I Feel Like I Don’t Know What It Feels Like To Be Hungry


I’m so glad there are people working to raise awareness of eating disorders among minority groups. The messages I received from my Asian parents and grandparents have developed into many disordered eating habits. The guilt of “when I was young, I was poor and didn’t have the food that you have” to my mother’s face when I didn’t finish everything on my plate, asking, “so it wasn’t good?” to the way my parents use food and snacks as comfort, to my grandparents continuously giving me more food and saying “you didn’t eat anything” and “you’re too skinny” when I can’t physically eat anymore and am objectively not skinny at all – all of these things have led me to eat for reasons other than hunger and enjoyment, which later lead to stomach discomfort, digestive problems, and feelings of guilt and shame. 

When I watch my white friends eat as much as they want and leave the table comfortable and satisfied, I ask both “How did she do that?” and “How could she waste so much food?” It is much more nuanced than a desire to lose weight and become thin. It’s a mentality that says I’m not eating for myself, to respond to the needs of my hunger, but for others, to satisfy them, show them I love them, respect their struggles and show my appreciation for an abundance of food, to show solidarity by eating when I don’t want to. My empathy has made me more sensitive to these messages; my brothers have no issues with declining food when they don’t want to eat, yet I have struggled for years. I have an intense fear that others will comment on what I eat, disapproving if I decline food, criticizing my healthy choices for being too high strung, or taking it personally as if it were a personal attack on our relationship. I feel like I don’t know what it feels like to be hungry, to eat in a way that responds to hunger, and to finish when I’m full. How can I relieve this anxiety and get back in touch with my natural hunger cues? 

If you do a quick search of eating disorders among Asian American women, most of it discusses perfectionism, the pursuit of the “Caucasian ideal,” and family pressure to be thin.  The disordered habits that I have have nothing to do with any of this, although I do admit I am a perfectionist. I love my body, I’m in love with my body, my size, my ethnicity, my appearance. And that’s why I’m struggling to undo the harmful messages that have made me feel compelled to eat when I don’t want to. I feel like I’m being reduced to a silly Asian girl who wants to lose weight to please her parents and be beautiful like the white girls. It’s not true. I love food and I love eating, and I want eating to be a pleasurable experience. I want to be me eating when I am hungry and/or want to eat, eating good food, and not eating past the point of comfort. And that’s where I struggle the most. 

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