Handling Hunger

Jamie came in to see me this week and discussed a situation that had happened the day before. Jamie told me that she woke up, had her normal breakfast, and then went to work. At 10:00am she had her usual snack to tide her over until her 12:30 lunch break. However, at about 10:30 she started to feel very hungry. Because Jamie and I have spent time in the past helping her learn to differentiate between hunger and non-hunger, she could tell that it was hunger she was experiencing, not thirst, a craving, or just a desire to eat. Looking ahead, Jamie knew he lunch was still a formidable two hours away and she was sitting at her desk with a hungry stomach.

When Jamie first came to see me she had a fear of hunger that was leading her to load up at meals and carry snacks with her just in case hunger should choose to strike. This is why I had had Jamie do a hunger experiment (which is to skip lunch one day and eat nothing between breakfast and dinner) twice over the course of a month to prove to herself that hunger comes and goes and that at its worst, hunger pains rate as only mildly painful. Before Jamie did this experiment she wrote out a pain chart and assigned numbers, 1 through 10, to her most painful experiences. For Jamie, 1 was a mild headache, 5 was a bad toothache, and 10 was the time she broke her leg and needed surgery. When Jamie did the hunger experiment, not only did she find that the hunger came and went and she forgot about it when she got distracted, but when she was feeling hunger pangs they only rated, at their highest, at about a 2 or 2.5. Through the hunger experiment Jamie definitively learned that hunger will not kill her and that if she gets busy she won’t even feel it most of the time.

However, Jamie had done these hunger experiments a few months ago and by the time her hunger before lunch rolled around this week, Jamie had begun to forget what she had previously proved to herself. Jamie told me that she started to have thoughts like, “Oh no, I’m hungry and lunch isn’t for another two hours. This is really bad and I’m going to get so hungry and be too distracted to get any work done. I’ll never make it until lunch time.” Because of these sabotaging thoughts, Jamie seriously considered having another snack and began to look for one until she realized that didn’t have any other food packed and so she couldn’t. Jamie told me that was the best thing that could have happened to her because she was forced to wait out her hunger and not put a band aid on it, like she would have done in the past. When Jamie accepted that she wasn’t going to be able to have a snack despite her desire to have one, she was able to turn her attention back to work and start tackling a project that had been hanging over her head.            

Like she experienced in the past, before Jamie knew it an hour had passed and she realized she had barely been feeling much, if any, hunger during that time. Jamie did experience some hunger pangs again when she took a breather, was no longer distracted, and turned her attention to thoughts of food, but by that point she was easily able to tell herself, “Lunch is only an hour away. I can definitely wait an hour to eat and I know I’ll be so happy I did. I just have to get myself involved in work again and the hunger will go away like it always does.”

In session, Jamie and I discussed her triumph and what she has learned from it. Jamie reported that she was glad she was forced to undergo another smaller hunger experiment because it helped remind her of things she already knew but had forgotten somewhat. Jamie and I discussed the fact that she might continue to be a little bit vulnerable to fearing hunger, but whenever she needed to she could always do another hunger experiment and prove to herself, over and over again, that hunger is not an emergency and she can definitely wait it out.

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One comment

  1. I find this post helpful. Would your answer change or do you have any suggestions for middle of the night hunger? It’s harder to distract myself with work then and the sensation keeps me up. When I restrict calories, I’ll often sleep for four hours or so, then wake hungry and with another 5 hours to go before breakfast.

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