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  • Dana Kellner

7 Things You May Be Confusing with Hunger



A few years ago I read an article in which Oprah was being interviewed about her battle with weight.  In the article she explains how she was struggling some health issues.  Her doctor said to her, "learn to embrace hunger." I started to think about this a lot over the last week.  I am still thinking about it as I drink my coffee... stomach growling.  It sounds like advice that would lead to disordered eating... which I already struggle with. 


Several years ago, I lost weight after my having my first child.  I remember using this mantra to deprive myself of delicious foods I would have normally over-indulged in.  Now, a bit older and a LOT more aware of my disordered eating habits, I am leery of this advice-- to embrace hunger.  Sure, you have to eat less than you burn to lose weight, but does that mean I am just going to be hungry every day for 5 months? Because the thought of that makes me want to quit right now. Maybe this advice is what has perpetuated Oprah's struggle with maintenance... and so many others.  Maybe hunger isn't necessarily something we have to live with in such dramatic form.  Maybe it is awareness.  So many things over the last week have FELT like hunger.  They were things that would drive me to the pantry and fridge.  And, the urges were super intense this week. 


In the article, Oprah goes on to say, "My drug of choice is food. I use food for the same reasons an addict uses drugs: to comfort, to soothe, to ease stress."  The quote stopped me in my tracks.  Me too. I was sad about where I am... that I have so much to lose... walk to the pantry. I was stressed with setting up virtual learning for my students and getting my son's work done as well... walk to the fridge.  I was angry (due to cutting out sugar)... same ole, same ole. I am using food.  And it is destroying me.

This week, I have noticed that I reach for food when:


  1. It is routine... my old routine. "Oh it's noon. Time for lunch."  I eat because the clock tells me to eat, not because my body asked for food. I work a full time job with a very inflexible schedule normally. This quarantine has helped me see how much my body and brain sync with the schedule I have for work.  Obviously, if you are on an inflexible schedule for work, then eat when you can, but be aware of your body's needs before chowing down everything in sight. 

  2. I am exhausted.  I have a 10 month old who has FINALLY hit his 8 month sleep regression.  He has been waking up at 11 pm (an hour after we fall asleep), 4 am, then at 6 am for the day.  Thank goodness for my husband.  He helps so much, but even these sleep disruptions have made this journey a little bit harder.  It makes sense.  Your body is out of fuel, and it is doing what it knows to do to recharge... get more fuel.   On a more scientific level, not getting enough sleep wreaks havoc on your hormones.  And, some hormones really do matter when it comes to your appetite, including ghrelin, insulin, cortisol and leptin. These four hormones help to rouse and appease your appetite and regulate your metabolism. 

  3. Food is always out. I grew up in a family that values food A LOT. When we cooked out, we were often not even hungry when the food was ready because we had been digging into the appetizers.  There was always something to grab sitting out on the counter, always 2-4 desserts with a butter knife strategically placed for a quick grab on the way to the patio.  The family I married into is the complete opposite.  I think we even ordered pizza one year for Thanksgiving because food just wasn't the main attraction.  Not surprisingly, far fewer people in my husband's family struggle with their weight, while nearly everyone on my dad's side does.  I have an opportunity to create the environment I want in my own home.  We cook, we eat, we put it away.  A fruit bowl sits on the counter.  Veggies and berries are readily accessible in the fridge.  Junk is something that was a lot easier to avoid before having kids, but even the kids' junk food is put away and healthier options are easier to grab.  

  4. I am bored. As a teacher I have noticed how much I munch in the summers.  My days are slow and empty, which is a HUGE transition from the crazy hours and busy days of the school year.  I find myself wandering to the kitchen so much more than I would have wandered to the break room.  Some things I am working on for myself include: this blog, walking more, other hobbies like reading, writing, and painting. I am going to make a concerted effort to satisfy my boredom with things that will help me develop into the person I WANT to be. 

  5. I have all the feelings. I am an emotional person.  I am sad often... I probably have depression, though I have never been diagnosed.  I have seasons of sadness, anger, and even just emptiness.  I have low self-esteem when it comes to my exterior image.  I am an empath and take on the feelings of others.  I have a high stress job and 3 kids.  Stress sometimes is the only thing I feel.  I am lonely often because my husband is a coach. For most of the year he works between 70-90 hours a week.  Like Oprah, my drug of choice is food.  I numb all of these feelings with food.  So far, when I am reaching for food when I am in a mood (haha, that rhymes), I don't notice that it isn't hunger until AFTER the binge.  I need to work on coping with this better throughout this journey.  What I DO notice is that I eat faster and in secret a lot of the time. 

  6. I am thirsty. If this journey is teaching me anything, it is how much water I wasn't drinking!  I had no idea that thirsty doesn't feel like a parched mouth all the time.  I am SO MUCH LESS hungry when I am adequately hydrated.  Everyone on every wellness blog always stresses the importance of drinking water, but if you're not at that health stage yet, please know that it will make you less hungry.  It will. I promise. In addition to not being as hungry, you'll also boosting your metabolism because water aids in lipolysis (the process of metabolizing fat) and it increases your energy expendeture (calories you are burning).  

  7. I just need to go outside.  Vitamin D may play a role in the release of leptin according to the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Leptin is the hormone that controls our sense hunger and how much fat is stored in the body, according to the study.  It makes so much sense!! When I am outside, I am just not NEARLY as likely to walk to the kitchen.  I am enjoying the sunshine, the breeze, the birds.  This is an easy fix.  When I am hungry, I am first going to spend a few minutes outside! I am going to take daily walks.  Watch my kids play outside.  Such an easy fix to avoid over eating.   


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