why we shouldn’t be afraid of feeling hungry.

Man Eating Large Bowl of CerealI can remember so many instances where I worried about not having enough food. Not because I was lacking for it; in fact, I've always been very privileged to have never gone without food. And yet, my attitude towards it has always been one of panic and anxiety, that we might run out, that this might be the last time I eat for days, that the share between everyone needs to be exactly equal.

I've never - in the moment - put it in these kinds of terms, but in reflecting on how I grew up viewing food (and thankfully, how that view has changed), I have been able to identify the specific feeling I have always associated with eating.

Scarcity.

But why? There has always been enough, so why did I spend so long acting towards food like it was so rare? Perhaps it wasn't about the food at all. Perhaps it was about asserting control and feeling "worthy" of having whatever (and whatever quantity) I wanted.

The fear of there not being enough seems to have underscored many of my overeating episodes, particularly in groups... Have you ever (unconsciously) tried to go head-to-head with a guy twice your size just to make sure you were getting all that you could? To make sure it was all equitable? Have you ever felt obligated to "get your money's worth" at a buffet? We create a dangerous situation when we approach food from this place, rather than seeing it as a gift, a fuel, and (likely) something you will experience again soon.

Daily, with my clients or out in the world, I hear this same fear over and over. Fear that it will go away. Fear of missing out. Feeling afraid of being hungry.

Read that again. This is a fear of a sensation rooted in scarcity. I have been there. Incessantly planning and packing and stressing about when the next meal will happen, what it'll be, if it will be enough. I recall feelings of utter panic that "I might get hungry between classes" or "what if I'm hungry during that meeting?". This ultimately always led to snacking when I didn't really have an appetite or overdoing it at meals for fear I might not eat for days. Instead of allowing my body to experience a full cycle of digestion and detoxification, I was stockpiling preemptively, filling that panic and worry with food so I wouldn't have to experience a slight loss of control.

Of course, this kind of behavior just leads to less and less control as blood sugar becomes completely deregulated and we experience tremendous cravings to eat - all the time. These come not from hunger, but out of a misperception of signals. Have you noticed that eating constantly leads to more constant eating?

Hunger is not something to be feared; rather, it's a sign that our bodies are working well and utilizing fuel. If the above sounds familiar, challenge yourself to become a little uncomfortable. Be willing to engage with the sensations that occur between meals. Plan to eat three meals a day, don't snack in between, and see what the consequence of feeling that little twinge in your gut might be. Chances are, once blood sugar evens out and we stop experiencing what Dr. Fuhrman calls "toxic hunger", you will begin to feel the sensation of digestion (it feels like hunger, but it's a little different). Know that you will eat again (especially if you're planning well), and that the sensations between meals are your body making things happen. Observe it. Remark on it. Move on.

Tapping into this feeling has made a world of difference for me. I'm far more tuned into my reactions, my preferences, and my desire to eat. My clients have noticed this, too! Tapping into these signals means eating less often, needing less food to feel satisfied, and more fully enjoying meals. Turns out, we really don't need to eat constantly. Stay tuned for "The Case for 3 (not 6) Meals a Day". Start connecting to what your body really needs and see what else you can uncover.

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3 comments on “why we shouldn’t be afraid of feeling hungry.
  1. Andre Malan says:

    One of the most empowering experiences for me as far as food goes was the decision to go a day without eating at all. It’s amazing to watch your body as it gets hungry, then after a while just goes on with the day. The hunger cycles in and out, but you begin to realize that it’s just not as bad as you thought it was. In fact, the whole 36 hour fast was quite easy.

    Now I find myself much less likely to eat things that I am not supposed to if they are “the only thing around”. I just skip that meal and wait for the next one, knowing that my body can handle it.

    • amyheight says:

      Absolutely: if there really is NO good option around, eating garbage isn’t a necessarily better option. We so rarely let ourselves become hungry (such luxury!). Somehow, knowing we have the capacity to survive periodic hunger is empowering! (It’s also a good motivator to plan ahead and make sure we have good stuff on hand.) Thanks for sharing your experience, Andre! I know it’s been an adventure for you!

  2. Carolyn says:

    My anxiety about hunger began when I was in the 7th grade. I didn’t eat much for breakfast or lunch and when I got home from school, I would be starving. I came home to an empty house so I associated it with feelings of abandonment. When I did finally get to eat, I would wolf it down quickly and eat as much as I could because I didn’t know when I would eat again. This was more than 45 years ago and it still affects me to this day. Even though I have a steady and predictable supply of food now, I still get anxious when that gnawing feeling comes up.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "why we shouldn’t be afraid of feeling hungry."
  1. […] It was nice to have that moment of realization around food anxiety (something to continue to work on!), and great to recognize just how little fuel the body needs to survive. Obviously, we don’t wan to sustain low-calorie, liquid-only diets for long periods, but it’s one more reason we shouldn’t fear hunger.  […]

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