“I’m not hungry.”
How many times I have said those three words? During my darkest days in my battle with anorexia, I was convinced that I never felt hungry.
At least, my stomach didn’t growl. It didn’t feel empty. I never felt hunger pangs.
Over the course of seven years, I rarely felt these typical hunger symptoms. So when my mom urged me to eat more at dinner, when my friends ate popcorn at the movies, when everyone else at the table ordered a burger and I ordered a salad–I felt sure I was making the right decision.
My stomach wasn’t growling, so my body couldn’t possibly need food.
Of course, my head hurt all the time. I often felt dizzy. And I thought about food incessantly. But I wasn’t “actually hungry.”
Through several years of nutritional counseling, I realized this mindset carried two mistaken assumptions.
#1: Hunger is only expressed through a stomach growling.
#2: Not feeling hungry is nothing to worry about.
Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley developed a Hunger-Satiety Scale, which describes ten differing stages of hunger. Ten indicates feelings of being extremely stuffed, to the point of nausea; the scale continues to the other extreme at one, which indicates total energy loss and lightheadedness.
Learn how to recognize hunger and fullness in the School of Recovery!
The hunger pangs I thought indicated hunger are five and four on the scale: “Starting to feel hungry. Stomach growling.”
The middle of the scale. When I first read this, I was shocked.
I thought my body was never hungry, since I didn’t experience “typical” hunger symptoms. Instead, the opposite was the case–I was constantly experiencing the most extreme hunger possible.
If your head aches and you can’t stop thinking about that peanut butter in the pantry and you almost pass out if you stand up too quickly, listen up–You. Are. Hungry. It doesn’t matter if your stomach isn’t grumbling. Your body is ravenous.
And what’s more, if you aren’t experiencing typical hunger and fullness cues, this doesn’t mean you’re superhuman. It means something is wrong.
The body has an entire set of hormones dedicated to communication between the stomach and brain. Leptin, secreted by fat cells, decreases your hunger. Ghrelin, released by the stomach, increases it. Extreme dieting interferes with the normal process of hormone production and secretion that every human body should experience.
Robyn, registered dietitian, nurse practitioner, and author of the Real Life RD blog, says it this way: “Hunger is a good thing, it’s actually a sign of good hormonal health and regular hunger is a firm indication of metabolic efficiency. Having an appetite and consistent hunger should be something we are excited about.”
True Hunger Is A Gift
After years of headaches, lightheadedness, and not feeling normal hunger at times when everyone else did, true hunger is a gift. There is nothing like the sensation of being really hungry, enjoying an amazing meal at a Mexican restaurant, and feeling satisfied.
It’s pleasurable. It’s delicious. It’s human.
If you’ve spent months or years in yo-yo diets–if you’re ignoring normal hunger cues because you think being hungry is wrong–if you literally cannot stop obsessing about when you’re going to eat next…
You’ll feel full. Then, after a while, you’ll feel hungry again.
And it will be glorious.