We prep in large part to keep ourselves (and those we love) from going hungry in the event of a disaster or crisis. Yet there’s no way of knowing in advance what kind of crisis we will face, nor how long our supplies will last. Even the most prepared among us could find their supplies wiped out in a fire, in a raid or natural disaster. And our plans for gardening or hunting could be completely disrupted by any number of things.
What this means is that at least some of us are going to go hungry, and its possible that many of us will experience hunger off and on – and we need to face that possibility.
Given that we might go hungry occasionally just how do we handle hunger?
I don’t pretend to be an expert and this isn’t a research paper though I did do some research on the related issues of fasting and starvation. There are things we can do and things we can be prepared with that will help us through the experience of hunger. And the beauty of sharing these thoughts with the prepper community is that there are brothers and sisters out there who know first-hand about hunger and who will either add to or correct my thoughts below. I thank you in advance for your help, because hunger might be in my future as well.
Be Prepared. Trust God. We can do both.
- The really good news is that hunger pangs will pass after the second or third day of not eating, if you have no food at all. Hang in there, the hunger will not continue to increase, in fact it will disappear for weeks.
- Outlast it – unless already weakened you can go 30 days (or more!) without food. Cody Lundin (98.6 Degrees, p. 204) figures the average person’s fat stores alone contain the caloric equivalent of nearly 500 Snickers bars (if I did the math right) – and that’s not even counting sugar/glycogen stores and muscle protein, both of which can also be burned by your body for energy to keep you alive. The Bottom Line: You’re not going to starve to death anytime soon, but the altitude, water availability, and temperature will affect how quickly your body works through its reserves (lower altitudes and warmer temps are good).
- The hardest thing about being hungry is thinking about being hungry. And what can you do about that? Stay busy. Read, sew, build, catch up on projects, and of course work on finding food. Schedule your most demanding projects for the first day or two when you will have the most energy.
- Drink lots of clean water or herbal teas. Contaminated water is a quick way to get really sick. Your body’s systems change and adjust, it might be a little hard to judge how much water your need – two liters per day might be a minimum for relatively inactive persons. Your body’s need for water will reduce somewhat as the hunger continues. You do not want to become dehydrated, even in cold weather, and your body must have water to help detoxify you as your body adapts to the hunger.
- Oftentimes when food is scarce herbs for brewing tea (to make water more palatable in your condition) are still available or can be found in the wild – you can make tea from many things. Or you can add lemon juice to water to make it more drinkable, if you happen to have that. That said, you do NOT want to try to “fill your stomach” with water – that’s too much water and will create other problems. (If you have no water, but do have food, this would be a good time to fast rather than contribute to dangerous dehydration! Digestion takes water.)
- Make a food-procurement plan and work that plan every day. If it takes you a day to find game trails or set traps or plan your hunt don’t panic! Keep your head and work steadily – it might feel like you’re starving, but that actually takes quite a while.
- Small quantities of hard candies (Butterscotch, yum!) can reduce the feeling of hunger and give you calories to keep moving. Save the candy in your stash for if and when hunger starts, but eat them sparingly and only when you need to be most active. Some sugar (or a little bit of simple carbohydrates like bread, cereals, or potatoes) may get you through a tough spot.
- Make your meals as flavorful and tasty and attractive as you can – savor what food you do have. Spices make bland food better, keep some with your bugout bag (what goes well with squirrel?) and have plenty at home. The military is fond of Tabasco sauce to make food zestier, but I’d like to propose spices that have actual nutritional or healing value such as curry, turmeric, garlic, cilantro, etc to get the most bang for your storage buck.
- Work on keeping your sense of humor, it is a survival resource. Don’t give in to anger and bitterness, face it, fight it.
- Don’t gorge when you do get food, you might throw it all up and waste it. If you haven’t eaten in a long time you need to ease into eating again. Eating too much at once can make you feel depressed and lethargic (bad in a survival situation) and could easily lead to nausea or abdominal cramping. Start with some raw fruits and vegetables or oatmeal and then wait until you feel hungry to eat again. Don’t break a fast with fatty or fried foods!
- Don’t watch other people eat, hang around where you will smell their food, or look at food advertisements. Needless to say, if you don’t have any food stay out of the kitchen – as it has too many food associations.
- Expect physical changes in your body such as heightened sense of smell, fluctuations in energy and fatigue, and a bad taste in your mouth. If you’ve eaten a lot of junk or medicines your body will detoxify in stages and you could feel pretty bad off and on. You could chew a pinch of mint leaves or perhaps carry a tin of mint chew/snuff to take the bad taste away.
- Sometimes your will isn’t strong enough to focus on your task and deal with the hunger, so having another person to encourage you and keep you going is invaluable. Raw willpower can only get you so far.
- When you do have food, don’t fill up on junk if you have any choice in the matter. Instead, stick to wholesome basic foods, raw if possible (cook your meats, though!) If you’re not used to eating like that it will take a little time to adjust. Think of the days when food is plentiful as preparing you for when the food is scarcer. Don’t waste anything: dry/freeze/can your surplus food.
- Some smells may help with the hunger feeling: mint, citrus peel, etc. Experiment with what you have available.
- If you know you won’t have food for a few days you might try purging your bowels first with fruit-only meals. Don’t make the last meal before going hungry bread or meat or dairy if possible. If you don’t want to go through detoxification don’t consume a lot of toxics (chemicals in water or food, alcohol or tobacco) beforehand.
- If hunger is on the horizon consider fasting in advance for longer and longer periods to become familiar with the effects and give you confidence you really can function for a few days while hungry. It will also stretch your food supply a bit before the hunger starts.
- Expect that you will feel colder than you usually do. Bring warmer clothes with you when outdoors.
- If you only have a little food, a protein meal toward bedtime helps when your body is trying to repair itself (that’s when it releases Human Growth Hormone and does a lot of muscle repair), and a carbohydrate meal at breakfast is when you want extra energy to get moving.
- As the hunger continues, do your work/projects as efficiently as possible to conserve your energy. Use tools and levers and wheels to amplify your effort and reduce your exertion, even if you used to be able to do a job by hand. Pace yourself – try to maintain a steady exertion level without huge peak demands for energy. Work smarter, not harder. If you have any choice in the matter, don’t attempt work that requires peak performance or manual dexterity or clear mental focus.
With a difficult decision, write out the pros and cons to clarify things and get wise counsel. From time to time you may have to work at concentrating and thinking clearly and your judgment may be affected. Double-check your work, actually read the instructions, have someone else check your work, watch for critical error points (if something is going to go wrong where is that most likely to happen?), keep it simple, minimize distractions, follow the plan you decided on in better times when your mind was clearer, use equipment only as intended, have a Plan B ready if you do mess up. You may become accident-prone so take extra precautions! [A big thank-you to my brother for his ideas here.]
- Drinking a lot of chemically purified water (if you use chlorine or iodine) will mess with your digestive system’s beneficial bacteria that you must have to get the most nutrition from your food. Replenish them with raw vegetables (they have small quantities of naturally-occurring bacteria on them, grocery store vegetables are too clean), or commercial probiotics if still available. Aged hard cheeses, yogurt, unpasteurized sauerkraut, home-brewed beer (un-pasteurized) and brined pickles may help.
- Expect trouble with anger, your own and others. Make a plan: time-outs, forgiveness, refusing revenge, talking it through, etc. Also expect to deal with varying degrees of emotional depression, recognize that it’s a result of hunger and not necessarily a reflection of hopeless circumstances. A lot of the depression will be the result of pent-up anger and that anger can be directed into productive action. Quit asking “Why me?” and start asking “What do I do now?”
- As you might expect with a situation that triggers anger and depression, hunger will stress all of your relationships, so give them extra attention and cut everyone extra slack. Your loved ones and friends may not be handling it as well as you, they’ll need your help to not give in to hysteria and anxiety about their health and symptoms. They may want to isolate themselves when they should be engaged in solving the problem. Healthy herbs that calm and sedate might be helpful to have on hand if the going gets tough.
- Supplementing with electrolytes during extended hunger will help compensate for electrolyte loss through urination or perspiration. You normally get those electrolytes from the food you eat. Supplementing will keep you healthier, not necessarily make the hunger less. Salt, potassium, magnesium, calcium in a tablet might help, something like this.
- Try not to eat protein-only meals during the time of hunger. Even if you have enough protein to fill your stomach do your very best to add some vegetables or fruits. Your digestive system needs fiber – even if the fiber source isn’t particularly nutritious – as well as the carbohydrates and vitamins that many vegetables and grasses contain. (Skip the protein if you don’t have enough water, protein metabolism byproducts must be excreted by the kidneys and that uses water.)
- Going hungry is the very definition of malnutrition. Supplementing with a good multivitamin will help keep your body healthier. You might not be able to tolerate taking a vitamin on an empty stomach, at least take them when you do have a little bit of food.
- Each time you successfully endure a period of hunger will make the next a little easier, if you can fully recover between episodes. You will be more confident, know what to expect, and your body will have less of a toxic load. You could even get an idea how your body handles hunger by undertaking a “fast” now (it’s actually good for you short-term) – and that might cut down on the fear factor later.
- It’s no good to eat dangerous foods just because you’re hungry. Moldy foods can be deadly, certain berries or plants likewise. Know your native plants! If it’s just going to make things worse don’t eat it! It’s not going to “fill your stomach” it’s going to make you deathly ill first and then maybe make you dead. If in doubt, don’t eat it! (And remember – don’t fill up with water!)
- If you’re hungry there are probably others who are hungry too. Help them by teaching them to find (local plants!), hunt, or grow their own, but if they’re really desperate share. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. If you can save someone’s life today, do it. You’re not poor as long as you have enough to share.
- Pray! Yes, just knowing there is a God changes things, creates new possibilities, and gives us hope. Unburdening our hearts to Him frees us, don’t be surprised if He meets your need in a way you didn’t expect. Seek Him!
- As you are recovering from hunger you will want to not only address your nutritional needs, but the emotional scars that may have resulted from your ordeal. This can be a pretty significant issue. Talk it through with other survivors, your pastor, or a counselor. Don’t overlook this.
Carry in your BOB:
- Water purification tablets or filter
- Electrolyte tablets
- Multivitamin tablets
- Mint chew/snuff or mint tea
- Small bottles of spices and salt
- Hard candies
Some hunger wisdom from around the world:
- “Hunger is a poor advisor.”
- “Hunger is the best cook.”
- “Hunger sharpens anger.”
- “Hunger teaches many things.”
- “A hungry belly listens to no one.”
- “A hungry dog does not fear the stick.”
- “A hungry man has no conscience.”
- “A hungry populace listens to no reason nor cares for justice.”
- “Hunger and cold surrenders a man to his enemy.”
- “The drums of war are the drums of hunger.”
- “Enough is as good as a feast.”
- “At the working man’s house hunger looks in but dares not enter.”
- “Hunger knows no friend but its feeder.”
JWR Adds These Warnings: Be sure to consult your physician before fasting. Obviously, fasting should not be attempted by pregnant or nursing women. It may also dangerously exacerbate any underlying medical conditions–even some that you don’t yet know exist. The risk of fainting, especially during manual labor should also be considered. Also, never fast while alone!