I find it incredibly overwhelming to be in charge of feeding two children. My growing daughters (5- and 3-years-old) are always hungry, or at least it seems that way to me! Trying to serve balanced meals that don't always include macaroni and cheese or hot dogs is difficult, to say the least. Even more challenging is not judging, labeling, or second guessing my girls' hunger. I work very hard not to confuse my old hang ups about hunger with their very pure and natural and untainted relationship with it. I consider this one of the primary responsibilities of my recovery from anorexia, and I take it extremely seriously.
Learning how to unconditionally trust my hunger is an active and ongoing process (and maybe always will be). In a recent fit of overwhelm about french fries and chocolate chip cookies, I realized that my daughters have a few profoundly significant lessons to teach me about hunger and why second guessing or trying to control it is hopeless.
1. Hunger can't tell time. My daughters are hungry at the most random times of the day, and come to think of it, so am I! No matter how firmly you believe you must only eat when the clock strikes certain hours, hunger is an organic sensation, not a scheduled meal time. My girls have taught me that to try to override that organic sensation is ultimately impossible and unrealistic.
2. Hunger has no rules. Sometimes my girls want fruit, other times they ask for protein. They crave carbs as well as carrots. In a days' time they may ask for a dozen different foods. For someone like me, who lived by extremely strict rules about food and hunger, it's powerfully eye opening to see that hunger has no rules. Hunger just wants to be satiated, attended to, and respected.
3. Hunger isn't a crisis. More times than I care to admit, hunger has felt like a crisis, inducing panic, uncertainty, and extreme emotional swings. For my kids, hunger is fun. They get to eat, to stimulate and satisfy their senses, and experience enjoyment. Watching my girls have fun with food has helped me to lighten up at meals and not take my hunger or the food I put in my mouth so seriously. They have taught me that I don't have to cry over waffles or ice cream!
4. Hunger always returns. I already mentioned that my kids seem to always be hungry. Witnessing their hunger and fullness cues in action has reinforced the fact that it's inevitable that fullness fades and hunger returns. Always. No mater how much power we fool ourselves into believing we have over our hunger, it always comes back because it is suppose to. We can numb, but eventually hunger will return and we must deal with feeding ourselves.
5. Hunger is NOT the enemy. This is probably the most profound lesson of all. For many, many years, hunger was my most threatening enemy. It inspired fear, confusion, and self-doubt. My girls have been excellent role models, demonstrating how hunger is simply just hunger, an organic sensation that simply needs to be satiated. When they feel hunger, they ask for food. There's no debating or arguing with themselves as to whether they are actually hungry or not. They don't try to ignore or pacify their hunger. They don't curse it, wrestle with it, or endlessly suffer to ignore it. My daughters have taught me that hunger is not out to get me or fatten me. It's not lurking, waiting to pounce on me. It has no agenda. Hunger is not the enemy. My eating disorder beliefs about it and what it represented were the real enemy.
I see now just how much my girls have helped me progress in my recovery. Despite all the challenges and overwhelming moments, they are perhaps my greatest role models for how to have a healthy relationship with hunger. My prayer is that they will forever embrace and feed their hunger to the fullest, without fear or doubt or worry. I don't care if they eat macaroni and cheese every night of their childhood if it means they will eat with joy for the rest of their lives.