The summary, to repeat: I have an irrational fear of getting hungry. Fear of getting hungry makes me overeat at meals so I won't get hungry later. Because I try never to get hungry, I don't respond normally to hunger signals; so I look for external cues (rather than internal hunger/fullness signs) to decide whether and when to eat. In the last post I wrote about one approach to the problem, that is, to find non-overeating ways to deal with the effects of the fear of being hungry.
This post is about the fear itself.
There must be a lot of people out there who are afraid of getting hungry, because I notice that many diets and diet books sell themselves with the promise "You don't have to be hungry." You could fill a category at Amazon.com with the topic, "Lose weight by eating." (We've heard this before in the forms "The more you spend, the more you save!" and "Simplify your life by buying more stuff!") This is always the promise: as long as you eat the right food, you can have as much of it as you want. Perhaps, as in low-fat diets, the right food has got less calories than something you might eat instead; or perhaps, as in low-carb diets, the right food produces satiety signals in smaller amounts; or perhaps, as in a fairly new category of low-energy-density diet, the right food has low calories per unit volume and so physically fills you up on few calories. Whatever; sooner or later when you read the book, you will come to a sentence that tells you on this diet, you're not supposed to be hungry.
This is a great promise, for people who are afraid of being hungry! You will not have to face your fear.
(It's not a bad thing. It can work; I've done it. If you're not ready to face your fear it might be the best thing.)
But it's clearly not the thing that we broken-hunger-signals, fear-of-hunger people should shoot for, because of a simple fact: Normally, people get hungry.
- Point one: Most people throughout world history have had to be hungry at least some of the time, so we evolved/were designed to deal with and even thrive with frequent pangs of hunger.
- Point two: Even here in the fat USA, normal-weight and healthy people get hungry. (I know. I live with one.) They eat, they're full, time passes, they get hungry, they eat.
"Never being hungry" is something that I suspect is highly correlated with obesity. (Note: not the same as "never describing yourself as hungry.")
Perhaps it's really a fear of all kinds of suffering. Fear of hunger; fear of pain; fear of loneliness; fear of sadness; fear of exhaustion... Would you take a drug or follow a program that promised you'd never feel sad again? Many people would; many people do, or at least they try to. People deaden themselves to get rid of the sadness and the pain and the loneliness, sometimes even with full knowledge that they deaden the same self that could feel joy and pleasure and connection.
About ten years ago I read a halfway-decent diet book that taught me quite a bit I didn't know at the time; in retrospect, it was probably the one that started me climbing out of the (for me, useless) low-fat rut. It helped me begin to notice sugar, and fiber, and protein. But that's not the most important thing I got from it. One sentence from this book caught my eye and stuck in my mind back then, and I still remember it. It has kept coming back to my mind for years, even though I have rarely followed its advice. On page 203 it says:
For someone with an irrational fear of hunger, this is a bracing slap in the face. Get some perspective! it says to me. Get over yourself! Be thankful for what you have! Oh, and, by the way, it's not such a bad idea for losing weight.
"Three-quarters of the world's population goes to bed hungry, and so should you."
The corollary to this is, of course, that most of the world's population also gets hungry between meals. And so should you.
I've been trying to get around it for ten years. I'm ready to stop. I'm ready to go to bed hungry.
More later on how I'm doing it.