The second principle of intuitive eating is honoring your hunger. Sounds plain and simple, I know. Don't skip to the bottom or close out just yet, let me walk you through a few things to understand why this principle is just as important as all of the others.
Keeping our bodies adequately fed with the right (individualized) amount of carbohydrates, fats, and protein can help prevent a primal drive to overeat. Whether you're saving up calories for a meal at a restaurant or trying to cut carbs, at some point your body will scream out at you so loudly to feed it, so that once you do, all intentions of conscious eating are out the window and you end up wanting to eat everything in the pantry or unintentionally binge on foods.
Your biological hunger signals are not meant to be ignored. When you learn to honor them, you rebuild a sense of trust with your body and food. If you're someone who has been dieting for a long time, your hunger signals may be a little out of whack. With that being said, let's dive a little deeper into hunger…
Our bodies are not meant to be in a state of starvation or deprivation. If we don’t eat or drink enough, our body's biological drive to eat is set off both physically and psychologically. It only makes sense that when we are starting to feel hungry, we may get a little “hangry” or low on energy due to the fact the biological chemicals that regulate our appetite also directly affect our mood, state of mind, and physical energy.
Have you ever been on a diet and noticed that you think about food more than you would if you weren't dieting? This is likely your brain's way of telling you are not eating enough. On the other hand, when you are adequately fed and feeling satisfied after your meals, you aren't continuously prompted to count down the hours until you get to eat your next meal or what you are going to eat next.
Chronic dieters often try to out-think biology. Our bodies are really smart when it comes to the systems we have in place to help ensure we get enough energy (calories) through what we are eating. On a diet, rather than eating when you are hungry, you are following the rules for *insert diet here* of when, what, and how much to eat. Consistently ignoring your hunger diet after diet leads to gradually disappearing hunger signals altogether or only hearing them in ravenous states when you are led to overeat. This concept is similar to going to the grocery store on an empty stomach, you often want to buy everything you see because it all sounds good, right?
Our bodies need to know that they will consistently have access to food. After each diet you try, you are teaching your body that deprivation is a recurring feeling, so your body stays on guard and hyper-focused on when the next meal is going to be. You likely will clean your plate each time you eat because you feel this is the only time you are allowed to eat until the next meal. It’s much easier to stop eating when you feel satisfied if you know that you are able to eat again when you feel hungry next, no matter when this may be.
For those of you who struggle to feel your hunger signals anymore due to prolonged dieting, un-silencing your body's biological hunger will take some time and effort, but honoring your hunger becomes a whole lot easier when you start to take the time to actually listen to your body. I know, we are all busy and get wrapped up in school/work and sometimes eating is not the top priority, but at least recognizing your hunger sensations and symptoms is a way you can start to learn to honor your hunger again. Biological hunger symptoms can include any of the following:
Uncomfortable stomach pain
Any combination of the above can be experienced when your body is trying to tell you that it's time to refuel. The hunger discovery scale (shown below) can be a great tool to use each time you eat when you are trying to understand your own body's relationship between how much you eat and the length of time between your meals. You can start by taking notice of your hunger levels every time you start to eat. The more you do this, the more you will be in tune with your body's signals.
Now, i'm not only saying that you must eat ONLY when you are feeling from a 3 to 5 on the hunger scale above. Honoring your hunger is not meant to be a diet mantra of you must only eat when you are hungry. If you are telling yourself this, you will feel as if you have broken an eating rule and the diet mentality sneaks its way back in. There absolutely will be times in your life when you eat due to other hunger 'voices'. Such as when you are at the farmers market and a freshly baked muffin simply just sounds good, or when an occasion calls for it such as a birthday or wedding. Sometimes, we also may need to eat when we aren't necessarily hungry, but we do it to prevent feeling like a 1-2 on the scale by the time we are able to eat. For example, you know you are going to be out and about running errands all afternoon and don’t want to take the time to stop for a meal, you may eat before leaving to prevent a ravenous hunger that would hit by the time you are able to get home and eat. This planning is not only smart, but will save you from overeating.
It’s important to note that hunger is not on a strict schedule. While sure, if your lunch time at work is at noon every day, your body has likely adapted to this eating schedule and you may notice you start to feel hungry just around that time every day like clockwork. But, that being said, our bodies can also vary on a daily basis. Some days you may notice that you are either less or more hungry than normal, which is also totally normal!! Start to listen to your body and pay attention to the signals it tells you.
At the end of the day, whether you are dieting or not, you're probably guilty of trying to fight off your hunger for just a few more hours every once in a while. Ignoring your hunger for 'just those few more hours' is not going to do you any good in the grand scheme of things. You'll likely end up eating more than you would have if you would’ve just taken the time to stop for a meal or snack. Start to practice honoring your hunger by using the hunger and fullness scale, work towards listening to your body’s biological hunger signals, and know that your body deserves to be fed!