I will avoid all of the puns about hunger.

So, the hunger experiment was full of mystery and intrigue, in the sense that I noticed myself doing things that were distinctly odd. Odd, I mean, if you’ve assumed you are a rational being and your behaviours will therefore also be rational. Not so much, as it turns out. Here are the things I’ve discovered, in order of decreasing forehead-slap strength.

The very biggest what the what moment was learning that I eat when I’m not hungry, when in fact I am distressingly full, because I am tired and I cannot bear going to sleep. That second helping of dinner? Tired. Repeated and dissatisfying trips to the chips and candy drawers after that second helping? Will not sleep and you can’t make me. Don’t get me wrong, I like chips and many types of candy, but this “hunger awareness” thing made me realize I was eating them at a time when they actually tasted fairly gross. So that was interesting.
The second oddest revelation is that my hunger seems to show up in my head. I was very eagerly doing body scans and talking to my stomach and checking for weakness in my limbs… but, no. My hunger signals start with food curiosity, such as a pondering of the relative merits of hot (soup) versus cold (salad) or savoury (eggs) versus sweet (baked pancake thing). I start imagining tastes vividly enough to make my mouth water. If I don’t start acting on those food dreams, I may eventually notice I’m feeling kind of distracted, bouncing between ideas but not acting on them. If that doesn’t get me nibbling, I will become irritable to the point of snapping at my dogs. Finally, I will get a physical signal, a very mild burning sensation in my upper chest/ lower throat. But, boy, does it take a while.
The third mildly unsettling thing relates to that progression of hunger, specifically to the glacial slowness of it. I am well aware of the modern “breakfast is the only thing standing between you and a horrible death” zeitgeist. And I like breakfast, a lot, honestly. It’s just that, when I’m waiting to get hungry before eating, only the most generous of brunchers would call my first meal of the day breakfast. During my weekend days, this averaged four hours of wait time from rising to fantasizing about food. That is flouting the strong advice of many, many people. I am honestly not sure how I feel about this. Should I trust that my body is not totally broken and irrational? Should I force down a serving of protein and then start listening to my body after? I just don’t know.
The final and really not surprising revelation is that I eat when I’m not hungry because I feel overwhelmed. When I need to stop the other sensation (scared, angry, anxious, perplexed, whatever) food is a guaranteed distraction. Completely reliable. I will say that it is a very interesting experience to observe the numbing – basically a “wear many hats” situation where my body agrees to play along with one part of my brain that is freaking out and just wants to eat all of the macaroni because that is a pleasant thing to focus on while another part of my brain puts on a cardigan and observes all this with the occasional murmured “hmm, interesting”. Detachment is fascinating.
I think this all has to stay in the semi-active pile. I am not a fan of food logs or hunger logs or essentially any timely recording process but I have definitely found value in thinking about my hunger. I’m going to keep embracing the ability to either listen to it or override it – it’s the choosing that feels so powerful.

Learning how to be hungry

Why is it so hard to take good advice? There are so many things I read, or hear, or see, and I’m nodding my head like yes, excellent, I could do that and it would be totally easy and my life would be so much better. Yet, somehow, I can’t seem to integrate that good idea into my life. Too big, too broad, I don’t have the time. Or, too small, too insignificant to really make a difference. That’s what I’d like to change.

Everyone from my doctor to the 16 year old checkout girl at the grocery store has mentioned mindfulness recently. Mindfulness is ubiquitous good advice, which slightly raises my hackles, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. But it’s a bit like air – good for you and everywhere you want to be – not something that you can easily get a handle on. So, where to start? I want to pursue mindfulness from the hunger angle. Intuitive eating is something I’ve been thinking might really help me, as remembering to notice when I’m eating is actually a difficult part of my life. In reading about intuitive eating it seems that everything starts with hunger – eating because you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. This is so different from my normal days, where I eat on a schedule defined by work. I love the idea, but it begs the question – how do I know when I’m hungry?

This should be obvious – I can just think back to the last time I was hungry. Except… I have no idea when that was. I have a vague memory of being so hungry my stomach starts cramping, I snap at my family, and I immediately feel better after inhaling some food (any food). That memory is totally disconnected to my current life, though. It has been years, at least, since I’ve been deeply hungry. It would appear I’m not alone. Apparently many people have spent so long ignoring body cues that we wouldn’t recognize a signal of hunger unless it was waving a giant sign that said hunger. So, in order to have a nice goal for this week, I’m going to do an exercise from Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size – keeping a hunger log, sans the food log part. I hate the food logs. Basically I’ll be trying to identify what my hunger feels like, filling out a 1-10 spectrum with personalized descriptions such as “so full I’d like to set all nearby food on fire” or “I will eat anything that can’t run faster than I can”.

I have what I consider to be a reasonably short attention span. A week is a long time in my world. I think a reasonable crack at this whole “pay attention to hunger signals” idea can happen in a week, or a bit less. I think this will be my pattern: start on Saturday and write up my plan for Monday; six days of experimentation will get me through Thursday and I’ll write up my conclusions for Friday. Let’s see how it goes.