“Ugh, rehearsal was frustrating today, I just want to go home and eat chips and ice cream. i’m just eating when i’m not hungry”
“I wasn’t even wanting anything sweet right now, but someone just brought cake to the studio and now I want a piece of it.”
Have you ever experienced hunger or a craving for food that was not driven by your body actually needing food? It’s likely that you have, because this is totally normal to experience eating when you aren’t hungry! This type of hunger can actually give us a unique insight into what we are going through emotionally, and help us identify and understand food habits.
I want you to remember that eating out of non-biological hunger isn’t a bad thing, and sometimes it can be a part of a normal and healthy human experience, but other times it can be our attempt to stifle negative emotions, which is something that we need to be aware of. Taste hunger, practical hunger and emotional hunger are three different types of hunger outside of the typical biological hunger that we are going to be discovering today.
Eating a food because it sounds good, or just because the occasion calls for it, is what we call taste hunger.
Taste hunger often involves play foods, or foods whose primary function might not be nutritional value but serve the purpose of being foods that we love and enjoy, often bringing together a special experience and connecting us with others. Think cake at a birthday party, stuffing and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, Christmas cookies, or even just a spontaneous decision to get a delicious looking treat in the bakery case at a coffee shop. Food isn’t just fuel, it has culture, celebration and pleasure attached to it.
Sometimes if we are strict with our eating, we might have food rules established that deem these foods as “bad” or ones that should be “avoided”. This might leave us feeling guilty after eating these foods and then potentially overeating them because our body doesn’t know when it will have this food again. Intuitive eating seeks to normalize all foods because they all have their place in balanced nutrition. It is perfectly valid to honor this type of hunger if a food sounds good, looks tasty, or if the occasion calls for it even if you aren’t biologically hungry. When you satisfy this hunger, knowing that you can eat these foods whenever you want, you might notice that you just need a small piece to feel satisfied. So the next time someone brings your favorite cookies to the studio and you want one, enjoy it!
The next type of hunger is practical hunger.
This is when you plan meals and snack times ahead to fit your schedule and eat in order to prevent intense hunger in the future. For dancers, this is a really important one to make sure that our bodies are fueled so we can focus in the studio. It is important to eat before dance, on breaks and before performances even if you aren’t necessarily hungry. This doesn’t mean that you have to force yourself to have a full meal to the point where you feel overly stuffed, but having a light meal or snack is a good idea to avoid intense hunger and energy dips during a rehearsal or a performance.
This is all about planning ahead to bring enough food with us to be sure we will have enough energy to get through long and intense days of dance. If you notice that you have eaten all of the food you brought with you but you still have hours until your next meal, use this information to prepare differently next time. Or, if you notice that you are coming home from dance with insatiable hunger, try finding ways to add more to your meals and snacks during the day.
Lastly, emotional hunger is when we knowingly or unknowingly use food or the physical act of eating to comfort or to try and cover up or quench uncomfortable feelings.
When you experience this type of hunger, you might be feeling emotions like boredom, frustration, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, anger, low self esteem or exhaustion. Food can often serve as a comfort and can deliver positive emotions, even just temporarily. It is normal to crave foods that will make you feel better and to eat when you aren’t even hungry. You might encounter emotional hunger with eating a pint of ice cream after a frustrating casting change, or eating a chocolate bar if your day is frustrating and chocolate is honestly the only thing that adds some pleasure to your day.
Sometimes this hunger can feel out of control, and I want to express that this is totally normal to experience. There is nothing wrong with you or your hunger cues. Emotional hunger can actually be a great tool that gives us insight into what we are experiencing emotionally. It is totally okay to eat when we experience emotional hunger, but it is important to know that a temporary food distraction isn’t going to get rid of whatever emotion we are experiencing.
If I notice that I keep going back into the kitchen to get multiple cookies or chocolate, or if I keep grabbing handfuls of tortilla chips, it is usually because I am stressed, frustrated, tired or sad. At this point of my snacking, I’m probably not really even enjoying the food I’m eating, but I continue to try and make myself feel better. Sometimes I don’t even recognize that it’s emotional hunger until after the fact, but when I identify that I am feeling emotions rather than biological hunger, I use tools to deal with the uncomfortable emotions.
What are some ways to deal with these emotions?
Writing in a journal, talking with a friend, family member or therapist, going on a walk, doing some like stretching, or taking a few deep breaths are just some ways that help me identify and deal with these emotions. What helps you process emotions might be different from my list, but it is helpful to have some that you can utilize when the time calls for it. It is important to not feel guilty or beat yourself up if you experience emotional hunger.
It takes an incredible amount of self reflection to start honoring your feelings without food, and it will not be perfect, and that’s okay! Sometimes you will eat even if you aren’t hungry. Remember, your body is incredibly smart, and emotional hunger is often your body raising a red flag to help you notice emotions that are going on. So when this happens, thank your body, recognize that your emotions are valid and honor them.
The topics of food and nutrition are so much larger than just what properties different foods have. Foods can have emotions, memories and habits attached to them that make the scope of studying nutrition so much bigger. I often talk about how we have to fuel our bodies AND our minds as dancers. These are equally important in becoming a healthy, well-rounded dancer and person.
Experiencing emotional hunger especially can be difficult to navigate.
I would encourage you to reach out to a nutrition and/or mental health professional so you can get the support you need! You can always reach out to me here! I hope this helps you to recognize what your body needs and encourages you to honor your body’s cues so that you can be the best version of yourself inside and outside of the studio.