Intuitive Eating Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger
“Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food.” Quote from the book Intuitive Eating
I honestly thought this principle would be such a “gimme”.
Yes, of course! Eat when you are hungry, duh! Who doesn’t already know this and who in their right mind would try and tell someone to ignore this natural and necessary urge. But then I realized that millions of people are being ‘sold’ the idea of suppressing or ignoring their hunger every day (by the diet industry, well-meaning friends or family members, and even their doctors)!!
Here are some example of what I mean:
“Drink 2 glasses of water before a meal so you fill up faster and don’t eat as much”
“You have 35 points a day, once you use them up, eat celery or zero point foods”
“Drinking coffee or green tea is a great way to suppress your appetite and help you lose a few pounds”
“Your protein should be the size of a fist, veggies should take up half your plate, and avoid snacking in between meals. If you follow our meal guidelines you SHOULDN’T be hungry between meals”
But those are ‘dieters tricks’ right? What if you aren’t a classic dieter… you have simply lost touch with your internal hunger cues. This category of people is actually much bigger than the previous. Which is a good and bad thing. THANKFULLY the public is realizing the crappy bill of goods they’ve been sold with ineffective dieting and are rejecting it left and right. (Sadly, “health” is now a word that is sneakily replacing “weight loss” and is quickly becoming a diet wolf in sheep’s clothing)
My point is, just because you aren’t dieting doesn’t mean you are honoring your hunger. We are busier, more distracted, and are so confused about what to eat. We sometimes feel our hunger is annoying or even “naughty”.
Here are some examples of being out of touch with your hunger cues:
“I am not hungry in the morning… so I just have coffee. I know I need to eat something for breakfast but nothing sounds good.”
“I am so busy during the day that I can’t/don’t eat much, but am starved at night and eat everything that isn’t nailed down.”
“It’s easier to just make a shake and take it with me on the go, I eat when it’s convenient and whatever is easiest”
“My loved ones complain I get grumpy when I am hungry, but I swear I don’t even realize I need to eat!”
“I often get headaches or nauseous when I get too hungry.”
“By the time I feel hungry the only foods that sound appealing are carbs and sugar!”
Removing stimulants, rejecting the diet mentality, and respecting your body’s needs are the first steps in “Honoring Your Hunger”. Many people are so jacked up on caffeine, nicotine, medications, and sugar that they might actually NOT feel classically hungry even if their body is screaming out for food.
Eliminating those variables is hard, I get it. The good news is you don’t have to be perfect to be an intuitive eater. Simply becoming aware of how those things affect you, and doing the best you can to feed yourself in the meantime is a great place to start.
This simple body scan can be really helpful tool, as a beginner or as a seasoned veteran:
Quick Hunger Scan
Sit quietly in a calm environment. Take 3 deep breaths.
Describe how your body feels at this moment: Pleasant, unpleasant, neutral.
Describe your mood: are you having to work harder to keep up your normally cheery disposition. Are you snappish? These could be signs of hunger.
Shift your attention to your energy levels: are they low? Are you feeling sleepy or heavy? If you are not chronically sleep deprived, these could be signs of hunger.
Turn your attention to your body:
Your head: does it ache, feel dizzy or faintish?
Your stomach: does it feel empty, is it growling, is there a yearning?
Notice any sensations that might clue you into hunger.
Do a final scan of Mood, Energy, and Physical Sensation (MEPS)
Next, rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10.
1 being so ravenously hungry you feel ill
10 being so stuffed it hurts and you could be sick.
5 is completely neutral, not hungry or full.
Ideally, a 3-4 is a great place to enjoy a meal. But there are no hard and fast rules. Waiting until you are a 1-2 puts in danger of over eating. Eating when you are neutral (5) might be necessary or even enjoyable, but isn’t the ideal hunger spot for a large meal. And once you start to feel a fullness (6-7) you can start tuning into how full you want to be, how long till you next meal, and how delicious the food is. THERE ARE NO RULES AND YOU CAN EAT WHENEVER AND WHATEVER YOU WANT NO MATTER WHAT YOUR HUNGER LEVEL IS, it is just good to start tuning into your body and its subtle cues.