Never, never apologise for being hungry. There is not a single thing wrong with it. We have gross misconceptions when it comes to cravings – it’s the job of cravings to keep us from malnourishment, starvation and death, when we ourselves fail to do so. But food and threats are used to shame and punish, and so we are loathe to ask for what we need even from ourselves, or we find we are constantly justifying our choices to the people around us.
If you want to be blessedly craving-free, or at least better equipped to withstand your fierce and untamed desires, you absolutely have to meet them half-way. If you think you can just be tough and muscle it out, you’re setting yourself up for failure further down the track. The more you suck it up, the further into metabolic apocalypse and malnourishment you push – there’s a whole ton of truth to the saying the higher you climb, the farther you have to fall. We all think we won’t fall. But we do.
Survival is a biological imperative. Eating is a biological imperative. You cannot out-smart a biological imperative – it is smarter than we are. Hunger is supposed to outwit us, we are not meant to dominate our hunger.
We talk about emotional eating and food addiction in strange ways – as if it were humanly possible or even desirable to a: be unemotional about food, or b: get to a point where we no longer need to eat. We must build our relationship with food, we must develop it as we develop our relationship with people, with training, with our work ethic. It’s not like smoking or alcohol, you cannot get to a point where you no longer need it.
Eating is not a matter of discipline. It’s a matter of nourishment and staying alive. It was never meant to be controlled. If you are eating right for you, the idea of ‘exerting control’ becomes meaningless. We only feel we need to do that because we are so thoroughly disconnected from ourselves.
Paying attention does not come naturally to anyone, it’s a skill that is built and developed over time. We are over-entertained, and taught that exercising and eating should naturally be fun, but we aren’t taught how to bring ourselves to these activities with enthusiasm and awareness.
Our human physiology is infinitely more sophisticated, subtle and complex than our approach to dieting ever will be. All cravings are a sign of depletion or deficiency of some kind. What are you failing to do that is making your body scream “pay attention to me! You aren’t giving me what I need!”?
That’s why you have to meet your cravings half-way. They are telling you something, something important, something that should not and cannot be ignored. Something here just isn’t right.
Ever notice how overeating it isn’t so much fun when you aren’t on a diet? You don’t automatically overindulge when restriction hasn’t been on the cards. You just eat what you want, and you stop when it’s enough. Don’t believe me? Don’t think you can? You’ve spent too much time focusing on restriction, depletion, dieting. There’s nothing satisfying about overeating if you aren’t rebelling against something, if you aren’t finally giving yourself what you need in order to thrive.
If you’ve always been giving yourself what you need, there’s no appeal to simply having more. When you are adequately fed, it cripples the desire to gorge. You don’t deserve to eat only on special occasions, you deserve to eat every damn day, every time you hunger for food.
All of this is another way of stating the bleedingly obvious: the only way to cure cravings is by eating.
But we’re used to thinking that ‘we know better’, that it’s our bodies that are wrong, rather than our way of thinking about the whole issue.
I’ve basically spent this year re-feeding. I was depleted, and in a society that’s obsessed with thinness, when you think you’ve finished the re-feeding process, when you think you’re finally adequately nourished again, when you can feel it all starting to get better, you’re probably only half-way there.
Your body knows what you need, better than you do. You need to develop your skill of paying attention, and get to the bottom of it all, if you’ve got half a chance at health, happiness – let alone the prized and illusive physique modification which, by the way, I no longer place much stock in.
Health is more than shape. It’s not what you weigh. It’s so blatantly obvious, I struggle to understand why it’s such a controversial issue. I know people who are all like – “I just want to get under 60kg”. How does that number relate to human physiology at all? 60 kg is 132.28 pounds – if you count in pounds, you’d want to get under 130. Or maybe you’d be happy with 140, which is 63.5 kilos. These numbers are totally meaningless when it comes to human health and physiology. Think you need to lose 10 kg? Why 10?
We absolutely need to change the way we think about hunger and cravings. They’re good. They’re our friends, not our enemies.
Diets are our enemies.
So what do you do? Lifestyle changes? Calling a diet a ‘lifestyle change’ doesn’t magically make it not a diet. There’s no such thing as a rapid or dramatic lifestyle change. Jenny Craig isn’t a lifestyle change, it’s doing what you’re told. It’s sacrificing your autonomy so that it’s no longer your responsibility, no longer your fault, and somehow everyone comes out blameless when the diet fails – because we are all seen to have been ‘trying’. The safe, but useless trying. Trying and failing is somehow more socially acceptable than refusing to do what you’re told, refusing to buy into the beauty standard, refusing to diet not because you fail to care for yourself, but precisely because you do care for yourself.
So what is a lifestyle change? And why would you need one? Why would you want one? Do you want to be healthy? Choosing to spend your time trying to be thin is a lifestyle choice, and trying to be healthy is a lifestyle choice, and somehow we have come to see them as the same thing.
Lifestyle change. I hate the term, as I hate hell... It’s used euphemistically, so we can hide from the fact that we’re only doing what we’re told, trying to please the people we swore we would never become.
So what can you do? What do you want to do? Do that.
Sleep is one of the most thoroughly underrated things in the world – we pride ourselves on being tough, getting a lot done, and thoroughly failing to care for ourselves in the first place. Then we take ourselves off to the gym to ‘be good’. It’s ironic.
Inclusion of the guilt-free nap into my life was one of the best things I ever did.
If you like, try taking a walk for your head, for fun, or simply to do something without having to think of it as ‘training’. Y’know – move and be free. Or – do you like training? Train at ball-busting intensity, see what that’s like. Train gently, with care. And experience it. Get massaged. Eat more whatever. Take care of yourself, in whatever way you want to.
The only way this is going to work is if you’re doing what you want, on your terms.
It’s only one thing at a time, but it’s not about deprivation. It’s about moving towards stuff you like – things that are satisfying, things that are intrinsically rewarding, because it’s your life and you’re the one in charge.
Changes can be as big or as little as you want. You can take a break from your own expectations, and finally realise that there’s no such thing as perfect nutrition. That was a big one for me.
It’s everything I talk about – it’s what I’m trying to build for myself. It’s investigation. Curiosity and awareness. Experimentation, playtime, and developing your self-knowledge. It’s doing what’s right for you, despite what other people say. It’s having the strength and confidence to walk your own path, even if it polarizes you against those who were once your contemporaries.
And then, one day you wake up – years later – and somehow you built a firm foundation of self-respect and a sense of self-worth that is not based on obedience, that does not teeter on popularity, and that is not built on lies and delusion.
Refusing to pander to the politics of obedience.
That’s a fucking lifestyle change.