By Unite Fitness Retreat Nutritionist, Brooke Bouwhuis, RDN
We have all been there. Meetings gone longer than expected…Waiting and waiting for an appointment…Long grocery stores lines. Those days when you hit all lights red and everything seems to be three steps behind even though you are sprinting the entire day.
Many situations out of our control can mess with our ability to eat when we are hungry. Putting off eating until it’s “too late” = hanger and often overeating to put the fire out.
If you struggle with being able to tell when your stomach is empty, you will have trouble determining when it is full. Learning to recognize physical hunger and respond early to its signs is a crucial step in your intuitive eating journey.
When we yo-yo diet we deprive ourselves – Voluntary starvation. However, we don’t realize that our body is working hard to get us to eat again. We salivate more, and our digestive hormones increase. The brain chemical neuropeptide Y which causes us to crave carbohydrates is ramped up when we deny ourselves food. This leads to intense cravings to eat– it’s NOT a lack of willpower that draws us back to food that is restricted. The chemicals in our body and brain also drive this primal biological hunger.
Rather than eating when we are hungry we often have a check list we assess in our heads. How many calories is it? Is it time, I’m not supposed to have a snack until 10:30? Is it fat free or high in protein? Do I deserve it?
When we consistently deny ourselves when we are hungry we run into two major problems. First, denying ourselves usually leads to overeating once we do eat. Second, when we no longer hear those hunger signals they fade leading you to believe you can’t be trusted with food.
Honoring your hunger boils down to being free of strict dieting and restriction in order to eat when your body needs you to eat.
Listening for those hunger cues is your first step to relearning how to feel hunger again.
Each time you eat, ask yourself a few questions. Am I hungry? Do I want it? Will I be deprived if I don’t eat it? Will it be satisfying? Does it taste good? I deserve to eat without guilt. This is the non-diet mentality Intuitive Eating is all about.
Not sure what it feel like to be hungry? Usually we can go about 5 hours between meals but it’s variable depending on your activity level and what was eaten the meal before. Remember your liver will run out of carbs every 3-6 hours which is what signals your body to eat again. At our health retreat, we suggest eating every 3 hours to stabilize blood sugar.
Hunger signals can look like any combination of the following:
- Gurgling or gnawing in stomach
- Growling noises
- Light- headedness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Stomach pain
- Feeling faint
Regularly check in with yourself to see where you are at any given time during the day. It can also be helpful to use a hunger scale (see below). Eating between the ratings of 3 or 4 and stopping around 7-8 are excellent ways to honor your hunger, listen to your body and continue on an exceptional path to wellness.
10 – Painfully full and may feel sick
9 – Stuffed and uncomfortable
8 – Full, don’t want anything else to eat
7 – Totally satisfied, hunger gone for a few hours
6 – Satisfied by could easily eat more
5 – Neither hungry nor full, neutral
4 – Feel hunger, time to think about what to eat
3 – Stomach growling, have hunger pangs
2 – Preoccupied with hunger, all food looks good
1 – So hungry you will eat anything
What is the bottom line? Eat based on your physical hunger –you are the best and only person to make decisions about the food you eat. What you eat should satisfy your hunger without causing guilt. Intuitive Eating is a journey that takes practice and patience but can lead you to down the path of wellness and healing.