Be Well Wednesday | Hunger vs. Longing

Hunger vs. LongingYou hear it all the time.  Don’t let yourself get hungry.  As if hunger is some sort of enemy that if you allow it to do it’s thing, will overwhelm you.  Or worse yet, if you get hungry, once you start eating, you’ll never stop.  Like hunger is the cause of all binging.

I don’t buy it.

In fact, I it’s out and out wrong.  Hunger is your friend.  It certainly is mine.

I understand where the beware of hunger comes from.  It’s sold as a well meaning insurance policy against ‘feeling like eating’.  And us bingers know the out of controllness that can accompany ‘feeling like eating’.

I’m going to suggest something shocking.  Hunger is one of the best things you can allow yourself to feel.   I’m not talking about starving yourself.  I’m talking about allowing the sensation of hunger to arrive between meals before you eat.


Because it’s your bodies natural communication mechanism.  It’s the way your body gets to say, okay, need some more nutrition now.  Hunger not only takes you into your senses, it’s the system your body uses to tell you how much it needs.  By over-riding this system, you are refusing to listen to what your body is telling you and you are outsourcing how much + what you need to eat to logical thought.  And we know how that goes.

Not to mention, eating so you don’t get hungry, puts a whole bunch of food into your system that you might not need.  And who needs extra food, right?  I mean, your body doesn’t need food until it’s hungry, so why eat when it isn’t?  Exactly!

Allowing hunger to guide what you eat creates a beautiful dance with your physical body. It sets up respect + trust for yourself.  And allows you to use your brain for what it’s best at; being creative.   So much more powerful than wasting all that brain power on what goes in your mouth.

But here’s where we sometimes go wrong.  Because we have been outsourcing what we eat for so long, we confuse hunger with longing.  Hunger is a subtle, pleasant sensation that starts quietly, grows slowly and gets louder by small increases.  You get an increase in alertness as your hunger arises.  Hunger is not fussy.  It is easily pleased by a huge range of foods.  Hunger makes food taste incredible to start with, then pulls the taste back as it gets satisfied.  Your energy will dip after you have eaten as your body turns it attention to digestion.

Longing on the other hand, is a very different beast.  Longing is an emotional emptiness that when we are not used to feeling hunger can be mistaken for hunger and makes us think we need to eat.

It is a learned ‘eating’ response.   You know what I’m talking about.  Eating to alleviate intense feelings.  Being hurt.  Bored.  Confused.  Frightened in some way.  Fear often accompanies a longing to eat.

Longing as a desire to eat comes on quickly and is hard to satisfy.  It asks for very specific foods.  You’ll notice an intense craving.  Food doesn’t taste particularly good when you are longing, and it feels like you need to keep eating to find the right taste.

The cool thing about knowing the difference between these two is, the more you eat for hunger, the less you need to eat to satisfy longing.  You begin to understand the difference and you can then make a conscious choice about what you do.

This weeks exercise is designed to familiarise yourself between longing + hunger.

1)  Allow yourself to get hungry.   Get extremely interested in the sensation of it.  Where do you feel it in your stomach.  What is happening to your energy.  How does food taste when you are hungry?

2)  Notice the difference between longing and hunger.  Don’t worry if you eat from longing.  Be easy on yourself.  You’ve been eating for longing for years.  That might not go away overnight.  The important practice for now is to notice the difference.

Bonus exercise:  If you notice yourself longing to eat, see if you can spot what has bought it on.  A flash of fear?  Boredom?  Anxiety?  See if you can put a little space between feeling the longing and eating.  Even if it’s just a minute or two.  Just be with the sensation.  Notice it.  Sit down and feel it for a moment.   You may find noticing it will make it diminish.  Or not.

To this day, I still sometimes eat from longing.  I’m sometimes hit so hard that I’m in the fridge, hand to mouth, before I know it.  But the cool thing is, I almost instantly see what I’m doing, I allow myself to really feel the emotion and it quickly passes.  The desire to eat gone.

What I’m saying is take this lesson very gently.  The distinction between hunger and longing is a powerful, amazing thing to have.  You might skid around with it for a while as you learn the signals of your body and attune your awareness to what’s going on.

Or, it may hit you like a wall and eating for longing is a bygone era.

Whatever your experience, it’s perfect.  You’ve so got this.