I don’t know about you, but a big part of my struggle with food and body stuff stemmed from not being very connected with my actual physical body and what it needed. Sometimes it was mixing up a feeling that I needed to eat when I actually just needed to breathe and let my anxiety (or other strong emotion) calm down, or sometimes it was eating way more than my body actually needed in a given time because I was zoned out. These can be sort of confusing to sort out, but during some of my most difficult times in recovery, I used to get the basic physical needs of hunger and thirst mixed up.
I would always read tips about how you should drink a glass of water before eating, or when you get the urge to eat something, but you aren’t sure if you’re actually hungry, to have something to drink first to figure out what you are really needing. Thing is, I never really listened. Some people are really great at staying hydrated and as many times as I would hear, “Drinking water makes a huge difference in my life,” the habit just didn’t stick with me. I would have the good intention of carrying a water bottle with me and making sure I drank a bunch of it during the day, but I think we all know that follow through on good intentions isn’t always that easy!
As I have gotten more in tune with my body and better at figuring out what it needs (before a binge!), I have noticed that I do have a tendency to mix up what it feels like when I am thirsty and when I am hungry. For a while, I resisted working on this (I don’t really know why), maybe because thirst in my mind was a need that always came way behind hunger. This is sort of silly, because when you think about it, the human body can go without eating for a relatively long time, but water and liquids, not so much! But how could a glass of water really satisfy me the way a salty snack could?! This is where I had to start paying more attention to the subtle signals that my body was giving me and give my thirst the kind of respect it deserved.
I started out by making myself some tea or having some flavored seltzer water when I would get a sudden urge to eat something (the all-of-a-sudden part can also be a good hint that you might not be actually hungry). Instead of looking at it as a way to avoid hunger or eating, it was more of just a check-in like, “Is this what you need right now, body?” Kind of like a weeping baby who can’t talk-you check its diaper, you rub its back, then you try feeding it-it’s a process to figure out what it really needs. I’ve heard that some parents eventually can just tell based on the type of cry what their child needs. It takes the same kind of patience, curiosity and genuine desire to figure out just what is going on to take care of yourself!
In the end, checking in on my thirst levels really makes a huge difference for me (it’s still amazing to me that this is true), even after I was so skeptical of thirst being an important factor in my physical needs and being sane about food. I am now more able to anticipate and differentiate when I am in need of some liquid, making me realize that often I wasn’t actually hungry yet, just thirsty! After some practice, I was able to pick up on the subtle differences that I feel when I am thirsty versus when I am hungry. I am pretty sure I was feeling them all a long, I just wasn’t listening very well!
Have you experienced the hunger vs. thirst debacle? Do you find you are good at distinguishing which is which? Any good strategies if you are? -Morgan
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