Trigger advisory: EDs, eating habits, body image, anxiety
We’ve all heard of food shaming, which is when there’s judgment related to food choice. But, what about feeling bad for simply experiencing hunger? What about thinking our bodies should feel a different way? Often, we are taught to ignore hunger. And when you look online and on social media, there is a multitude of information on how to “ignore hunger,” “suppress appetite,” or “hack hunger hormones.” So, keeping hunger in check is definitely a popular search.
So, in some capacity, has hunger become a quality to be suppressed, when in reality, it's a basic instinct?
When we talk about suppressing hunger for the purpose of meeting a social standard, it seems like we're assigning negative meanings to a fundamental instinct. Assigning undesirable qualities can lead to stigma. And when we suppress hunger due to social pressures, we’re using the stigma of being unhealthy and lacking personal control to shape our eating habits.
Unfortunately, whether it’s eating or something else, “when an individual lives with stigma, they may live with the constant fear of feeling shame, being shamed, or being made to feel like they are “less than” or “unworthy.”
Stigma is reinforced by social interactions as well, and it can often come across in statements with implicit meanings.
For example, being met with the unnecessary remark, “You’re hungry already?” after expressing hunger can lead to feelings of shame.
Having these types of experiences and feelings around eating or food can lead to restraining hunger, which has its own set of consequences.
For instance, have you ever heard of the term “hangry?” While it's normally used in a comedic sense, the reality of it can be unfavorable. "The term ‘hangry’ is colloquially used to describe being “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger,” but remarkably few studies have examined the effect of hunger on emotions. Likewise, few realize that “people attempting to restrict their food intake may be at risk of becoming entangled in a vicious cycle of hunger and negative emotions. Hunger may lead to negative emotions, which can lead to overeating. And overeating can, in turn, provoke subsequent restriction leading to more hunger."
More simply, hunger eventually leads to negative emotions. And when you try to suppress it, this might lead to overeating in the long run, perpetuating more shame and more restriction. This cycle will repeat itself and gradually intensify.
So ultimately, it’s best to feed yourself upon feeling hungry.
Of course, there is a difference between hunger and simply craving a treat. But sometimes, our hunger signals can be disordered, meaning we literally can’t tell when we’re hungry or when we’re not hungry. In this instance, it’s important to see a physician to find solutions. But in less dire cases, intuition does go a long way. When you feel an uncomfortable pang in your stomach, low blood sugar, or headaches, it’s important to feed yourself. If it’s within your power, there’s no reason to endure it. We humans have basic needs such as air, water, shelter, sleep, and food.
So, you don’t have to suppress hunger for the sake of meeting a social standard. While acceptance is also a need, food is fundamental to basic functioning and survival.
Don’t feel guilty for needing nutrition, and visit with a licensed professional or MD for more information that is tailored to you.
Written by Kerri Hardy
Ackermans, M. A., Jonker, N. C., Bennik, E. C., & De Jong, P. J. (2022). Hunger increases negative and decreases positive emotions in women with a healthy weight.Appetite,168, 105746 University of Groningen. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2021.105746
R Schnepper, J Blechert, F M Stok, Reception of health messages: effects of stigmatization and forcefulness,Journal of Public Health, Volume 44, Issue 2, June 2022, Pages 387–393, https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdaa233