Of all our most basic, primal urges hunger is probably the most compelling.
Sure there’s practically an entire sub-genre of TV and movies about the crazy (often comedic) things people will do for sex, sure people hallucinate of thirst in the desert, but there is a unique power to hunger. Hunger will make people steal, kill and completely abandon any rationality outside of getting something to eat. Extreme hunger can essentially make you lose control of your actions.
The thing is, most people who I expect to be reading this don’t ever experience real hunger. Most people living in a developed nation are lucky enough to never have to feel real hunger unless they choose to.
I think, at least once, they should choose to.
Now that’s not to say people in developed nations have never been hungry.
That would be silly. You may even be hungry as you read this. I’m not talking about the normal, day-to-day, haven’t eaten in a bit hungry though. I mean a hunger with teeth. A hunger that drapes over you and weighs you down like chains. If the hunger most people feel was a mosquito or a pesky fly the hunger we’re looking for is a 400 pound silverback gorilla full of steroids and cocaine.
So how do you find this kind of hunger? Well, don’t eat.
The easiest and safest way is to perform a 72 hour fast. That means nothing with any calories to it for 72 full hours. This is including time spent sleeping, so an example fast would be to eat breakfast at 7 a.m. on a Friday and then ingest nothing but water until eating breakfast at 7 a.m. the following Monday.
A slightly less strict fast could include black coffee which, thought it has no calories to it, is a bit of an appetite suppressant.
Shorter fasts of 24 hours or 48 hours can also be a good experience, and we regularly perform 16 or so hour fasts for health reasons, but I think the 72 hour fast is the pinnacle to shoot for in order to get the full experience.
That being said, please only give it a try if you know you can do it safely. If you have some medical condition that precludes you from this sort of self-imposed asceticism then don’t even try it. Additionally, while there are some apparent health benefits from shorter fasts when done more frequently, anything beyond a 24 hour fast is likely to do more harm than good if performed more than once a week.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend more than a single 24 hour fast a week and probably wouldn’t perform a fast longer than that but once per year. I don’t know of any health benefits of fasting for greater than 24 hours – the goal here is to trade a little bit of physical detriment once for a lasting bit of mental benefit.
So that’s how you go about becoming hungry, but whats the point of doing it?
Why Intentionally Experience Hunger?
Some of you are probably asking, “Why in the world would I want to purposefully make myself suffer like that if hunger is such a powerful and unpleasant urge?”
That’s a fair question. Here’s why I think it’s worth experiencing at least once in your life.
It Builds Gratefulness – I understand that here in the U.S. we have a vernacular penchant for hyperbole.
Even so, when someone tells me they’re starving because it’s noon and they didn’t have their bagel this morning I want to seize them by the shoulders and shake them.
You can argue that it’s just an expression but given the emphatic way I’ve heard plenty of people express that sentiment I have to believe there’s more to it than that. I would never think these people really think they are in mortal peril, or minutes away from succumbing to starvation, but they genuinely feel an extreme sense of discomfort and are compelled to complain about it. What’s worse is that it’s often accompanied by a general sense of entitlement – as though they have suffered some great wrong in having to miss breakfast for some reason.
Feeling real hunger, the kind of hunger that comes from a fast of greater than 24 hours, shows you what it’s like to be less privileged. It reminds you of the kind of things that millions of people around the world have to contend with on a daily basis. It gives you a glimpse, though you have the safety net of a fully stocked refrigerator, of a life where you have no idea where your next meal is coming from (or if it’s coming at all).
Hopefully, all of that makes you more grateful for what you do have, less entitled feeling and ideally less likely to waste food.
As a side benefit, the first thing you eat at the end of your fast will almost certainly be the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted.
It Builds Toughness – I would say that one of the traits that bothers me most in people is being a complainer, but I fear that would be complaining about complainers and I’d become the very thing I despise. Regardless, if you’re whiny – I don’t like you.
I think one of the biggest factors in causing someone to become a habitual whiner is being given the gift of a relatively pampered life. As I noted, income inequality and other social problems aside, the majority of people in a developed nation at a socioeconomic level of lower-middle class or higher lead what I would consider a comfortable life on a global scale.
People who fall into this category never experience the kind of genuine hardship others do, but still find things to complain about. There are even memes built around first world problems.
Being able to willfully put yourself through that kind of hardship and make it through it will make all the other difficulties you have to face not seem quite so bad. Knowing that you went 72 hours without giving in and eating, no matter how violently your stomach was screaming at you, helps you recognize that the stupid little thing bothering you at work or the annoying person holding up the line at the coffee shop is not that big of a deal.
It toughens you up a bit and keeps you from complaining about trivial things by showing you there are much, much worse things that you could be experiencing.
It Builds Self-Control – Hunger is a seriously powerful urge.
That can cause serious problems when you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape and you’re tempted by all of those high calorie treats that don’t fit your macros right now. One minute you’re doing fine, then you walk by a Cinnabon and before you know it you wake up caked in the frosted carnage of a 10,000 calorie cinnamon roll rampage.
Resisting that kind of temptation takes a lot of willpower.
One of the best ways to do that is to force yourself to experience the hardship of extreme hunger in a controlled situation and practice fighting it. Your willpower isn’t as limited as you think. They key is to find ways to exercise it.
Showing the kind of force of will necessary to go 72 hours without food, shackled with the weight of extreme hunger particularly in the presence of temptation, proves you’re strong enough to walk by that box of donuts at the office and leave them be. In my experience once you’ve developed the discipline necessary for a long fast forcing yourself to deny other immediate pleasures in favor of longer term benefits becomes much easier.
These were the main reasons that came to mind to practice a bit of hunger at least once in your life. Can you think of any others? If you’ve tried it out I’d love to hear about how it went.
Photo Credit: Know Your Meme