On hunger, food, and self-care

On hunger, food, and self-care

It was a pretty standard workday. 11am rolled around, and my stomach was grumbling. I didn't know what I wanted to eat, but I knew I needed to eat. And then something came up. In that moment I chose to delay having lunch and ending my hunger. It was, in retrospect, not a good choice.

As a consequence of that, I was ravenous half an hour later when I finally allowed myself to get some food. I hadn't planned the meal out - that morning was a busy one, and I thought, "I'll just buy a lunch today." I hopped in the car and drove towards a store where I was going to run an errand after lunch. "Surely," I thought, "There's something in that vicinity." And there was. But it was roughly my 8,900th choice amongst restaurants.

I was fortunate enough to be able to afford and choose a meal. But I let myself get very hungry and ultimately, neglected my own care. I thought on this a bit, and realized there were techniques I could have used to help myself along the way.

I'd like to note that while this is my experience, I've observed it in many, many other people too.

Eat when you're hungry

This is a radical concept (!) trumpeted by people like Michelle Allison. She talks about normal eating and pulls in a definition from the great Ellyn Satter (whose work in this area is essential reading) that includes this:

Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way.

It can be challenging to do this - very challenging. There is a lot of social stigma and stereotyping around this idea and it impacts women more than men - and particular, fat women the most. It's also exacerbated by standard American workplaces where people eat at their desks in lieu of going out for lunch; this removes a degree of privacy when it comes to food, but it also establishes a boundary and sense of normalcy. Food is okay at our desks, but not okay in a meeting, for instance.

So eating on one's own schedule can be quite difficult sometimes. I've lost count of the number of times I've walked back to my desk with a meal I chose and I wanted, but felt very concerned about others' judgment of it. ("He's eating something fried!" "He's eating lunch at 10:30?")

With regards to schedules: it took me a long time to realize that it was okay for me to eat lunch at 11 instead of 12, which is when I was almost always hungry for a meal. I had to listen to what my body needed first, and then plan for the comments or feedback I would receive. I'm not done with this, but I'm in a better place than I once was.

I've talked about eating solo. While eating and sharing a meal with others can be a social activity, it can also be fraught with judgment and wanting to follow norms. Whether alone or in a group, one's food choices are always one's own.

Planning in advance

There are parts of me that love to plan. These parts also like to take a break when it comes to lunch, outside of picking up a few frozen evol bowls during a weekly grocery shop. I also try to balance those feelings with the very real notion of not feeling like a particular lunch on a given day. ("Another sandwich? Ugh...")

Still, having options is what matters here. At some point prior to that lunch, I could have put together a sandwich, or looked for leftovers. (PB&J is probably my winner for least effort and highest protein, which I dig.) While those might not have been my ideal lunches the next day, they became very real options... and were preferable to going out and having an unsatisfying lunch. (As a bonus, this ends up being a money saver for me as well.)

By the way, I found that having my meals at work on Monday morning is the best for me. That means I need to do some planning over the weekend and bring in all of my stuff at once on Monday morning, but then I don't need to even think about it during the week... and that is a huge, huge relief for me.

Prepare yourself

One last thing: you need to rely on yourself to feed yourself. This may sound elementary, but it is true. I can not and should not rely on my workplace to ever provide the food or snacks I need to get through the day - even if they do provide snacks (and almost every one of my workplaces has done this). I try every day to bring at least a couple of snacks along with me, in addition to my meal. I have a decent sense of when my body typically gets hungry, and I'm still learning what best fills it up.

But if I get to work and I have nothing in my bag? I know I'm either a) going to be hungry, b) going to choose from non-ideal options, or c) going to need to stop at a store and get snacks. And frankly, c) doesn't happen often. That's planning in the moment, which I'm not great at.

This idea is a subset of the idea of a "food bag", one of the tenets of the Overcoming Overeating program by Carol Munter and Jane Hirschmann. It's such a good idea that I think it can apply to everyone, even if you have a positive relationship with food. Here's more info on what a food bag is. (That article includes a lot of terms like "glitter", "legalizing food", and the like.)

It's all about taking care

You know those candy bar commercials that show people literally not being themselves when they're hungry? Putting aside the commercial message for a moment, that's actually a great analogy. When I'm hungry I am unable to focus. I am dissatisfied. I get a little cranky. These are things I don't necessarily want to feel.

All of these techniques and ideas - normalizing food, eating when you're hungry, and having the best options for you - are a big part of taking care of one's self.

(For more info by people much smarter than I, I recommend When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies which is a great read for people of all genders.)