Friday, January 10, 2014

The Value of Hunger

I'm hungry right now. I had a reasonably sized and even (for me) healthy breakfast. (It included a banana!) I have a filling and balanced lunch planned in an hour or so. Yet at 10 a.m., I want to devour my entire kitchen. Not just eat a little snack, actually eat the entire contents of my fridge. And possibly the fridge itself. Maybe with some chocolate sauce. My body is yelling at me that it's starving. It's yelling -- really loudly! -- that it needs food now.

I always used to listen to my body when it yelled at me for food. It's uncomfortable and scary to feel hungry. Being hungry felt like I was hurting myself. It felt dangerous. A risk to life and health. Being full (even overly so) did not. So, when I was hungry, I ate. I ate until I was sure I was very full and not in any danger of being hungry again soon.

I ate until I was obese. I ate to run away from my hunger. I ate to run away from my fear.

When I made the decision to face my overeating, I had to face my hunger. There was no way for me to eat healthy portion sizes without ever feeling hungry, so I learned to incorporate hunger into my life. And I learned that it's ok for me to sit with my hunger and not act on it.

I am blessed to live in a time and in a nation where food is abundant. I am blessed to be able to afford to feed myself more than adequately. I am blessed with a fridge, freezer, and pantry overflowing with nutritious food to eat. I am blessed with good health care. I am in no danger of starvation or malnutrition. Like most Americans, I am in much greater danger of gorging myself to death on that abundant food. For me, hunger signals don't represent any real danger. If I don't immediately and completely satisfy my hunger, the only consequence is temporary discomfort. If I wait, like so many other cravings, my hunger often passes. (I haven't eaten lunch yet, but I'm less hungry now than when I started writing.)

Yet I found I hadn't wanted to live with that discomfort. I ate because I wanted to live a life that was perpetually happy. All ups. No downs. Having cravings meant satisfying them. More food would make me happy. New relationships would make me happy. More possessions would make me happy. Nicer possessions would make me happy. And they always do, briefly. But the cravings always come back, and then I'd have to buy or do or eat the next thing that's supposed to make me happy.

So, hunger becomes a meditation. Being hungry shows me the value in being right where I am. It shows me there's value in enjoying and feeling gratitude for this house I live in rather than spending more than we have to buy something bigger. And there's value in working through a disagreement with my husband rather than looking for someone else with whom I'll agree. And there's value in appreciating the reliable car I have rather than always looking for a shiny new one. There's value to finding my own center and being at peace myself, regardless of external circumstances. There's value to learning to live with the discomfort, grief, and pain that life will inevitably throw at me. All of that is the value of hunger.


  1. Wow, this really spoke to me. OK, I agree with every word you said but HOW do you avoid feeding the hunger? What exactly do you do? I can eat a decent lunch and then want to devour the house but once that irrational hunger starts, my rational brain is already gone. And so is all the food!

    1. The two words that come to mind are: practice and forgiveness. The best way to describe what I do is to treat it like meditation, practicing watching the feelings come up without acting on them and bringing my focus to something else. The more I practice the better I get at not acting. But if I do end up bingeing (as I still do), I forgive myself and move on. Of course, that's not universal advice, just an outlook that works for me personally. I think we each find our own way through the feelings in the way that's best for us. I wish you the best!