It occurred to me one night just a few weeks ago. I was going to bed hungry, and I’ve been going to bed hungry for years. For decades, really. Oh, not every night, but for at least three quarters of my life, I have laid my head down on the pillow as hunger pangs stabbed at me.
No wonder I’ve experienced trouble sleeping for so long. What would possess an intelligent person with food in the fridge to go to bed hungry?
In a country where we live the contradiction of obesity and obsessive dieting daily, in a country where we ought to be ashamed of the statistics on hunger and poverty, ashamed of the infants and toddlers suffering failure to thrive; in a country of plenty on a planet that can indeed feed all its inhabitants with thought and cooperation, why do millions starve? Why do some of us starve ourselves?
A Life of Dieting
I’ve written of the American preoccupation with female form — the damaging desire of white women to be thin, almost at all cost, coupled with the increasing perception of surgical “enhancements” as normal. Among those “improvements,” breast augmentations and butt implants — so often talked about and displayed in popular media.
I’ve written of the fact that this dangerous and destructive behavior saps millions of us of our pleasures, our health, our presence in relationships. Meanwhile, it fattens up a host of industries that do very well at keeping us feeling inadequate at our size 12s and 14s — even our size 10s — while convincing us that we can and should do better — be better.
What’s the treasure that awaits?
Achieving the life (and man?) of our dreams by finally dropping that excess weight and reshaping ourselves into a form that is (at last!) deserving of love and success.
Having bought into this myth as a child, and as the daughter of an obese woman (with relatives worried I would eventually look like my mother), I recall being told to diet as young as the age of six. I was a healthy, normal weight at the time.
That in itself did a number on my head and, I suspect that the constant dieting that began by age 12 may have something to do with why I didn’t grow beyond my petite stature. Moreover, this same behavior solidified my conviction that I was fat, that fat was the enemy, and that going to bed hungry was a small price to pay for being thin — some day.
After all, thin would mean love and acceptance and a “good life.”
Say hello to forty years of dieting, body dissatisfaction, the predictable yo-yo effect, and going to bed hungry.
Empty Stomach Syndrome
We may talk and write about Empty Nest Syndrome, those of us with the luxury to worry about such things — yes, definitely a “first world” problem — but how about Empty Stomach Syndrome? How about this other “first world” problem in which those of us who have access to healthy food don’t consume it?
Instead, we choose to deprive ourselves of vital nourishment, not to mention one of life’s most sensual pleasures.
We work on an empty stomach. We parent on an empty stomach. We have sex on an empty stomach, and probably sucking in our guts while we do so even if there’s not much to suck in.
And beyond the Empty Nest and the Empty Bed, many of us are still imposing the Empty Stomach Syndrome on ourselves, thinking in a misguided fashion that somehow, this is a good thing… we will regain control over… well over what? Over eating, which may then lead to overeating? Without the obsession, isn’t food consumption a natural function? Do we think we will regain control of some imagined more youthful physique? Establish control of what we can? Lose 5 pounds or 10 pounds or 30 pounds and become more “visible” and maybe even loved?
Let’s not forget the Women’s Health article that tells us:
On any given day, nearly 40 percent of American women are on a diet. The weight-worry gun is loaded early: By the time they reach age 10, 80 percent of girls fret that they’re fat.
Aren’t we sending a terrible message to our daughters and granddaughters as they, too, become skinny girls with “fat” heads, convinced their bodies are anything but beautiful?
How can we sleep when we’re hungry, much less be pleasant? How can we nourish our organs and our brains when we don’t feed them? And what about the millions of people in the world who are going to bed hungry — not by choice?
World Hunger, World Poverty
As a child, if I didn’t eat what was on my plate, I was told “There are children starving in Africa.”
That was the go-to line of annoyed mothers in the late 60s and 70s, best I recall. And here we are, four decades later, and the reality is both children and adults going hungry — primarily in “developing” nations, but also in the U.S. and other developed countries as well.
Consider these statistics from the World Hunger Organization.
… The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 805 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2012-2014. Almost all the hungry people, 791 million, live in developing countries, representing 13.5 percent, or one in eight, of the population of developing counties. There are 11 million people undernourished in developed countries…
Are you horrified by those figures?
Strangely, we live with the appearance of an opposite problem — obesity, which is also about poverty, ignorance, greed and convoluted societal priorities.
Why Is Hunger Still a Problem?
Do you think hunger is still a global problem due to insufficient food supply?
According to the same source (WorldHunger.org):
The world produces enough food to feed everyone. For the world as a whole, per capita food availability has risen from about 2220 kcal/person/day in the early 1960s to 2790 kcal/person/day in 2006-08, while developing countries even recorded a leap from 1850 kcal/person/day to over 2640 kcal/person/day… The principal problem is that many people in the world still do not have sufficient income to purchase (or land to grow) enough food.
Poverty is the principal cause of hunger. The causes of poverty include poor people’s lack of resources, an extremely unequal income distribution in the world and within specific countries…
So what about the issue of all those who go to bed hungry by choice as part of some misguided diet? What about those women (especially) who starve themselves for years? What about the food wasted in their pantries while others two miles or 20 miles away are malnourished? Did you know that some 90 billion pounds of food is thrown away in the U.S. each year?
Me, My Scale, and I
While there are certainly periods in my life when I wasn’t worried about dieting, they are relatively few. Virtually all occurred at various times when I lived in France, ate well, walked constantly, always trimmed down, and rarely if ever stepped on a scale.
I was living my life; I was part of a community; food was a necessity and a pleasure, like the air I breathed, the stroll I took, the sleep I got — sleep also easier for me in France. And we did not waste.
When it struck me that I had been going to bed hungry for years, convinced that was essential to dieting, and that it was possibly a factor in my poor sleep, I tried something different. I began to have a few spoonfuls of yogurt about an hour before bed. It felt good, it tasted good, and I was no longer hungry.
Those healthy eating setbacks I addressed about two months ago?
I had regained the seven pounds I lost, plus three more.
They’re gone now. Those ten, and five more. I’m not going to bed hungry. I’m sleeping better.
I doubt that is the only factor that has contributed but I do think it counts. Isn’t it time we stop depriving our bodies and our emotions of what we need? Isn’t it time we look beyond ourselves and our foolish preoccupations with women’s bodies as some “proving ground” of value, and look instead to those who truly need food, or food education, or both?
I am thinking of Mark Bittman, former food writer at The New York Times, and his many articles on feeding the planet, and feeding the planet in healthy fashion. I’m thinking of the fact that he left The Times a few months back to take action, to put his activism into an organization that would make a difference. I’m wondering what each of us can do, starting with respecting ourselves and our capacity to feed ourselves enough to do just that — eat. And then to look beyond our needs (and our vanity) to feeding others who surely must think we are insane for choosing to go to bed hungry.
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