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Let’s talk about hunger for a second.
Hunger can teach us a lot about ourselves, if we take the time to listen. But the second it starts to speak to us, we shut it up with food, instead of actually listening.
We live in a culture of people who love instant gratification. If we want it, we need it, and we need it now. Online shopping: we want it overnight. Heck, even later today. Post a picture: where are my likes? Weight loss: I want to see results the next day.
That need for instant gratification has ruined our perception of hunger, and how we react to it.
We can’t stand discomfort. We don’t want to feel it, we don’t want to sit with it, we just want it to go away. Food is emotional: it makes us feel good, full, and satisfied. That’s why it’s so easy to mistake so many feelings for hunger, and eating can become a way for us to make ourselves feel better, no matter what the cause of our discomfort.
The mistake many of us make is that we take hunger as an emergency signal. Once that belly grumbles, or you even start to think about food, it’s a 5-alarm, drop-everything, I-need-to-eat-and-I-need-to-eat-now compulsion.
Hunger is supposed to be a nudge. It’s a signal your body gives you when it’s imporant to start thinking about where your next meal will come from. Hunger is like a yawn. A yawn signals, “Oh, hey, I’m starting to get tired,” not “I need to drop everything right now and go to sleep, right here on the sidewalk.” And when it comes to hunger, sometimes it isn’t hunger at all but a craving. Much of the time, what we think is hunger actually isn’t, but instead of trying to figure out whether we are truly hungry or just craving something, we eat. And eat. And when that doesn’t work, and we don’t feel satisfied, we eat some more.
You might be hungry, and if you are, eat. Or you might be thirsty. Or you might be mad. You might be stressed, upset, tired, anxious, self-conscious, or bored. If you wait just a second, a minute, sit with your feelings, taking the time to see what is truly going on internally before putting food in your face, you may learn a lot about yourself, your hunger cues, and your triggers. And that is the best way to control cravings because it empowers you to think and act mindfully.
IT IS OK to be hungry*. It is OK to let yourself be slightly uncomfortable. Embrace discomfort–it’s where change happens. It’s true in the gym, and it’s true in the kitchen, too. A little discomfort can be a tool to teach you about willpower and listening to your true internal cues, and what real hunger feels like. It’s difficult, but possible, to distinguish true hunger from cravings, which are often triggered by an emotional hole you are trying to fill but cannot–no matter how much you eat.
Long term success will always trump instant gratification–you just have to give yourself a chance to get there.
* There are always extremes: if being hungry makes you feel powerful, strong, or better than anyone else, you should consider talking to someone about how you can develop a healthier relationship with food.