I'm experimenting this week, as per the group therapy thing, with trying to separate physical hunger symptoms from environmental signals/conditioned responses ("It's lunchtime" or "Do I smell popcorn?"), and further from psychological signals, such as stomach grumblings when I'm anxious. Did you know that a growling stomach does not indicate hunger? I didn't know that. I never knew that. The stomach is not a good indicator of hunger. (!) So apparently I've been feeding my anxiety all this time. And I've had long, long bouts of chronic anxiety. I really got a sense of that today when I got a mild reprimand at work and immediately started thinking about lunch, and this was about an hour after I'd had breakfast. (And this is after I've had years of therapy and anti-anxiety training, medication, etc.)
Physical manifestations of hunger are central nervous system cues, such as shakiness, blurred focus, and that sort of thing. A lot of nutritionists and therapists and dieticians and stuff try to tell you that the rest of hunger is the kind of thing that comes from environmental signals, and so all you have to do (ha) is try to get your mind off of it. Turn the channel when the hamburger ad comes on (whoops, all the channels have hamburger ads on), or go for a walk. Ha. First, this won't actually help anything, because it's not about the ad, and the walk won't help, especially if you have self-loathing when it comes to exercise -- and/or physical pain from it.
The thing is that eating does actually temporarily reduce anxiety for someone like me. It may only work as long as I keep eating, though. I'm not a regular binger, in terms of sitting in from of the TV with a big bag of chips and a bowl of dip and finishing them off. I do that sort of thing on occasion, but by no means every day. But when I do, I find I plan for it, in the back of my consciousness, sometimes for the whole day. Sometimes I only start planning it when I'm in the grocery store and, even when I'm doing that, I'm telling myself I won't do it. OHHH no I won't! OHHH yes you will! ...
Meanwhile, the therapeutic training I've had that is really helping me get into this without fear is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I say "without fear" because there really is a part of me that is strangely scared by the process. Probably from years of failed attempts (and by "failed" I mean that I tried to follow something that turned out to be unfollowable, and so predictably I couldn't follow it) and the fact that this process means closely examining the stories I tell myself about myself and then changing them. It's a daunting process, and it brings up a lot of emotional pain. But, luckily, CBT is on my side. My daily quota of self-loathing has been much diminished thanks to the tools of CBT. I've learned to recognize some of the stinkin' thinkin' to which I'm prone, and stop it before it starts. No, I'm not "starving" -- that's pretty catastrophic! Etc.
So, an interesting experiment. I've spent a lot of time thinking, "Wait, am I hungry? Maybe this isn't hunger. It feels like what I think hunger is ... but is it?" At my age, it's a strange thing to be realizing what I thought were clear physical signals were not, all along.