Confessions of a Foodie: How to Handle Hunger

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How do you know when to stop eating? This is not a trick question. How do you let your body know when it’s had enough? I asked some of my friends what they do when they feel they’re overeating. To my surprise, I gathered quite a list. Some said they detox for a day consuming only liquids, some eat only veggies – no meats or bread. One mentioned eating bland foods to stop craving sweets. Another said she takes a day to eat boiled eggs only. Several said they chew gum to keep from snacking. Clearly, there are strategies people use to keep themselves in check.

But what happens if you try your best yet you continue to mindlessly eat? What do you do if you can’t stop?

With that thought in mind, I stumbled across a book titled Hunger, a memoir by Roxane Gay, and had to read it. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Hunger is a very interesting take on the role of food in the life of the author. Ms. Gay is a woman who has struggled with weight since adolescence. At her highest weight, she was 577 pounds, but to put that in perspective, she is 6’3”. Now in her 40’s, she’s been able to put into words what life is like as an obese woman and why, despite a stellar education and rising success as an author and professor, she remains unsuccessful in controlling her need for food.

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Food for some of us, according to Ms. Gay, is about more than nourishment. She describes the times she’s hired personal trainers, bought home delivered prepared meals, followed the advice of nutritionists and other professionals to help her lose weight only to become terrified when her efforts worked so she gained it all back.

As Ms. Gay explains, obese people understand the relationship between food and weight, maybe better than fit individuals. What they don’t understand is why they eat the way they do. It isn’t because what they are eating is not filling. It’s because what they are eating, no matter how much, will never be enough. It’s about insatiable hunger. The hunger is not for the nourishment of food. It’s for a need they cannot fulfill. To use her words, it’s a hunger she has for what she desires most in her life but knows she will never have.

When you have no mechanism to tell you when to stop eating, you are no longer eating food, you are using food, and that is where the danger lies. When you “use” food, you must do more than just diet to lose weight. It isn’t about personal trainers, gastric bypass surgery, or boxed meals if you are a food user. The underlying cause has to be treated first.

Ms. Gay’s book describes her hunger in vivid, honest, stark, and appalling detail. When it started, why it’s still there, and why it isn’t likely to go away. You realize that obesity is a symptom as well as a condition, and if work isn’t done to get to the underlying reason for it, what happens to the outside is just temporary. It’s like having a sick tree and picking off dead leaves to make it look better instead of treating the tree.

It may have taken Ms. Gay years to figure out why her well-meaning family and friends had not motivated her to lose, but through writing her memoir, she goes through certain steps to figure out what she must correct before she can lose weight. She uncovers the source of her insatiable “hunger” and the truth is, you can too.

As Ms. Gay did, you can use her process and get started finding your “why” in hunger by:

1) Being truthful. When did your weight gain begin?

2) Being Honest. What are you doing to stop eating?

3) Being able to disclose. Can you share what’s wrong?

4) Being brave. Can you confront the cause of your distress?

Sometimes you have to figure out what’s causing the hunger in your life before the weight will come off. It may take some work, but a healthy life is always worth it!

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