Throughout pregnancy I never really had any cravings. I didn’t feel like I was eating for two, so I didn’t really eat much more. But… now that I’ve had my child and I’m breastfeeding I am CONSTANTLY hungry! With all of this time being hungry, I have spent some of that time thinking about hunger in general. Your body does a lot of things without you knowing. It’s inside you where you can’t see it, so how do you KNOW when your stomach is running low? Is it just the physical pain or does it involve your brain? Why does your stomach being empty make you hangry? My wondering mind needed to know! So while my little man was snoozing, I snuck off to google and read some things.
It turns out, once your body has finished digesting and using up the energy from your last meal, your blood sugar and insulin levels drop. I feel like most people know this much, but in response to that drop, a hormone called ghrelin is produced, primarily in the cells of the stomach, and travels to the brain, letting it know that more food is needed.
This is how we know we are hungry, but what else is happening when we are feeling this hunger? While ghrelin is telling our brain that we are lacking nutrients to digest, our brain is experiencing it first-hand. That drop in blood sugar includes a lower level of that sugar (glucose) in the brain too. Without glucose our ability to concentrate is reduced, as is our ability to control our emotions. When we lack concentration, we make silly mistakes that we wouldn’t normally make. This can be irritating, AND we are now less able to control that irritation. You can see how this can spiral and hanger can rear its ugly head.
There is also another link between hunger and anger. Both are controlled by neuropeptide Y which increases in the brain when you’re hungry. Since this chemical also regulates anger, the high levels during hunger can also trigger us to become angry.
As inconvenient as hanger can be in our lives, it’s useful to think that it might have been built in as a survival mechanism. If a hungry animal was to stand back and let others eat before them, they could die as a result. Getting angry may have been their only way of obtaining a meal!
This past Sunday was week 2 of 5 of “The Bread of Life Discourse” readings from the gospel of John. (That’s right, prepare yourself for a few more weeks of it because it’s very important and deserves that much time!) As I was reading this past Sunday’s gospel, one part stood out to me.
“Jesus… said, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’”
I just told you that I am constantly thinking about this “food that perishes.” Without it, I get hangry. Of course it’s important we work for it, and I’m thankful that my husband continues to work so that I can avoid hanger most of the time. (If you’d like to help my family have perishable food, you can always donate to my patreon. www.patreon.com/istsquared) BUT Jesus is telling us that he gives us something greater, something more worth our time.
This food that endures for eternal life is Jesus in the Eucharist. We work so hard to put regular food on the table, but the eucharist is freely given each day in our churches. Do we ever stop to think about that? The Church gives us this free food that is so much more than any earthly food; are we willing to put forth the effort for it? It’s true we do not have to go to a job to earn it, but do we put in a different kind of work for it? Do we rearrange our schedules around Sunday to make Mass attendance a priority? Do we take the time to prepare our minds and hearts for the enormity of receiving our God into our physical bodies?
I shared a little about the science of physical hunger, but do we have a hunger, a yearning, for the supernatural food or is it just a thing we do once a week? I encourage you to think about the Eucharist this week. Think about it, pray about it, ask yourselves if you truly hunger for it. Hopefully you don’t get hangry without it because anger is a sin, but hopefully you are willing to work for it more than you work for earthly food.