Note: Learn more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at www.AmIHungry.com.
Do you know how to be hungry?
For some people, this might seem like a trick question, since the pre-requisite is to know when you’re hungry, and not everyone can tell that. If you’ve been in the habit of eating for reasons that don’t have anything to do with needing food for energy, you may have enough fuel that those hunger symptoms simply never appear.
Even for people who recognize those signs, knowing how to be hungry is a different question, and it’s not one I’d thought much about until I read Passing for Thin by Frances Kuffel. Like me, she lost half her body weight, but she took a very different approach. She followed a very restrictive diet, with set amounts and types of food and how many times a day she could eat.
As a result, she commented at one point that she knew how to be hungry. It got me thinking about what that’s like.
On the one hand, I’m not an advocate of starving yourself to shed pounds. I remember too well how difficult it was when I became very restrictive toward the end of my weight-loss process. I fantasized about food, counting down the minutes until I allowed myself to eat again, distracting myself as best I could but not always being able to focus on what I was supposed to be doing. Looking back, I was a bit too extreme at that point.
Apart from that period, though, I have focused on hunger in moderation and discovered that it’s a good thing. It makes the food taste better, and it provides a much clearer sense of when you’re satisfied, having had enough to not be hungry anymore.
Knowing how to be hungry, to me, means that I can recognize the importance of that feeling. Instead of reaching for food the instant I notice the first signs – growling stomach, perhaps, or slight emptiness – I pause to sit with the feeling. I consider how hungry I am, and if I’m better served by waiting a little longer to eat. Most times I wait, accepting the slight hunger without fear. It’s simply part of me, part of the way my body works, and it may make me more focused.
And then when I eat, what joy! To have the physical as well as emotional satisfaction of the food is so much better than the ways I used to feel when eating. It makes me appreciate all the more the value of knowing how to be hungry.