*This blog post is part of an intuitive eating introduction series. Principle #2 of intuitive eating is Honor Your Hunger.
Imagine driving down the highway and your gas light blinks on. You understand this as a signal that your car needs fuel. Do you listen to the signal and refuel your tank? Or do you push driving on empty, only to reach a screeching halt?
Just like cars, our bodies require fuel to function. Food is our fuel and hunger is the body’s way of signaling it’s time to re-fuel. This seems like a straight-forward biological process…right?
Yet many of my clients struggle with listening to hunger signals, and maybe you do, too. It’s understandable given the diet-based messages around hunger! Diets often enforce specific time-frames for eating, aim to delay hunger and even try to mask it. These messages create fear around hunger.
From Fear to Trust
Scenario #1 | When fear precedes hunger. It’s 11 am and your stomach starts growling. You have a lunch packed, but you try to delay this meal until noon. You can’t focus on your work because you keep thinking about food. Your hunger grows so you drink a calorie-free beverage trying to soothe your growling stomach. It finally hits noon, and you scarf down your meal in minutes. You’re still hungry because you ate so fast, so you overeat whatever food you can find in the breakroom… (We’ve all been here before and know how the rest goes!)
Scenario #2 | When trust precedes hunger. It’s 11 am and your stomach starts growling. You listen to the signal that your body needs food. There are options available including your packed snacks and lunch. You decide to eat your lunch a little earlier than usual today. There is trust in knowing you have snacks if you get hungry later. You feel comfortable, at ease, and trust your body.
Hormones & Hunger
So what’s going on with the fear-based eater in Scenario #1?
Waiting to eat until ravenous triggered the primal drive to overeat. It wasn’t a lack of willpower. Instead, it was the body’s way of speaking up that it needed food. Hunger signals are not meant to be overridden. Ideally, we want to eat before we get to a state of “hangry” to promote a harmonious experience around mealtime.
Hunger is so vital to our well-being that it’s regulated by several hormones including leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin lowers it (1) . The presence or absence of food in the stomach sends the appropriate messengers to the brain–communicating whether to start or stop eating. This conversation between the gut and brain is truly a mind-body connection! Each day, we are allowed to strengthen our mind-body connection by honoring our hunger.
How to Honor Your Biological Hunger
- Tune into physical sensations of hunger. Signs of hunger are different for every person, but examples include:
- stomach growling
- stomach pangs
- an empty feeling in the stomach
- slight headache
- difficulty concentrating
- irritability (aka hangry)
- Ask yourself: How do I feel? Where do I notice discomfort in my body? Approach this with non-judgment and curiosity! Remember, these signals are friends, not enemies. Notice what signals feel present to you as you go about your day.
- Limit food scarcity. To say YES to hunger, it’s essential to have food available. Whether it’s keeping your pantry stocked or taking food to work, planning will make this process easier. In my experience, keeping non-perishable snacks in my purse allows me to best honor my hunger! I understand that this is a privilege and not everyone has easy access to food.
- Use the Hunger Fullness Scale. This resource helps you identify patterns between hunger, time of day, and food choices. It also helps you determine the range at which eating feels comfortable and pleasant. There is no right or wrong–it’s all about discovering what’s best for you!
Tips for using the Hunger Fullness Scale
- Tune into physical sensations of hunger and fullness before and after you eat.
- Rate sensations on the scale of 0-10.
- Make notes of additional ways you feel hunger and fullness presenting itself to you.
- Remember, there’s no right or wrong, approach this from a place of curiosity and discovery!
- The purpose is to explore what comfortable fullness and hunger feels like to you.
Food for Thought
Honoring your hunger is a brave step towards eating intuitively. There are many nuances of hunger, making this process different for everyone. For individualized support, schedule your free discovery call with me today.
Have you tried to override hunger? If so, what was the result? How might the Hunger Discovery Scale assist you on your journey of eating intuitively?