Naturally, after recently bragging to a gym mate about how I hadn't been sick in years, I was struck down with a nasty flu bug. My long list of symptoms included zero appetite. Not only was I not hungry, everything I ate tasted awful.
After nearly two weeks, I knew I was on the road to recovery when I woke up with a voracious appetite. It felt so good to feel hungry again. It felt exquisite to once again experience pleasure from food.
This experience prompted me to reflect on the importance of appetite. So often, people ask me how they can control or suppress their appetite. It's common to view our appetite as the enemy, something that can't be trusted, something to fear, something that must be controlled.
When you think about it, however, your appetite is essential for life. It keeps you alive by telling you it's time to eat. Fighting it simply goes against the laws of nature.
Fighting your appetite also leads to cravings, binge eating and overeating. And, fighting anything puts your body in the physiologic stress response, which elevates cortisol, a fat-storing hormone, and contributes to other adverse health conditions.
Yet, so many of us have been trained to believe that having an appetite is bad and that controlling it is good.
In Caroline Knapp's book, Appetites, she speaks of our culturally conditioned suspicion that "hungers themselves are somehow invalid or wrong, that indulgences must be earned and paid for, that the satisfaction of appetites often comes with a bill...appetites are at best risky, at worst impermissible...yielding to hunger may be permissible under certain conditions, but most likely it's something to be Earned or Monitored and Controlled. A controlled appetite, prerequisite for slenderness, connotes beauty, desirability, worthiness."
Your Appetite: Friend or Foe?
What's your relationship like with your appetite? Is it your friend or foe? Do you trust it, fight it, ignore it, override it? Are you grateful for it, or frustrated by it? Do you feel anxious when it calls, powerful when you restrain it, or weak when you cave into it?
Finding Your Natural Appetite
It is possible to cultivate a natural, easy and life-affirming relationship with your appetite. Finding your natural appetite simply requires slowing down, tuning into the wisdom of your body and trusting it to guide you--not some external forces or a belief that wanting food says anything about who you are as a person.