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How to Be Hungry

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, but 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.

Being hungry isn’t the same as starving

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 too extreme at that point.

Apart from that, though, I’ve focused on hunger in moderation and discovered that it’s a good thing. It makes the food taste better, and it gives you a much clearer sense of when you’re satisfied since you’ve had enough to not be hungry anymore.

Tips for how to be hungry

Knowing how to be hungry, to me, means that I can recognize the importance of that feeling and be okay feeling it, at least to an extent.

If you’re feeling the first signs of hunger – perhaps a growling stomach or slight sense of emptiness – here are a few things to try instead of automatically reaching for food:

  • Pause to sit with the feeling

  • Recognize hunger as a natural feeling, not something to be afraid of

  • Consider how hungry you are

  • Think about when you’ll have a chance to eat again (for example, are you about to go into a long work meeting or be otherwise engaged in something that would make it difficult to eat)

  • Decide if it would serve you better to wait a little longer to eat

If you’re very hungry, it certainly makes sense to eat. Even if you’re only a little hungry but won’t be able to break for food again for quite a while, you may want to have a snack.

But if you can wait to eat a bit longer, you might find that it’s a better choice. Then you’ll appreciate your food all the more when you eat, which is usually what happens with me.

Don’t fear being hungry

For many of us who’ve tried lots of diets and restricted ourselves far too many times, it’s easy to think of hunger as something bad and scary.

But it’s not, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Hunger is simply your body’s way of alerting you that it needs something, kind of like an internal alarm clock going off. You can hit snooze a time or two, and it will be okay – just don’t tune it out altogether, or you’ll end up getting too hungry.

And when you wait to eat until you’re truly hungry (not just peckish), you may find that the food tastes even better than you remembered, and you’ll enjoy it even more.


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