Do you feel like this word, so lonely, isolated, sounds a little scary?
This is not strange, because somewhere deep in our genes, the need for survival is inviolable, and when a feeling of hunger appears, it means that survival is endangered. And the feeling is not pleasant at all. That is why we have the urge to eliminate hunger.
This was the case when food was difficult to obtain, hunger lasted for a long time, and the man did not know when he would have the opportunity to eat his next meal.
Today we are in a completely different situation. Food is available to us at all times, hunger is not long-lasting, so again, the thought of periods without food seems a little scary to us. This feeling is often encountered by people who are constantly on various diets, and this text refers primarily to them, but also to any person in whom the word hunger causes a pronounced repulsion.
Is there a good reason for that?
Is the hunger we feel always a sign that we are really hungry?
Is hunger only food?
When we find the answers, then hunger will seem less frightening.
And so, let’s get to know her from a different perspective.
Hunger as a natural signal of the organism
From the point of view of nutrition, hunger is defined as an unpleasant feeling of emptiness and short-term repeated unpleasant sensations in the stomach caused by rhythmic, tonic contractions of the stomach, and accompanied by a strong need for food. When and how it will manifest largely depends on hormonal activity. Hunger has its natural, biological function – it warns us that we need to eat the food on which our future life depends. Imagine that there is no feeling of hunger – we would indulge in daily activities completely ignoring the need for food, because there is no hunger to warn us about it, and that would not end well.
And under normal circumstances, everything is very simple. You are hungry. You eat. You are no longer hungry. Happy end.
However, it is a little more complicated than it seems.
There are situations in which you know that it makes no sense to be hungry at all, because you recently ate a decent portion of food, but you would still like to have a snack.
There are also situations in which you are not hungry at all, and you reach for food completely unconsciously, because, for example, you are bored.
And then, there are those moments when you eat a specific food immediately. You have a very strong urge.
And many other variants that start as a kind of hunger and end with food intake.
Predictable and unpredictable
This topic became interesting to me as I studied starvation. Then I noticed that the feeling of hunger is different from situation to situation and that the intensity of the feeling itself is different on different occasions. For example, if the diet is rich in processed carbohydrates, then the feeling of hunger will be stronger, more frequent and harder to resist. On the other hand, in a diet that is richer in proteins, fats and enough fiber, the sensation of hunger itself is different. The feeling of hunger is milder, it is less intense and easier to bear. Therefore, occasional starvation is compatible with the LCHF diet, because periods without food are easier to tolerate. It is very interesting how hunger manifests itself during starvation – it comes in waves, and then passes. And it really is, I tried. And you must have experienced that yourself – that you felt hungry in a situation, but you were in obligations, so you didn’t have time to eat. When the crowd passed, you just realized you weren’t hungry anymore.
What was even more fascinating to me was that many people who practice fasting reported that after 3.4 days the hunger stopped completely. Well, I didn’t try that, because my curiosity went the furthest until about 60 hours without food. The most important thing I learned from this experiment is that hunger is not the enemy and should be viewed with curiosity. Then some things start to change. Although what I am writing about now is not a post about starvation, but about hunger that occurs when the time is not right, this information can be interesting.
That is why it is good to look at hunger from several angles and get to know it. And when we start to get to know our hunger, its different forms and types, then we will know how to behave in each of those situations.
It takes effort, but it’s worth the effort.
Conditional need for food
Many experts claim that regular meals are a necessary component of a healthy diet. If everything is fine, if it suits someone, then ok. Nothing needs to change here. But if something is not right, then you should think, especially if larger amounts of food are taken in than necessary. Let’s say you’re used to eating at a specific time each day. Breakfast at 8 am, lunch at 1 pm and dinner at 7 pm, with possible snacks in between. And so you eat every day. Then it happens that you ate a large dinner the day before. Good company, good food, it was nice. However, tomorrow morning at 8 am you are still hungry. In fact, you’re not exactly hungry either, but you’re just used to eating at the time and you’re eating, even though you still haven’t honestly digested the food from the night before. And this is constantly repeated. Whether you are hungry or not, you continue to eat at a specific time, because then there is a need for food that is – learned, not real.
Or you may be used to watching popcorn movies. Somehow, your movie is not the same without popcorn, you feel that something is missing. Well, the moment you plan to watch a movie, popcorn immediately pops up in your mind and you think about buying or making them. There are many such stimuli that go hand in hand with food, so every time one of them appears, there is an unplanned hunger.
This type of hunger can easily deceive you, so you think you need food without it.
When you are really hungry, then any food will come in handy to satisfy your hunger. With emotional hunger, hunger occurs suddenly and is usually a specific type of food that you crave. In this case, guilt often occurs after eating, and these negative emotions can lead to even greater food intake. Here, too, we can have one type of conditioned behavior, because emotional eating occurs even when a specific type of food is associated with a certain emotion, so that emotion becomes a trigger for food intake. In addition, food can also distract from the inability to cope with some emotional conflict or anxiety.
Emotional eating can be learned in childhood. If a child is given sweets as a reward for good behavior, or ice cream when he is sad, then the child begins to associate this food with precisely defined emotions, so he transmits this pattern of behavior into adulthood.
How to understand hunger?
If you suspect that your hunger is caused by something other than natural, physiological hunger, the first step to discovering the cause is observation. Look at yourself from the side, as if it were another person. View your hunger as a sensation, without thinking, worrying or judging. When do you reach for food? Are there triggers? In which part of the body do you feel hunger: in the mouth? Stomach? In your head? Are you ever hungry at all or do you not allow hunger to occur with constant snacking? What does hunger look like and how do you feel when you are hungry? Is it unbearable? How much food do you eat when you are a little hungry, and how much is it when you are very hungry? Are you able to wait a bit or do you have to reach for food right away? How do you feel an hour after eating? And two hours after a meal? Do you “like” the feeling of hunger because it tells you that it will make it easier for you to lose weight? Do you deliberately and persistently expose yourself to that hunger in the form of exhausting diets?
Follow the signals your body sends you. How it responds to different types and amounts of food. When do you feel best? When do you feel bad? Why the bad feeling, the food itself that you find hard to digest, or the guilt?
And a few deeper questions that require an answer: what are you really hungry for? Love? Understandings? Touch? Tenderness? An honest conversation? Relaxation? Attention? A little free time?
Be curious and honest. When you look at yourself consciously like this, you will come across a lot of useful information that will help you make different decisions when you feel hungry again. It will also help you in choosing the food you eat because it will be easier for you to notice what you like and what you don’t like, what you are full of longing for, what you get hungry from quickly or which food is a problem for your digestion. Sometimes those decisions will be good, sometimes less good, and that shouldn’t discourage you, because you’re on a great way to learn how to listen to the most reliable nutritionist you can ask for advice – your own body.
If you recognize that it is conditioned hunger and notice the triggers, change something. If you eat too often and you don’t feel hungry, skip a meal. Watch what happens. Allow natural hunger to appear and learn to recognize and distinguish it from conditioned hunger. If you watch a movie with popcorn or some other snacks, drink tea instead. It will be a little strange at first, but if it is the tea you like, it can also turn into a habit that will please you. Be creative and think of “inedible” ways to combine two pleasures. Try to always eat at the table. So: not at the computer, in the car, on the couch, in bed or in front of the fridge.
If you suspect emotional hunger, be careful. Don’t blame yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat your child or best friend. Have understanding. Once you become aware of what is happening below the surface, when you see patterns that trigger this type of behavior, then it becomes clear that the main place of action is somewhere inside a person and that hunger or excessive food intake is just a symptom that sends a message that something is happening in the inner world. change. And it is not always easy to face that, because there is a fear of the unknown, of change and what change brings. Sometimes circumstances cannot change. However, the attitude towards these circumstances can always change and it is a place where each individual can return life to his hands, to finally put the helm he controls under control.
It is a process that requires time, but during that process, a person matures and grows.
When you gain important insights in this way, you will save years of some future unsuccessful diets and endless denials. You will learn to trust yourself, your body and what it tells you – when, how much and what food. Hunger from that perspective no longer looks terrible, because it becomes a messenger that indicates in which direction to go in order to reach important answers. When the answers are found, the attitude towards food is healed, which ceases to be a reward, punishment, or consolation, but an integral part of life with the purpose of feeding, nurturing and bringing pleasure.