Have you been dieting for years and lost touch with your hunger and fullness cues? I’m going to help you rediscover those cues so you can start to make peace with food and live a life of freedom!
I’m sure you’ve heard this piece of simple advice before: Eat when you’re hungry, stop eating when you’re full.
Just watch a baby or a toddler eat to understand this principle – we are all born with this instinct!
But for many of us who have been dieting for years, including myself, this simple principle doesn’t seem so simple at all!
Looking back, I started losing touch with these signals when I was very young. You see, I was part of the “clean plate” club which meant I had to eat everything on my plate before I was allowed to leave the table. While I know my parents had good intentions with this rule (ex. getting me to eat all the vegetables on my plate,) it became so engrained in me that even just a few months ago, I felt the need to eat everything on my plate, even if I was full.
Pair that with years and years of dieting where I was told how much to eat and when to eat, it’s no wonder I had lost touch with the my body’s signals of hunger and fullness.
If you’ve been a chronic dieter like I have, or if you’ve been a member of the “clean plate” club, it’s likely there have been times when you’ve ignored your inner hunger signals and thought, “Nope, the diet says I can’t…” Or conversely, there are time you’ve felt full, but kept eating thinking, “I already fell off the wagon so I may as well eat as much as I can.”
Over time, these mixed messages can dull our hunger and fullness cues. Emotions can also cloud our hunger and fullness signals. Are we eating out of boredom? Sadness? Stress?
If this sounds familiar, I want to share with you some tips on how to rediscover your hunger and fullness cues.
In my Drop a Dress Size groups, I tell my clients to use the hunger scale to gauge how hungry and full they are.
It’s quite obvious to know when we are starving or so full we just can’t eat another bite, but those are two extremes which often lead to binging, purging, or restriction. We need to understand the less extreme shifts in hunger and fullness since we want to stay clear of these extremes.
One of the women in my Drop a Dress Size group would wait to eat when she got from work, but realized by that time, she was completely starving (a 0 on the scale) and would eat anything and everything in site!
To learn how these subtle shifts feel, start practicing the hunger scale. Before taking a bite of food, rank your hunger on a scale of 0-5, 0 being famished, 5 being post-Thanksgiving dinner stuffed. When you’ve eaten about half of your plate, rank your hunger again. Do the same immediately after eating and again 30 minutes after eating. Over time, you’ll begin to notice the slight differences in hunger levels. You’ll also start to pick up on how much food it takes for you to feel satisfied for different levels of hunger.
One of the most difficult things to determine if whether your hunger is stemming from real, physical hunger or if it’s coming from an emotion.
Physical hunger can feel different for different people, however, there are some common characteristics of physical and emotional hunger. The next time you think you feel hungry, run through these characteristics and see if you can identify which one it is:
Physical hunger is felt in the stomach. You may even notice your stomach starts to growl! Physical hunger grows GRADUALLY as time passes. Low energy, dizziness, and feeling moody (aka Hangry!) can be signs of severe hunger.
Emotional hunger usually comes on rapidly, usually immediately after a specific emotion. This hunger is usually for specific foods like sugar or comfort foods. For example, when I get really happy, I feel like I need something sweet right away. You may also feel like food isn’t satiating, and that you can’t get enough.
Sometimes, we mistake other signals in our bodies for physical hunger. They are legitimate sensations, but not true stomach hunger. Here are some examples:
Sometimes, especially if we’re feeling irritated or stressed, we want to chew our frustrations away. Our bodies are not calling for food, but we put it in our mouths as an attempt to relieve anxiety.
We see or smell something that looks so delicious that our mouths start to water. Sometimes just thinking about a food brings on a craving for it. We desire to taste the food, but really aren’t physically hungry.
We look at the clock and think we have to eat a certain amount of food because “it’s time”, even if we don’t feel like eating.
Sometimes we confuse the sluggishness of dehydration with actual hunger. The body is calling for fluids, not food.
When we sense that our energy levels are low, some of us automatically think that if we eat something, we’ll feel better. However, if we’ve been working extra hard and/or haven’t been getting enough sleep, our bodies are calling for rest, not food.
The feeling of hunger is often induced by a trigger rather than a true sense of physical hunger. Understanding if your hunger is real, or simply a response to a specific trigger, help you decide if you want to eat or not.
Here is a list of possible triggers to run through the next time you’re feeling hungry:
- smell – are you eating because a food smells good?
- social – are you eating because the people around you are eating?
- visually appealing – are you eating because a certain food looks good?
- procrastination – are you eating to avoid doing something else?
- boredom – are you eating because you are bored?
As you can see, the simple principle of physical hunger and fullness is often overshadowed by other body signals, habits, needs and emotions. Identifying and dealing with them appropriately is a huge step in the process of discerning true stomach hunger.
Learning to eat intuitively–meeting your body’s true physical needs for fuel and nourishment–will help you naturally reach the healthiest weight for your one-of-a-kind body.
Do you struggle identifying your hunger and fullness cues? What is most difficult for you, understanding the physical cues or identifying emotional versus physical hunger?