Hunger is one of the first sensations our body recognizes. One of the first things a newborn babe does? Signals that s/he is ready for some FOOD. (After about ten months, who can blame ’em?) We don’t question it; we feed them, ASAP. (Nobody wants a hangry babe.) Yet we let ourselves get hangry all the time—ignoring hunger because some diet, or deeply entrenched food rule, says it’s OK to do so.
You’ve felt “hangry” at some point, I’m sure.
It’s often said in a joking tone, or maybe with that NO-SRSLY-GET-ME-FOOD-NOW look. It’s so common that I don’t even think I have to describe what “hangry” is. It’s in a few dictionaries. (Yep.)
I hear it from clients. I’ve said it myself. I have friends and family members who have very clear signs hunger gone too far. It happens—we wait too long to eat something, or ignore hunger cues entirely, and our body is like OH HELL NO. We’ve been there, at some point.
We know what hangry means because diet culture decided that we don’t get to eat when we’re hungry. Instead, we have to eat when it says so—at certain meal times, or acceptable snack intervals, when there are calories left in the daily allotment, or on a cheat day. Instead of listening to what our body needs on any given day, we abide by these food rules. When the two don’t align (i.e. most of the time), we fee “hangry” and assume it’s normal.
Why is hunger introduced so early in the IE series of principles?
I can only speculate, but I have a sense it’s because it’s the first thing to be ignored in diet culture. Some even say you “should” feel hungry on a diet; some people restrict so often for so long that (as a gift from evolution) they don’t even notice sensations of hunger. Eating disorders, poor sleep hygiene, chronic dieting (i.e. disordered eating), medications, and stress are just a few things that influence our ability to tune into, or ability to disregard, hunger.
But I think one of the biggest obstacles is self trust.
Thanks to diet culture and disordered eating, trust is misplaced when it comes to hunger. So many people are quick to trust a set of rules—”I just need some structure!” Translation: I don’t trust myself. I don’t trust my body’s hunger cues. If I eat every time I feel hungry, I’ll gain weight!
Ah, there it is.
Not only distrust, but no faith in the body’s regulatory mechanisms. Oh, and a fear of fat. A fear of the body changes that manifests in multiple attempts at manipulating the body to stay a certain size, or look a certain way. A false sense of security in this so-called “structure”, aka diet, that feels safe and controlled.
Primal hunger eventually kicks in–that hangry feeling, if you will.
It’s the body’s way of saying it can’t keep going without some source of nourishment. But it tells you this long before you feel hangry. There are sensations of hunger that you can start to tune into, that will help you avoid being hangry ever again (or at least 99% of the time; life happens). When we trust hunger, we can start to eat intuitively and forget about rules, structure, and diets altogether. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.
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Listen to this RD Real Talk episode, featuring fellow IE dietitian Jennifer McGurk, to learn what we mean by honoring hunger, how to start working on this, and why it’s crucial to your sanity to do so. Your health won’t mind, either.