On being hungry

When I met Twisted Barbie last week, something that she said about fat girls and hunger has stuck with me. Her words, paraphrased: "I wasn't supposed to want to eat, because fat girls aren't supposed to be hungry."

What a strong injunction! To pretend that you are not hungry, or not interested in food, merely because you look a certain way. Yet, I have also had similar feelings about hunger in my day, like my belief that I had a terrible metabolism and just couldn't eat the way that other people seemed to eat. Dessert was for them, never for me.

Now, when I look at what other people eat, I always remind myself that I just catch glimpses of their diet: a spot of food at lunchtime, an after-dinner snack, a coffee-break midafternoon that I happen to share with others. My husband, whose diet I know best besides my own, possesses entire culinary worlds that are unknown to me once I leave the house in the a.m. Most days I would be hard-pressed to tell you what enters his mouth before dinner, so when it comes to guessing what other people eat -- really, I have no idea. It is such a partial picture that I receive that to venture a guess is just plain foolishness. After all, you can never tell if your companion is eating seconds because she ran 10 miles that morning, or if she is picking at her dinner because she ate a late lunch.

This kind of reasoning has helped me to stop comparing what I eat with what other people eat, so that I can just focus on my own plate and my own food. It is so much more satisfying, in the end, to eat for me and not for those others; to eat to fill my own gut and not to impress them with how much or how little or what kind or how fast or anything like that. I have also learned to stop feeling ashamed of my hunger, meaning that if someone asks me, I will admit to being hungry if I feel that way. There's no shame in it! Moreover, I have learned to bring up the topic (my hunger) if it seems like a meal is about to be pushed away.

Learning to own my hunger also means that I have to be responsible for feeding myself now. I have to plan ahead each day to know when I'll eat, how much, and what it will be. I can't let myself go hungry for long or I will grow irritable and despondent, and it will be all that much easier to eat too much at the next meal, and start off a cascade of feelings and actions that I'm not so fond of anymore. It is much easier to look my hunger in the eye and come to terms with it: I will be hungry every day, for the rest of my life, so I might as well make peace with the fact that this is my body's way of reminding me to take care of myself.

These next few days are tricky for those of us recovering from eating disorders, and although I wouldn't wish hunger on any of us in the midst of such bounty, I think that cultivating an awareness of fullness, hunger's complement, also has its place.

Happy Thanksgiving!

~Ai Lu


Lisa said...

Great post. It still amazes me sometimes how complicated a simple physical sensation can be! When you unpack that idea - that one should not feel hungry for some reason - you dig into all kinds of social, cultural, and psychological factors.

TwistedBarbie said...

Youre making me famous here :P

And you want to know the sad thing... my first thought after reading my quote:
Wait, does she think im still fat?
It is amazing how one's head can take the lead out of nowhere!

It took me a long time to get to the point where I could say "Im freakin hungry" to whatever company I was with, without feeling as I did when I was bigger...

Im still working on "I want dessert"


I forget who, but there was a fat activisty blogger who wrote about the idea that (now that she is thinner) she was driving and spilled M&Ms on the floor and picked them up and ate them with her husband there... he thought it was gross, but she spoke about the idea that were she still a larger woman, she NEVER would have done that because if youre fat and you eat M&Ms off the floor.... well... THATS why youre fat and therefore gross and all other cultural connotations

Anonymous said...

You really hit a great point about how important it is to feed yourself, listen to hunger signals, etc. In the beginning, it's such a hard part of recovery because we've learned how to ignore those things so well. And you are also right that watching others eat and comparing yourself to what they're eating has nothing to do with you. I did this when I started eating more normally - I watched others eat, gauged how much they ate, studied the balance of their meals by fat, carbohydrates, and protein. I was studying their food habits in an attempt to learn what was "normal," but normal is so subjective. You've got to satisfy you and that's that. :)

Great post, and happy Thanksgiving!

Emily said...

Thank you for this post, and for the reminder that hunger and fullness are both natural and complementary. It is particularly important for me to be reminded at this time of year!