Hungry As A Bear

Sage ReddyHealth

This post is excerpted from my book Oh, Shut Up And Eat: the 4 healthy eating habits of lean ‘n happy people. It’s part 2 of a series on hunger vs appetite. Part 1: I Could Eat A Horse.

The eating habits of our sped-up, tech-seduced, overmedicated culture are mostly Cartesian in nature: they’re mechanistic and cold. Food, for us, is mostly a fuel. Pull up, fill up, go! Eating in our neurotic culture has little or nothing to do with hunger.

Between ready-to-eat packaged foods and fast food, food here is available around the clock. As Jeff Mander says, “We live in an age when pizza gets to your home before the police.” We already know that your mind’s fine—thank you very much—with its “fill ‘er up and go” attitude. But what does your body think of it?

Frankly, not much. Food is not always welcome in the body, you know. What?! Yes, let me repeat: your body does not always welcome food. This simple fact of nature boggles our civilized minds. So when is food most welcome?

When you’re hungry!

“Our toaster has two settings: too soon or too late.” ~ Sam Levenson

Hunger vs Appetite

That said, there’s hunger and then there’s appetite. A healthy appetite is a good thing, be it for food or for life. You wanna eat means you wanna live. Then what’s the problem?

The problem is, we mistake appetite for hunger.

Just because you have the appetite doesn’t mean you’re hungry. Appetite represents a want, not a need: you want food but you don’t need it. Hunger, on the other hand, is a need, not a want. It’s a need that must be satisfied— or else.

Food is best when you have the hunger and the appetite; it’s sort of O.K. when you have the appetite but not the hunger; it’s totally unwelcome when you have neither. Put another way, food is best when your body needs it, sort of O.K. when you want it (but don’t need it), and horrible when you neither need it nor want it.

Even if you don’t need the food you’re mowing through, you should at the very least want it. Otherwise, you put your mind/body system into what I call the “zombie zone”—prone to extreme mindlessness. Unwanted food is like sex with people you’re not into: harmless on occasion, but destructive in the long haul.

That said, let me clarify. I didn’t say, “never ever eat unless you’re hungry.” Nor am I suggesting that you should be famished before you think about food. What I am saying is “It’s better to eat when you’re hungry.” Your body is forgiving. Just don’t push your luck.

Mind & Body Doing A Tango

Your mind may find unnecessary food gratifying; your body doesn’t. Your body looks forward to unwanted food as much as you do to a telemarketing call, to email spam, or to unsolicited advice. The food, the unsolicited advice or product may all be good, but that’s not the point. The point is the timing is off.

Which makes it unwelcome.

Both food (thanks to packaged food) and sex (thanks to porn) are available 24/7 in our culture. Your mind’s ready to seize the thrill; your body, not so much. Hunger is to eating what arousal is to sex: the body’s not up for it just because the mind is. For it to work, your mind must plug into the socket of your body. (The sexual pun was unintended, but it’s rather convenient.)

Or as the Wisefool would say…

“Both food and sex come with the same basic instructions: find a socket that works, plug in, enjoy! With food, the socket’s called ‘hunger.’” ~ the Wisefool

Fine! But how do you know when your body is ready to, you know, plug in?

Simple, listen to your body; it’ll tell you. With food, the body speaks to you via a sensation called hunger. When you’re hungry, eat. Otherwise, don’t. Which is what Gramma would have told you. And you thought life was complicated.

Eating only when hungry amounts to thinking with your belly—instead of with your head as you’ve been taught to do. We do a good job of thinking with our heads, but in the process we also disconnect from our bodies. The head’s good for analysis and problem solving, but not so good for helping you connect with life as we know it. So when it comes to food, it’s much better to think with your belly.

You take all this in, then point your finger at the man with a protruding belly and exclaim, “But isn’t that what he does? He thinks with his belly. Look at it!”

If only. Looks can be deceptive, and often are. The reality is that the man with the large belly has disconnected from his body. His brain and his belly have their own separate agenda. His mind is not plugged into his body.

This post was excerpted from my book Oh, Shut Up And Eat: the 4 healthy eating habits of lean ‘n happy people. It’s part 2 of a series on hunger vs appetite. Part 1: I Could Eat A Horse.

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