Does it take time for your body to reset its hunger signal?
appetite |noun: * a natural desire to satisfy a bodily need, esp. for food: he has a healthy appetite | they suffered from loss of appetite; * a strong desire or liking for something: an unquenchable appetite for life.
– Dictionary definition.
Appetite has been a big issue for me. I am eating three meals a day and three snacks. I have recently been able to start exercising again, which has helped with my self esteem. However, I do not usually “feel” hungry. I eat because I know I have to. Many days I feel bloated, but I continue to eat a steady and balanced diet that will provide me with energy. The only time I feel hungry is when my blood sugar starts to drop if I have missed a meal or snack and I get lightheaded or shaky. Does it take time for your body to reset its hunger signal? I have not been in recovery very long, but I was hoping this would normalize and I would be able to enjoy food soon. Any insight would be appreciated. _ A.
Oh appetite, where have you gone? How do I get you back? Like ‘A’, I mourned the loss of my appetite. I wondered how to get it back. Did I have to do something, or would it somehow return of its own accord, when it was ready? I despaired it was gone forever.
I can speak only with the voice of experience, but yes, an appetite can come back. My appetite was ‘lost’ for more than 40 years, and it did come back!
As anyone recovering from an eating disorder will know, food seems quite a bugbear, a big bugbear, at times. We reach the enlightened stage where we know we must eat three meals and three snacks every day, without fail, but this doesn’t mean we look forward to it. We look around and see other people ravenously tucking into a big juicy steak and mashed potato, peas and carrots, followed by apple pie and cream. And we wonder, how can these people eat with such a level of obvious enjoyment – without feeling so much as a tinge of guilt – and on reaching a magical point of satiety, push the chair back a little from the table with a sigh of contentment.
I would look and wonder, ‘how did they know how to stop eating?’ (there might be several spoonfuls of food left on the plate), or they might help themselves to seconds: ‘how did they know to do that, and how can they do that without feeling guilty, how will they know when to stop eating?’
We seem to have to eat manually while others have an appetite that automatically tells them to eat, when hungry, and stop, when full. We seem to have these set amounts that have to be eaten at certain times – even if we feel full before we even start. We must eat without fail. Not much fun. Not much sense of contentment. Is this what recovery is all about? No.
In my journey, the transition from manual to automatic appetite was slower than slow. But by sticking with the manual three meals and three snacks a day regime, about three years ago I gradually swung into automatic. The changeover happened from ‘within’.
I suddenly realised that I was thinking about what I felt like eating for my next meal. After decades of habitually eating the same food for the same meal, day after day, like a tin soldier under house arrest, I discovered that I was actually looking forward to my next meal. My body began to tell me what it desired for the next meal. This was truly exciting, and remains so. ‘What do I feel like eating?’ I ask myself. And myself responds. It may involve hopping in my car and going to the supermarket to purchase a chicken fillet, or a sweet potato, some sour cream, some tomato salsa; it may be a pasta dish; a fish dish. Eating has become an adventure and every meal is a new adventure.
Eating out is fun! I love poring over the restaurant menu, letting my body tell me what it feels like eating – ignoring both price and calories.
Eating away from home at conferences, no longer sends me into a panic. I look forward to eating whatever is available. There are only a few categories of food that are not for me – rich foods, containing a lot of cream, for instance; or pastry; or high sugar. My body does not re-act well to them and that is that. I listen to my body tell me what I need to eat to feel good, and luckily it is all the foods that I enjoy most! When traveling, I carry muesli bars or a sandwich – something to eat if that feeling of low blood sugar comes on. At conferences, at morning tea time, I collect a muffin or chocolate chip cookie as big as a saucer and pop it in my shoulder bag, before entering the conference hall. Then, after an hour, if I start to feel light-headed, I devour the muffin or cookie, bit by bit, because that is what my body needs, right then. At first I felt embarrassed but then realised that it is better to eat when needed than fall in a heap on the floor!
Eating at home is fun, too. I think that growing my own vegetables has been a big help in setting the right environment for my appetite to find its way back. Walking around my veggie patch before making the evening meal is like a preparation – I always find something to add to my meal – some herbs such as parsley, chives or mint, and whatever is in season – tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, silver beet, rhubarb, broccoli or spinach. Gardening nurtures my soul as well as my appetite.
Now that I am living in suburbia, with a pocket-size backyard, I’m getting ready to grow vegetables in pots. Even if you live in an apartment several floors off the ground, so long as you have a window, you should be able to grow at least some herbs in a pot. Try it and see how good you feel as the leaves grow, and how good you feel when you add them to your meal!
Appetite has become more than ‘just eating’. It is about all the senses. It is about nurturing a relationship with food, about connecting with it, for it is of life and so are we.