When I was in an obsessive dieter’s mindset – limiting and restricting all kinds foods (umm, even carrots on some crazy plans) – I always waited as long as possible to eat. I thought this was a brilliant way to limit my calorie intake.
The onset of my hunger actually made me feel anxious. In my dieter’s mind, the feeling of hunger was something I had to fight. I thought my body was wrong and I needed to control it with the nutrition information I knew in my mind.
In fact, my connection to hunger was so distorted that when I started to get dizzy and lightheaded, I took it as a sign that I was doing a “good job” watching what I ate. Waiting until I was at this extreme level of hunger to “let” myself eat was my way of trying to “beat” my hunger.
The problem was, by depriving myself, my body was getting the message that I truly was living in serious deprivation. It thought I was actually starving (meaning not able to access sufficient food), which then meant that it thought that once I ate, I should eat everything. This is when I would binge. Yes, even on the carrots.
This led to a terrible cycle. Because those moments – the binge moments – were when I felt like I was wrong. That I had no willpower. This then spiraled into another effort to set up restrictions to try and assert control. My body was ignored, my mind tried to take over, my connection to food became even more stressful, and my connection to hunger even more distrusted. Meanwhile, I beat myself up for having no “willpower.”
The fact is, it’s not about willpower. It’s about the biological reality of needing food to function, and the body’s natural, built-in reaction to not having enough.
Here’s the thing about hunger: it’s really good information. Instead of trying to curb, beat, or fight it (sadly, like so many “health experts” would tell you), it’s much more productive to learn how to notice your first signs of hunger.
When you address what your body is telling you with hunger – my blood sugar is starting to dip and I need some fuel – it’s a smooth process. If, however, you wait until your hunger is at an extreme, your blood sugar is then at a very low level. The result is eating much more than your body needs, in an effort to bring it back up. In a way, bingeing is biological.
It’s also fixable. Here’s how:
Don’t wait until your blood sugar is so low you get hangry (hungry + angry), and want to bite someone’s head off if they have any simple question for you. This level of hunger will also mean you’ll struggle to pay attention and focus.
Instead, as soon as you feel hungry, eat. And while you may think grabbing sugar like candy and juice will help, these things will spike your blood sugar and then crash it. What will actually help you stabilize your mood and energy is eating something with healthy fat.
Instead of chugging juice, grab an apple and dip it in almond butter. Instead of diving into the office candy bowl, grab some dark chocolate and dip it in peanut butter. If you’re going for bread, be sure to eat it with cheese unless you want your mood and energy to crash and burn again. Make sure you get some healthy fat in there.
If you’re feeling stuck in a cycle of starving and bingeing, this will help. Don’t look at the clock to determine when it’s “time” to eat. Start to lean into the smarts of your body and honor your hunger early on.