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.