Not much that makes me feel like slamming my head against the wall as much as when I hear that someone’s therapist has told them that their hunger is not actually because they are hungry, but because they are trying to fill a void in their life. “Psychological hunger.” Bollocks.
“Maybe you are hungry for … you know … something else”
“Have you considered that your hunger may be about you needing more human connection in your life.”
“Your hunger may actually be because you are trying to fill the void that your ex left.”
“This is about inner emptiness, not actual hunger for food.”
“I think it is actually your soul that is hungry.”
Give me strength. Here are the issues with this psycho-manipulative-gaslighting shit:
For starters, there is no grounding for any of the claims that physical or mental hunger can be felt as a referred psychological need. There is no proof that “psychological hunger” or “soul hunger” or whatever bullshit name you are calling it exists. It’s all theory. Yet, it is used so commonly among therapists and wanna-be therapists. Personally, as soon as I hear a therapist say something like this, I am not wowed by their brilliance. Quite the opposite. I am disappointed in their lack of originality. This “soul hunger” shit is so pop-psych that even the agony aunts in 90’s teen magazines got tired of hearing themselves say it.
Second. It is so very arrogant and pompous to project such capacity for deceit on the body. The body is simple and truthful. If it is hungry … it is hungry. The end. No need to analyse that. The body isn’t stupid or confused. It didn’t get signals for loneliness muddled up with signals for hunger. It didn’t lose the remote control and it is not trying to work the TV with the buttons on the fridge. It knows how to operate itself, so don’t suggest that the body is using hunger signals because it actually longs for a more fulfilling career path.
We don’t do this for any other biological need. If a person needs to go to the loo a lot, they are not told that maybe they are trying to get rid of “something else in their life.” They are not told that their weak bladder might be actually due to them being unhappy with their partner. They don’t get told that their desire to go to the toilet is actually about wanting to flush their significant other. They are just allowed to go to the loo. Why oh why is everything to do with food and eating so convoluted by therapists?
I’ll tell you why. It is for the same reason that sexual desires get so projected onto and complicated by therapists. It is because, like a desire for sex, a hunger for food is still taboo. Especially if you are female. Because, you know, women aren’t supposed to be horny and we are certainly not supposed to eat a lot. So, if we are horny or hungry we are told that is not because we need sex or need food. Nope, it’s got to be a bigger ‘problem.” It has to be something complicated. Something … anything … just whatever you do, don’t be a tart and don’t be greedy.
I bet you that if therapy sessions were studied it would be found that men complaining of hunger would be told to eat more. Yet, woman would be told to go out and see if they can fill that “void” with taking up a hobby, or volunteering for a good cause, or finding a man to be a housewife to. Because it is still not okay for a woman to want to eat a lot. Women are not supposed to have biological needs. Women are not supposed to want to eat a lot. Woman are supposed to be skinny.
And that’s really want pisses me off about therapists who sprout this sort of shit. They are contributing to gender biases, weight biases, weight stigma, misogyny and a whole host of social justice issues. They are normalising and reinforcing them and they can’t even see it — that’s how deep an implicit bias most of these social issues are. They are saying “No, don’t you dare just eat as much as you want, shut that hunger down and go look pretty somewhere.” And we allow them to get away with it. In fact, because they are in a position of authority, and because they sound clever when they say completely unscientific statements such as suggesting that a desire to eat cake could actually be a desire to have more friends, many people go along with it. Clients nod heads and concur that maybe that might be the problem after all. In fact, many clients feel relieved. Relieved that they have just been given permission to restrict by their therapist and they can continue to suppress their bodyweight and do so with the consent of a professional. Relieved, that they don’t have to face their hunger and don’t have to face their fear of weight gain.
The professional’s position should be to actually help people overcome the issues that stand between a person and their body— usually fatphobia and fear of weight gain. Because only once those have been dealt with can a person have a trusting and respectful relationship with their body. And by that, I mean the ability to feel hunger, and to respond to hunger by eating, and to feel no guilt or shame for doing so. And to trust that their body knows what it is doing. Telling someone that their hunger is actually not hunger at all doesn’t help them achieve this. Just the opposite. It furthers the message that hunger cannot be trusted. That cues from the body cannot be trusted. It increases levels of suspicion and mistrust and creates a bigger gap in a person’s relationship with their body.
Therapists are supposed to be helping people with their relationships with themselves. Their body is the one and only thing that a person has with them for every second of their life. If you want to help someone achieve long-term happiness, you have to help them trust their body, because their body will be with them longer than anyone else in their life. That is the longest-term relationship they will have, and the most important. Do not say anything that increases mistrust of the body.
So why do therapists so frequently do this? Why is it so normal for therapists, and other people, so suggest to a person that they cannot trust the hunger signals that their body creates?
Because of fatphobia. Because we live in a society that is terrified of weight gain. But I want you to understand that when a therapist tells you to restrict, that is more about their own fear of weight gain and their own fatphobia than it is about you. It is because they haven’t done the work to overcome that themselves yet, and it is showing up in your therapy session.