Almost two years later, I can still remember how this hit like a gut punch when Deb Burgard said it to me during our interview for The Eating Instinct. When you’re steeped in diet culture, you learn to fear, avoid and ignore hunger at all costs. One woman I interviewed told me it took years to realize that the stomach aches she thought were proof of various food intolerances were actually just hunger pangs because she never let herself eat to satiation. And of course, patients who have weight loss surgery are initially thrilled, but often, soon disconcerted, to find that they no longer feel hunger as intensely as they once did.
But hunger is essential to human survival. That’s why babies feel it in the first hours of life. Erasing it is a strange and usually futile goal. Learning to trust your hunger leads to a much happier relationship with food.
This quote was on my mind today, because for a variety of scheduling reasons, it was 2pm before I got to lunch, and I was so hungry, I thought I might pass out. For a variety of other reasons, the quickest way to solve my hunger in that moment was to hit a fast food drive-thru. At another point in my life, this would have been a source of huge stress; what could I eat? How do I balance out that excess later? How gross should I feel? Should I have “held out” until I could eat something healthier? Do I now say eff it and eat everything around for the rest of the day/week?
Today, I got lunch, I ate lunch, I got back to work. Experiencing my hunger so strongly when I didn’t really have time to deal with it was sort of annoying, tbh. But trusting those signals, instead of feeling ashamed and guilty about them, meant I could give my body what it needed (food!) and move on with my life.
The research shows that hunger only gets “out of control” when we’ve tried to ignore and deny it for too long. That’s not a failing or a design flaw — that’s your body keeping you alive. Never experiencing hunger is not the goal, for any body.
Read more in Chapter 6 of The Eating Instinct.