It’s a good question to ask if you want to change unhealthy habits. I believe there is at least a perceived benefit keeping us stuck in any bad habit, whether food related or not.
When trying to drop weight, many people feel virtuous when they succeed at ignoring their hunger. The short-term benefit, feeling virtuous, is unfortunately all they will probably get from it. It is not likely to be a successful weight loss strategy in the long run. It often brings on a binge.
In addition to the more obvious feeling of “being good” or “having will power”, refusing to honor physical hunger has another, perhaps not so obvious, potential benefit: entitlement. What I mean is that many people get in the habit of over-controlling their food intake with the expectation (not usually recognized) that they are entitled to compensate themselves for their suffering by temporarily removing all boundaries on eating (bingeing). The benefit in this case is a future, albeit temporary, free pass to eat anything without limits. We could call it the “I earned it” phenomenon.
It can be a hard trap to get out of, particularly if it is not conscious, which it seldom is. If this sounds like you, ask yourself “What am I getting out of this self-sacrifice?” If the scenario I describe rings true, you may actually be setting yourself up for repeated binges not just because of hunger, but also because of a feeling of entitlement.
If the cycle of under-eating and over-eating is your pattern, as opposed to an occasional slip in planning, it is quite likely that bingeing is at least in part due to your unconscious quest for payback. In a way, it is a misguided yearning for balance. Keeping in mind that physical hunger is also present, it can be very difficult not to break down the restrictive barriers.
So, why not just stop ignoring hunger? Why not stop setting unrealistic boundaries on how much or what kinds of foods are “allowed”? It makes sense on many levels, however realizing what is lost is important. Eliminating over-hunger would eliminate the justification for temporary “open season” on food, and that can definitely feel like losing pleasure.
Understanding is key. It makes sense that it would be hard to give up a way of living that has a benefit. If this makes sense to you, then understanding what you would give up will help to make changes. It will become more difficult to fool yourself, and that opens the door to a whole new way of taking responsibility for choices instead of feeling generally out-of-control without knowing why.
In order to give something up, it is human nature to expect a benefit in return – a reason for the change. In this case, the benefit gained is a promise to eat when hungry. Most likely there will be relapses to old ways, and binges will probably not disappear altogether, at least not right away. Still, the benefits will help to support changes. Notice the increased feeling of balance, self-control, and energy. It’s amazing what eating regularly can do for energy. Oh, by the way . . . weight loss is also likely.
Note: This is just one example of the importance of acknowledging what is gained by not changing. If over-hunger is not an issue for you, but something else is, it may help to understand “How does NOT changing benefit you?”