How do you view hunger? As a weakness? Like something is wrong with you? Do you fear it? Does it make you feel anxious? Have you ever tried to quiet it with appetite suppressants, coffee, pop, or gum? Ever put it off for so long that you became ravenous?
Hunger is the topic of many conversations I have with my clients. A lot of people come to me fearing hunger and even food, for that matter. We live in a diet-centric culture that teaches us eating, food, and hunger are enemies. Diet books, media, and social circles have brainwashed us into thinking that these things will cause us to become overweight or have caused our weight problems. When we buy into the notion that food is the enemy, we begin to do everything in our power to deny ourselves of it even if that means disregarding biological signals from our body that it is need of energy. Instead, we take on the many external suggestions that we should be eating low-calorie, restricting portions, and removing certain macronutrients from our diets. We all know how that story ends–in cravings, binges, stuffing, guilt, and emotional cycles.
Your body is smart; it is intelligently designed. You have built-in response-mechanisms that clue your brain into knowing what your body needs physiologically. Hunger is one of them. Your body is constantly working to power you through the day. Just like a car runs on gas, your body runs on food. If your car starts to get low on gas, a gas light comes on warning you that it is about to peter out. Hunger is very similar to your car’s gas light; it is your body’s way of warning you that if it doesn’t get fuel it is going to peter out. Have you ever felt the symptoms of this–emptiness in your stomach, grumbling of your stomach, headaches, irritability, lack of concentration, or nausea?
How do you respond to your internal gas light coming on? Many people ignore their body’s signals and base food choices and eating patterns off of the latest diet trends vs. what their body is trying to communicate with them. It doesn’t make sense that we ignore these innate hunger signals. You can only operate for so long by going against the natural rhythm of what your body needs.
Let’s break this cycle. Let’s get real about hunger, food, and eating for a moment…
Eating is a basic human need–it is actually part of the the first need on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs works on the premise that people must fulfill one level of need before they can fulfill the next. The very first, most basic level, is physiological. It includes water, sleep, excretion, food, and more. Let’s think about it–when you experience thirst is that not a signal you need water? When you experience tiredness is that not a signal you need sleep? When you experience run-t0-the-bathroom stomach pains is that not a signal you need to excrete waste? If we can all agree on those signals, why would we not agree that hunger is a signal your body is in need of food?
As a society, we need to shed the old mindset of “food makes us fat” and start viewing food as the life-giving source of energy that it is. It isn’t easy to let go of old mindsets but it is worth it to experience the freedom that comes with it. We must embrace our basic instinct of hunger instead of running from it. Once you meet all of your physiological needs you will be able to move up Maslow’s Hierarchy and focus your attention on higher-level needs like friendship, family, intimacy, self-confidence, achievement, creativity, and more.
As you work to adopt a new mindset and create new hunger-response habits keep in mind the following:
Hunger is an important signal from your body that it is in need of fuel (food).
Food is your friend, not your enemy.
It is completely normal to experience different levels of hunger day to day. Your hunger depends on metabolism, how much energy you have expended, time of the month, and more. The hunger you experience is directly proportional to the physiological needs of your body.
Do not compare your hunger to someone else’s. You are a unique individual with unique physiological needs.
Only you know what foods fuel your body best.
When you find peace with your body, it’s hunger signals, and food, you will find joy. You will be able to shed old diet mentalities that enslave you to portion sizes, outlined macronutrient guidelines, and scheduled eating patterns. You will find freedom. You will be able to focus your attention on higher needs and feel fulfilled on a deeper, more passionate level.