Am I Hungry or Do I Just Want to Eat?

So I’m sitting here at my desk trying to decide whether I should eat and I’m totally having a revelation.

I’ve had this discussion with myself a million times. “Should I eat? And if so what?”

But this time it’s different. 

This time it’s not about whether I think I should eat because I’m “on a diet.” Or because I “shouldn’t be hungry yet,” it’s “not time to eat yet,” or I’m “saving my calories for a big dinner.”

This time I didn’t pig out at breakfast so I’m trying to to starve myself the rest of the day.

I didn’t just binge on half a pack of Oreo cookies and now I think I shouldn’t eat the Wavy Lays potato chips that I’m looking at on the shelf.

This time I’m just wondering whether I should eat because I’m running four miles an hour or two from now and I need enough fuel to get through it. I’ve run on empty before and it’s pretty much a tragic experience. You know those memes where it shows what we think we look like while we’re doing Zumba or jogging (rock stars) vs. what we really look like (spastic nerds)?


Well there’s some mysterious formula that maybe you and everyone else already knew but apparently after a certain amount of time goes by, food gets metabolized. Our bodies therefore need more to go on. What a concept! Eating isn’t all about my taste buds!

If I try to run after that mysterious time when metabolized food has passed I don’t even pretend to think I look like a rock star. I look like I have two twisted ankles, the back and hips of a 185 year old, and the lungs of a two pack a day smoker.

But right now I can’t tell whether or not I’m hungry… is the food metabolized and I need to refuel?

I’m wondering if all the years of dieting and binging hijacked my ability to listen to hunger signals because I was pretty much always either starving or stuffing myself for a lot of my life. Or maybe it’s just the way my body works.

I notice that some people seem to have no problem with this whatsoever. They start eating, stop eating, whatever, no big deal.

But it hit me for the first time that I don’t even read my own signals.

I’ve been eating a mostly Paleo diet for a few years and had already cut sugar and junk food a few years before, so that’s basically taken away the constant hunger from cravings. It rears its ugly head from time to time but isn’t a daily (hourly) issue anymore.

Right now, though, I’m realizing that I’ve been paying attention to what I eat but not really when to eat or what my body needs in the moment.

I think I usually eat when I’m past hungry. I know when I’m past hungry and feel like I could inhale everything in the grocery store.

Which is a recipe for ugly eating. You’ve heard of the ugly cry, well the ugly binge is no prettier.

The cure for the ugly binge is eating the right way when the hunger begins.

I got so conditioned to telling myself “DON’T EAT!!” “Eating is bad!” “Danger: Ignore hunger!!” “Hunger = eating too much = badness!!” So I’d wait and then I’d be famished and start eating the entire pantry. Wow. Even though I have self-control now and like to eat healthy food so I don’t gorge the way I used to but I still have the same thought process too much.

Sitting here right now, I know I could eat. A lot even. Particularly if I see something like potato salad or a brownie… or if I smell a freshly toasted bagel smothered in cream cheese. Can you relate? But I just realized that’s not hunger. I really don’t know if my body needs fuel or if it’s just remembering what that rush of sugar, chocolate, flour, and salt feels like. Is my stomach is empty or are my taste buds are just being tantalized?

I realize that I need to know when I’m hungry not just because of running but also to take care of myself. I wish I would’ve known this as a teenager. When the binging and food addiction started. I wish I would’ve known how to listen and take care of my body with nutrition the same way I listened to it when it needed sleep, allergy medicine, or an antibiotic for pneumonia. 

Why is it so different with eating?

I also need to know when I’m full: but just a satisfied “enough.” Fueled, not stuffed. Maybe everyone else knew this too but I finally realized it’s a thing… there’s a point where I’ve fed my body just what it needs and it’s time to stop eating. I was quite the overachiever in that arena for awhile. Couldn’t stop til stuffed.

But when I run, an overly full stomach feels like a big blob of paste churning up and down in my gut that I’m trying to heave down the road. That too is quite the unappealing looking meme. So if I go and inhale a bagel and cream cheese or potato salad I’m in for either a sudden and extreme need for a nap or four miles of torture and I’d just rather not endure that this afternoon.

Running is giving me this gift of finally understanding how my body works. It’s another step in helping me get my power back. It’s keeping that engulfing beast away.

That famous word “calorie” is even making a lot more sense. I get it and feel its energy. Who doesn’t love some energy?! I understand that it’s not an evil to be shunned at all costs. I need calories but I’ve learned how calories from different kinds of foods react with my body in different ways.

Who woulda thunk it??

This sport I always hated and thought I could never do is giving me another gift.

It’s making me aware of how extensive my mind games were and are about eating. It’s making me aware of the reality of nutrition and body chemistry. This isn’t about what size pants I’ll fit in to if I eat x, y, or z. It isn’t about a made up beauty standard.

Food – i.e. nourishment – is a necessity. And it’s a gift. Healthy food, that is.

This feels like I’m entering a new stage in taking care of myself. Trying to fuel my body and eat when I’m hungry, with food that helps it do whatever it needs to in the upcoming hours – whether that’s run or work or sleep. I see that running takes different type of fuel than working. It needs to be light and quick burning when it’s running food. Long lasting proteins and fiber from veggies or fruit are much more helpful when I’m working so I’m not nagged with hunger pains. Keeping the sugars, white flours, and starches to a minimum help my blood sugar stay steady so I’m not getting those exhaustion-crashes and cravings. 

Right now I think I’m realizing that when I’m not hungry, I don’t think about food or eating. When it starts coming into my head (without seeing or smelling the tantalizing thing in front of me), I’m starting to get hungry. I should think about what I have to do and choose the nutrition that fits that.

I’m not “starving” right now, and my run will be pretty short. I’m going to have a banana and some applesauce.

So excuse me while I do the happy dance but I feel like I just knocked out my opponent in a boxing match and could quite possibly take on the rest of the world. Or at least a four mile run. After struggling as long and brutally as I did to get control over what I put in my body, every single time I look it in the face and choose… for myself… not let it choose for me (or if I start again after messing up), I WIN! 

I’ll let you know how this progresses….

Gotta find a meme of a semi-spastic rock star looking chick feeling like she climbed Mt. Everest.

If you or someone you know is battling an addiction, please be know that you can get control over it. You can feel normal and you can heal. Different approaches work for different people. If you’d like to talk about eating disorders, get support, or have “tried everything and nothing sticks,” please let me know. You can email me by clicking on the little envelope icon above or leave a comment here.

Pressing On,

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