I hate being hungry. I think most people do. It’s a feeling that’s hard to ignore. Sometimes when I’m really, really hungry, I get angry too. (Ever heard of “hangry”?) I try to remember to pack a baggie of almonds everywhere I go so as not to cause bodily harm to others.
Anyone who’s ever been on a diet or tried to lose weight has come up against hunger. Hunger is something you might think you have to control or trick. You can try to control it by eating proper proportions of macronutrients (protein and fat will make you feel full) and by eating at regular intervals. You can try to trick it by drinking a glass of water or distracting yourself by doing chores. Do these strategies work? Maybe for a while. But it’s not easy to fight hunger day in and day out. Perhaps it’s time to step back and take a look at our relationship with hunger.
Firstly, what is hunger? It’s your body telling you something: to eat more. Is that necessarily bad? I can think of two reasons why it would do that. The more obvious one is that you haven’t eaten enough calories to meet its needs. Your body doesn’t like it when you severely under-eat, especially when the demands put on it are high. You’ve probably heard of “starvation mode.” Chronic under-eating will cause your body to lower its metabolic rate in order to hang on to the limited calories you’re putting into it. Hunger is a helpful signal that you’d better eat soon or starvation mode will kick in. It’s okay to skip a meal every now and again but relentless caloric restriction will most definitely do damage to your metabolism, damage that your body might not ever be able to repair.
The less obvious reason why hunger nags at you is that your body is looking for something that’s missing. The issue is not that you’re not getting enough calories; it’s that you’re not getting enough essential vitamins and minerals. (This often happens when people fall into “food ruts” and eat the same foods over and over again. Spinach salad with chicken breast, anyone? Eating a wide array of foods and managing stress are ways of making sure your body has adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Think of it this way: a hungry body is a seeking body. Perhaps we should listen to our bodies’ signals instead of ignoring them. We often treat our bodies like they’re stupid. But they’re always acting in our best interest to help us and doing the best with what we put into them. True hunger is not something to be pushed aside; it’s something we should honour.