It wasn’t long ago that I felt the need to always be full. With food that is.
From my history of disordered eating, especially the period of starving myself, I was desperately afraid to feel any inkling of hunger.
Was I going to be okay?
Was the hunger going to cause me to lose muscle mass?
Was I going to die of hunger?
Of course not but after so many years of binging–>restricting–>binging–>restricting my fear around food was still in overdrive.
I was scared. Just like many of us are. We’re surrounded by billboards promoting any food we could imagine, we pass dozens of fast food restaurants offering a “supersize or discount value meal under a buck” on the way to work.
It’s all too tempting to not feel hungry and even if we’re not hungry, we question ourselves as we’re inundated with food signs constantly.
Can you think of a time or two when you felt the fear of being hungry? What did that feel like for you? Were you scared, worried or paranoid that your muscle was going to waste away if you didn’t eat every 3-4 hours? I know I did!
Let’s go a bit further, what’s that fear of being hungry really about?
If I can speak from personal experience, the state of hunger and the psychology behind it was two-fold. Maybe you can identify?
Here are some common misbeliefs around food hunger.
#1: If we go hungry, that means we will eat everything in sight. Can you relate to this? Maybe you felt like I did where if I “God forbid” waited more than 3 hours to eat and I didn’t have my safe foods then life would be over. I was so stressed that if I became “hungry” then I would have zero self-control and would run to the grocery store and purchase everything in sight. For me, it was about safe foods, having access to them 24/7 and always choosing to stay on the safe side of NOT being hungry out of fear of being hungry.
It’s crazy to admit now, but I would take cans of tuna and shove them under the seats in my car to have them readily accessible. I would bury protein bars underneath the wadded clothes in the back of my car to ease my anxiety and I would pre-cook sweet potatoes to bring to dinners with me.
Again, THE FEAR OF HUNGER WAS OUT OF CONTROL.
#2: It’s not the food, we’re just too afraid to feel “empty”. If you’re like me, I love food, for most of my life, it’s been a place of comfort, security, peace, happiness, and secrets. Food was my outlet and a way to avoid the deeper rooted stuff from surfacing. I was desperately afraid to feel my feelings and the minute I felt them, it was time to eat again. Again, it had nothing to do with the food, I easily could have chosen drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, etc. and while I did dabble in all of those, I kept coming back to the food as my safety net. The food never yelled back, the food never gave me a hard time (even though I always felt shame and embarrassment after the binges) and the food often times felt unconditional. The food served as a way to numb out and stuff my feelings and the cycle would continue for years. Food was my safe place. “A home away from home.”
Some of you might ask, “Kim, how do you even do that? It doesn’t seem easy.” And it’s not. Trust me, it’s taken years to master the intuition of my binge eating and quite honestly, there are times I still make mistakes. Now the biggest piece is the awareness and how I choose to talk to myself after the fact. Here’s what I mean:
What has helped me break the cycle of binge eating and not allowing myself to feel hunger was:
A) Trying it a few times a week. By this I mean, I intentionally allowed myself to go hungry and I began to learn the actual body symptoms of feeling hunger. Not emotional hunger, but physical hunger.
Physical hunger slowly creeps on, it’s not sudden and impulsive like emotional hunger.
Physical hunger is followed with growling in the stomach, maybe a little drop in the blood sugar, and fully being aware that your body is ready to eat. Whereas, emotional hunger you’re not even really aware of if you’re even hungry and you want to eat anyway. This one took me a long time to work through as I went for so many years without understanding the true meaning of physical hunger. So, try to allow yourself to go hungry a few times a week and I’m not talking about the hunger where you feel you’re about to pass out. Just the awareness of the physical side of hunger, journal about it and write what that feels like.
B) I challenged myself to put away my “safe” foods when traveling. As I mentioned above, I had an issue with hoarding food, mainly in my car, so I purposely forced myself to not carry any of my safe foods with me a few times a week to see what feelings and emotions that brought up for me. Did I feel full of anxiety at first? 100%. However, over time, I quickly noticed that I was OKAY without the food in my car. I wasn’t going to starve to death, I wasn’t going to die and I was just fine without them, life still went on. Maybe this can be another mini challenge for you as well.
C) Find other ways to self-soothe. A big part of my life was surrounded by food, whether that was preparing food, cooking food, looking for food, eating food or shopping for food. Food took up a huge part of my life and it wasn’t until I started to take baby steps to get my needs met elsewhere did my eating habits begin to switch. I was no longer getting fulfilled by the food, rather I was getting my needs met through friends, laughing with my family, spending time with my dog and allowing myself to feel my emotions. I felt this one was imperative to my recovery because the food was my outlet and my way to feeling good but when I began to seek out other things for fulfillment, the food became a second thought. It wasn’t as important, spending time with my friends was.
If you struggle with binge eating just know you’re never alone in this and so many of us struggle, yet choose to stay stuck in silence.
While we often think food will fix everything, we know deep down it doesn’t and it’s always temporary. Instead, challenge yourself to take baby-steps with the suggestions mentioned above and find someone you can trust and confide in because we’re only as sick as our secrets. You can do this.
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