February 25, 2019 | Lex Daddio
Hunger is something that can feel scary. I used to be so afraid of it. Hunger and fullness felt like something I couldn’t get a grasp of. Instead I’d just follow diet plans or how much people recommended to eat and when, because I had no mind-body connection of what I even liked to eat or how to know if I was full. When you’re undernourished and underfed, you actually trigger your primal overdrive to eat. If you think about that, it actually makes sense. Learning to honor your hunger helps your body start to learn to trust you and to trust you around food. In Intuitive Eating, willpower isn’t really as much of an issue because your body isn’t physically starving. “A dieting body is a starving body.” (Quote by Evelyn Tribole)
The book, Intuitive Eating, shares some studies that were done all about our biological hunger. During WWII there was a study done on a group of men. They basically had them decrease their calories to 1570 a day, and they were originally averaging around 3500. During the time of restricted calories the men reported crazy effects, but the wild part is I remember experiencing a lot of the same feelings while dieting. Some things they noticed were: their metabolic rate decreased 40%, they had heightened food cravings and started collecting recipes, some exercised extra to get increased food rations, & a lot said their personalities changed and they experienced things like moodiness, irritability, and depression. This is all just from not eating enough! Isn’t that crazy? Then during the re-feeding stage, their hunger was more intense than before and they felt insatiable. It took the majority of the men at least 5 months before their eating was normalized. Okay, think about this seriously! If you’re in the beginning of your IE journey, have patience. Your body has to learn to trust you again before your eating can normalize.
Food is actually needed to survive. Most people think they have a problem with willpower, when really it’s just their bodies biological drive to actually eat. Many studies have been done and shown that restricting your calories to lose weight is actually counterproductive, because it lowers your metabolic rate anyway. Thinking about this is crazy to me. We also live in the most diet-obsessed culture. Constantly trying to manipulate our body size, restrict, eat healthy, etc all just to be “healthy”. What even is healthy anyway? Because I don’t see the way we approach it in our culture as actual health. I believe health and wellness is about far more than just the food we eat.
So the first step in discovering the world of normal eating (free from dieting and food worry) is honoring your biological hunger. You basically have to renew your mind and recondition your body to let it know it will be fed and have access to food. I used to be so scared to stop eating during a binge, because I believed it would be my last time getting to eat these foods. I would promise myself that I would either fast or go on a juice cleanse the next day for a few days. Or at least that was the plan until my biological hunger would kick back in and I’d get so frustrated because I’d binge again. Because my body was STARVING. As your body starts relearning that it will be fed as you start to feed it more often and routinely, it’s so much easier to stop eating when you’re satisfied. Because you know you can eat again. This isn’t the last time and next time you get hungry, you’re allowed to eat! It’s a beautiful thing really, and it can feel impossible if you’re currently in the restrict/ binge cycle, but I promise you, it IS possible.
There is also something called “hunger silence”, which I definitely experienced during/ after recovery for a little while my body was regulating again. It’s basically when your hunger and fullness cues are SO off that your body doesn’t recognize what hunger feels like. Things that can cause this are: numbing or suppressing hunger with things like coffee/ soda/ etc., dieting and denying your hunger, when life feels chaotic and forget to eat, skipping breakfast in hopes that it’ll make you less hungry.
Okay, so now that we’ve covered all that, you’re probably like that all sounds great, but how do I it? What even is honoring your hunger? So here are some tips for you to start tuning into your hunger. As you keep practicing, you’ll eventually start to learn what hunger feels like for your body and what the sensation actually feels like. Some things people feel are things like: growling or gurgling in your stomach, headaches, feeling faints, difficulty concentrating, light-headed, stomach pain, & irritable. Sometimes these things mean you’re overly hungry though, which isn’t always fun because you might be going into your next meal starving. Only to eat way more than feels comfortable because you were so hungry. That’s okay, it happens. The more in tune you get with yourself and with hunger the less this will happen.
A good gauge to start is to not go longer than 5 hours without eating during the day. You tend to run out of fuel around 3-4 hours so some people eat more often during the day where others eat more at meals and less often. I don’t think there’s any right and wrong. I just think it’s important to find what makes you feel your best! When you’re starting to relearn what hunger/ fullness is I think it’s a good idea to start eating every 3-4 hours just to get your body used to that again and to know you have access to food. Then eventually once your body trusts you, and you trust it, you can find your sweet spot. Whether that’s the same everyday or different everyday. Doesn’t matter! Remember, YOU are the only one who knows how hungry or full you are or how much food it’ll take to satisfy. Literally no one else can tell you that!
When you’re getting used to what hunger feels like, you might feel like you’re being overly focused on it. At first you will be, until eventually you start to normalize and you’ll recognize what it feels like and it becomes second nature. I honestly used to be so afraid of hunger. Feeling like it was the enemy and I couldn’t stand against it. I had to really let that go and remind myself that hunger is literally apart of human nature and it’s not a bad thing at all. It’s your body telling you something! They say if you can’t beat them, join them right? So instead of fighting against your body, what if you worked WITH your body?
At the beginning, start really trying to tune in and check in with how you’re feeling. In between meals or snacks, check in and see if you’re hungry. Are you full? Are you content? Are you starting to get hungry? Or basically what’s your hunger level at this point? If you check the scale below, it can help you gauge what you’re feeling. This is the same scale in the book, Intuitive Eating, but I found it from ImmaEatThat’s blog. She is amazing by the way and her blog is FULL of information on intuitive eating, eating disorder recovery, self-care and more! I highly suggest checking her out if you’re struggling.
Honoring your hunger isn’t another set of rigid rules, so don’t try to turn it into another diet. A lot of people actually do and approach this one as you should ONLY ever eat when you’re hungry and if you aren’t then you screwed up. Not entirely true, and I had a really hard time with this one, because I could only get myself to eat when I was hungry to start. I didn’t want to nibble or snack or eat when I wasn’t hungry. But there are other types of hunger than physical hunger too! It’s okay if after dinner you’re content and not still hungry, but you want to enjoy some dessert because it sounds good or you’re at an occasion where you want to try the cake, etc. Another form of hunger is planning ahead to take care of yourself. Like eating a snack when you aren’t starving but know you won’t be able to eat for awhile longer.
So this is just to say that hunger isn’t black and white. Nothing is really haha, which can seem overwhelming because it’s not a set plan. I get that, because I used to feel that way! But the more you practice and become more in tune, the more you’ll realize it’s actually super freeing! I hope this post is helpful and encourages you rather than overwhelms you! Next week, we’ll go into making peace with food which is one of my favorites!