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Quick rant: Hunger isn’t all in your head

November 24, 2008

For people who have struggled with overeating/dieting/ED/living in this messed up culture, it can be hard to distinguish true hunger from other kinds. I don’t subscribe to the idea that the only or best way to view food is as fuel, but I do think part of healing one’s relationship with food involves understanding why we’re eating and why we choose the foods we do.

That’s to say that I get that for some people part of that healing process will involve finding ways to cope with stress/depression/boredom without food. I also get that learning not to reward oneself solely with food is a good thing.

However, I read too many weight loss blogs where people constantly treat hunger like it’s all in their head. It’s 7pm and they’ve hit their ridiculously low calorie limit for the day. Problem is, they’re still hungry. What should they do?


Don’t take a bath or reward yourself with a good book. Don’t meditate or put in a new DVD.


Take a bath to deal with stress instead of bingeing, by all means. Carefully consider whether or not you’re actually hungry or just bored before you make a snack, sure.

But to be frank, if you truly cannot tell the difference between the hunger you feel when you’re trying to get by on far too little calories and the kind that is the result of being bored/depressed/etc… then consider doing that work first before you start cutting calories all over the place.

Because, in the end, fighting real hunger is a losing battle. For most people, it will result in metabolism slow down and/or an increased likelihood of binge eating not to mention absolute misery. Taking a bath when you’re body is short 1,200 calories for the day isn’t going to stop you from being hungry. It is a good way to make yourself miserable though.

Hunger is complex. And yes, it does have a psychological component, but that doesn’t mean you can willpower or think your way out of needing more than 1,200 calories/day. Baths are nice, but they can’t fuel your body’s processes, ok?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2008 1:06 am

    indeed! i am equally annoyed when people act like hunger isn’t a real biological thing.
    and i am no nutritionist but what passes for an appropriate number of calories according to most dieters and weight loss programs is just ridiculously low.

  2. November 25, 2008 8:13 am

    …and eat food that satisfies. If you try to eat the “right” (no-cal, no-fat, no-nothing) food when you need calories, you’ll eat the house down and still be hungry.

  3. November 25, 2008 5:49 pm

    Yes! To post and both comments so far. It makes me cringe to hear dieters talk the food guilt/avoidance/puritanical line. To think that I bought into it hook, line, and sinker (thanks, mom, for being so irrational), and binged and felt out of control my whole teenage and young adult life. Over it now. I have to admit, that I felt a small little twinge of guilt for just a second today, the ex is making me Dungeness crabbies tonight, which of course means garlic butter and lots of it, but the second passed. It’s OK. I’m even making it ok that I don’t feel like exercising today. Yah, crab won’t be an every week meal, but life is too short. And seriously, yummy! In the past, this would have been the end of the diet, and an excuse to miserably overeat for days. Good thing I’m not on a diet, aye?

  4. November 25, 2008 7:19 pm

    Ugh. I take it back, I will exercise anyway. Too close to Thanksgiving, dinner will easily be 1000+ kcals tonight, Kickboxing, I have no good excuse not to join you tonight. Grumble grumble, ok, I go.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    November 26, 2008 2:27 pm

    By the same token, I think too many people eat when they’re not hungry because we’re taught that we’re supposed to eat at certain defined times – specifically, that we must eat three meals a day, and it’s terrible to skip any, and we’re especially not supposed to skip breakfast. It’s silly. I’ve gone back and forth over the years trying to eat breakfast. It just doesn’t work for me. I’m never hungry when I wake up, and it usually takes me 3-4 hours, minimum, to get hungry enough to eat a full meal. When I do force myself to eat breakfast, I end up feeling bloated and ill. But why should I do that? Because “they” say you should?


  1. Hunger is weird « Exceptionally Fat

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