A couple of weeks ago I found myself embroiled in a bit of an interpersonal snafu. I was trying to broach a sensitive subject with care and delicacy, hoping that I could not only get my point across but that I could do so in a way that was diplomatic and fair.
The problem is, I tried to do this while I was hungry. And so instead of being careful and delicate, I struggled to find the right words to convey what I wanted to say, and then finally, I became frustrated and blurted out exactly the wrong words required by the situation.
After I finally got to eat something, I realized what I had done, but it was too late – the damage had been done. And not only that, but the damage had radiated outward in a domino effect of fuckery, and I found myself spending the next couple of hours engaged in a desperate attempt to put band-aids over all of the social wounds my hunger-fueled carelessness had wrought.
It occurred to me later that if you could go back over the past several years and catalog all of the times I had really stepped in some big piles of shit with other people, then dig deep down to find the underlying causes of it, nine times out of ten your excavation will lead you to an empty, rumbling, pissed-off tummy. Like, three of the four fights I’ve had with Brian? All happened when I was hungry.
I still remember one time in particular, when I had been cleaning the house all day long and by three p.m. I was hot and sweaty and I’d only eaten a granola bar and some coffee. He made the mistake of wandering across my path, one thing led to another and before I knew it I was telling him to go fuck himself as he walked out the front door. Later on, when I finally had the good sense to eat some damn food already, I was mortified by what I had done.
Basically it is in the best interest of everyone who knows me to make sure I eat with regularity. Well-fed me is even-keeled, emotionally stable, easy-going, laid back. Hungry me wants you to wipe that fucking face off your head, bitch.
One of the things that has been revelatory for me about embracing a more health-conscious lifestyle is becoming more highly aware of how my body functions – or rather, does not – depending on stress, sleep, food, exercise and a whole mess of other factors. Food has been one of the big ones. I’m not talking about issues with specific kinds of food, like “I feel foggy when I eat gluten.” (I eat gluten all the time and I have no problems with it, which, according to the internet’s diet gurus, makes me into the dietary equivalent of a unicorn.)
Rather, I’m talking about feeling my mental and physical processes slowly fall apart as hunger sets in. If I try to work out when I am hungry, I am sure to have the worst workout ever. If I try to do work that requires focus and attention when I am hungry, I usually wind up distracted by everything from random clicking noises coming from another computer or weird itching on the bottom of my foot. I get tired and quiet. When I do talk, I’m snippy and kind of mean. And this is just after a few hours without eating food.
I’m hardly unique in this regard, by the way. When I searched for an image to match the title of this blog post, a whole mess of t-shirts and memes popped up. In fact, a word – “hangry” – has been coined to describe the very specific kind of anger that results when someone’s fuel tank contains nothing more than the fumes of this morning’s bagel. This seems to happen to everyone, even otherwise good-natured people like myself.
But if so many people know about and experience this, then why on earth do we still expect women to starve themselves under the guise of dieting? People talk about women being “crazy” and “irrational” but does it ever occur to them that maybe those women are just fucking hungry? That maybe if they weren’t trying to subsist on a diet of celery sticks with PB2 and seltzer water and dry chicken breast with a half-cup of steamed broccoli, that maybe they’d be a lot more pleasant to be around? (I have lost count how many personal accounts I’ve read written by former figure competitors who describe how contest prep made them cranky and irritable. Like, it’s just expected that in the weeks running up to a figure competition, you’ll be a total hosebeast.)
Now, when I say “dieting,” I’m not taking about a small caloric deficit with the goal of sensibly losing weight or fat, but rather diets like the one promoted in Bob Harper’s wretched “Jump Start to Skinny,” which has adherents starting out with a “jump start” of 800 calories a day. Check out Kat Whitfield’s awesome take-downs of Harper’s books over at her excellent blog. She reads them so you don’t have to! What a service-y lady.
Eight hundred calories is not even enough to sustain a 4’11” preteen who never gets off the couch. Can you imagine how cranky and irritable a person must be who is on that diet? I am pretty sure I would be walking around with people’s heads on sticks like some kind of modern-day Vlad the Impaler if I tried to subsist for three weeks on an 800-calorie a day diet. (That is, provided I even have the strength to lift the impaled heads in the first place.) Let’s take a moment to feel bad not only for the dieter but also everyone the dieter comes into contact with.
So maybe now that “hangry” is becoming more of a thing, can we stop for a second and maybe reconsider this expectation that a proper woman is one who barely eats? (Or as Kat Whitfield says, “aspiring to the lifestyle forced upon people who can’t afford food.”) And maybe we can also consider dispensing with the shitty misogyny of saying women should starve themselves to be thin, but then acting as though they are mentally ill for exhibiting the very symptoms of starvation.
Because – and I know this often gets lost in the conversation about women and our bodies, but hear me out because this shit is revolutionary – women are people. Our bodies are not just pretty objects for the world to look at, but complex biological organisms that need food and water and rest just to function at a basic level. Needing to eat and getting pissy when we’re hungry isn’t a sign that we have failed as women, but rather proof that we are actual human beings.
P.S. I’ll just leave this Naomi Wolf quote here: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” Because no conversation about women and dieting dieting is complete without it.