Look, I’m always hungry. I’m so relieved, yes, relieved when I’m not hungry. Hooray! What a moment to actually not be thinking about food. Researching what the experts say about emotional versus physical hunger, I can’t agree with some of their conclusions. For example, some experts say that hunger that is emotional comes on quickly where physical hunger comes on gradually. In my reality, that is not how it works. My child is physically hungry quickly. There is no gradual. He’s suddenly starving! I know many other people who don’t even know they’re hungry but find themselves eating an excessive amount when the finally eat. Their hunger isn’t even on the horizon until it overwhelms them. They don’t feel hungry.
Others aren’t drawn to a specific food, like other experts might tell us. I know people who will just go from thing to thing eating excessively until they are physically stuffed. It doesn’t much matter what the food is. The compulsion to feel stuffed creates an enormous pleasure in their brains, even though physically they are uncomfortable.
Certain biological realities definitely play a part in hunger, including sleep. We know that stress and cortisol have an impact on whether some of us feel hungry or some of us don’t sense hunger.
Unfortunately, I’ve got lots of cortisol in my body, followed by ghrelin, the hormone that screams to me “I’m hungry!” For so long I thought that I was crazy to be so hungry all the time. But then, I consider the chemistry.
If we are stressed in the short term, we will actually shut down the feeling of hunger. But if stress persists and goes on long term, we start dumping cortisol into our bodies. And with cortisol, comes the hormone ghrelin.
“At the UT Southwestern Medical Center, June 15, 2008 research showed levels of ghrelin increasing with stress.”*
We may learn to eat when we’re stressed because we feel hunger and we actually achieve some relief to the stress when we eat. Therefore we create a certain type of habit wired into our brains.
“Stress eating is an emotional response that over time becomes automatic,” says Anne Wolf, a registered dietitian and researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. “Every time we engage in a behavior, the more we do it, the more it becomes a pattern, then it becomes a habit,” says Wolf. ‘To tackle that habit you’re going to have to learn a new habit.’”*
Think of any habit you’ve tried to break in the past. You know how difficult this can be. This habit is even more insidious because it is connected to food and you have to eat, right?
When I was a child, I developed a habit from a pain I would get in my stomach when I was hungry. It was an acid like feeling and I knew that if I just ate a little bread or a couple of crackers, my hunger and my pain would go away.
As an adult, I get frequent bouts of acid hitting my esophagus. Sometimes it doesn’t bother me at all and sometimes I’m woken up in pain. The problem is that I know that a few bites of something will relief my pain. The moment I even get an inkling that the acid pain is coming, I think I better eat a few bites of something…
The other day I was journaling and writing about sadness. As I was writing, this overwhelming sense of hunger took over. I knew that it couldn’t be physical hunger since I had only eaten one hour prior. But my body was overwhelmed with this empty burning sense that I was hungry.
It’s a terrible feeling.
I had to talk myself down of the hunger ledge. I’ve gained all my weight due to a couple extra bites here and there. I really portion very well at meals. But in-between meals, this sense of hunger I experience is often difficult to negotiate. And that’s what it feels like-a constant negotiation.
“Am I really hungry?”
“What time did I eat last?”
“Drink something hot.”
“Wait 10 minutes.”
“Eat a carrot.”
“Eat an apple.”
“You’re fat and this is why.”
“Pain, pain, pain.”
And hunger is indeed a life-force, but my hunger has so often felt that it cannot be trusted. I try very hard to work with my hunger. I try and give it gentle breaks as I work to endure my feelings of hunger.
I’m sure I am hungry for other things. I know I am hungry for more peace. I know that eating clean foods helps keep my acid down. I know that fruits and vegetables help to fill up my stomach and added protein helps for long term satisfaction. I’ve learned that certain healthy foods don’t keep me full for very long and I really know that since i do portion small amounts I need to eat every 2 to 3 hours.
I know that sometimes warm foods satisfy better than cold ones. I rely on things like coffee in between meals, and tea and broth to keep me balanced.
I meditate and give myself places to pause throughout the day. I write in my journal often.
I try and forgive my body for being hungry all the time. I try and love the girl who is so hungry. I tell her she is okay to be hungry and I try and advocate for that girl and her needs as best I can.