Everywhere I looked people were hungry, starving to death. The truth is we are all craving to be who we were born to be, and our souls are crying, “I’m dying to be me.” People gorge themselves with something, but still feel desperate and insatiable. We are starving ourselves of our true natures, hoping to find salvation in invisibility and compliance. Everyone is trying to fit in, wearing someone else’s ideas of acceptability. Going along to get along.

We are in an image-obsessed world where terms like craving, insatiable, and starving are pathologized due to their association with weight. We are missing the real point. Weight is a demonized scapegoat for other social dis-eases.

When weight is an issue, it is a symptom of the soul’s hunger and our refusal to hear its cry. We are fixated on weight and don’t seem to care about the soul. We have gym memberships, but what about a gym for the soul? The soul is starving and demands to be heard. Much of our suffering is about soul starvation.

What is hunger? It’s a deep longing and a need to be truly known, accepted, respected, loved, valued, seen, and heard by the self and others. When hunger is neglected, ignored, denied, shamed, blamed, or misunderstood it makes us even hungrier. Actually, we become ravenous and feel insatiable. The more we deny our hunger pains, the stronger our cravings become, leading us to act out destructively—because hungry people do desperate things. This desperation might be manifested in overachieving, underachieving, depression, false elation, seeking power, becoming powerless, being a victim, being a victimizer, or having emotional and/or sexual affairs.

Hunger has many faces, but one way or another it demands to be fed. As my mother used to say, “If it doesn’t come out in the wash, it will come out in the rinse.” Hunger unattended is a tormenter. It destroys our ability to live with joy, peace, and well-being and to love ourselves and others. But hunger listened to is an amazing teacher and guide.

Hunger is a constant. We hear the rumblings of hunger pains everywhere. I was on an emotional and spiritual starvation diet for most of my life. I didn’t know it. I hadn’t a clue. It’s no wonder I was so physically hungry—I was trying to compensate. The thing is, I wasn’t really aware of it until the pains and the growling in my heart got too loud to ignore. I kept thinking I was imagining things, that I should be full and content. Which was ridiculous and impossible given how few of my relationships were sustaining and supporting me. It was as if I’d been invited to a five-star restaurant and was served only water. I suffered, watching others dine—and then wondered why my stomach was so empty. I was that unplugged from my true needs.

I was afraid to feel what I felt and to know what I knew. I knew if I owned my starvation, I wasn’t going to be able to stay on the “go along to get along train.” I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew I had to pull the emergency stop cord immediately. I wanted off and I wanted off now. I needed an up-close and personal, fresh and honest encounter with my needs and desires, and with reality. As I look back on those years, it is frightening. I am amazed that I survived.

Dr. Robin L. Smith is a national television personality, best-selling author, ordained minister, keynote speaker, and licensed psychologist.