I Could Eat A Horse

Sage ReddyHealth

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

“I’m on a seafood diet. When I see food, I eat it.” ~ Anonymous

At a talk I gave on food, one of the participants, whom I’ll call Raymond—a handsome devil, clad in plaid, with a beautiful girlfriend in tow—posed a question: “How can I tell when I’m hungry?” A simple question that deserves a simple answer, right?

Except that I didn’t have one.

The stranger had me completely stumped, leaving me too stunned to respond. I’d have fared a lot better had he quizzed me on the workings of Credit Default Swaps or even String Theory. Raymond had tossed a monkey wrench into the neat gears of my mind without as much as a warning. The gears jammed instantly and I went blank for an embarrassingly long minute. My thoughts?

“Dude! Are you kidding me? That’s like someone asking, ‘How do I know when I’m drunk?’ You’re either being a wise guy or you’re trying to be funny. No sir, I’m not falling for that. Then again, I have this BS detector inside me which is not going off right now. You look too darned earnest to be pulling my leg. Hmm…. But, but, how can you not know what hunger feels like? Everyone does. Well, don’t they?”

Apparently not.

Raymond was not kidding. He was as earnest as they come. Sincerity was writ all over his red face and intense blue eyes. This was my first ever workshop on food, and I assumed, rather naively, that everyone was familiar with the belly-monster we know as hunger. What we do when hunger strikes is a whole ‘nother matter—but everyone, absolutely everyone, knows what hunger feels like. Or so I believed.


That afternoon, as I searched for words to answer Raymond, I was also busy amusing myself with these thoughts: “Welcome to planet Earth. Here you can take birth in a poor nation where you’ll get to experience hunger without food, or you can go with a rich nation where you’ll get to have food without hunger. Which is better? Hell if I know. You’ll have to find out for yourself. Enjoy your stay. Cheers!”

The Wisefool, who’d never be caught dead without an opinion, has this to say: “The only thing worse than hunger without food is the chronic lack of hunger.”

When you don’t know the answer to someone’s question, hide your ignorance and pose them a question in return: “Have you never experienced hunger?” “No,” he replied. “So when do you eat?” I persisted.

“I eat when it’s time to eat. Lunchtime, dinnertime, you know. This was true when I was little and it’s true now. When I was a kid, my mother basically told us when to eat. She called us down for dinner every night. I have never associated hunger with eating. I don’t even know what hunger feels like.”

Raymond, like most people in the West, confuses appetite with hunger. The first is a desire for food, even if the body has no need for it. The second is the body’s physical cue for food, a need that must be fulfilled… or else.

As I pondered on Raymond’s words, he continued: “Wait, I have a better answer for you. When do I eat? I eat when there’s food. I eat when it’s time to eat. I eat when I’m bored. But mainly, I eat because I can.”

That last statement, “I eat because I can,” said it all. If America had a voice about food it was speaking through Raymond. We Americans, like Raymond, eat—because we can.

“You got a problem with that?” you ask, your fingers curling into a fist.

I don’t. But then, I don’t speak for your body.

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

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