I’m hungry as I write this. Doesn’t help that I’m sitting at Qdoba but I can’t get any chicken nachos with that delicious queso. I’m on a long-term diet in which I drink a protein shake instead of lunch. It’s not too bad, honestly, and it works, but it’s never quite enough to satisfy. I’m only at Qdoba because of the patio (which is a great place to work when the weather is warm) and the lightly sweetened tea (which I need to survive). They know me here, because I come almost every day over my lunch break to write. I have enough reward points for about 10 free brownies, but alas…ok, this isn’t helping.
If dieting has one benefit, aside from any weight loss side effects, it’s that it teaches us a little hunger is a good thing. Before, if I felt hungry, I would immediately go down to the kitchen and try to get rid of that terrible feeling as quickly as possible. I’ve found large injections of carbohydrates to be extremely quick and effective. Preemptive infusions are also helpful. On the downside, it wasn’t the healthiest way to go about life. It led to a state that might chritably be called overindulgence. Or, if we’re feeling honest, gluttony. But if you are just counting calories or pounds, you’ll miss the underlying issue. You’ll never be successful by focusing on limiting or eliminating what you want. Appetite suppressants might work, but they are only treating a symptom and will leave you dependent. Our problem is rarely excessive appetite, but rather the inability to accept hunger. I didn’t desire to eat a pound of bacon for breakfast, a whole pizza for lunch, and ice cream every night for desert. I just couldn’t stop myself from eating whatever I could find until I was full and grabbing a handful of something whenever the I detected any rumbling of hunger. After all, if I am hungry, doesn’t that mean I should eat something? We have plenty of food. Enough to make a man fat and a culture decadent.
The goal of modern life is to never feel hungry. Life is all about comfort. Being hungry is uncomfortable. And there are many kinds of hunger. Some might crave food, others health, but both are the same impulse. We recognize being too skinny can be as big of a problem as being too fat. Or you might long for wealth or power, beauty or pleasure, acceptance or experience. Or all of them. The human heart is a tangle of desires. Too great a desire will carry you away. We’ve all known the person corrupted by the pursuit of money or lust for power or need for acceptance. But most of us put on moral weight not by extreme greed or overbearing hatred or uncontrollable envy, but by the inability to suffer small difficulties, minor inconveniences, temporary uncertainties, innocent slights, common rejections. Over a lifetime these little indulgences of acquisition and retaliation and acquiescence add up. Without realizing it, we’ve let ourselves go.
The first step in the solution is to accept that hunger can be a good thing. Being uncomfortable is the natural result of a life well-lived. Desiring good things the right amount will always leave you wanting more because the pleasures of this life will never be able to satisfy completely. Even the best food will only fill you for a day, and another drink is needed every night. No amount of money can buy you everything you want. No one is healthy enough to outrun death. Beauty fades. Experiences end. We long for something permanent, something transcendent, for true peace, complete justice, unconditional love. It hurts us that we can’t find it. But that pain is a good thing, if we understand what it is. We don’t need to fill it in with empty carbs and cheap thrills. Instead, we need a diet. And how will we know it’s working? We’ll be hungry for life.