Being Hungry Isn’t the Same as Overeating

Back in October, my husband and I took a day trip to Wisconsin to hike at Holy Hill. (For those of you who aren’t from the Chicago area, Holy Hill is a beautiful basilica in a wooded area, Northwest of Milwaukee.) We’d been there a few years prior, but later in the season. It was still beautiful but many of the trees had already lost their leaves. This year, we planned ahead and checked out the foliage map to make sure we were visiting when the colors were at their peak. The timing ended up being perfect, and we were blessed with beautiful weather, too.

It was a key example of exercise/movement being about feeling good and having fun rather than burning calories. I love days like this, because they are a reminder of how far I’ve come in terms of my relationship with exercise. When getting outside isn’t about the calorie burn, it feels so much better!

That’s not to say that it wasn’t great exercise, though. By the end of the day, we all had tired legs, but in all the best ways. It felt good to sit down in the car afterwards and rest on our way to dinner. Finnegan might have appreciated a little less hiking, as my husband had to carry him part of the way back. But in general I think he had a good time, too. He likes to chase the leaves as they flutter in the wind, which is so cute to watch.

Since we left for Holy Hill right after church, we ended up having an early lunch. By the time we finished our hike, both of us ended up famished. When you’re a little chilly and have tired legs, being hungry feels so much hungrier. Fortunately my husband and I were both in agreement…we needed burgers, ASAP. So, we stopped at Kopp’s, which is a restaurant group in the Milwaukee area known for its frozen custard. They serve burgers too, and although I’d never had their burgers, if they were half as delicious as their ice cream I knew it would be perfect.

When we got there, my husband went in to order our food while I hung out with Finnegan outside. When he came out with the food, he said “Babe, these are big sandwiches.” I just sort of chuckled and dove into the bag to grab one of the burgers. Then, my chuckle turned into a real laugh because he wasn’t kidding…those burgers were huge.

The pictures really don’t even do it justice…these were the biggest burgers I’d ever seen in my life. It was at least the size of my face. And I ate. the. whole. thing. (And some fries, too.)

Ten years ago, eating a burger like this would have sent me into a tailspin. High calorie foods were not allowed, and even if I was extremely hungry, eating a large volume was a sure-fire way to send me into a spiral of guilt and shame, and maybe a full-blown binge. My entire evening would have been ruined just because of what I ate for dinner.

I won’t lie, I was a little shocked that I ate the whole burger. Usually I’m satisfied with much less food. But instead of panicking, I just laughed. I was even hungrier than I’d realized, and I was amazed that even after finishing the world’s biggest burger, I didn’t even feel stuffed. It was just enough food to make me pleasantly satisfied. It was a wonderful feeling.

On my blog, I write a lot about how diet culture labels certain foods a good and bad. But in addition to the types of food, diet culture labels amounts of food. For example, one tablespoon of peanut butter is considered a “good” amount, but smearing several tablespoons atop a piece of toast is considered a “bad” amount, or a “too much” amount. But the question that never gets addressed is if a person is still hungry after just a small spoonful of nut butter, what are they supposed to do? If you’ve run out of macros or calories for your day, what are you supposed to do? Go hungry, I guess…

But that is so backwards. Our bodies don’t care about our weight loss goals or society’s beauty standards. They care about staying alive and functioning properly, and being nourished when they need energy. I have no clue how many calories I burned during my day of hiking with my husband and dog, but I do know that my body knows how to tell me what it needs, whether I’ve been exercising a lot or not. Eating to satisfy ravenous hunger requires a larger-than-normal amount of food, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, wrong, or shameful. Honoring our body’s signals is the right choice, every time.

Some days we need more food and some days we need less food. Being hungry isn’t the same thing as overeating.

Some days we need more food and some days we need less food. When we’re dieting or struggling with disordered eating, we tend to fall into the pattern of belief that we need to follow a perfectly calculated plan every day. But real life is so much more dynamic than that. I rarely eat the exact same way two days in a row, and even if the types of food are similar, the amounts are usually varied. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

Food isn’t supposed to be stressful. God designed eating to be a free experience, characterized by celebration and gratitude, not fear and apprehension. When our minds are focused on calories and our bodies when we’re eating or exercising, those activities lose their joy. They also end up adding stress to our lives rather than offering an opportunity to re-center our minds and hearts.

I share more about my journey of healing my relationship with food (and learning how to honor my hunger) in my new book, Fulfilled. In addition to my own experiences, I explain exactly how I walk my clients through the process of surrendering a life of dieting and cultivating a a fulfilling life that is focused on bigger things than food, exercise, and your body. Fulfilled is available for pre-order at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound, my publisher’s website, or any online or retail shops where you usually buy books!


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