What You Need To Know About Hunger

blurred image of female sitting in front of a plate, holding chopsticks with one hand and some food to her mouth with the other; for article on what you need to know about hunger


I’ve studied my hunger from every angle. I know its moods, preferences, and quirks. Like an abusive parent, I’ve neglected my hunger’s desperate pleas and turned my back when it silently screamed for attention. This monster I called hunger has struck back with headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness. No matter how willfully I rejected or abandoned it, hunger always came back, begging, asking for more. Hunger ate at me, gnawed at my insides, hollowed out my eyes, drained my brain, emptied me out. No amount of shrinking could stifle this maddening hunger of mine.

I know a lot about hunger

I wrote this passage in a journal years back. Since that dark time, I’ve worked very hard to renegotiate my relationship with hunger by letting go of the conditions I placed upon it. This process has been one of give and take, push and pull. If I am completely honest with myself (and you), it’s still a process from time to time. Yet, I’ve had some significant insights along the way that have helped me to be kinder to my hunger, and by extension, my body, mind, and spirit.

One thing I know about hunger:

Perhaps the most profound insight I had is that hunger is unconditional. The dictionary defines unconditional as “not limited by conditions; absolute” For example, the common phrase “unconditional love” means affection with no limits or conditions; complete love.

I was trapped in beliefs about hunger that were the exact opposite of unconditional. I was convinced hunger was a punishment. To control my fear of hunger’s punishing demands and pangs, I created countless rules and constructed strict conditions to keep me “in line.”

Looking back, the rules and restrictions were what was maddening, not my hunger.

Learning how to unconditionally trust my hunger is an active and ongoing process (and maybe always will be).

I share with you a few of the profoundly significant lessons I’ve learned about respecting my hunger.

Hunger can’t tell time

No matter how firmly you believe you must only eat when the clock strikes certain hours, hunger is an organic sensation. Placing conditions on when the organic sensation of hunger arrives is ultimately impossible and unrealistic. It only sets us up for agony and suffering.

Hunger has no rules

For someone like me, who lived by extremely strict rules about food and hunger in the past, it’s powerfully eye opening to trust that hunger has no rules.

Hunger just wants to be satiated, attended to, and respected.

Hunger isn’t a crisis

More times than I care to admit, hunger has felt like a crisis, inducing panic, uncertainty, and extreme emotional swings. Watching others (especially my daughters) have fun with food has helped me to lighten up at meals. And not take my hunger or the food I put in my mouth so seriously.

Hunger always returns

It’s inevitable that fullness fades and hunger returns. Always. No matter how much power we fool ourselves into believing we have over our hunger, it always comes back because it is supposed to. We can numb, but eventually hunger will return unconditionally, and we must deal with feeding ourselves.

Hunger is NOT the enemy

This is probably the most profound lesson of all. For many, many years, hunger was my most threatening enemy. It inspired fear, confusion, and self-doubt.

My girls have been excellent role models, demonstrating how hunger is simply just hunger. An organic sensation that simply needs to be satiated. When they feel hunger, they ask for food. There’s no debating or arguing with themselves about whether they are actually hungry or not. They don’t try to ignore or pacify their hunger. Nor do they curse it, wrestle with it, or endlessly suffer to ignore it.

My daughters have taught me that hunger is not out to get me or fatten me.

It’s not lurking, waiting to pounce on me. It has no agenda. It’s unconditional. Neutral.

Hunger is not the enemy.

The eating disorder beliefs, rules, and conditions about hunger were the real enemy.

Coming to terms with our hunger and other aspects of recovery that are frightening and challenging is extremely hard work. But it is not impossible. One small insight can lead to a series of shifts that sets us up for new patterns, approaches, and mindsets.

What keeps you feeling stuck?

I encourage you to vigilantly and diligently study your hunger or whatever “thing” keeps you feeling stuck. Look at it from every angle and understand the self-imposed rules or conditions that are pinning you down. I can only guess that your insights from this reflection will be profound.

Once we come out from underneath the eating disorder rules, we have room to breathe and be.

At this point, we can be renewed in our recovery and energized to keep pushing forward.

I sign off by wishing you unconditional peace as you continue your journey.

Image: @peterhershey

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