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our bodies' voices [narrative]

how we’ve lost the ability to know what we want

My mom shook me awake. Taking a nap outside my bedroom door had seemed like a good idea to me at the time until my mom said she hadn’t been able to wake me up for several minutes. Because I wasn’t just napping—I had passed out. She plopped me down on the couch and force-fed me a cookie until I was able to hold myself up. I still don’t know how she knew I needed to eat, since nothing like this had ever happened before. 

About a week later, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia: the sudden but frequent drop of blood sugar to an abnormally low level, causing tiredness, shakiness, anxiousness, and yes, loss of consciousness if it has been too long since I last ate. I like to tell people it’s the medical term for hangriness, my Hulk alter-ego that impulsively rips up the floorboards in a fit of rage. It’s like seeing a Peep catch on fire—something sweet becoming dangerous. The feelings come out of nowhere, and they only intensify until I eat something. 

When I graduated high school and the pre-college jitters began to set in, I learned how to control my symptoms for the sake of being able to stay energized for my new stage of life. I soon realized that this came at the cost of my intuition for when my body needs food—something that is unfortunately common among people with hypoglycemia. While initially I thought this was harmless, it quickly turned into a game of: How long can I push through these symptoms of my body screaming for food? How good can I get at hiding my hunger when no one else is hungry? When will I admit that I might need more food than my friends or the stranger sitting next to me at the dining hall? And that it’s okay if I do?

The term “hangry” has been incorporated into everyday language. It’s a perfect blend of two words—hungry and angry—to convey the feeling of being over-hungry. 

Over. Hungry. 

Hungry to the point where food is an urgent need. Your brain is yearning for sustenance and can’t function until it gets it, hence the outward manifestation of angriness, merely a mix of nerves, irritability, and your brain being starved. 

Intuition is an intangible sensation—a “gut feeling.” Maybe the jump you get in your stomach when you’re with someone and it feels like nothing but right—or nothing but wrong. The tingle in your arms when you taste the banana muffins your friend baked for you when you were sick or the wrinkling motion in your nose when you smell the fishy waft of your mom’s cooking when you’re simply not in the mood. The difference between wanting to stay in and yearning to go out. The gap between yes and no. There may be no logic, no reason behind your want, other than that you feel it.

But what happens when the gap becomes smaller? And your choices become grayer? The intuition weakens. Why does that happen?

When I experience a hypoglycemic episode, I shut down. I am silent. My mind goes blank, the lights go out. I’ve lost my hangriness, and only when I begin to honor my hunger cues do they return. But while I’m aware of this on some level, I still can’t bring myself to listen to my body when it calls. I often fantasize about the day when I will eat when my stomach is grumbling, and the disarray of disordered thoughts in my head will be something of the past. 

I don’t have the space to talk about what losing intuitive hunger means for the epidemic of eating disorders and general disordered eating at Brown, the average college campus, and around the world—environments where busyness and productivity take precedence over nourishment. These issues are immensely important to discuss, but for the sake of this piece, I would like to more broadly highlight the collective loss of intuition among all peoples, speaking through the lens of my own experience with hypoglycemia and losing intuitive hunger. 

Last week, my friend referred me to a podcast episode of the Ezra Klein Show: “This Conversation Will Change the Way You Think About Thinking.” The main message of this particular 50-minute episode was that humans have lost the ability to know what is best for our minds and our bodies. The signals between the two have become skewed by the rules and rationale that the rush of daily commercial life forces us to bear. 

The essence of the podcast resonated with how I make decisions about food. Once I stopped being able to instinctively listen to the needs of my body, I didn’t try to ask because I didn’t care, and I never fulfilled my stomach’s order anyways. Once I considered committing to reviving my intuition, the constant questions became “What do I really want?” or “What am I actually craving?” and “How does that truly make me feel?” These questions feel so minute on one hand, because it’s my body, shouldn’t I know? On the other hand, they also feel difficult to answer, because how should  I know what the right choice is? It’s exhausting.

This piece is not about the victory I experienced from gaining my intuition back. It is not a simple task—there are contradictions pelting my body from all angles like painful shooting stars that sting upon contact with my permeable skin. When I lost my intuition, I was unaware that I had had it before, losing my chance to be grateful for something so invisible but so powerful and crucial to my happiness. Now aware of the concept of taking care of my body and my mind (and knowing that there are trade-offs to consider in a moment),  I realize that intuition was never hard to find, it was hard to hear. It was hard to validate. It is hard to validate. 

Sometimes I find comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in this endeavor, both because I have had the privilege to seek help and because I have managed to overcome the distorted belief that humans can achieve happiness alone. While it is gut-wrenchingly unnerving, I believe that lucidity is to come; I know from my own and others’ experiences that no matter how comforting and safe the insularity of disordered thinking may feel, and how utterly frightening breaking from its parachute is, freedom is worth striving for. I remind myself of this every day.

Life is a continuous state of confusion and combative messaging that we are force-fed. It feels funny that intuition must be relearned and practiced every day. But having experienced gaining some of it back, I can say the search is completely worth it. To feel your own thoughts without judgment and to grant your body what it is asking for, whether in the form of choosing one food over another, exercise or rest, company or solitude, following one’s intuition brings clarity that is otherwise stripped by the fog I hope to leave behind.

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