Weighty Matters

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Between Want and Hunger

on August 2, 2012

In her comment on yesterday’s post, Pink Pelican talked about differentiating between wanting food and actual hunger.   Wow, does that ring a bell.  It was always hard for me because my head would tell me that I not only wanted food, I needed it.  Cravings created by emotions felt as physically real as the pangs in my stomach that occured if I’d gone hours without eating.

Even when I was semi-successfully dieting, it didn’t matter how logically I reasoned with myself.  Intellectually, I knew that I didn’t really need chocolate, but the extreme mental desire overrode all logic and intellect.  Then the disease would take over and tell me, yes, you’re right you need it, go get it.

It’s weird and different for me now, but there are still struggles sometimes.   I don’t feel physical hunger the way that I used to.  The pangs only happen if I’ve gone too long without eating something.  I’m pretty vigilant about eating on schedule.  I know that if I don’t eat my planned-for snacks in between meals I won’t hit my protein target for the day.

You’d think this all would make it easier and it does, to some extent.  I’m not often physically hungry so I don’t constantly want moremoremore food.  The restricted stomach size keeps in check on my portions.  The battle remains in my head — the mental want.  If someone puts out a box of pastries or plate of cookies, it honestly doesn’t matter if I’m physically hungry.  My eyes see the food and my head wants it.  If I successfully control the immediate compulsion to reach for the available food and eat it, I often still have to engage in a mental debate.    It’s like shoring up my own defenses against the disease of compulsive overeating.

It’s crazy how powerful the “want” can be; how loudly it can speak.  I swear sometimes it translates into physical symptoms.  I’ll feel it in my stomach.  When that happens I try to remind myself that it’s false hunger.

If I’ve been very very good about my food plan, I may consciously permit myself to have a taste of a treat  That means a single cookie instead of a handful.  A bite sized piece of chocolate and not a full bar.  A quarter slice of cake if we’re all celebrating someone’s birthday and so on.  Not every day of course, but sometimes.

I do not, however, eat the treat unless I know it’s something that I truly enjoy.  Some of you might be thinking, “Of course you wouldn’t.  Who would eat something they didn’t honestly like?”

In the midst of an eating disorder, I would.  I don’t love raspberries or raspberry jam, etc.  In the old days, however, if the only pastries around were some sweet confection with raspberry filling, I’d go for it — even if it meant eating the pastry part and leaving the fruity stuff.

If only I could cultivate that attitude with seafood — eating something I don’t really like. 🙂

Earlier this week I was able to completely ignore guava pastries and raspberry turnovers, even though they sat in the kitchen at work alll day.  Honestly, that’s a significant improvement.  Remember, we’re talking about me. As a kid I once ate a pie crust out of my aunt’s freezer because I was so driven by the compulsive need and there was nothing else to be had.

I have to say that I am more successful with my debates these days than ever before.  I’ll make bargains with myself.  For example, if I’m driving home from work, past numerous stores, and craving Ben & Jerry’s or something else, I tell myself to go home, take care of the dogs and get to Zumba.  After Zumba, if I still want the ice cream I can have one small individual serving and not buy a whole pint.  Honestly, after the workout, all I really want is to get home and have my regular dinner.  I could care less about going to a store and tracking down the little ice cream treat.

That’s progress.   Realizing that I can savor a small treat or a sample of something instead of chowing down on a full sized portion is somewhat miraculous.

When I was 16, I started smoking cigarettes.  When I was 28, I made up my mind to quit.  I went through a smoking cessation program offered by a local hospital.  It was intense but it worked.  I rarely had the desire to smoke ever again.  When I did, I remembered one important fact.  They taught me that there is a timeline to the craving for a cigarette.  I carried a card in my wallet for years that read, “The urge to smoke will pass whether or not I have a cigarette.”  The card was right.  If I made it past the most intense part of the craving, it would ease almost immediately.

I wish I could define that same kind of timeline for food.  Maybe eventually I will.  It’s a very real possibility that my body hasn’t yet learned the lesson and that the mental craving will hit a peak, but if I don’t give in, then ease off on its own.  I don’t know.

For now, I just need to keep on doing what I’m doing — making bargains with myself, just saying no to the compulsion, permitting treats on my terms with completely awareness of the choice and not when driven by disease.

I hope that, with practice, I’ll get even better at not crossing the line between wanting something and honestly being hungry.

4 responses to “Between Want and Hunger

  1. Hope says:

    I read an interesting article once about listening to cravings. The basic gist of it was that some cravings come from your body needing specific things, like more calories or protein, etc. The idea in the article was to eat a little something to scratch the craving itch and a little more of something that would take care of what your body really needs. So, maybe I want to eat a giant candy bar because my blood sugar is way too low. So, I have a little piece of dark chocolate and then I eat something healthy and fulfilling so I take care of the underlying hunger. The idea is that you satisfy your mental and physical needs so you don’t keep eating and eating because you haven’t had what will really satisfy you. For the most part, that strategy works for me.

  2. Skye says:

    The mind is tricky. I just finished with a large bowl of cereal with blueberries and while it was probably a little more than my stomach needed, my first thought on finishing it was “I want more.” If I like it, I want more. I want dessert after every meal (there are no longer any sweets in the apartment, but it’s so hard to keep that up). Want feels like need and if I follow that trail I’m lost.

    I applaud you for fighting the good fight after a lifetime of being a victim of an insidious disease. It can’t be easy but you make it sound as if it is. Of course, I’m not too hungry after exercise either, but I’m still in the go for the easy way before go for the healthy way mode. You are doing great and I love reading about your successes. They make me want to succeed, to and sometimes I even say, “what would Mary Stella do?” 🙂 Keep telling us; it helps.

  3. Mary says:

    A lot in this post hit home with me. I found “The urge… will pass whether or not I…” particularly useful as a self-talk idea. Thanks for writing what you feel so openly. It’s encouraging to see someone else handling the same struggles.


  4. Susanne says:

    You’re steering your own ship. Or is it boat? 🙂 You’re in charge. Yah!!!


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