The Meaning of Hunger

Copyright 2006 Mary Desaulniers

In the weight loss industry, hunger is a dirty word, the villain that must be stopped in its tracks; however, it is this determination to eradicate hunger that has created the worst propaganda for diets. DIET has become a dirty word, associated with pain, starvation and all things “undo-able.” But if we look at hunger more closely, we will see that villainy is only part of its heritage. Hunger is more like Edmund in “The Chronicles of Narnia.” His cravings for Turkish Delights temporarily made him succumb to the wicked Witch until he broke through the cold inertia of her spell and re-created himself anew.

Hunger can be more appropriately viewed as an interim stage, part of a process of transformation. What we learn from our hunger is the key to long-term success in weight management.

There are different kinds of hunger; there is the real hunger for sustenance that comes after a hard day’s work. This hunger is necessary for our survival as it tells our body that it needs to replace the energy that has been expended.

Then there is the hunger we feel when we are bored—the Sunday afternoon variety that creeps into our bones like a bout of flu. You feel hungry even after a meal and you can’t seem to shake it off.

A more insidious form is the hunger we feel at the end of the day, a hunger that is ravenous, partly because we are hungry, but mostly because we are carrying the ravages of the working world home and we have no other avenue to tame the beast. This is the form of hunger that leads to unbridled bingeing and weight gain, and as long as the issues ( at work or at home) remain unresolved, the body will deposit layers of subcutaneous fat much like an armor to shield itself against what it feels to be an unjust grievance.

Yet it is this hunger that is the most redeeming of the three as it places in our path a problem that is actually an opportunity for personal growth and transformation. Change is inherent to the nature of the body; it is through change that we evolve, through change that matter is transformed into light. “Many physicists believe that all matter is ultimately composed of trapped light,” so claims physicist Fred Allan Wolf in his book “Mind into Matter” (46). We are “trapped light” when we are trapped by the “unconscious ideas that we’ve been taught”(62)—such as “I am this or I am that. I am not good at this. I am meant to be fat or slow or lethargic.” These are all part of the armor that keeps us tied to the ground.

But this trapped light can be released when matter is brought into motion. We are not only talking about physical motion like exercise (which fits very well into the particulars of this dynamic), but creative motion—the meaningful activity which we all know is capable of birthing the unknown or suppressed self, the self trapped by inertia and fear, the self that sees no way out of its misery other than bingeing itself to oblivion. Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman, calls this inertia “the Great Mother crocodile,” that prefers “sleeping in the mud to transforming in the fire”(“Dancing in the Flames” 24). She is playing on the words “mother,” “matter,” “mater”—primal mud of oblivion.

Edmund was part of this primal mud (he was looking for his Great Mother in the Witch) until his perception was cleansed and he saw a new reality. ” No new reality can exist without a new perception of reality”( “Mind into Matter” 49).And that’s why the hunger Edmund had for Turkish Delights takes on new meaning; it will no longer be fed by the Cold Spell; it will now be fed by the body in motion—the Great Battle against the Witch for Narnia.

And so it is with us. We need to find out what the source of our hunger is. What is the grievance that is eating us up? What unrealized dreams lay dormant under our cold spell? What possibilities for growth and spiritual awakenings have we stifled because of work, relationships or fear? What changes need we make to resurrect those dreams and desires? Will the path be difficult? Yes! Will it be fraught with danger? Yes! But need we fear it? No! Because we have the power within us to “birth” this new self. And as long as we keep our vision steady before us, we will succeed. Moreover, there are guides along the way—weight loss coaches, well-meaning friends and family, our own intuitions—these can provide us with the tools to make the journey successful.

It is far more dangerous to keep things the way they are. The armor of fat and denial we have built around us becomes more impenetrable with time. Unless we choose to see and create a new reality, the old Mother prevails.

That’s why it is so important for us to understand the meaning of hunger. Sometimes hunger is not simply hunger for food. It is hunger for the emergence of a new self, hunger for a birth that, like any other birth, is a labor in progress. Are we serious enough about our well-being to confront our hunger, turn its energy around so that it serves, rather than stifle, us?