The Hunger Challenge: Turning into a Ghost

Guest post by Emily Henry, Associate Local Patch Editor: I am sure there is a lesson to be learned in not being able to have what you want — but at times, that lesson seems cruel and pointless.

The third day of The Hunger Challenge, living on $4.46 a day, took me to a low point. My energy is depleted and my head is light; admittedly, I did not do a good job of preparing for a week of restricted eating. By the first day, I realized that my failure to plan ahead was going to lead me into trouble. And trouble has arrived.

Last night I tried to take my mind off my less-than-satisfied stomach by going for a run. I ran faster than I have ever run before, perhaps spurred on by the sudden rush of endorphins that had been so lacking these past few days. I took in the glow of Mount Diablo in the waning light, felt the beating of my heart and the pounding of my shoes on the pavement. For that hour, food never crossed my mind. I came home, red-faced but energized, sure that I had found a way to beat this challenge — by tricking myself into believing that distraction was the answer.

As it turns out, burning calories without the calories to burn is not such a good idea. I woke up a mere ghost of myself, and have continued feeling translucent all day.

Being deprived of something as basic as food — or, at least, a sufficient amount of it — has also made me keenly aware of deprivation in other parts of my life. All that is missing, taken away, or out of reach feels like it has a stronger hold. Loss permeates everything, even in places of abundance. Instead of looking at the fresh green grass sprouting on the lawn, I see the patches of dry dirt where life refuses to grow. I struggle to be optimistic and patient at work. The glass before me is not just half empty, but completely void.

This emotional weight is quite a common side effect, apparently, of an inadequate diet. The effects of consuming too few calories can include depression and irritability, as well as fatigue and poor concentration, according to Women can start experiencing negative mental and physical side effects if they dip below 1,200 calories a day. I’m on about 800.

Now, envision that lack of morale, depression and tiredness affecting someone who also has the stress of being unemployed, or a single parent. How could they find the motivation to wash, peel, chop and cook their way to a measly meal? The quick-fixes and stomach fillers hold all the attraction. It becomes a choice between fast food and carb loading, both of which are cheap and offer instant gratification, but lead to health conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

So, what’s the solution? That’s the real challenge. The hunger is a symptom of a much bigger, cyclical problem that oscillates between deprivation of the good and indulgence in the bad — whether it’s a bad mood or a bad meal.

To follow along with my experience of The Hunger Challenge, read:

Monday: The Hunger Challenge: Fueling Up Without Breaking Down
Tuesday: The Hunger Challenge: Convenience Costs, Plan Ahead
Wednesday: The Hunger Challenge: How Powerful is a Rumbling Stomach?

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