Something I have been facing a lot recently is the question, "Am I still hungry?". After every meal and snack I find myself questioning in depth whether or not my hunger has been satisfied and whether I have eaten enough. This is something that is causing me quite a bit of grief, as having moved away from calorie counting I am now finding myself unsure of what quantities I should be eating in, as without numbers to guide me, I am finding it harder than I would have imagined to trust my natural body queues.
As this is a struggle I'm still in the midst of navigating, I didn't want to start dishing out advice that I may later deem inadequate or inappropriate. Therefore, I have been looking to other sources to try and find some answers, both for myself and to share with you guys. I'm sure I will revisit this topic at a later date with more insight, however I have been taking comfort in a post by Tabitha Farrar https://tabithafarrar.com/2019/04/eating-disorder-recovery-questions-how-do-i-know-if-i-want-more-food/ , which I believe is a useful resource if you're in a similar situation to me.
I have found it difficult to distinguish between my mental and physical hunger, and have been fearful of honouring the sensation to find out it's the first. This is because, despite what I am trying to believe in my recovery, I still have disordered thoughts surrounding emotional eating. For me, when I refer to 'emotional eating' I am talking about those times when I turn to high quantities of food, often in the style of what may be considered a binge, in response to having experienced high levels of stress or on the flip side, having had a really positive experience or breakthrough. For clarity, I'll use a recent example whereby I made a connection between my fear of weight gain and my motivations to recover (something I'll be covering in an upcoming post), and the relief of the realisation led me to consuming a large amount of calories in the form of foods that diet culture would deem "naughty".
It was following this (whilst trying to work through the guilt my ED forced upon me) that I discovered Tabitha's post in which she claimed not to subscribe to the traditional picture of emotional eating, and rationalised the fear of such a thing by stating it was our disordered thoughts that led us to believe there was anything wrong or abnormal about it. As she pointed out, we are always experiencing some form of emotion, and so all our actions in life tend to be emotionally guided on at least some level. Furthermore, if your ED was restrictive, you have every reason to eat in response to how you're feeling! More over, if the emotion you're responding to is stress in whatever form, then scientifically consuming more calories the appropriate action as the human stress response uses energy and so we need to fuel this, and that means food!
I feel the main take away from her post for me at least, is that i don't need to separate my different types of hunger, and that in doing so I am claiming one is less valid than the other which is untrue. I am suffering from malnourishment as a result of my ED and this both a physical and mental stressor. Consequently, if I feel hungry, then I should eat in order to provide my body with the energy it needs to process this.
I will also be adopting her logic in that if you are having to question whether or not you're hungry, then you're hungry. I found it hard to comprehend why I'd needed something so blatantly obvious explaining to me, however it is of course the result of having an ED. Normal people who don't have disordered thoughts or behaviours around food, don't think about it 24/7... they experience mental hunger when they're hungry! That's how our bodies work!
I think often we have spent so long in our disordered lives that we forget that these concepts we're talking about are actual human functions, it's just that ours are just not working quite right at the moment because of what we've put our bodies through. These terms like "mental hunger" aren't special ED concepts, everyone has them, but in recovery we are prone to fixating on them as we are still working to repair the mutual broken trust we caused with our bodies. The point is, if you're thinking about the food, be it trying to work out whether you really want it, or trying to convince yourself that you don't, then either way you're thinking about it so guess what? You do want the food, so eat it!
All types of hunger are valid, always, but especially in recovery when we are trying to heal our bodies and prove to them that if they need food, it will be available every time - we're not going to deprive them of it any more. Tabitha suggests asking yourself the question "If this food had zero calories in it, would I eat it?", and if the answer is "yes" then following through by honouring your confirmed hunger. Yes, until we are fully recovered we will still have to deal with the guilt and fear that surrounds this decision, as just by accepting we're hungry, it doesn't make it any easier. This is just step one, we then of course have to face the challenge of acting on it, and fight against the ED thoughts we are likely to be bombarded with. Regardless though, I hope this post has maybe helped arm you with an answer to at least one of the questions your ED might throw at you. Next time it asks if "you're really hungry", you can tell it "Yes!" because if you're questioning it, you're thinking about the food, and that means you want it.
I hope this post was of use to some of you out there!
Make sure you check out Tabitha's post :)
More from me soon,
Mais // The Recovery Bean <3