Mindful Eating Programs and Training

Mindful Eating Programs and Training

How to Overcome a Fear of Hunger

Michelle May

Don't be afraid of hunger! It gets your attention so you'll feed yourself.

Are you afraid of feeling hungry? Are you afraid you’ll overeat if you let yourself get hungry? Do you feel anxious about experiencing hunger? Do you think you can’t trust yourself to use hunger to guide your eating? This article and video will show you how to overcome a fear of hunger.

I panic when I start to feel hungry!

Amy, a participant in an Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program, noticed that she is afraid of hunger and wanted to know how to overcome her fear of being hungry.

#AskAmIHungry Mindful Eating Question

I noticed how afraid I am of hunger. This is a big issue for me that is becoming more obvious as I try to apply the principles I am learning in this mindful eating workshop. I feel almost a sense of panic when I start to feel hungry. I had a bad experience one afternoon at the vet’s office. I didn’t feel it coming but all the sudden I recognized that my blood sugar had dropped. I didn’t have any food with me and I got really stressed. When I finally got home, I ate too much, too fast. I really don’t like that feeling. There’s got to be a better way to respond!

Video Transcript: How do I overcome my fear of hunger

Thank you, Amy. You didn’t say you have diabetes, so I am going to assume you don’t and that you aren’t taking any glucose-lowering diabetes medications. (For hunger and diabetes, please read Mindful Eating and Hunger When You’re On Medications for Diabetes.)

How you learned to fear hunger

There are a lot of reasons you may have learned to be afraid of hunger.

  • Uncomfortable or scary experiences, like your situation at the vet’s office.
  • Perhaps there was a time in your life when you weren’t fed consistently or felt uncertain about getting enough food. For example, if your caregivers had difficulty providing meals consistently, maybe due to money, schedules, or other challenges, then food insecurity can lead to a persistent fear of hunger.
  • Some people don’t feed themselves consistently as adults because they lack awareness of hunger or don’t take time to eat, so they often find that they are overly hungry.
  • If you weren’t “allowed” to eat on past diets, you may perceive your natural feelings of hunger as unpleasant and try to avoid them.
  • In addition, many diets promote eating on a schedule. Their explanation is that it will keep your metabolism up or prevent hunger so you won’t overeat. These messages feed a fear of hunger.

The good news is that, unless you are medications for diabetes that can cause hypoglycemia, serious low blood sugar reactions are rare.

Hunger is your guide for meeting your energy needs

Although it may feel scary at first, remember that hunger is your natural guide for meeting your fuel needs! Think of it like a fuel gauge in your car that lets you know when it is time to refuel.

Mindfulness is really helpful for becoming more aware of the earlier signs of hunger.

  • As your stomach begins to feel empty, you may become more aware of its muscular contractions.
  • As your blood sugar starts to dip, you may notice low energy, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.
  • If you don’t eat, you may become aware of a feeling of weakness, shakiness, and even develop a headache.

I know those symptoms of hunger don’t feel great, but they aren’t there to hurt you—they are there to get your attention so you will feed yourself! With practice, you will become more attuned to your hunger cues and learn that you can trust your internal fuel gauge.

A fear of hunger can lead to preventive eating

One of the problems with being afraid of hunger is that it can lead to preventive eating or eating on a schedule.

Instead of eating automatically by the clock every three hours, perhaps you set an alarm in a few hours to check in and notice any symptoms of hunger. (Our Mindful Eating Virtual Coach app has a timer you can set that will remind you to check in then provides instructions for a Body-Mind-Heart Scan.)

Steps for overcoming a fear of hunger

Feeling-really-hungry-means-eat-soon1. Of course, being overly hungry is a potential trigger for overeating, so it makes sense to be prepared for hunger by keeping food on hand. Convenient foods (nuts, string cheese, fruit) that can be eaten discretely on a short break, between appointments, or after a meeting, helps eliminate the need to eat preventively.

2. When you notice you are overly hungry, remind yourself that your stomach capacity didn’t increase, so you don’t need more food than usual—you just need to eat soon. Be intentional about choosing food and slowing down to eat.

3. To overcome the fear of hunger, assure yourself that you’ll usually be able to eat when you’re hungry. This may mean reminding yourself that food scarcity is no longer an issue and you are an adult now who trusts your body’s signals of hunger.

4. Don’t be afraid of “ruining your metabolism” if you occasionally can’t eat right away. Although I wouldn’t recommend intentionally ignoring hunger frequently, if you can’t eat the moment hunger strikes, your body has fuel reserves it will draw on until you can eat.

So Amy, the answer to your statement, “There has to be a better way,” is yes, there is!

Oh, and one more benefit of learning to overcome your fear of hunger is that food tastes even better when you’re hungry. As my grandmother used to say, hunger is the best seasoning!

This article was updated from a previous version.

If you enjoyed this article, here are three more to help you:

Listen to Your Body! Hunger Doesn’t Follow a Clock

Why am I hungry all the time?

How to Tell if You Are Hungry: Symptoms of Hunger

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Do you have questions about mindful eating?

View previous questions in the #AskAmIHungry playlist.

Submit your mindful eating question for an opportunity to have it answered in a future video!

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