eating when you’re hungry is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’re human


Written by Meg Kant

eating when your hungry is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’re human

I was 25 years old when I first learned about the concept of eating when you are hungry. I realize it sounds like something that should be very obvious, however at that time in my life, I had been immersed in disordered eating for almost a decade.  My meals and snacks all revolved around eating specific food, at specific times in order to control the size of my body. Eating had nothing to do with hunger.

The idea that I could eat when I was hungry felt foreign. In fact it took me a long time to identify and notice when I was actually hungry, rather than when it was just ‘time to eat’. My understanding was that being hungry was the enemy, and that preventing yourself from ever being hungry was one of the secrets to not gaining weight. Hence, I would eat my joyless meals and snacks every 2 hours to ensure that I never got hungry, and therefore would avoid eating something I “shouldn’t”.

shame, guilt and binging

However, even then, with my regimented meals and strict schedule, I would eventually always end up binging. The binge would start and I would fall into a deep spiral of shame and guilt, which would ultimately inflame the binge. Then I would end up feeling so uncomfortable emotionally and physically that I would swear to never let it happen again. I always blamed binges on emotional eating, and wished that if only I could get my emotional eating under control then I could just relax.

What I didn’t know was that it was actually the restriction, scheduled and regimented diet that was propelling my binges. It wasn’t until I was going through the process of recovering from my disordered eating that I learned about the difference between emotional eating and binging (yupp, you read that correctly they are different).

binging vs. emotional eating

Oftentimes we hear the terms binge eating and emotional eating used interchangeably but there are actually really important differences between them. 

In a video by Isabel Foxen Duke, emotional eating expert, she clarifies that emotional eating is actually not a bad thing. In fact emotional eating is built into the fibers of our society. Eating can be a form of celebration, a way to connect with the people in our lives as well as an opportunity to bring ourselves comfort.

food is more than nutrition

If you were to only eat out of physical necessity then you would never have birthday cake or your favorite dish on special occasions. You wouldn’t lick the spoon when cooking or taste test your food before you eat it. If food was purely just for nutrition then you would eat bland, tasteless food. But it’s not; eating food can be a source of joy in our lives. It is wrapped up in our memories and experiences and it hurts my heart to think of how long I deprived myself of that joy. What I called emotional eating for so long, and what I feared so much wasn’t actually emotional eating at all. It was binge eating, which is a reaction to food deprivation. 

While recovering from disordered eating, I found myself having to learn and relearn certain concepts of eating. The one that took the longest was also the most profound, the difference between real and perceived deprivation.

real vs. perceived deprivation

*Real deprivation can also happen when someone is living in food poverty and does not have access to enough food.  For the purposes of this blog I am referencing deprivation enacted from diet culture.*

Real deprivation is when you do not physically allow yourself to eat enough food. For folks on diets or “lifestyle changes” this happens when you limit your food consumption, even though you have access to food. Examples of this include: “I don’t let myself eat carbs”; “I can’t eat one, if I have one I won’t be able to stop”; “I can’t eat a whole sandwich or else I will use up too many points/calories for the day.” 

Real deprivation leads to binges, as our bodies require certain amounts of calories/nutrition just to function (did you know that 1200 calories a day is actually equivalent to semi-starvation in adults?). 

Then there is perceived food deprivation which happens when you feel shame or guilt about eating specific foods even if you allow yourself to eat them. This can happen when you believe that you “shouldn’t” be eating something. In this instance you could eat an entire cake and still feel deprived of it, because you never got to enjoy it. I missed many birthdays or restaurant celebrations because I did not want to have to resist getting something that I “wasn’t allowed.”

even if you eat it, there can still be deprivation

Think of a time you went to a restaurant or a friend’s house to eat and they brought out one of your favorite foods (maybe bread, peanut butter balls, pad thai, etc.) and as they brought it out you thought “crap… I should not eat that”, but then your desire for the food kicked in and you ate it anyway. That is STILL deprivation. When  you are beating yourself up for eating something it is deprivation. And perceived deprivation still leads to binge eating. 

It is not that you are “crazy” around food, or that you have a problem that needs to be fixed. Emotional eating is not the problem, it is the belief that thinness leads to happiness, and restriction leads to thinness that causes great suffering.

I’m sharing this insight because I do not want anyone to miss out on the joy and connection that comes when you find freedom with food.  If you are looking for resources to help support you as you navigate your relationship with diet culture and food, here are some that I recommend.

Things that I found helpful for disordered eating recovery

Food Psych the Podcast



Do you ever deprive yourself of food? Had you ever heard of perceived deprivation before?  How did you feel while reading this?  Feel free to share in the comments.

eating when your hungry is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’re human


Meg Kant




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