I was 19 years old before I remember ever being presented with the idea that I only need to eat when my body is signalling me that it needs food. Did you get that? I was 19 years old before I discovered that 99% of the time, I was eating because it was breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner “time” or because I was bored or emotional. NOT because my body was actually signalling that it was in need of fuel.
The idea of waiting until my stomach was growling before putting any food into my body was completely new to me. I’m shaking my head as I write this, because #onlyinamerica. Don’t get me wrong. There were times when I was physically hungry before I ate, but that was not the norm, and more than that, it was something that I actually tried to avoid. Genuinely feeling hungry was a sign that I had waited too long, not the simple, and appreciated signal that my body was actually ready for food.
But once I started trying to only eat when I was physically hungry, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded. I found myself pulled to the kitchen by “hunger” I didn’t quite understand.
I’m not physically hungry so why do I want this bag of popcorn so bad???
The real struggle was actually waiting until I was physically hungry to eat. I was so conditioned to go to food for things other than fuel, that I found myself heading to the kitchen before even realizing what I was doing. Sometimes, I was even half way through preparing my food before I stopped and realized that I wasn’t actually physically hungry. My physical hunger was not my main (or only) signal to turn to food. I had to learn to recognize the other signals like boredom, melancholy, anxiety, or even just habits, like eating while I watch t.v..
I had to learn how to respond to these other signals in ways other than with food. These were the years of “rollercoastering”. I would go through seasons where I wasn’t turning to food unless I was physically hungry, and I was finding a new way to respond to the other signals. However, many of the new ways I was finding would only work for a little while. They never seemed to really satisfy me, so I would eventually end up going back to food and finding myself in another season of eating when I wasn’t physically hungry.
You know how there are so many special diets out there, but people usually can only keep up a special diet for a small amount of time, so they rollercoaster between “dieting” and eating whatever they want? It was like that for me, except not with physical food diets. I was always eating whatever I wanted physically, but rollercostering when feeding those other parts of me, those parts that couldn’t actually be fed with physical food, though I sure did try.
I didn’t stop rollercoastering until I started learning to eat and drink spiritually. It wasn’t until I began learning to turn to Jesus, and to eat and drink Him spiritually, that all those other signals began to be satisfied. My boredom was satisfied with the greatest adventure of all: Jesus Christ. My melancholy was satisfied with the truest joy of all: Jesus Christ. My anxiety was satisfied with peace that surpasses understanding: Jesus Christ. My t.v. watching was much more enjoyable with Jesus Christ, rather than with food.
Once I learned to feed my spirit with the True Food, I was freed to feed my body only when it actually needed it.
God, in His wisdom, created our bodies with the ability to signal us when they require more fuel. AND THEN, He made our intake of this fuel something enjoyable! Delicious, even! We get to eat! Hallelujah! =)
And did you know that our bodies actually crave the food they need? Seriously. Now, honestly, when I first heard this, I was concerned that my body wouldn’t work right. I had been encouraged to let myself eat whatever I wanted as long as I was actually physically hungry, and I was sure that I would want sweets and cheese enchiladas every time. But, I didn’t. I found myself wanting real food, and lots of different kinds of it.
Because I was giving myself the freedom to eat what I truly wanted, my desires began to change. I no longer strongly wanted the food I had told myself I couldn’t have, and when the “bad” foods were an actual option, they weren’t quite as enticing. Yes, I still sometimes wanted them, and would eat them when I did, but I didn’t want them nearly as strongly, nor as often. Nor did I want as much of them. I was satisfied by much less than I used to be because I was learning to feed my spirit with Jesus Christ, which enabled me to be able to feed my body without stuffing it full.
But that wasn’t the only lesson I was learning. Recognizing and waiting for the physical signs of hunger was only part of my schooling. I also needed to learn how to eat. Yep. I needed to learn how to eat, not learn what food to eat, but actually learn how to eat. Who would have thought? With all the practice I’d had from all the food I’d eaten, you would think I knew how to eat a little too well. Nope. I didn’t know how to eat at all, and I was surprised by what I learned. But that’ll be another blog post.
p.s. I must stress, there is no condemnation if you eat when you aren’t actually physically hungry. Sometimes I eat when I’m not really hungry because I’m eating with others, and they are hungry. Sometimes, though, I’ll simply enjoy their company while they eat, and still wait to eat when I’m physically hungry. So, don’t take this on as some new law; that you can’t eat unless you are physically hungry. That’s not what is on my heart. What is on my heart is learning to distinguish between physical hunger and spiritual hunger, and then learning to feed them both well. The physical food for our bodies is a picture of the spiritual food for our spirits. It is a picture of the pleasure and nourishment that Jesus Christ is to us. Once I began experiencing this reality, my life changed.