diets · eating

Hunger is not an emergency, neither is it cause for celebration

What does it mean to say that hunger is not an emergency? You can read about this idea here, here, and here. The slogan is associated with certain approaches to dieting and while I’m not a fan of dieting, there’s something this phrase gets right, I think.

The basic idea is to regard hunger neutrally. You realize that nothing awful happens when you get hungry. There’s no need to feel anxious or panicky. You also don’t celebrate hunger. ‘Oh good, I’m really hungry. That means I’m losing weight.’ (That’s why I amended the slogan in my title of the blog post, to include the second thing that hunger isn’t.)

Most of my life I’ve been in the first camp, hunger makes me nervous, but I know lots of chronic dieters who are in the second.

Hunger is just a physiological condition. I’m in no danger of starving.

I’ve been trying to make peace with hunger and not get frantic when I get hungry. This doesn’t mean that hunger is to be ignored but hunger doesn’t mean that I need to eat whatever is nearby and fast to make it go away. It’s okay to be hungry sometimes.

I think of this as recognizing and making peace with hunger.

Is the idea that hunger can be okay completely opposed to Tracy’s intuitive eating approach? I don’t think so.

You recognize hunger and then what happens? Ideally, you have healthy snacks nearby and carry them with you. Alternatively, you note that you’re hungry and wait. Either way nothing disastrous happens.

In our society of constant snacking very few people of economic means have to experience hunger. Some people don’t even recognize it. At the slightest twinge of hunger, we eat.

Some of the recent interest in intermittent fasting comes from an interest in making peace with hunger.

John Berardi at Precision Nutrition recommends fasting as a way of learning to manage hunger: “To experience hunger intentionally in order to get accustomed to the feeling, and, well… not freak out. The ability to manage hunger is essential to fitness and good health, and this is a great way to get better at it.”

“The better you can manage hunger, the less likely you are to react compulsively to it. To get fit — and stay fit — you need that skill….So you missed a meal. Who cares? Might even be good for you. Just keep going.”

This is very different from the counsel which says ‘never ever skip a meal.’ I don’t plan on skipping meals, except possibly on travel days, but I don’t plan to freak out any more when I get hungry.

Read more here:

1. Precision Nutrition’s Introduction to Intermittent Fasting

2. Hunger and Nutrition

3. Airports, travel, and fitness

7 thoughts on “Hunger is not an emergency, neither is it cause for celebration

  1. “Making peace with hunger” is precisely why I’ve incorporated some intermittent fasting. I used to absolutely PANIC when I got hungry, like it was the end of the world! And I never experienced any really intense hunger either, I’m talking about a delayed meal. The first time I fasted (24 hours) it was because I realized that I had never – NEVER – missed a meal in my life, other than due to occasional illness. That’s probably pretty unusual, in the grand scheme of human experience. I wanted to see if I could do it. It’s funny now how trepidatious I was, I was afraid I might pass out or something! Now I usually, but not always, fast once a week, just as a psychic kick in the pants. Can’t say I “like” it, but I find it beneficial.

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    1. Yes, that’s exactly my experience. The only times I’ve really gone without food had involved medical testing. Doing it deliberately makes you feel realize it’s okay.

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  2. “The basic idea is to regard hunger neutrally.”

    +1 Celebrating hunger is kind of strange anyway. Even if one does it for religious reasons. I means, please isn’t it a time of humility?

    Or becoming anxious…well, only if you’re hungry for more than a few days. Really hungry.

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  3. Ugh, I am SO guilty of panicking with hunger. I don’t handle it well at all. 18 months ago, I would become a raving lunatic when I was hungry, tetchy and aggressive. I could force myself through it, but I’d have a hard time keeping my mind off food and I hated every second of it. Since transitioning to Paleo, and increasing my fat intake (and indeed overall food intake), this has mostly abated – I can handle skipping a meal much better, and I can be hungry without getting hangry. Still, I strongly dislike the feeling of genuine-rumbly-guts-hunger, and I only fast informally if I don’t feel like eating (as opposed to feeling the hunger and ignoring it). Still some ways to go on that journey…

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  4. I just got Intuitive Eating on audio and haven’t cracked it open yet. I feel like I could have written the book… (wow that sounded egotistical). I guess I’m saying I approve and live this way 🙂

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