is not pain
it comes in waves
is a sign of increasing digestive power, or agni
One of the biggest achievements in my life, as a survivor of bulimia, has been to become comfortable with a feeling of hunger. Having spent my early adulthood surrounded by a media that promotes constant snacking to avoid hunger, overcoming the conditioning was a big challenge.
For every positive turn in my life Yoga and Ayurveda have given me the tools to recognise and resolve issues that I did not even think were an issue, like the avoidance of hunger. Yoga gave me the power of self-reflection and Ayurveda empowered me with the solutions.
In Ayurveda the most important marker of your health is a functional digestive power and one of the first questions to assess that is to ask “do you feel hungry?”. At first, I was a bit confused because it went against the current doctrine of avoidance.
To turn my mind into appreciating hunger as a sign of good digestive health was not as much of a challenge as actually executing it in my body, letting myself feel hunger and be comfortable with it. My way out of the conditioning started by recognising that I cannot expect change by always focusing on the same thing, trying to deny that I’m hungry. Instead, I changed my thinking about it. I created positive mantras that have worked so well that I now consider myself totally healed from my past paranoias and obsessions about food.
Hunger is not Pain
The first thing to understand is that the feeling of hunger is not pain. Hunger is like being tired. It’s a sensation that can be managed. You can resist a couple of hours and then after sleep feels even sweeter, like food. You can function whilst tired and so can you whilst hungry.
Hunger Comes in Waves
Secondly, hunger comes in waves and can be managed with intake of warm water and distraction. If and when feelings of hunger come to me between meals, I remind myself how I love feeling light in my body and I start enjoying the sensation.
Hunger is a sign of Healthy Agni
Safely extended period of hunger (e.g. 4 hours between meals during the day) are not dangerous and these breaks are the key of making sure digestive power is strong when we eat. This practice also allows us to eat with gusto almost anything. Strong digestion and empty gut are able to digest even less healthy foods as long as you don’t overeat or eat too fast.
Hunger management should start considering the strength of the fasting muscle. This invisible muscle is like any other muscle. It grows in stamina by exercise. Resilience increases over time and the fasting periods should gradually increase to 4-6 hours and even more if needed. Sustained long fasting period with a small fasting muscle can be seriously harmful and are not promoted in Ayurveda.
A safe way to start flexing your fasting muscle and get away from snacking is to wait 10-15 minutes before eating anything. When then hunger strikes, wait for that moment and then eat. You will not die nor faint. Consider that moment as an opportunity also to train your mind to be your servant rather than a master.
Also, a great substitute to snacks it cardamom pods. Bite the seeds out from the pod, grind them between your teeth and sip hot water on top. Keep them always available in your pocket or in your bag, next to your computer or workstation. Every time you feel like grabbing something, have cardamom and hot water. They help you even more to clear the gut and power up the digestive power so that when you eat, you can eat to your heart’s content.
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