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Not Starving: Physical Hunger

Not Starving: Physical Hunger

Last week I talked about overhauling your definition of hunger from being shameful, flawed, and unattractive to being an ardent mechanism for knowing what is the next right thing to do. 

I mentioned three main presentations of hunger: Physical, Emotional, + Drive.

Here’s the next installment , where I say more stuff about physical hunger.

The cues that stimulate our hunger are either internal = feelings of physical emptiness, or external = stress, smells, food in front of us.

The hypothalamus is a part of the brain that, among other things, controls the autonomic nervous system.

The lateral hypothalamus, if stimulated, causes you to feel hunger.

The ventromedial hypothalamus, if stimulated, makes you feel full.

If the hypothalamus is functioning normally, these two areas oppose each other and regulate when we start and stop eating.

Hunger is primitive. It is inextricably tied to our sense of being safe and held in our lives and loves. It’s about survival, base-level hierarchy needs.

Somewhere right around our need for Wifi.

But our *feeling* of physical hunger, while it keeps us fed, has also gotten convoluted as we’ve entered into more complex states of being, as we’ve developed more abstract ideas and expectations about our place in the world, what of the world we are entitled to receive, and how much we’re obligated to give.

Hunger is an important cue to keep us feeding our physical body, but the hungers/needs we either avoid, or are genuinely unaware of as they’ve perennially gone unmet or been shamed into remission, can sometimes masquerade as a need for food.

Needing love can feel like hunger.

Needing water can feel like hunger.

Needing sleep can feel like hunger.


And the truth is, food can often provide a fix for those problems, at least temporarily.

Also, eating is a ritual of connection with friends and family. Eating is a pleasurable reprieve from less pleasant realities of a modern life. Eating is real self love. It’s such an important part of this human experience and absolutely should be enjoyed.

But because of primal fears of starvation and fears of emotional discomfort, we often eat before we’re even signaled to do so physically, in order to *prevent* all the potential discomforts of that amalgam of feels that we identify as “hunger”. The benefits of eating for nourishment, rather than medicating from fear, anxiety, stress, existential angst… are many for both physical and mental health. Your body needs breaks to rest and digest, and facing and processing emotions is liberating. .

Eating for avoidance can become habitual and remove us from our body’s signals.

And it’s never been easier to keep emptiness at bay. Food is everywhere we go. There’s a restaurant at IKEA, FFS.

Preventative eating is like keeping your digestive inbox full at all times. There’s no time to do extra projects or hobbies when inflow doesn’t pause. Allowing your digestive system to take a breather is healthy.

Eating for nourishment can become habitual and tune us into our body’s signals.

I get super tired of the good/bad food narrative. The increased sensitivities (which are real in many cases, but are sometimes developed by being a little too obsessed), and the relentless discussion about dietary practice, but there’s a balance. A little attention and intention, with plenty of flexibility go a long way. Just being able to get back to your body’s basic signals is a huge step. Also, an ongoing practice because life.

Notice that when we do get to that place of physical hunger, when the belly is really growling, we get short tempered, we passionately disclaim that “I’M STARVING”.
This is important: We are not starving. Starving is an entirely different thing that being ready for the next meal and language is important.

So many things play out on your plate.

I will never advocate abstinence from food, however, I do advocate mindfully *not* eating sometimes, waiting a little longer, or eating less. Temporarily to gather data on your body sensations. Maybe having a light dinner and then not eating after a certain time in the evening to give your body a break from digestion. Just long enough to get better acquainted with your digestive system’s rhythms.

When the body has a break, it has a chance to digest (heal) parts of itself that aren’t as immediate. It has the chance to rest and process things that are older. Like heartbreak.

There’s room for all the foods you love, and all the foods that give you comfort and support. Thoughtful choices for a deeper understanding of your needs is what I’m talking about here. And the ability to use literal nourishment to explore that. Of course, it’s not the only path to self awareness.

Physical hunger is real, and hardly a lack of control or personality flaw. It is not to be ignored, it’s to be reasoned with and fed rationally and lovingly. Hunger is not a monster that must be appeased, but a partner providing important information.

I’d love to support you in finding a more peaceful relationship with your hungers.


Here’s something you might or might not know about me:
Yes, I’m a health coach and I supposedly help people lose weight and blah blah blah. But I *actually* deal in the currency of humanity.
The humanity of hunger.
Of grief.
Of desire.
Of joy.

I help people develop a more allied, than adversarial, relationship with their bodies, their hungers, and ultimately, their satisfaction

So, stick around for the writing, but perhaps we should also be working together. I have space in my practice and am happily accepting new clients.

More info on coaching + costs here

Click here to schedule a 30 minute discovery session to see if we’re a good fit

Note: Although there is no commitment at all, this free call *is* specific to see if we’re a good fit for a deeper relationship. It is not a free coaching session. Thank you for your respect.


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3 Responses to Not Starving: Physical Hunger

  1. […] Physical hunger, emotional hunger, and hunger as drive + desire. […]

  2. […] is part 3 in this series on Hunger. (Here’s Part 1 + Part […]

  3. MA says:

    Needing love feels like hunger-

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