“I’m so hungry…there must me something wrong with me.”
“I’m so hungry…it makes me want things I shouldn’t eat.”
“I’m so hungry…it’s really sabotaging my weight loss.”
I have heard all of these statements, and variations of them, A LOT. The only one I rarely hear among the general population these days is, “I’m so hungry…I really must eat now.”
We’ve attached an enormous amount of guilt to eating and worse yet, to hunger. We think our hunger is to be distrusted, that there is something wrong with our bodies when we experience hunger, and that we must do everything to thwart our hunger: ignore it, fill it with unsatisfying air food, quench it with copious amounts of water or coffee or tea or zero calorie soda (or worse yet an ungodly “master cleanse” concoction of water, maple syrup, lemon and cayenne pepper. Cocktail of champions.). We see our hunger as a symptom of a broken internal system…and that we would only be thinner if this hunger thing would just go away.
Back in the day, when I started dieting, I thought it was just us fat people ruing our hunger in secret. It probably was people of all sizes but everyone had somehow decided to keep it to themselves. Now that everyone, simply everyone, must share the intimate details of their latest weight loss regimen so they can be deemed good and worthy citizens, we know all about it. And because we know all about it…we think it’s the right thing to do. Everyone is suspicious of their hunger…why aren’t you?
I’ve heard it from fat people trying to lose weight and thin people who are secretly terrified to put on weight…I’m so hungry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Well, as a very smart person once said on the internet, hunger doesn’t lie (Was it you that said this? Please take credit for it in the comments if so!). If you’re hungry, that’s your body telling you one thing: FEED ME!
It’s so basic, so obvious, you’d think we’d understand this. Even if, on an intellectual level, you didn’t know that hunger means “eat,” it kind of tells your body exactly what to do. If you were raised by wolves in the wilderness and never spoke a word of human, and you got hungry, your body would figure out what to do – it would directly you to eat. It would make even the most unappealing foods – raw badger, or whatever wolves eat – totally appealing. And then you’d eat and your life would be go on.
But back in the “civilized” world (where we are generally not being raised by wolves), not only do we instinctively know we should eat, we have all the science at our fingertips to know that hunger means EAT…and yet we resolve to not eat. Yay, civilized world.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that, at least in part, all this started from a collective sense of body dissatisfaction, the idea that our bodies are innately wrong and must be solved (brought to us by the people who have benefited in one way or another from the body insecurity of others). Then came the misinformation that we can not only solve our bodies, but that we should and we must! So if we think our bodies are a problem to be solved, and the solution is possible, and the solution is to eat less, and this means less than we are hungry for, then yes, of course you would learn to see your hunger as the enemy.
And I get it: if you are in one body but feel you should be in another body, you may indeed feel betrayed every time you feel that pang of hunger that tells you to eat just when your diet tells you not to.
But guess what we’ve finally figured out? Our bodies are not something to be solved, and the solution doesn’t even work for very long anyway. Upon starving to lose weight (because simple “lifestyle changes” didn’t accomplish the task), our bodies learn how to use energy more efficiently and store more as fat. They learn how to gain weight on the little we feed them while we are actively ignoring our hunger. You might be able to outrun your hunger indefinitely, but your body will take its revenge down the road, either in the form of weight gain or more intense hunger – take your pick.
To all of those who lament their hunger…your hunger is most likely not malfunctioning*. Your body is not broken. Consider honoring that hunger pang with some food that you love, or that makes you feel good. See what happens. Will you eat until you literally explode? Unlikely. Only the guy in Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life” ever did that but that was just mean, fat-shaming fiction.
It’s time to admit that the body has wisdom. The body decides its own weight, not the wishful-thinking part of the brain that is coerced daily by messages that profit from your body dissatisfaction. Make friends with your hunger, learn how to truly honor it, and it won’t lead you astray.
*Yes, there are some diseases and conditions that can cause excessive hunger. Most of us don’t have those diseases, and that’s not who I’m talking about.
Check out the latest Dietitians Unplugged podcast in which we discuss the misconception that intuitive eating is for weight loss.