you to eat. Think for a moment. You know that feeling when you are really hungry and after waiting for a while, you finally get the opportunity to eat?
You’ve finished your meal in a flash
You realise that you hardly tasted it
You wish you had more
And sometimes you get more. Much more. More than you need.
Then you realise that you were out of control. And you were.
The unconscious mind runs many times faster than the conscious mind. It is your safety mechanism, your protection and your instincts working to get you out of all kinds of danger, including famine, and as quickly as possible.
The body doesn’t like to feel hunger. This is another reason why diets fail. When we go on a restrictive diet, the metabolism slows down by up to 40%, the transit of food slows down in the digestive tract to take out more nutrition from the food, and instead of providing us with energy, the calories are stored as fat (6).
What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.~ Carl Jung
And the more we diet, the worse it gets. So the more times our brain is aware of a lack of food, the more it will want you to overeat when food is available. It’s trying to protect you from starvation, and you are trying to take control of a 200,000-year-old instinct designed to look after you. That instinct is the reason you and your fellow human beings are still here! You don’t understand it, so you start to see it as your weakness. You punish yourself further by trying diets, plans and programmes whose advertising and shiny offers all seem to offer the solution. But as the hungry periods increase, the instinct just gets stronger and the binges more frequent. So consider now how that might affect your emotions. No wonder we struggle and we feel out of control!
A Family Famine
If the famine response is called upon regularly in a diet situation or if real long-term starvation is experienced, its power is strengthened and increased. Worse still, it is passed on to future generations with some of the same strength. This is how a lifetime of diets can affect your children.
During the winter of 1945, Hitler cut off food supplies to Holland and many thousands of people starved. Because of the famine response and a process called epigenetics, the children of then pregnant mothers went on to become obese, by having an increased appetite and ability to store energy as fat. During Mao’s Great Leap Forward in China, many starved. Epigenetic modification is thought to explain why the children of that generation are now obese in middle-age (6).
So it could be that our misunderstandings about dieting are making natural weight management more difficult for our children and grandchildren? Are we sending signals to our children, born or unborn, that this world holds the risk of famine? We have another reason to back off diets now. This is a force we cannot and should not reckon with.
What is the answer?
Well, fortunately, there is more than one.
All of the practices of this book have been included because they work with kindness on the unconscious mind. They have helped my brain to relax about the possibilities of me starving myself or making myself go hungry again. Some of them will work better for you than others because we have all had different journeys. Try them all, please. All of them are methods of self-care rather than self-harm. When we turn kindness on ourselves, all of our stress responses relax, including the famine response.