Yesterday we talked about the cues our body gives us to let us know when we are hungry. Your cues may be slightly different from mine, but that just means you’ll have to figure out how your body communicates with you. Let this be a time of discovery and try not to stress when you misread your signals… and you will misread them from time to time. It’s important to accept this as part of the learning process.
So, today we’re going to begin to address hunger confusion. I say “begin” because there is simply too much information to put into one post. I really don’t want to overwhelm us, so I’m building in some natural “stops” so we can walk away and think about things in smaller amounts. Plus, this gives me the opportunity to research and focus on one aspect at a time. Afterall, I’m learning too. Let’s get to it, shall we?
I’ll admit, I knew I used food to “numb out” at times, but I had no idea how confused I was about my body’s signals. What causes this confusion? Well, that’s a really good question. It could be any number of things. We will have to be open to discovering what is at the root of the confusion. As you move through this series, and begin asking yourself questions regarding your hunger, I’m sure you’ll discover your personal explanations for your confusions. Some of these explanations may be painful to recount, taking a while to process. Then others may be ridiculously simple and easily overcome by seeing it for what it is.
I mentioned headaches yesterday, so I’ll use them as an example. When I was a kid, I frequently got headaches. Sometimes I would tell my mom, and sometimes I wouldn’t. Usually when I would mention I had a headache, I remember my mom saying, “Oh, you’re probably hungry.” Now, it is very likely that I was hungry those times. I mean, my mom probably knew I hadn’t eaten for several hours (a kid gets busy playing ya know). Unfortunately, to this little kid who didn’t have the full perspective, I translated that to, “If you have a headache, you are hungry”. Kids tend to think in black and white terms. I cannot even begin to fathom the number of non-hunger related eating episodes I’ve probably had as a result of believing my headaches were hunger signals. As it turns out, I can get headaches for several reasons, but generally it isn’t because I’m hungry (unless I’m dieting and totally ignoring my hunger signals).
This is just one example of how we can get our signals crossed. I’ll go more into food related headaches later, but you can see how some of our confusion may go back to when we were kids and didn’t fully understand the reasoning behind what adults were saying to us. Maybe I’m the only kid on the planet who has carried stuff with her as a result of “kid logic”, but I highly doubt it. As you begin to recognize these distorted perspective beliefs, you’ll find some freedom just in the realization of them. Still, it may not be easy to identify in the moment when all you want to do is “fix” the problem (in this case, the headache).
Even if you’ve established that you aren’t physically hungry, you may be confused about what exactly you are experiencing and why it is triggering your desire for food. I’ve read a number of resources that detail out all the possible reasons you might eat other than for hunger, but I think I like the list from The Thin Woman’s Brain, by Dilia Suriel.
Now, before I go on, I will warn that if you struggle heavily with diet mentality* at this point, this is not a book to read. It could be very triggering for someone who hasn’t fully dealt with the diet noise in her head. I found the entire section about food addiction to be somewhat out of place and even a bit tiresome. I didn’t care for the fact that she repeatedly called us “food addicts” and I didn’t like the overall structure of the book.
Anyway, I bought the book for the information about rewiring the brain, which was really very fascinating. In fact, I’m looking for another book on that topic (without all of the food addict stuff). I did like her descriptions of situations that may prompt us to eat when we aren’t hungry. I believe these situations prompt this behavior because we’ve confused situational hunger with physical hunger, and not because we are “food addicts” as she suggests. We just use food instead of some other coping mechanism due to learned helplessness. Of course, feel free to make up your own mind on the matter. I may just be splitting hairs because I do not believe I’m addicted to food.
The bottom line is that we all experience hunger for things other than food and drink. The problem is when we get these hungers confused and try to meet those needs with food. In the coming posts, we are going to take a hard look at what Suriel calls “situational hunger” (Spinardi calls it “non-hunger directed eating”, Roth says “feeding the hungry heart”) so we can identify it and stop confusing it with true physical hunger.
Until then, just keep listening for your body’s true hunger signals. How you react to them isn’t that important right now, just practice recognizing them for the time being.
*If you are still struggling mightily with diet mentality, please address that first before continuing through this series. Having your mind free of the noise will free up brain power to learn hunger identification.
I used to think that every time I had a stomach ache, food would make it better. I don’t know where I got this idea from, but it wasn’t until recently that I figured out that if my stomach is upset, food is probably not going to help! It was one of those “d’oh!” moments for me. 🙂
Once I read in Josie’s book that hunger isn’t an evil beast and it’s just a signal, it was so much easier for me to recognize and deal with hunger. Also, I often tell myself “if I’m not sure if I’m hungry, then I’m probably not” and I just wait until I’m very sure.
This is a great series and I look forward to hearing more!
Oh my gosh, I had the same reaction to stomach aches. Now I know it just makes me feel worse. Listening to our bodies really works.
I like Josie’s book too. It has been really helpful on so many levels.
Thanks so much for going through this series with me! It’s nice knowing I’m not alone in it.
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I assume you are on a routine with your family…. 3 meals a day.. snacks…desert.. and I wonder how the intuitive eating works with that. With 3 children at 3 very different ages… a husband that works opposite I do many evenings a week…. I find it challenging sometimes.
Sure, sometimes I get sucked into eating when everyone else is, but we are trying to emphasize “eat when you’re hungry” – even with the kids. Sometimes that means we all eat at the same time, and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t necessarily adhere to set eating times anymore. And if I want dessert, I have it. Geneen Roth’s book really helped me realize that it’s ok not to eat by the clock. There have been times when I sat at the table with my family with a glass of water because I wasn’t hungry (either I ate before them or after). It felt weird at first, but tapping into my hunger cues means I eat when MY body is hungry, not when the clock says it’s time for lunch. I’ve found that it’s actually easier when I’m eating alone. All of my kids are able to prepare food for themselves. I post a list of meal possibilities on the fridge. Whatever is chosen for that day is for everyone to eat when they want. They each have a night they prepare dinner, but that doesn’t mean we all eat at the same time. There’s just a set time it needs to be ready by and when you are hungry, you can eat. Generally we’re all pretty hungry by six, but that isn’t always the case. Lunch is usually a “fix your own lunch” sort of thing and we eat when we want. Breakfast is also individual. Snacks happen whenever. I keep fruit and veggies and oatmeal in the house. Those are the one thing they never have to ask permission to have for a snack. If they want something else, they need to clear it with me in case I have it marked for another meal. For a couple of months we did individual desserts too. I would ask what they wanted for dessert between grocery visits. Each person would pick something and I would buy them one to two weeks worth of it. They could have that anytime they were in the mood. What I discovered is that they were turning to the fruit more, even with their little stockpiles of candy, cupcakes…etc. Anyway, it’s a work in progress. We just let it be what it will be and it works most days.