Principle 2 of Intuitive Eating: Honor Your Hunger
Hunger isn’t something to fear! Learning to identify hunger and feeding yourself when signals arise is an important step on your Intuitive Eating journey.
So many people are used to ignoring their hunger signals because of rules associated with diets. If you’ve been a chronic dieter, the word hunger can bring up many emotions. Do you have memories of your stomach growling, but having no more allowed food to eat? Waking up to a growling stomach? Using water, diet soda, black coffee or herbal tea to temporarily stave off hunger pangs? While your efforts may have been well-intentioned, ignoring your hunger does more harm than good.
Principle 2 of Intuitive Eating is Honor Your Hunger.
Just what does that mean?
Honoring Your Hunger is the process of learning how YOUR body expresses its need for food, and choosing to eat when those feelings arise, regardless of what the clock says!
While honoring your hunger can sound so easy, it is often a challenge.
The world in which we live is immersed in dieting and diet culture that dictates what, when and how we eat. Diet culture encourages us to ignore our hunger, because it’s of hard to eat according to your individual body’s needs while following a set of rules about when you can and can’t eat.
Many people share with me tales of going to sleep with a growling stomach or eating an entire frozen diet meal until they are overfull because they are afraid of subsequent extreme hunger if they don’t finish their meal.
Although I hear stories like these all the time, it still doesn’t make it easier to hear them. We are all born in touch with our hunger signals (Have you ever tried to ignore a hungry baby or toddler???) but as we age we lose touch with these signals, and in turn, lose trust in our bodies.
Tuning in to your hunger signal is an important part of becoming an Intuitive Eater, and enjoying all the physical and mental benefits that come along with it. Becoming aware of the overt and subtle signals your body sends, and then choosing to nourish your body when hungry, is one of the first principles of Intuitive Eating because it builds the foundation for beginning to trust your body.
Most people have become so separated from their hunger cues. We either deprive ourselves by ignoring our physical hunger signals or we fall prey to external cues (Hello, smell of cinnamon buns!) and choose to eat when we aren’t hungry.
It doesn’t have to be so hard!!
Everyone has the ability to learn about their body’s hunger if they’re willing to tune in and pay attention.
Do you know what hunger feels like in your body?
Most people are good at explaining classic “stomach hunger” signals, like a growling stomach or an empty feeling in the abdomen.
But what other ways does your body tell you that you’re hungry? While not everyone experiences all of these hunger signals, some common ones are: headache, irritability, light-headedness, difficulty concentrating, and tiredness/lethargy.
“OK. I get it. But why does it matter?”
Sometimes people can understand how Intuitive Eating approaches hunger in contrast to Diet Culture, but they still don’t see any positive reasons to begin incorporating this principle of Intuitive Eating.
However, there are good reasons to eat when hungry. Regularly nourishing your body:
- Regulates your body’s metabolism. It’s like adding logs to a fire!
- Improves your energy levels and mood.
- Begins the process of learning to trust your body
- Cuts down on evening overeating and bingeing
- Decreases cravings and food obsession.
Why Wouldn’t You Choose to Honor Your Hunger?
In my experience of working with women who have been restricting or dieting for many years, I have found that there are usually two elements that prevent them from honoring their hunger:
- They fear that they will gain weight. After years and years of restriction (and subsequent binges), they feel like they have proof that they can’t trust their bodies. What they often fail to acknowledge is that the act of restriction and ignoring hunger cues is what leads to later binges. Because our bodies are designed for survival, when we continually ignore our body’s hunger signals, the primal drive for food becomes so strong that there isn’t enough willpower in the world to overcome them. Many women describe this phenomenon: They wake up, have a quick cup of coffee for “breakfast”, eat a salad for lunch, and then find themselves eating nonstop from mid-afternoon until bedtime, often feeling dissatisfied in the process. Does that sound familiar to you? But, did you know that actually nourishing your body throughout the day actually leads to further cravings and binges? When our bodies get what they need the process of body trust begins.
- They fear that self care is selfish! In a society that values “busyness,” many women consider it a luxury to stop in the middle of the day for nourishment. I used to fall prey to this myself. Hunger pangs kick in while you’re in the middle of running errands. You tell yourself to push through and then eat at home. But when you arrive home an hour or two later, you are ravenous and find yourself halfway through a bag of chips before you are even aware at what is happening. Then feelings of guilt and shame begin to seep in, as you tell yourself that you can’t be trusted around food. Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone!
But what if, instead, you chose an experience like one of my clients did last week?
When she became hungry while running errands, she found a café and sat down for a drink and a nourishing snack. She told me how radical it felt at the time, but how much it changed her eating during the rest of the day. And even more so, she felt proud for taking care of herself and her body. This one simple act had a cascade effect!
Food and nourishment is at the base of our human needs (ever hear of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs?). When we continually deny our need for food, we send a message to ourselves that we aren’t worthy. As far as I see it, frequently nourishing our bodies is at the heart of self-care. And self-care is never selfish! Rather, it’s a necessary practice that helps us move closer to physical and mental health.
So, how do we become attuned to our hunger so that we can honor it?
Practice using a Hunger Scale.
A key element here is, practice, because assessing your hunger is a process that is refined over time.
Take a scale from 1 – 10. 1 is being so hungry that you would eat anything placed in front of you; 5 is completely neutral; 10 is being so full that you feel physically ill.
1 5 10
very hungry neutral physically ill
Do a body scan: Before you start eating, do a quick check-in to see where you rate your hunger. Note how you feel about the food and the dining experience based on different hunger levels. For example, when you start eating at a 1, you might find that you eat so quickly that you might not even taste the food, because your body’s need for nourishment is so primal. However, if you start eating at a 5, you might not get as much satisfaction because you aren’t really hungry. But, you might find that eating at a 3 gives you an ideal eating experience.
Once you have started observing what hunger feels like for you, commit to honoring your hunger, by choosing to eat when your hunger level is at a 3. If you’ve been dieting and watching the clock to tell you when to eat, this may feel like a giant leap. Or if you’ve become used to restriction and ignoring your hunger signals, it may take some time to feel worthy of nourishing your body. You may also notice that your appetite varies on different days. Some days you might be ravenous, while on others, you might not be very hungry at all. That’s completely normal!
Over time, this practice will help you as you continue on your path towards becoming an Intuitive Eater. Remember this is principle #2, Honor your Hunger. There are 10 principles in all, and I will be sharing them here over the next few months.
If you missed my prior articles about Intuitive Eating, click on the links below to read the full articles:
- What is Intuitive Eating?
- Principle 1 of Intuitive Eating: Ditch the Diet Mentality
- Principle 3 of Intuitive Eating: Make Peace with Food
These steps are to help you with your Intuitive Eating and give you a little support as you explore and begin your Intuitive Eating journey. Stay tuned to the blog as I continue exploring Intuitive Eating, non-diet approaches to health, and ways to improve your body image.
Are you feeling like you might need some extra support and open to exploring what that would look like?
Click here to book a complimentary 15-minute Take Action call with me. We’ll discuss your areas of struggle, your goals for the future and ways to make them a reality.
Disclaimer: While Intuitive Eating is often the end goal of an individual with an eating disorder, it is NOT appropriate during earlier stages of recovery. If you have been diagnosed with, or suspect you have, an eating disorder, I would be happy to discuss working together in coordination with your therapist and primary care provider.
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”