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Yawn…Excuse Me, I’m Tired

An issue that crops up occasionally on two eating-related message boards I post on (, is confusion between fatigue and hunger or desire for food. Maybe you too abuse food when you should be putting up your feet or counting Zs. If you regularly wonder if you’re tired or hungry, you may be missing out on their physical/mental signals or mistaking one signal for another; in fact, you may also have difficulty discerning other physical cues.

Perhaps your parents were confused about their physical needs and couldn’t teach you how to identify, distinguish among, and respond to physical needs. Maybe you distance yourself from your body because trying to meet its needs overwhelms you. Or you respond to your body’s desire to shut off consciousness (fatigue) by abusing food until you’re zoned out. You may also mix up fatigue and hunger or food obsession because you don’t want to rest or sleep, believing you have too much to do and can’t afford to come to a full stop, that eating will fuel you to do more, or that you’re not deserving of rest and replenishment.

Here’s a brief review of hunger signals: stomach growling and feeling empty, thinking about food in a fuel-related way, slight queasiness or lightheadedness, mild weakness or difficulty concentrating, headaches, and—fatigue. Notice that tiredness is one aspect of a constellation of symptoms and not the primary one. If at least some of the rest of them aren’t there, especially stomach emptiness, we’re not talking hunger. Hunger is more localized than tiredness and radiates from your belly.

Fatigue is generally felt in your entire body, and does not center on your stomach. Although when tired you may have difficulty focusing thoughts and experience some lighted-headedness, when you’re truly fatigued, your thoughts do not naturally turn to food. They drift toward rest or sleep. When you’re tired, you want your body to be still, to close your eyes. In fact, when you’re really exhausted, eating may feel like too much of an effort to be worth the trouble.

Signals aside, it’s a good idea to review your beliefs about fatigue and find out if they’re rational and healthy. My guess is that you may have some irrational beliefs that are driving your confusion. By focusing on two fronts—your beliefs about being tired and physical signals—you can teach yourself the difference between fatigue and hunger.