Hunger or Habit?

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By Mark Lundegren

If you are reading this, you may be interested in the benefits of a natural health lifestyle and a natural diet in particular.  Perhaps you are working to reduce your weight, to improve your physical conditioning or appearance, or simply want to optimize your health and well-being in general.

Almost always, achieving these goals of personal improvement will involve breaking out of one or more unhealthy cycles of behavior or thinking within us, cycles which can be hard to see clearly and overcome on our own.

Fortunately, many other people have come before you in this process and are here to help now.  The HumanaNatura community is comprised of people like you who have worked to break free of unhealthy and limiting cycles in their lives and to renew themselves with more natural and healthy cycles that foster personal health and well-being.  In truth, each of us has learned about natural health from other people and is happy to repay the favor by helping you.

The title of this particular article may have caught your eye because hunger is a pervasive force in your life, as it is for many people today.  If this describes you, and if your health is less than ideal and you recognize the need for personal change, I would encourage you to read on.

To set the stage for significant and lasting health improvements in your life, let’s start with a discussion of hunger and then talk about habit.  As we’ll see, the two topics are closely related.  They actually are the key ingredients of all unhealthy cycles of behavior, cycles that reduce our personal vitality and the quality of our life, if we do not attend to them and replace them with healthy behaviors and ways of thinking.

In our discussion of hunger, we’ll focus on the hunger for food, since this is often most relevant for people first coming to HumanaNatura, but I will also point out that hunger can take many forms and is similar in process and effect in each case.  As I will explain, most of our urgent and persistent hungers are an unnatural feeling that works to pull us from our health, to self-perpetuate, and thereby to create the unhealthy cycles I spoke of, cycles we must inevitably break to restore our health.

Understanding Hunger

As this article’s title suggests, our feelings of hunger are not a simple thing, and are best not taken at face value.  Feelings of hunger can be hard to examine, and to understand when we do try to look at them, and often we do not try.  Adding to this, our feelings of hunger are often tied up with and perhaps obscured by patterns of habit that are equally hard to see and sort through.  Our personal health often suffers substantially because of this confusion about our hunger, and its sources and influences, far more than you might imagine. 

As we begin to think about and examine our hunger, we realize that people use this word to describe several different feelings or states of being.  We are apt to lump these feelings or states together, because they share a common label and because they do have some general similarities.  We are thus apt to treat various hungers in our lives identically, unless we examine and gain new perspective on them. 

A quick dictionary check will reveal at least three meanings for the word hunger: 1) a desire or need for food, 2) discomfort or pain caused by a prolonged lack of food, and 3) a strong desire or craving.  You may want to read over and think about these different definitions for a moment.  What different feelings this one word describes – from the desire to act on a physiological fact of existence, our natural need to eat, all the way to the pains of starvation and strong emotional fixations.

In the interest of your long-term personal health, and from the point of view of someone who enjoys natural health today (and wishes it for you), I would like to make a very important suggestion.  Beginning from this point, I would like you begin to separate in your mind these very different meanings of the word hunger.  My experience is that the sooner you do this, the sooner you are apt to have new insights into and experiences of your own hungers, and how they influence the broader patterns of health in your life.

In the HumanaNatura library, there is an article entitled “Breaking the Cycle.”  The article describes the very different physical and psychological states we arrive at once we break the cycle of unnatural food consumption and move to a natural human diet.  This change in us then becomes a metaphor for breaking other, non-dietary cycles (or hungers) in our lives that reduce our natural health and limit us as people.

Speaking for myself and many others in the HumanaNatura community, the transformation that comes from a natural diet really is as profound and life-changing as I have suggested.  A natural diet gives us a new body, new levels of physical and emotional energy, and – importantly for our discussion today – new perspectives on our hunger, or should I say, hungers.  One thing we soon discover when eating naturally is that people living on a natural diet rarely have urgent feelings of hunger for food.  Does that surprise you?  Imagine how easy it would be to eat correctly if you were not always hungry, not always craving certain foods, ones that are pleasurable but unhealthy.

As people return and adjust to a natural diet, we find we are able to go extended periods of time without eating if need be.  We experience dietary hunger as a simple and even pleasurable need for food, and not a discomfort, a gentle tug from our body, a subtle reminder, “I should eat at some point.”  When we experience dietary hunger more intensely than this, absent extreme physical activity or a prolonged period without eating, natural health practitioners know that we are getting into other definitions of the word hunger – into cravings and desires, or the pull of old and unhealthy habits.  Perhaps we have eaten an unnatural meal in the past day, and have activated an unhealthy eating cycle (physiologically or psychologically).

If you question whether you can experience this same dramatic reduction in daily hunger yourself, or that you can learn to better differentiate and better understand your hungers, I would encourage you to find out for yourself.  All you need to do is follow the HumanaNatura natural diet for thirty days.  It is free, and a very easy and satisfying way of eating.  It is, after all, our natural human diet.  It does require a commitment to change, but that is why you are here and reading this – right?

So you know what to expect on the HumanaNatura diet, the first 30 days of natural eating will proceed something like this: 1) you will have a couple of days of hard transition as your blood sugar levels stabilize and return to natural levels – eat as much as you want during this time, as long as the food is allowed on the HumanaNatura plan, 2) after the first two days, you will start to feel better, even much or unexpectedly better, but, 3) you will also go through a couple of weeks of ‘mourning’ the loss of your typical foods (you might ask yourself at this point, is this hunger or habit?).  During these two weeks, and the two weeks that follow, you must stay 100% on the HumanaNatura diet to give it a fair trial, and to see if your patterns and feelings of hunger really do change for the better.

Once on a natural diet, the urgency of your hunger will in fact gradually begin to diminish.  And then it will then change, replaced by something that will be new to you.  You will begin to experience what is a very old and natural outlook on food (and perhaps not just on food).  Your hunger will feel good.  Your life will feel good.  You will begin to look at the world and yourself from the standpoint of your natural health and natural human well-being.  You will begin to feel more in control, of your eating and of other aspects of your life, and far less subject to cravings and impulses of all kinds.  Related to these feelings of health, you will also likely experience significant weight loss and increased physical health in the first thirty days of natural eating, to bring us back to why you may be reading this article in the first place.

As you return to and then maintain a natural diet, you will begin to feel the more natural, subtle experience of our physiological hunger that I have described, and learn how it contrasts with earlier patterns of dietary hunger in your life.  You may then begin to have insights into other categories of hunger in your life, and gradually gain the ability to break these hungers into ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ categories, or ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ ones.  With improved health, you likely will also begin to understand that you have much greater control of your hungers, and other feelings as well, more than you might realize today.

Understanding Habit

In discovering and better understanding our hungers and feelings in this way, including their relative health and naturalness, we inevitably become conscious that many of our unhealthy hungers are tied to one or more habits, circular patterns of responding to urgent or pressing cravings or desires.  These habits, and their companion hungers, typically form mildly pleasurable but ultimately unsatisfying, and often patently unhealthy, cycles in our lives.

Few people would argue against the idea that we can become victims of bad habits, and that these habits can be strangely comforting, even as they are unhealthy and often personally limiting.  But this common thinking is very close to the idea that our normal human condition is to be a victim, of one habit of another, that we are doomed to live amidst unnatural and unhealthy habits.  Many people consciously or unconsciously feel this way, and I would encourage you to consider this feeling if and as it appears in word or deed in your life. 

To support my proposition that self-defeating or self-victimizing thinking is widespread, habitual even, let me simply ask: how many of us really take the time to examine our habits and life patterns, and consciously chose the habits we want and those we want to break? 

Perhaps people feel unable or unwilling to look at themselves and their behavior in this way or doubt or rationalize that they could significantly change their lives by what they might find.  This way (habit) of thinking is unfortunate because it is almost always incorrect and an error in judgment.  People who do go through a process of self-examination, in fact, almost routinely have important insights and make positive change in their lives, often far exceeding their initial expectations. 

Apathy and resignation are easy but ultimately irrational and self-restricting approaches to life, ones that reflect reduced health and that may fuel many health-reducing cycles in turn.  After all, we are all enormously changeable and adaptable as people, able to make new connections in ourselves and in the world throughout our lives, and rarely make use of all our given or nascent capabilities.  Each of us is capable of great heights and depths in our lives, depending on our outlook and willingness to confront and cultivate ourselves.

This process of examining our habits and consciously building our lives for increased health and connection to nature and the world is what HumanaNatura calls natural living.  Unlike a natural diet, which is fairly straightforward in principle and practice, even if the first thirty days involve new learning, natural living is an iterative and lifelong process.  In natural living, we go back to our lives again and again, over the full course of our lives, deepening our perspective on our habits and outlooks, and consciously increasing behaviors and attitudes that foster our health.  Our goal and the result of this practice is often a compounding cycle of increasing, rather than decreasing, natural health and personal vitality as we age and mature. 

Though natural living is a gradual and lifelong process, it can also produce sudden insights and rapid positive changes in our lives.  And it is a practice that all of us can begin immediately, from wherever we are in our lives and at any age.  You can literally begin natural living right this minute if you want, even if you have not yet started a natural diet.  To do this, take a few minutes to list out the top two or three reasons you are not actively examining all of your habits and taking immediate action on the worst, unhealthiest of them, and what these most unhealthy habits of yours are.  I’m serious – what today is most keeping you from healthier and more fulfilling life?  I know you know the answer, but will you admit it to yourself and put it into words?

Once you and all of us commit and begin to examine our unhealthy and limiting habits, we often immediately realize that we are also looking at our most insatiable or least examined hungers too.  These hungers are often equally health-reducing and personally limiting, and may live simply to enable and perpetuate our habits.  You might thus begin to think about your hungers and habits together, as tandem phenomena.  As habitual feelings, on one hand, and resulting or enabling thoughts and actions, on the other.  This is usually true when we talk about those all hungers that are more than the gentle tug that is our natural human physiology and psychology –cravings for wealth and power over others, the longing for luxury and repose, the desire for fame and notoriety, and impulse for indiscriminate sex.  All of these hungers are usually unnatural, unhealthy, and only limited expressions of our full human and personal potential.

If you think about it, this close relationship between our habits and hungers should not be surprising.  It may even seem obvious that our hungers drive our habits, and that a change in our hungers can affect our habits.  Perhaps less obvious is to see and experience that our habits often drive our hungers too, and that a change in our habits can affect our hungers.  I’ve suggested already that this is true with the way we eat.  You may find it is true in many domains of your life.  You may find that new patterns of more natural and healthy living insulate you from and dampen many of the common hungers of modern and traditional life, both rampant in our often unnatural and unhealthy society today.

When we increase our ability to examine our hungers and see our habits, their connection and impact on us become much clearer, and they are thus often both weakened.  Often, our habits and hungers become less urgent and compelling in our new awareness of them.  Perhaps you experience strong cravings in your life today, whether for foods, companionship, excitement, status, or material comfort.  Or perhaps your cravings are more spiritual – for solace or connection or truth.  If either case, I expect much of your thinking and behavior revolves around these strong feelings, and that your behaviors and perspective will change as you examine the most urgent of your desires and cravings.

As we begin to understand our hungers and habits, we inevitably learn much about ourselves and the ways we live, and do not live, in the world.  We may find that some of our hungers and habits are senseless and unsatisfying, and simply familiar and persistent patterns of ours, and the result of unconscious living.  In finding this, we can begin to release the grip of hunger and habit on us – an act that both requires and engenders new health and personal vitality. 

Some unhealthy and limiting hungers are obvious and can be fairly easy to recognize when they occur, even if they may be hard to eliminate and their companion habits are hard to change.  On the other hand, examining our habits can be a far more subtle exploration, a path that forces us to make conscious what is often unconscious today, to see what we do not see.  It is true that some of our habits are familiar to us and to those who know us.  These more obvious habits are often the easier to examine and act on, and are often most closely link to clear and frequent hungers in our lives.  This is where we must begin our practice of natural living.

In our practice, we eventually face the more difficult task to examine subtler habits, both in and around us.  As the common expressions go, we often have trouble seeing the air we are breathing or the water we are swimming in.  Our less obvious habits, and the less obvious hungers they often are linked to, can challenge us to see deeply into our social context and culture, and their subtle but often not insignificant influences on us.  As importantly, finding deeper and hidden habits and patterns, if we judge them unhealthy and limiting, can challenge us to make quite significant and even far-reaching changes in our lives, changes that may take years to realize fully, and that may be counter-cultural and force a realignment of our social relationships.

These more subtle habits can include the broadest outlines of our lives today in modernity, our patterns and structure of daily life, the values and aims we keep within us, the judgments we make about ourselves and others, and the things we consciously or unconsciously hold as non-negotiable.  You might respond that these are the habits that define and form us as people.  And you would be right, but they are still habits, and like the hungers that may define us today, are not above examination and judgment.  Even our most subtle habits are often deeply circular and unhealthy in their essence, creating and feeding on unconscious hungers within us – making us who we are perhaps, but not always who we might be.

Our Hungry Habits

Whatever the time in your life, or whatever the time in the day, the force of many hungers and habits likely are a large or at least substantial part of your life, some of them healthy and enlarging you, others unhealthy and limiting.  It is in the nature of our human condition, in modern times, that our health and growth require our examination of self and environment, and our making of conscious choice in how we will live.

The alternative to conscious choice is to yield to the force of habit and custom, and to allow unhealthy hungers to gain or continue their power over us and our natural health.  Such hungers and habits can develop and persist in us and alter us, physically and emotionally, and usually unconsciously, and change the course of our life.  Perhaps you have begun to see this, and already have started to question some of your hungers and habits, and this explains your own quest for new health and vitality in your life. 

It is easy to blame the outside world for this situation.  You might think about the thousands of messages that influence us every day, from commercial advertising to the advice and comments of people around us.  And there are many more and far more subtle influences in our environment too, ones that drive and foster our hungers and habits.  The general script of life today perhaps alters us far more deeply and unconsciously than advertisement and the remarks of friends and acquaintances, leading us from our natural health and more conscious and principled life, simply in the interests of our times.  But ultimately, each of has the power to full back, to reflect and to choose, to use our natural human intelligence to examine and correct our thinking and behavior, and to seize our lifelong potential for greater personal health and vitality.

In small and not so small steps, you can begin to examine and challenge the force of hunger and habit in your life.  You can live today with a deeper sense of yourself, and in new and more personally fulfilling ways.  This is the challenge of natural health and the task of natural living, in our time and in our lives as they are.  We are not (or need not be) victims – we are intelligent human animals.  We can choose to control our life and pursue our own health.  We can choose to live creatively and to grow as people.  We can examine and re-make our hungers and habits, and not be held and limited by them. 

Beginning maybe with the new and quite tangible experience of altered physiological hunger that comes from a natural diet, you can begin to see your desires, cravings, and thoughts in a new, larger, and more natural light.  You can begin to gain the power of perspective on your habits and behaviors, and use the knowledge that higher states of health and life are available to us, at all times in all human life.  And with this perspective and knowledge, let your own natural momentum return to you and help you to move in new, healthier, and more affirming ways.

Once you begin to see your natural self and health for what they really – steady and secure, timeless and curious, and always only gently tugging – the world is again new, we are again free in our health, and everything is possible.

Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.

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