Since last week was about rejecting something, I am thrilled to move into this second step of learning to trust ourselves by honoring something. I am well aware that much of what I am writing about here on my blog, and over on social media seems very counterculture and dissonant to societal standards. I know that it may not be easy for everyone to hear or even accept right off the bat. And like any real change, while there must be a disruption and ruffling of the feathers of the old ways, there must also be something to do in its place.
This week we are talking about honoring our hunger and while I will certainly break it down specifically in terms of Intuitive Eating, I will also break it down in other ways we can honor our more metaphorical hunger for a more trusting relationship with ourselves.
Hunger has become somewhat of an enemy in many ways. Even though it is a natural, biological signal from our bodies to refuel it with the nutrients and things it needs to do its job, hunger has become hyper associated with its connection to how it makes us look if we indulge it too much. In some cases, hunger has become a burdensome whine that we are constantly looking to either negate, ignore, numb, or eradicate it so in its place a more slender and toned body will appear. This false idea gets glorified in certain diets such as intermittent fasting or hyper scheduled eating where we think we can actually trick our own biology into burning fat by having our hunger eat away at it.
This is where I have to take a moment and ask a very important question, how often when one chooses to diet or follow a new food fad do we actually take the time to check the facts of what really happens to our bodies biologically when put into periods of starvation? How deeply do we really research the information we are getting and how these ideas work on a cellular level? I can tell you from my personal experience, that I rarely did more in depth looking and simply trusted the “expert” of the moment from which the diet was derived. And if the expert had letters after their name, I barely did any questioning at all since letters are supposed to mean they know everything, right? This is a very big misunderstanding we have in commercialized health and wellness. We celebrate the ideas of an individual or popularity of a craze, rather than really looking to real, scientific research, study and knowledge. In truth, if diets had to face the same scrutiny that prescription meditation faced, they would fail miserably. I necessarily digress because I think it’s an important question to be asking ourselves.
Moving on, here is what happens when you put your body into starvation of any kind (because in truth, the body doesn’t know the difference between a diet and a global famine)...
When your body is starving and biological hunger is not being honored, your body slows down its metabolism in order to preserve energy since it can’t possibly know when its next meal is coming. And because hunger is a cue that your body needs fuel, specifically for your brain, red blood cells and nervous system, it begins to fuel itself using your muscle mass. It’s as if your body was a house that needed fuel for the fire in the furnace and when it doesn’t get it, it begins burning away the actual structure of the house. Yes, it may work to make things look more aesthetically pleasing for a time being, because from the outside we can’t really tell what it is that is actually being consumed by the cells in our body. Our kidneys, our liver, our brains and every cell in our body is so dependent on food energy that when it doesn’t get it, it will naturally compensate with powerful biological and psychological mechanisms. But if you think about the mere stress this puts our bodies under, to have to, in a way, hunt and gather from its own stores, that is going to take a toll in the long run. It is a miracle actually that our bodies know how to do this and it is what has kept humans alive in times of famine and food insecurities. But to voluntarily do this to our bodies is so incredibly unnecessary when the very best way we biologically function is through food and the beautifully built in mechanism we already have in place, called hunger, is bordering on inhumane. Not to mention that after a period of starvation and food becomes available to it again, it will click into primal hunger. You know the kind when it feels as if your brain is completely disconnected from your body and you can’t stop consuming food? The body will naturally take in as much food as it possibly can to try and counter that period of starvation, because now that it knows it can’t rely on its own hunger cues to get what it needs, it will compensate in the even a future starvation is coming again...and when we are in the diet cycle, it most likely is.
This is also why often when diets end or when you let yourself go too long without food, you tend to binge. And again, the body does not know the difference between a diet induced starvation period and an actual moment when food is scarce, so it simply does what it does as a natural coping mechanism. It is both biological and psychological. In fact, a 2000 study showed that a disproportionate number of concentration camp survivors suffer from binge eating disorders. Essentially, food scarcity is a form of trauma that triggers other trauma responses in the body and so when we don’t honor our hunger and keep our biology waiting on fuel, we may also unnecessarily be creating some psychological trauma because as much as we may try, we cannot outthink or even outsmart our biology.
I also want to share with you a fascinating study that was done on the effects of dieting and overexercising on The Biggest Loser contestants and how that period of time of fast and intense weight loss actually impacted their metabolism long term. Again, your body will find ways to adapt to how we treat it for sure, but there are other, unseen factors that are often at play and rarely considered.
Eating food and honoring our hunger is the ultimate mind body connection. When we really learn to listen to and honor our biological hunger, we in turn begin to honor all of the other ways in which we hunger in life. Passion and desire are hungers that oftentimes when we don’t think we are worthy, whether because of our physical body or not, we tend to stifle and dismiss. Desire is a natural human need and yet another cue that there is something we are craving. I hesitate to use that word because craving has, like hunger, become synonymous with negative connotation, but is not an inherently bad thing. As humans, we crave attention, love, and purpose in the world. When we can’t meet the basic need of our own hunger, it's likely that we are also struggling to meet some of these other more soul fulfilling needs that we have as well. When we connect our worthiness to our bodies and then ignore our body’s natural cues, one could say that there is a pretty major cognitive dissonance. It is very similar to having a dream of one day fulfilling something in your life or your work and yet every thought you have around it says it isn’t possible. This isn’t an uncommon thing unfortunately, and perhaps you find yourself relating to that. I know that I definitely do and have at many points in my life. It is as common as the diet culture mindset that is present in today’s world. And so this practice of honoring one of our most basic needs and naturally occurring biological cues that is our hunger, may also perhaps be a gateway in to really helping our minds and bodies know that we are worthy of getting our needs met, of being listened to and of experiencing pleasure, joy, energy and satisfaction in both our bodies and our minds.
On a final and even much deeper note, I want to share this with you: One of the final and most natural stages of a dying person is to lose their appetite. Dehydration and starvation are how the body most naturally wants to die in instances of old age and illness. Your hunger is actually an incredibly vital sign that you are in fact alive and that your body still wants to do what it was put here to do. That your cells want to continue to go on providing you with energy so that all of the systems of your body can function well, so that you, the human being who is living in your body, can go out into the world and live their life with purpose. To diminish this, ignore this or treat it as a burden, is to suppress our very own life force. Being hungry, both physically and in all the metaphorical ways it shows up in this life, is sacred. We must honor it if we truly wish to honor our life while we are still here to do so. Your hunger is your body's signal to you that it’s ready for a new day, a new moment and to move forward into what is possible for you. Let’s befriend it, acknowledge it and most importantly, honor it.
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is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.