The Fullness Of Hunger

the fullness of hunger - image of female in white dress, lying on the ground with eyes closed

“I’m not hungry.” How many times I have said those three words? During my darkest days in my battle with anorexia, I was convinced that I never felt the sensation of hunger.

At least, my stomach didn’t growl. It didn’t feel empty. I never felt hunger pangs. 

Over the course of seven years, I rarely felt these typical hunger symptoms. So when my mom urged me to eat more at dinner, when my friends ate popcorn at the movies, when everyone else at the table ordered a burger and I ordered a salad–I felt sure I was making the right decision.

My stomach wasn’t growling, so my body couldn’t possibly need food. 

Of course, my head hurt all the time. I often felt dizzy. And I thought about food incessantly. But I wasn’t “actually hungry.” Right?

Through several years of nutritional counseling, I realized this mindset carried two mistaken assumptions:

#1: Being hungry is only expressed through a stomach growling.

#2: Not feeling hungry is nothing to worry about.

Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley developed a Hunger-Satiety Scale, which describes ten differing stages of being hungry. Ten indicates feelings of being extremely stuffed, to the point of nausea; the scale continues to the other extreme at one, which indicates total energy loss and lightheadedness.

The hunger pangs I thought indicated feeling hungry are five and four on the scale: “Starting to feel hungry. Stomach growling.” The middle of the scale. When I first read this, I was shocked. I thought my body was never hungry, since I didn’t experience “typical” hunger symptoms. Instead, the opposite was the case–I was constantly experiencing the most extreme hunger possible.

If your head aches and you can’t stop thinking about that peanut butter in the pantry and you almost pass out if you stand up too quickly, listen up–You. Are. Hungry. It doesn’t matter if your stomach isn’t grumbling. Your body is ravenous.

And what’s more, if you aren’t experiencing typical hunger and fullness cues, this doesn’t mean you’re superhuman. It means something is wrong. 

Fact Check

The body has an entire set of hormones dedicated to communication between the stomach and brain. Leptin, secreted by fat cells, decreases your hunger. Ghrelin, released by the stomach, increases it. Extreme dieting interferes with the normal process of hormone production and secretion that every human body should experience.

Robyn, registered dietitian, nurse practitioner, and author of the Real Life RD blog, says it this way: “Hunger is a good thing, it’s actually a sign of good hormonal health and regular hunger is a firm indication of metabolic efficiency. Having an appetite and consistent hunger should be something we are excited about.”

True Hunger Is A Gift

After years of headaches, lightheadedness, and not feeling hungery at times when everyone else did, true hunger is a gift. There is nothing like the sensation of being really hungry, enjoying an amazing meal at a Mexican restaurant, and feeling satisfied.

It’s pleasurable. It’s delicious. It’s human.

If you’ve spent months or years in yo-yo diets–if you’re ignoring normal hunger cues because you think being hungry is wrong–if you literally cannot stop obsessing about when you’re going to eat next…

Eat something.

You’ll feel full. Then, after a while, you’ll feel hungry again.

And it will be glorious.

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  1. says: Rachel

    I appreciate the information. Would love support or information also about how to understand body signal when you struggle with compulsive eating or always “feeling” hungry vs extreme hunger with anorexia. Thank you.

  2. says: dordle

    I’m struggling with compulsive eating and always “feeling” hungry, which is different from the intense hunger associated with anorexia, and I’d really appreciate any help or resources you can provide.

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