Mental hunger is your body cuing you to eat. Mental hunger is important. It is a very valid communication from your body as your body attempts to bring the desire to eat into your consciousness. I personally think that physical hunger is beside the point if you are in recovery from an eating disorder. Our brains cue us mentally first. So, by the time you get a physical hunger cue, you’ve already been ignoring mental cues of hunger for a while. If you are in recovery, you should not be ignoring hunger. Mental hunger is a form of hunger and it comes first, hence, physical hunger shouldn’t really have to happen.
I often get the statement/question “I don’t know if I am hungry or not.” The answer to that, is that if you are asking the question “am I hungry?” or “do I want more?” the answer is that you are hungry. If you were not hungry, the question wouldn’t come into your consciousness. Asking yourself if you are thinking about food is thinking about food.
I know that seems pretty obvious once I have spelled it out. It is. That’s the thing with eating disorders: they have a knack of making straightforward and obvious things seem complicated and confusing. Mental hunger isn’t difficult to work out, but your fear of “overeating” meddles with this beautifully simple system of communication between you and your body. You have to be on the look out for that, and not allow it to trip you up. Understand that when you have an eating disorder, you brain will always try and make the simplest food/eating decision seem complicated.
I always liken this to needing to go for a pee. If you are wondering whether or not you need to go for a pee, you simply get up and go for a pee. You get the pee done, and you get on with your day. You know that if the thought of going for a pee comes into your head, that it is only a matter of time before the physical need to go pee will follow. You allow it to be simple. You just go pee. The end.
Your food/hunger/eating relationship is supposed to be that simple too. Your body mentally cues you. You listen and eat. Then you get on with your life.
If you are thinking about food, you need to eat food.
If you are wondering if you are thinking about food, you are thinking about food and you need to eat food.
If you are wondering if you want to eat more food, you are thinking about food and you need to eat food.
It really can be that simple. If you allow it to be. That’s the wonderful thing about being in a body. We don’t have to micromanage and we don’t have to question. Your body asks. You oblige. No questioning. No arguing. No stress.
It really can be that simple.
Thank you for this. The timing is perfect. I am really struggling to eat in the day, and have been for a long time. It’s got to the point where I actually don’t think I am hungry or I don’t ‘feel’ hunger like I think it’s supposed to feel because I have been supressing it so long. My routine with regards meals is just waiting until dinner time to eat (and then I fear bingeing which often does occur). I will try to remember these points next time any thought about whether I should eat or not or whether I am hungry or not come into my head, and just eat something. Even, if it’s just something small to start with, it is the step I need to take to escape this daily restriction.
What about someone who has been on a meal plan for as long as they can remember (3 meals 3 snacks for 15+years) I feel I’m ‘programmed’ to think about food at certain times eg afternoon snack etc and conditioned to expect certain things to make up a meal regardless of whether I have physical or mental hunger. I feel I’d never be able to eat less than my meal plan as I’m so conditioned by it, if that makes sense ? I get you need to respond to hunger in addition to mp but what about at your set point and you are still conditioned by mp when in reality you dont want to eat that much ? I dont know if this has made any sense !
Thank you for all your blogs Tabitha
the same happens to me! I feel that I am conditioned by my mp of certain meals, and certain schedules. I can’t change them because my family puts them like this, and I can’t skip them. It is very strange because it is as if I wanted to eat all the time, and outside those hours it seems that it was easy for me; but always when facing a meal from my mp it is as if my stomach closed and my brain wanted to run away. I do not understand why I act like this :(. While I am eating it is as if with every bite I want to run away, and I feel that I do not want any more. bad with me? can it have to do with my anxiety? it is as if I anticipate the next meal and that makes me hungry or not, although at the next meal I feel like I am not hungry …
this mp is sometimes uncomfortable but at the same time it keeps me “safe” … now I think more about it than I am always at home (covid context). but when I have things to do in general I live without hunger, and I am afraid of not being able to carry out the recovery for this very reason 🙁
Hey! I have been now in recovery for 5 months and though I have tried to respond to every hunger cue, now I came to a place where my mental hunger is constantly there, but I get sick so so easily from any food. Like I really want it, I make myself this meal and then when I start eating, after two bites I feel sick! It’s really frustrating, since I am not even afraid to eat it and I want it, but my body isn’t letting me to eat to mental satisfaction. I hope this is just a nasty phase and it will move on.. But for now, responding to hunger is an unpredictable event.
Thank you so much for your posts about hunger. It is something I struggle so much with particularly given my history. I had BED for 10+ years and have had Atypical AN for approx 18 months. In that time I lost over 50% of my body weight. My team (and I) constantly struggle to define my “restored weight”. I have just come out of residential and since I have been home have been constantly hungry, to the point I have woken up in the middle of the night with hunger pains so bad I can’t sleep. I’ve been trying to follow your advice and honor my hunger cues but I’m terrified I’m just going to slide back to BED in my attempt to recover from the AN. How do I trust my body when I’ve never been able to before?
Same question, what if it becomes constant thoughts, when do they leave?????
I just want to remind anyone reading this, that this is just one person’s opinion. Also, everyone is different. What works for some people doesn’t have to work for everyone. Listen to your counsellor or helper, as they know a lot and are on your side – they want to help. 🙂
Hi I just want to let anyone reading this know that it is one opinion. What helps some might not always help others and that’s okay. Find what works for you, and listen to councillors or helpers as they know what is best and want to help 🙂