Fear of Hunger and What to Do About It.

Hunger. My arch nemesis.

I did well with the “Eating Slowly” habit, and only took a few days to get over the discomfort of slow eating before accepting it as the new way of eating for me.

However, when it came to the “Stopping at 80% fullness” habit, things came to a grinding halt during the first week and I am still not fully on board at the end of the second week. Having said that, I am fully bought in to the idea, it’s just going to take me a little longer to implement it than I originally thought.

I am OK to stop eating at 100% fullness as opposed to my usual 120%, and I celebrate this small success every single day!  But the idea of stopping at 80%, as in still slightly hungry, just stops me dead in my tracks.

It doesn’t take long for me to start panicking over having to leave the table feeling slightly hungry and it’s this fear of hunger that is holding me back.

Fear of hunger as a stumbling block.

Fear of hunger plants all kinds of unproductive seeds in your brain.  Seeds that can ruin the whole endeavour if they are allowed to take root and flourish.

Thoughts like:

  • I better eat now so I’m not hungry later
  • I better bring a snack in case I get hungry
  • I won’t be able to fall asleep hungry
  • I better eat all of this food or I’ll be hungry in half an hour
  • Am I getting hungry? Oh no! I better eat something!
  • I’m going to get a headache if I get hungry.
  • I’m going to get lightheaded if I get hungry,
  • I’m going to lose my muscles if I get hungry,
  • I can’t stop at 80% because I’m still hungry

So many triggers! So many worries about going hungry!  Too many times I’ve heard myself say: “I can’t and I won’t go hungry! I hate it! It gives me anxiety! And it gives me headaches!”

Is it any wonder that I feel paralyzed every time I start experiencing hunger when trying to lose some extra weight?

This fear of going hungry has been holding me back from reaching my fitness goals for years.  The fear of hunger combined with my habit of eating past my normal fullness level has brought me to this point.  The point where I am not happy with the way I feel in my own body and not being able to change that.  I could stop overeating, but that would mean eating less which would result in some occasional hunger.  Perhaps occasional hunger doesn’t sound like much to some people, but it’s unacceptable to me.  No way, no how.  (Cue horror flick music.)

We are hard-wired to binge eat after going hungry

Now, this fear is hard wired into us and something we need to accept that it is here to stay.  Hunger and fear of starvation was what used to drive our ancestors to search and hunt for food, so it is a powerful motivator.   Our ancestors would go hungry for days until they found food and then they would binge and eat as much as they could to last the next few days of searching for food.  This cycle made a lot of sense then and was essential for the survival of our species.

Slow metabolism also made a lot of sense, because ability to gain weight and keep it on ensured survival for longer periods of time.

These days however, there’s never a need to go hungry for longer than a few hours, but the hunger-binge eating instinct is still quite strong and coupled with our tendency to binge on carbs and sweets tends to lead to overeating and undesirable weight gain.

Why is this a problem?

So here I was, only in the beginning of the Precision Nutrition program and already I was afraid that I couldn’t master one of the fundamental habits.  If I couldn’t conquer my fear of hunger, I would not succeed in the goals I’ve set out.  That would be a problem.

As I’ve said before, weight loss is important, but not as important as my goals of activity, joint health and feeling lighter on my feet.  I truly believe that I can achieve those goals if I develop healthy eating habits and stop overeating.

With such ambitious long term goals at stake, it was way too early in the program to give up so I had to find a way around my fear of hunger.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Fortunately I did not need to search for the answer on my own.  It came to me as if right on cue in one of our daily lessons.  The advice was “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.

Do it Afraid

Don’t try running away from the fear.  Don’t resist it.  The more you resist, the more suffering it causes.  Accept it, acknowledge it, experience it and move through it.

If you’re afraid of doing something, feel the fear… AND DO IT ANYWAY.

That goes for other fears as well, not just fear of hunger.

If you want to make a change and make it stick, you will need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Change is uncomfortable, whether it is for better or for worse.

This doesn’t mean that we need to starve in order to embrace a healthy lifestyle.  Not at all.  However, a certain degree of hunger is expected when learning to reduce portion sizes and stop overeating.  In my previous post I wrote about the waves of hunger and how to gauge their strength to determine when it is time to eat.  It is a handy guide and I encourage you to read it.

How can I apply this principle to other fears standing in my way?

Fear of hunger is not the only fear I have experienced in the last few weeks.  It seems that every time I turn around another thought of self doubt creeps in to my head.  Am I good enough for this? Am I going to succeed? What if all this is for nothing?

So what am I going to do about these fears?  You got it.  I am going to feel the fear and then do what I need to do anyway.

Afraid of feeling embarrassed that everyone will know that I am trying to lose weight? Acknowledge it and then stay the course on this program.

Afraid of not having it in me to succeed? I will focus on the behaviours and not the outcomes.  I will keep showing up every day, read my lessons and do my workouts.

Afraid of looking foolish at the gym?  I will go anyway.

I am determined to see this change through and I am so grateful for having this opportunity to dig deep and uncover these underlying emotions.  The only way to diminish their power over me is to acknowledge them and to move through them.  One day and one fear at a time.

What are your fears when it comes to making changes in your lifestyle?  How are you managing them?  Leave your comments below, I’d love to hear from you!




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2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. It’s is very motivational reading, thank you!
    I like your approach to be OK with a fear, it’s like downhill skiing, there is a fear, but there is a pleasure to get it done. About my obstacles, – it’s rather not a fear but a habit to have my fridge filled, just in case if I need or have it handy if somebody drop by.. and lack of motivation to ignore food which is within a reach. I don’t know yet how to deal with it.. will keep myself motivated reading your blog :), that helps, really.
    I will keep practicing on eating slow, noticed that it’s more enjoyable now.. keeping in mind 80% and waves of hunger, not at level 7 all the time, but at least not eating at the first waive, letting hunger grow a bit… like it!
    Warm wishes!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Luba! I’m glad you found this post motivational. It sounds to me like you are well on your way to changing your eating habits and practicing regularly. As for your desire to always have food just in case. That is also a fear. A fear that there won’t be enough, a fear of scarcity. Consider thinking what would happen if someone dropped by and you didn’t have anything yummy for them. What would you do then? Would it be so bad? Would you be able to deal with it? Would you be embarrassed? Try playing with this possibility a bit more and see what thoughts and emotions you dig up. 🙂

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