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Hunger and Nutrition

There’s a lot of talk about hunger in the literature about making food choices. It doesn’t matter whether your focus is sports nutrition, weight loss, or ‘making peace with food’ and ending dieting, most books in these areas talk about hunger. It’s clear that hunger is something we need to recognize and to which we need to respond. We need to listen to our bodies and to eat when we’re hungry.

I struggle a bit with this because I’m often not hungry when I know I need to eat–during long, intense bike rides is the most common example–and at other times I’m famished even when I know there’s no need for extra calories (after long bike rides when I’m often hungry for the rest of the day and into the next one even after I’ve refueled.)

I was interested to read recently that part of my confusion may be connected to our misunderstanding of hunger.

In Hunger. What it is and what you can do about it Richard Feinman writes:

“We grow up thinking that hunger is somehow our body’s way of telling us that we need food but, for most of us that is not usually the case.  Few of us are so fit, or have so little body fat, or are so active that our bodies start calling for energy if we miss lunch.  Conversely, those of us who really like food generally hold to the philosophy that “any fool can eat when they’re hungry;” passing up a really good chocolate mousse just because you are not hungry is like … well, I don’t know what it’s like. “

When I was focusing on sports nutrition last year, I played a bit with the feelings of hunger in an effort to make peace with them. In situations where I know I’ve had enough to eat, and it’s just a feeling that I can choose to act on or not, I tried to live awhile with hunger and see if I could just let the sensation be. It was interesting experiment and it served me well to realize that the world doesn’t end. I needn’t binge at the next meal. Sometimes it’s okay to live with hunger and wait.

These days I use that to my advantage on traveling days. Yes, I pack food but if I run out it’s not the end of the world.

I hope I don’t have to use that trick as I travel home from Atlanta, site of the 2012 Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, today.

That’s the 1983 film The Hunger, of course. My first vampire movie starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon.

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