Recently I’ve had a couple of days where I’ve felt like the Very Hungry Caterpillar.
In case you’re not familiar with it, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a kid’s book by Eric Carle that describes a caterpillar who can’t stop eating. He starts off modestly, but each day of the week he eats more and more.
Finally, on Saturday, he eats through a ton of food. Remember, this is a tiny caterpillar who eats through chocolate cake, ice cream, a pickle, a slice of Swiss cheese, a piece of salami, a lollipop, a piece of cherry pie, a sausage, a cupcake, and a slice of watermelon.
No wonder he gets a stomachache! (For fun, you can also watch an animated version of the story.)
My own very hungry eating
Now, relative to my body size, I probably didn’t eat as much. But still, on some days I can eat a lot.
For example, the Friday that I went camping, this is what I remember eating (I might have had even more that I don’t remember):
A banana shortly after getting up
Breakfast of 3 turkey breakfast sausages and some homefries
Immediate post-breakfast snack of some almonds, probably half a cup of trail mix, and a Luna bar
Lunch of some pepperoni, sugar snap peas, carrots, grapes, chips, and dessert of toasted marshmallows
Snack of a couple of small peaches
Dinner of black mustard chicken, a little rice, more chips, 2 chocolate chip cookies, more veggies, and an apple
Post-dinner snack of a few more almonds and chips plus a Luna bar
I did not, though, follow up by spinning a cocoon so I could turn into a butterfly. Nor did I get a stomachache or feel like I had overeaten.
In that case, I could say that I needed all the food because I was hiking, which is true. But then this past week I ate similar amounts one day for no reason except I was hungry.
I often find it difficult on those occasions of extreme hunger. I feel like I shouldn’t need all that food.
I think about people who don’t have enough to eat. What would I do if I didn’t have access to the food when I needed it? Of course, this doesn’t mean I should force myself to be hungry, but I do sometimes feel a little guilty.
In those cases, it can help to remember the caterpillar, and what hunger means.
Extra energy needed
In the case of the caterpillar, he needed all the food to prepare for his transformation to a butterfly. He didn’t know that’s why he was eating. He just knew that he needed to eat and eat and eat.
I can’t say that my own hunger is because I was getting ready to transform. What I can say is that if I was that hungry, it’s because my body needed the fuel for something important.
Sometimes, you need to give yourself time to digest and let the fullness signals catch up to your brain. I know this, but sometimes, I still don’t get those fullness signals after waiting a while.
The other indication for me that I do in fact need to eat more is if I have extreme fatigue with no other explanation. It’s my body’s way of telling me it doesn’t have enough fuel so I just need to stop or slow down.
When I let myself eat what I need, though, I’m able to focus again and get back to doing whatever I need to.
Ignoring the shoulds and trusting yourself
The hardest part for me is something the caterpillar didn’t have: a little voice saying I couldn’t possibly need so much food.
I’m not a big person. I’m only five feet tall, and I’m not covered with muscles. Nor do I typically have a particularly high metabolism.
And on most days, it’s true that I don’t need nearly as much food as I eat on those super hungry days.
But this is the funny thing about hunger. It doesn’t always have a rhythm or a reason you can understand. You simply have to trust what your body is telling you and give it what it needs. Sometimes that’s more food, sometimes that’s less.
It’s also funny because in earlier days, I probably would have loved this feeling of being able to eat and eat without getting too stuffed. But these days it can be more annoying than anything. I’m the one buying and preparing the food, after all, and the time and money add up.
At least it doesn’t happen all the time, and I’ve gotten better about rolling with it when it does.
Have you ever had this situation, where you’re hungrier than you expect? It doesn’t have to be as hungry as the caterpillar, just more than you’re used to.
If you have, or if this happens in the future, it’s also important to remember not to judge yourself. Diet mentality can make it very easy to be negative about eating lots of food.
But even if you ate a lot and weren’t hungry, judging doesn’t help – and it especially doesn’t help if your body truly needed the food.
If you’ve experienced this, I’d love to hear about it, and how you approached it. And if not, you can simply enjoy the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar - and the very hungry Erica.