Hunger Shames

I’m hungry, and it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because it means I’m trying to start a more intense repair of the damage I’ve done lately, and I’ve been doing it long enough for my body to start protesting the absence of the junk I’ve been pouring into it.

But oh, being hungry fills me with shame.

Let’s go back many years, to a time before drugs, to a biology grad student caught in the grip of her eating disorder. She lives in cycles of the bipolar disorder she doesn’t yet understand is part of her, and she goes through cycles of her eating too. After days of bingeing and missing classes and work, she near-fasts and puts in long hours at the lab and drags herself contritely to an eating disorder support group to talk about how this time she’s going to stick to a plan.

Repeat. Repeat again. And again.

One Saturday morning, after being awake all night with Pop-Tart toxicity, she skips breakfast and gets on a trolley to a morning meeting of the eating disorder group. She gazes dully out of the window, separated from the fresh autumn. Halfway there, the trolley stops and stays stopped at an intersection. She looks out of the window to see what the delay is, and sees a huge crowd of people in lettered white T-shirts making their way across. “Walk For Hunger,” the shirts proclaim.

The emotion of that moment is what comes back to me at times like this. I’m not talking about it to beat myself up, just to acknowledge that voluntary hunger–and me being in a situation of needing to choose it in order to balance unneeded food I’ve eaten–feels twisted and wrong in this world of so much involuntary hunger.

It’s called an eating disorder for a reason, I guess. It’s not the natural order. The natural order is that hunger is bad and eating nourishes the body. My sickness, originating so young, has twisted and warped one of the most basic human drives.

I’ve done a lot of voluntary hunger over the years. I’ve lived on water. I’ve lived on protein shakes. I’ve lived on plans where every morsel is weighed and measured and consumed at exact times. I’ve done stupid and extreme schemes and I’ve done reasonable ones that still felt like starvation at first because it was such a contrast. I’ve gone through “junk food detox” and its accompanying headaches and mood swings enough times to draw you a schematic of what to expect when.

Becoming willing to tolerate hunger is part of my surrender when my food needs to be changed, and I also need to be willing to tolerate the emotions that hunger brings to me. The shame is one of them, but there is also fear–the fear of not having enough, the fear of not getting enough sleep, and the fear of the hypomania (already beginning to build) that always accompanies the detox phase.

Why do this? Why choose hunger and discomfort? There are those who would tell me that it’s better to eat what I want when I want it and let go of all guilt and judgment. For me, that hasn’t worked for two reasons. One, there appears to be a weight beyond which I suffer serious health problems. Two–and even more significantly–I don’t appear to be capable of unboundaried eating without traveling into binge territory and producing pain instead of pleasure.

Enduring this hungry phase–and occasional bouts of hunger that crop up later–leads to a place of less insanity. Less insanity is good. My readers know I would never, ever claim that I know what I’m doing where food is concerned. I’m just trying not to harm myself today.

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