Hunger is our body’s natural, biological response to lack of food. Our bodies need nourishment; taking care of that need in a healthy way is a goal that we all share. However, hunger and appetite are two different things. Appetite is our desire to eat food, which may develop even when our bodies are not showing signs of hunger. At other times, our bodies may be telling us that we need to eat when we have no appetite. There are two types of hunger that our bodies are accustomed to; stomach hunger, which is true, physical hunger that our body understands, versus mouth hunger, which is merely food looking good.
When eating, it is helpful to use a hunger scale from zero to 10, with three as a place to begin as slightly hungry. Ideally, people should not wait until they are overly hungry, where they cannot make good decisions, and stop at a seven, which is stopping when your body feels full, but light, knowing there is always food available. Out of all of the factors that influence our appetite, our emotional state tops the list. Feelings of stress, grief, anxiety, and depression can profoundly change our appetites. Food is one way of coping with past trauma, as well as the pressures we are currently facing.
For those of us who wrestle with deep-seated emotional eating challenges, talking openly about our appetite may help us gain new perspective on the road to recovery. In group therapy sessions, members learn to trust each other enough to share experiences that have long been kept inside. Oftentimes, therapy participants are surprised that others are talking about their relationship with food in the same way they do.
Many of us use food as a substitute for coping with what bothers us, then we feel guilty about doing it. We think we are terrible people because no one else does what we do. However, when we join a group, we discover that we are not alone in this experience. There are others with us on this journey fighting many of the same battles. In sharing that commonality, we may find that good things are happening right now to pull us up where we want to be. There are different strategies we can try along the way to recovery. Practicing mindfulness meditation before eating might be one approach to consider, which includes the following:
- Waiting until you are moderately hungry before eating
- Taking a few deep breaths before you eat to relax
- Taking time to enjoy what you eat without watching television, reading, or finding other distractions
- Stopping when your body says it is enough
Above all, give yourself space. You do not need to have the perfect meal every time. Being mindful is, in itself, a real victory. Try to work on breaking the cycle and remember that you are enjoying the precious gift of life, right now, for a reason. Society needs your skills and personality. Think about the things you would like to explore and make a plan to do them.
You are not alone in your journey. As long as you take a deep breath and look around, you have the opportunity to silence negativity and cultivate the unique insight and ability inside of you. People in your community and our society need you and your unique strengths, and Joanne Gerr, L.C.S.W. can help you find your way. To join a support group or for individual counseling, call 212-750-8130 or fill out an online form today. Located in Manhattan and Highland Park, New Jersey, our New Jersey therapist helps individuals throughout Highland Park, East Brunswick, Manalapan Township, Marlboro, Westfield, and New York City.