Friday, March 25, 2011

Peace with Food

Confession: I hate being hungry.

I know, no one likes to be hungry. But my aversion to hunger seems to go beyond what I would consider normal. At some point early in my life, hunger became something I avoided at all costs. The sensation actually made me anxious, and I do everything I can to avoid feeling that rumbling.

As soon as my stomach starts to feel empty I immediately seek out something to quell the sensation. In fact, I'm often thinking about what I can or will eat long before hunger even makes an appearance. Which means food has always had power over me.

That desire to avoid emptiness eventually transferred into something more sinister, a disordered relationship with food that extended from eating at the slightest hint of hunger to eating whenever I felt emotionally empty. I know I'm not the only one. I realize that most women, and a good number of men, have some sort of strained relationship with food. But I'm pretty sure my problem crossed the line on more than one occasion from simple emotional eating to what I would have called binge eating. I never purged, but I could eat more than a thousand calories in less than an hour. This binging has subsided over the last few years, as I've discovered ways to better deal with that emotional emptiness, but that fear of hunger still remains.

So imagine my anxiety when I found out that my yoga teacher training group would be completing a juice fast together. At first I was excited to face the challenge. I even volunteered to fast for an additional day. I was caught up in the excitement of the group, interested in experimenting with my diet in a new way. Then the fear started creeping in.

What if I couldn't do it? What if I got really hungry? What if the cravings were too much? What if I wasn't strong enough? The self-doubt and insecurity crept in one question at a time.

To deal with the anxiety, I started planning immediately. I weaned myself off caffeine. I decreased my sugar and white flour intake. And I bought plenty of juice--apple, pomegranate, white grape and cranberry--and vegetable broth

After my dinner on Thursday night, a dinner which I enjoyed slowly and mindfully knowing that it would be my last meal until Sunday afternoon, I settled into the knowledge that my diet would consist only of liquids for more than 60 hours. Then something unexpected happened.

I felt relieved.

Friday I drank juice, water or herbal tea when I was thirsty. If I got hungry, I had a cup of broth. But I never once worried about what I would eat, where my next meal would come from, or when I could finally have solid food again. The anxiety was gone. I knew I would eat on Sunday, and in the meantime, I didn't really think about food. And I felt so alive, it was like every cell in my body was vibrating with energy.

When teacher training started Friday evening, we had a group yoga practice and I found myself able to get more deeper into some poses than I'd ever been before. My focus was intense. My body was responding in new ways. Saturday was a bit more difficult. By the afternoon I was starting to feel a bit more lethargic and the physical hunger was becoming more intense. The anxiety never came up, though. It seemed I was moving beyond my fear of hunger and into a new phase of my relationship with food. It had no control over me anymore.

I could trust that I would never have to eat anything unless I chose to. That would be my challenge once the fast was over. To maintain my sense of control over food. Not for the purpose of going to the other extreme and severely limiting my food intake. But for the purpose of allowing myself time and space to be hungry, to really experience meals when I did choose to eat, and to recognize the effects different foods have on my body.

When we finally broke fast together on Sunday afternoon, every bite was like a flavor explosion in my mouth. After tasting nothing but water, diluted juices, vegetable broth and unsweetened teas, the taste of a strawberry was powerful. The saltiness of a peanut made my mouth water. The crunch of a carrot felt like a blessing.

Almost two weeks later, I'm still having revelations about that fasting experience. Each time I find myself eating when I'm not really hungry or mindlessly munching on a snack during the day, I remember that feeling of power that came with emptiness, and I relax. I've finally found some peace with food. I have the power now, and I know how to use it.

(Photo credit: Shermeee)

This piece was cross-posted at, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

wow.. that's pretty powerful.

we do fear hunger, to the point we always have water and a snack with us. it's the one thing i always get questioned on in europe. why are you bringing water and food with you? they don't get that at 3 i have a snack! they would eat more at lunch so that they wouldn't need a snack at 3!

maybe i should try a juice fast? god knows i've got my own food issues lately!

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