Despite the common belief that hunger is simply a feeling one gets when he hasn’t eaten in awhile, hunger is actually a complex feeling and is classified into four forms. Hunger can be explained as physical, emotional, mental or sensory-related. When working with my Jewish clientele, I’ve noticed a great deal of emotional hunger, or what I like to call “Jewish Guilt Hunger.”
Jewish Guilt Hunger appears in many scenarios. For instance, you go to grandma’s house after you’ve eaten lunch and all of a sudden she offers you her famous homemade babka. You might consider for a second that you aren’t hungry but then think- “well, I don’t want to offend grandma,” and so you accept her offer and start eating. Jewish Guilt Hunger can also occur at a fine restaurant. For instance, you are pretty full but you feel as though you have to eat everything on your plate because you or someone else paid for the food and you feel guilty wasting it.
There are hundreds of these scenarios among the Jewish population, especially given our long-list of traditions surrounded by food. For instance, you need to eat at least a “kezayit” of matzah at each Seder on Passover to fulfill the mitzvah. Or you should eat the challah bread at weddings because it is believed to be good luck. The list goes on and on.
How do we overcome this Jewish Guilt Hunger and start focusing more on our physical or true hunger? The first tool is to acknowledge that physical hunger is gradual (it usually takes about 4-5 hours of not eating to hear your stomach rumble), whereas emotional hunger is sudden. Remember in the example above, you weren’t initially hungry but when grandma offered you her loving food, you immediately realized you were hungry for it. Understanding this can help you if you just take a second to pause before you choose to eat something and ask yourself if you are eating due to physical, actual hunger or emotional hunger.
Secondly, it is important to recognize what fulfills physical versus emotional hunger. When someone is physically hungry, such as with a homeless man, he will eat anything to fulfill his hunger. A homeless man with actual hunger will not turn down a bag of fresh baby carrots or a pear. Any food can fulfill physical hunger. However, with emotional or Jewish Guilt Hunger, it isn’t food that will necessarily make you feel better; it is the comfort in knowing that you aren’t to feel guilty. If your grandma presented the babka to you as “There is some babka in the kitchen in case you are hungry,” you might not be as emotionally tempted as if she said, “Please try my babka, I made it fresh just for you.” In this instance, it is best to let grandma know that you love her and will pass on the babka for now because you aren’t actually hungry but thank her for being so thoughtful and generous.
Lastly, it is important to recognize how you plan on feeling after you eat the food. If you are physically hungry and avoid overeating, you should feel satisfied after the meal. However, when you eat something like babka when you know you didn’t need it in the first place, you are usually left feeling even more shameful than you were before. It is important to recognize this point and understand that eating out of guilt will usually end with even more guilt.
Overcoming emotional eating is not easy for anyone, and may be even more difficult for those with Jewish Guilt. Therefore, it is imperative to become aware of these habits and behaviors now so you can avoid lots of unwanted pounds and shame later on in life. Next time you plan on going to an emotional place or event, such as grandma’s house, I recommend planning ahead. It is best to think consciously and practically about how you are going to respond to food triggers and temptations so you can be one step ahead and prevent feelings of remorse.
We welcome your feedback.
Your information will not be shared or sold without your consent. Get all the details.
Terms of Service
JewishJournal.com has rules for its commenting community.Get all the details.
JewishJournal.com reserves the right to use your comment in our weekly print publication.