“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” – George Bernard Shaw
Are you hungry?
If you’re like most of us, the answer is definitely YES. Always. We wish to feel full, beautiful and happy at all times, and we envy these lucky bastards that are never hungry (though we suspect they’re only faking it to annoy us all). Yet, in reality, we’re always struggling. Food calls us everywhere, and our stomach calls it back, like two sweethearts who’ve been cruelly separated.
We eat too much, we eat the wrong food, and we feel guilty.
Then again, when we pay attention more closely to our physical sensations, we may find that we experience hunger even when our stomach actually feels full.
Weird, isn’t it?
When I, for example, started listening to my body (during a surprising class of Ayurvedic Medicine), I found that it wasn’t hunger that sent me to the fridge again and again. Instead, I was drawn to the fridge due to a variety of nasty hunger-imposters, like delicious temptations, peer pressure, or mere bad habits.
Luckily, food psychologist Brian Wansink agrees with me in Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think,
“Most of us don’t overeat because we’re hungry. We overeat because of family and friends, packages and plates…distractions and distances.”
Learning to know these sly enemies can help us expose their pretenses, and find out when we’re not really hungry. That way, we can reach the holy grail of the ever-hungry people: a constant feeling of fullness.
And the ideal weight and loads of envious admirers, obviously.
And all we have to do is to identify the pretenders and implement our defenses. A piece of cake.
Or, rather, no cake this time.
The Hunger Imposters
The worst villains are the ones who tempt us to start eating when we’re not really hungry. Here are the sneakiest, innocent-looking ones:
The Demanding Meal Hours
When I began investigating my hunger, I found that my head was programmed to feel hungry whenever I knew it was time for a meal. It didn’t matter what I ate before, or what my body truly felt.
Unfortunately, I found that in the mornings, it took me hours before I was actually hungry. If I ate when I was hungry, before noon, I became hungry again only in the afternoon, and two meals a day were enough for me. My hunger shamelessly ignored the meal hours altogether.
You can certainly see the problem. I wasn’t living in a bubble. I had to juggle my mealtimes between work hours, family meals, dinner events, and so on and so forth circumstances and limitations. Eating when I was really hungry became a real challenge.
But I didn’t want to eat when I wasn’t hungry, either. As Brian Wansink says,
“The tendency to use a clock to tell yourself when you’re hungry seems to be especially strong for people who are overweight.”
The solution to this epic problem, eventually, was trivial: skipping meals when I wasn’t hungry. It demanded me to take with me some snacks, like almonds, for the times when I was starving but couldn’t have a meal yet.
I had to think about my body in advance, which was a revolutionary concept for me.
Then again, learning to respect our body and care for it is definitely the name of the game.
The Obliging Shared Meals
Don’t get me wrong here, sharing meals is the best. You don’t have to fetch food all by yourself, and it’s a marvelous opportunity to meet the people you love. (Eating is also an excellent excuse to avoid the people you don’t love). Eating together is not only fun, but it’s also the easiest way to eat less. (Michael Pollan wrote it in Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, and he’s the one to know.)
Yet, irritatingly, a scheduled meal and your hunger don’t necessarily go together.
On the one hand, you have delicious food that smells wonderfully in front of you, your loved ones are all eating around you, and your nearest and dearest pleads you to try a dish made especially for you – who the hell can resist that?
No one, probably.
On the other hand, I believe that as humble as we naturally all are, prioritizing our health is crucial.
So it’s a real dilemma.
With no brilliant solutions.
I, for one, try in such cases not to eat much in advance, and get to the meal as hungry as a bear (though I usually feel more like an overstuffed teddy bear).
During the meal, I try to focus on drinks, soups, or salads (as well as the absorbing company, evidently).
Of the obligatory food made by easily-offended-relatives, I try to eat the bare minimum. (Although no one’s feelings should depend on my eating, I do my best to refrain from lecturing unsuspecting people.)
I try to cut my losses.
Not eating (much) in shared meals is a Herculean undertaking. Still, our full belly faithfully stands at our side, (our center, actually,) and reminds us to stand up to any inviting dish.
But then it’s time for desserts, and this is a totally different matter.
Some foods are just unfairly irresistible, no matter what. For many of us, it’s the sweet ones; for others, it’s the salty ones; and for most of us, it’s both, and many others.
Things worsen when we’re feeling down, when we’re cold, when we’re stressed (we always are), and generally when we have any of the innumerable reasons to need comfort.
Sadly, as our Brian Wansink writes,
“Moods…do seem to influence what we choose to eat. People in happy moods tended to prefer healthier foods… People in sad moods were much more likely to reach for ice cream, cookies, or a bag of potato chips.”
My sentiments exactly.
Unfortunately, as Michael Pollan states wisely,
“Food is a costly antidepressant.”
Therefore, it’s better for us to embrace our full-feeling belly, decline the enticing redundant dish, and find comfort in more effective and less depressing ways.
Avoiding too comfortable access to convenient unhealthy food can also be a great idea. (So great, that Brian Wansink details it in an entire book: Slim By Design: mindless eating solutions for everyday life).
But food, unfortunately, comforts more than discomfort.
The Horrible Boredom
Boredom is the close cousin of the bad mood. They’re both, apparently, the needy kids of the refrigerator, or so it seems.
I, for example, have always wanted biteable food. Even if my stomach was full and happy, my mouth was relentlessly hungry. As long as I listened to its complaints, I always needed something to chew. Eventually I realized I should never believe my bored cunning mouth, only my candid belly.
Another odd thing I found about myself was that when I felt I haven’t done anything interesting all day long, I craved salty food. I wish this empty feeling could present itself in a more inventive way, but regrettably the salty desire was its single unglamorous expression.
It worsened when I watched TV or read. These two activities (inactivities, actually) made me instantly feel hungry. Bad habits die hard, and for me, wretchedly, they entirely refuse to die. Years of munching in front of screens gang up against me and make me feel constantly hungry.
All I can do is choose between chewing-gum (which I hate), suffer silently (or loudly, more likely), or eat vegetables (which could be the reasonable solution, as we apparently can never have enough of them, but I don’t like them that much).
What I try not to do, however, is to surrender to my habits and eat in front of the TV. As our old friend Brian Wansink writes,
“The basic rule: distractions of all kinds make us eat…even when we’re not hungry.”
Bad news, indeed.
The Disguised Thirst
Another condition we idiotically mistake for hunger is dehydration.
I, for instance, want something sweet at the end of every meal, and in between meals, and every now and then, too. A little investigation revealed that when I crave something sweet, it’s usually because I feel thirsty. I have a serious drinking problem, I almost don’t drink because I hate drinking, so sweets-craving happens to me a lot.
But when I do drink, I no longer feel hungry. It’s like strange magic.
And all I have to do (apart from regular drinking) is listening to my full guts.
Our guts always know best.
Cherishing Your Truthful Body
We all want to be healthy and fit. (And gorgeous. And enviable.)
And more than that, we don’t want to feel hungry and needy all day long, day after day.
We all want to feel calm and satisfied.
And we can.
If only we’ll listen to our bodies.
If only we’ll examine our guts feeling to decide whether we’re hungry or not.
Eating according to your belly’s feelings becomes natural over time. Yet, in the beginning, you can just remember that if there’s any doubt whether you’re hungry, then there’s no doubt – you’re not. You can also use Michael Pollan’s “apple test – If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry.”
Our minds play tricks on us, but our full bellies always know better. As Jim Morrison said,
“The body tries to tell the truth. But, it’s usually too battered with rules to be heard, and bound with pretenses so it can hardly move. We cripple ourselves with lies.”
But now that we listen to our guts, we can look at these hunger-imposters in the eye.
We can identify them all: the need for comfort, the peer pressure, the boredom, the thirst, and the habits.
We can expose them, compassionately see what needs of ours they try to hide, and answer these needs efficiently. Without overeating.
Then, we can feel full and satisfied at all times.
We can be more peaceful and more respectful. To our bodies. To our souls. To others, our families, our friends, our world.
And all we have to do is pay attention to ourselves.
Checking one fit of hunger at a time.
Identifying one need at a time.
Giving it one relevant answer at a time.