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Head Hunger Considered Less Legitimate?



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I have been wondering this for a while ...

Very often when there is a post about hunger, and it is suggested it may be head hunger they are experiencing, the reaction is defensive. They are insistent this is "real" hunger. Even in the OP they will sometimes lead with they know the difference between "real" hunger and head hunger, and they definitely have "real" hunger.

Is head hunger not "real"?

So, for me, head hunger and physical hunger are very difficult to distinguish between. They physically feel identical. I have to really analyze why I am hungry. Did I have a trigger, an email from Postmates, smelling a neighbors BBQ, hearing the ice cream truck? I have to think about what will satisfy my hunger, do I need a burger, or does lentil Soup sound just as good? Only when I think about those, can I determine which type of hunger I am experiencing.

Head hunger has lead me to; fill countless carts on Grubhub, Postmates, Ubereats, and (almost always) exit before checking out; get into my car and drive to a fast food restaurant, only to (almost always) turn around and go home; endlessly flip through a room service menu; take a half eaten taco out of my hotel room trash (wrapped and in a bag!) and finish it.

Is head hunger less difficult to manage than physical hunger? Is having head hunger a sign of some sort of weakness?

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I have been wondering this for a while ...
Very often when there is a post about hunger, and it is suggested it may be head hunger they are experiencing, the reaction is defensive. They are insistent this is "real" hunger. Even in the OP they will sometimes lead with they know the difference between "real" hunger and head hunger, and they definitely have "real" hunger.
Is head hunger not "real"?
So, for me, head hunger and physical hunger are very difficult to distinguish between. They physically feel identical. I have to really analyze why I am hungry. Did I have a trigger, an email from Postmates, smelling a neighbors BBQ, hearing the ice cream truck? I have to think about what will satisfy my hunger, do I need a burger, or does lentil Soup sound just as good? Only when I think about those, can I determine which type of hunger I am experiencing.
Head hunger has lead me to; fill countless carts on Grubhub, Postmates, Ubereats, and (almost always) exit before checking out; get into my car and drive to a fast food restaurant, only to (almost always) turn around and go home; endlessly flip through a room service menu; take a half eaten taco out of my hotel room trash (wrapped and in a bag!) and finish it.
Is head hunger less difficult to manage than physical hunger? Is having head hunger a sign of some sort of weakness?


I think head hunger is a definite real thing. I'm about four months post op and I'm one of the lucky ones that still gets full off of a tablespoon of food. When I get 'hungry' I immediately think that I need to eat something with Protein because I know it'll fill me up super fast. I don't know if this answers your question but this is my take. I really focused on filling my stomach with things that make me full fast. When I first got my vsg, i hard core focused on learning when I was actually hungry and to ignore head hunger. It was hard but when I got rid of carbohydrates, I found that my head hunger went away for the most part.

Sent from my SM-N950U using BariatricPal mobile app

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Posted (edited)

I also believe head hunger is real. The "hunger" we feel is our brain recognizing some sort of stimulus. People shouldn't feel defensive about head hunger, but they should recognize that it needs to be "treated" differently. Just like phantom pain for an amputee is real pain, but putting ice on the missing foot won't make them feel any better. I really don't have a good way to avoid head hunger, my house is chock full of triggers. I just try to keep really low-calorie stuff around as an option when I'm "head-starving", like sf popsicles. I haven't found that distracting myself works at all. But I won't eat anything substantial if I'm not due for "food". I'm not the "just tough it out" kind of girl.

Edited by Orchids&Dragons

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When you're eating starvation level calories....and could satisfy your hunger by eating something healthy....that's REAL hunger in my opinion.

Think of the calories your body needs to heal itself and maintain your basal processes.....and think of what you're consuming. That hunger is not "in your head"....it's your body trying to warn you that you will get ill or die of starvation if you don't pull up.

This obsession with "head hunger" when we're eating starvation level calories concerns me a lot because it's a stone's throw from eating disorder speak....and eating disorder crossover (anorexia, bulimia) is a very real concern after bariatric surgery.

Real Hunger = can be satisfied by a healthy snack that's on your plan. if you have real hunger...YOU SHOULD EAT.

Head Hunger = you've just had a healthy dinner but think you want a Big Mac. You're not really physically hungry...your body has had it's nutritional needs met. But you *think* you're hungry for something you crave, or you have an emotion that would be soothed with food, or you're bored, stressed etc.

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3 minutes ago, Creekimp13 said:

When you're eating starvation level calories....and could satisfy your hunger by eating something healthy....that's REAL hunger in my opinion.

Think of the calories your body needs to heal itself and maintain your basal processes.....and think of what you're consuming. That hunger is not "in your head"....it's your body trying to warn you that you will get ill or die of starvation if you don't pull up.

This obsession with "head hunger" when we're eating starvation level calories concerns me a lot because it's a stone's throw from eating disorder speak....and eating disorder crossover (anorexia, bulimia) is a very real concern after bariatric surgery.

That's the thing, I do eat very low cals, usually under 500. But I have little physical hunger. I will feel hungry, but the only appealing foods are delivery or fast food. My home is full on healthy options, but I keep browsing Grubhub. So in my case I'm eating at "starvation level calories" and my hunger is absolutely in my head.

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The reason I, personally, get defensive when someone accuses another person of "head hunger" is that they can't possibly know what that other person is experiencing.....and they label it. Worse, the label means....you're over eating, and you're giving into temptation. Who are you to judge that?

Maybe it's the same in reverse? I can't possibly know what you're experiencing when you're talking about "head hunger" that you legitimately feel you suffer....so you feel defensive, too, when I say....nope, you're not eating enough calories...and your body is telling you that need to eat. Who am I to judge that?

Either way....people should avoid labeling each other's experiences and concentrate on their own. I don't know how your body works. I've never felt what you feel.

But I do know that there are a lot of mind games at work in this whole messy business. And I know they can lead us in some very unhealthy directions if we're not vigilant.

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23 minutes ago, Creekimp13 said:

I appreciate the link, but this an anecedote from the director of one eating disorder program. It is not a study WLS leading to eating disorders. And, IMHO, most of those who have an eating disorder post WLS, more than likely had it to some degree before WLS

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Posted (edited)
6 minutes ago, sillykitty said:

That's the thing, I do eat very low cals, usually under 500. But I have little physical hunger. I will feel hungry, but the only appealing foods are delivery or fast food. My home is full on healthy options, but I keep browsing Grubhub. So in my case I'm eating at "starvation level calories" and my hunger is absolutely in my head.

Is your head-hunger negotiable? i.e. can you tell yourself, ok, I'm hungry. I'll eat 1/2 oz. of almonds. If I'm still hungry in half an hour, then I'll get something else. I often use a chai latte as my negotiating tool.

Edited by Orchids&Dragons

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Posted (edited)
9 minutes ago, sillykitty said:
36 minutes ago, Creekimp13 said:

I appreciate the link, but this an anecedote from the director of one eating disorder program.

It's from Johns Hopkins....a world leader in metabolic and psychiatric research, and often ranked the number one research hospital in the United States.

Edited by Creekimp13

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5 minutes ago, Creekimp13 said:

The reason I, personally, get defensive when someone accuses another person of "head hunger" is that they can't possibly know what that other person is experiencing.....and they label it. Worse, the label means....you're over eating, and you're giving into temptation. Who are you to judge that?

Maybe it's the same in reverse? I can't possibly know what you're experiencing when you're talking about "head hunger" that you legitimately feel you suffer....so you feel defensive, too, when I say....nope, you're not eating enough calories...and your body is telling you that need to eat. Who am I to judge that?

Either way....people should avoid labeling each other's experiences and concentrate on their own. I don't know how your body works. I've never felt what you feel.

But I do know that there are a lot of mind games at work in this whole messy business. And I know they can lead us in some very unhealthy directions if we're not vigilant.

I agree with all of this. That was basically my point, no type of hunger is more "real" than the other. They just have different sources.

What is frustrating is when any suggestion of head hunger is dismissed and as you said, looked at upon as a weakness, instead of being legitimate. We all come to this forum to learn from other experience, and to help others by sharing our experiences. So you share yours with physical hunger, and I share mine with head hunger. But physical hunger is viewed legitimate, but head hunger is not.

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53 minutes ago, Orchids&Dragons said:

I also believe head hunger is real. The "hunger" we feel is our brain recognizing some sort of stimulus. People shouldn't feel defensive about head hunger, but they should recognize that it needs to be "treated" differently. Just like phantom pain for an amputee is real pain, but putting ice on the missing foot won't make them feel any better. I really don't have a good way to avoid head hunger, my house is chock full of triggers. I just try to keep really low-calorie stuff around as an option when I'm "head-starving", like sf popsicles. I haven't found that distracting myself works at all. But I won't eat anything substantial if I'm not due for "food". But I'm not the "just tough it out" kind of girl.

10 minutes ago, Orchids&Dragons said:

Is your head-hunger negotiable? i.e. can you tell yourself, ok, I'm hungry. I'll eat 1/2 oz. of almonds. If I'm still hungry in half an hour, then I'll get something else. I often use a chai latte as my negotiating tool.

Yep, I absolutely do this. On days when my head hunger is the worst I allow myself to graze, but healthy options only, and all tracked, Jerky, cheese, cucumbers with low cal dip, sf Jello w yogurt etc. It's a compromise with satisfying the desire to eat, but keeping it under control with smart choices. It's a bigger challenge when I'm traveling. Head hunger is raging and I have a menu in front of me, it's tough to choose the rotisserie chicken over something less healthy.

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10 minutes ago, Creekimp13 said:

It's from Johns Hopkins....a world leader in metabolic and psychiatric research, and often ranked the number one research hospital in the United States.

Not disputing he source, but it is not a study that shows WLS leading to eating disorders.

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Posted (edited)
5 minutes ago, sillykitty said:

Yep, I absolutely do this. On days when my head hunger is the worst I allow myself to graze, but healthy options only, and all tracked, Jerky, cheese, cucumbers with low cal dip, sf Jello w yogurt etc. It's a compromise with satisfying the desire to eat, but keeping it under control with smart choices. It's a bigger challenge when I'm traveling. Head hunger is raging and I have a menu in front of me, it's tough to choose the rotisserie chicken over something less healthy.

In this sense, my esophagus issue is a blessing in disguise. I can't swallow most of the things I'm tempted to eat. Unfortunately, the freezer-ful of ice cream would go down just fine. Although, I really miss hard cheese, Jerky and raw veggies!

Edited by Orchids&Dragons

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1 minute ago, sillykitty said:

Not disputing he source, but it is not a study that shows WLS leading to eating disorders.

"In the last year alone, 8 percent of patients admitted to the Johns Hopkins Eating Disorders Program had a history of bariatric surgery, says the program’s director, psychiatrist Angela Guarda. Some patients developed an eating disorder after surgery. Others had a pre-existing eating disorder that worsened after gastric bypass."

To me, this is very interesting statistical data...from a reputable source. The entire article...linking certain behaviors experienced by bariatric patients to new and worsening eating disorders...was eye opening.

For instance....the way clogging your stomach with hard to digest foods to induce vomiting resembles bulemia...and the phobias bariatric patients can have about eating...

I thought it was a very interesting read.

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