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Intuitive Eating Principles Summarized - #2 Honor Your Hunger

Hi again! We are back this week to continue our journey through the Intuitive Eating (IE) principles. If you missed the first post of this series, please jump back and read principle #1 as it is key to have an understanding of all ten IE principles. Principle #2 is “Honor Your Hunger”. But what does this mean and how can we bring this to life?

When you break it down, hunger is a simple biological signal. Being able to listen to and honor this signal is a primary step to rebuilding trust with self and your food intake. When you are dieting, you are underfeeding your body. Chronic dieting has negative physical and psychological side effects including decreased metabolic rate; increased obsession with food; and you may find you feel more moody, depressed, irritable or indifferent to things you once cared about.

When you think about chronic dieting, hunger is seen as a negative feeling or point to get to. Many times we fall out of touch with our natural hunger and fullness cues, which can result in chaotic eating patterns as we only feel hunger or fullness in extreme states. Whether or not you’re a chronic dieter, the body is smart enough to realize when it does not receive adequate energy from food and will send out important biological mechanisms looking for nourishment.

A diet teaches one to eat based on external rules versus internal cues. The first step to more of an IE lifestyle is to honor your biological hunger. Eat when you are hungry! This allows the body to know that is will consistently receive food in response to sending you signals versus being denied. But what if I don’t feel hunger, you may be asking? Or what if you feel like you never really regardless of dieting? This is okay and in fact normal. When we continuously silence or ignore hunger through dieting, the body is smart (are you seeing a trend? Your body is smart!), and the sensations or signs of hunger will stop coming. Some folks may also “numb” hunger through liquids such as water or calorie-free beverages or chewing gum, which quiets sensations as well. If you find you’re stressed in other areas of life you may also be adept at tuning out hunger as you deal with what else is going on. See below for a list that can help you to identify when hunger is knocking. And remember, these are general symptoms of hunger, and your hunger and my hunger and anyone else’s hunger will look and feel different.

Known signals/sensations of hunger include:

  • Mild gurgling, growling noises, or gnawing in the stomach

  • Lightheadedness or headaches

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Uncomfortable stomach pain

  • Irritability

  • Feeling as if you may faint

Another helpful tool is the Hunger Fullness Scale, which can help to get in touch with innate signals of hunger and fullness. It is completely normal for hunger to ebb and flow during the day or even over the course of a few days. As a recent Instagram post of mine states, having “hungry days” and “not so hungry days” is completely normal. Nourishing yourself on both types of day is crucial. Research based on children has shown that their bodies make up for their nutritional needs over the course of a few days or up to a week, and evidence is starting to show the same for adults.

A final important point is that to honor one’s hunger does not equate to only eating when truly hungry. There are many reasons we may consume something to eat. “Taste hunger”, is eating simply because something sounds good or time and place calls for it. Say you stop at the grocery store and they are sampling new donuts, while you may not necessarily be hungry, it may sound good or be a free chance to try a new product so you eat it. Eating this despite not being hungry is not a violation of your diet or IE journey. “Practical hunger”, lets you plan ahead. It is important to honor your biological hunger, but it is also important to plan ahead if you know you may not have a chance to eat again for awhile. For example, say you are going into a night class from 6-9pm. While you may not be hungry for dinner at 5pm, you don’t want to go into the 3 hour class and leave at the end of the evening in a chaotic state of extreme hunger. Maybe you can pack snacks and eat during the class, but if you cannot, then eating beforehand is practical. Finally, “emotional hunger” can be identified once we become better at identifying biological hunger. “Emotional eating” is not necessarily a negative thing; it is okay to eat due to emotions, but is is also important to identify whether you are eating due to primal hunger or emotional hunger. Likewise, it is necessary to come up with other coping mechanisms if you are chronically experiencing these kinds of emotions.

Thanks for following along on another week of summarizing the IE principles. If you would like another resource, please refer to a presentation offered on my website “How to Eat: Understanding Types of Hunger and What to Do About It”, which is designed to provide you with the main topic points I address with many of my clients. In hopes to make nutrition counseling more accessible, this presentation, which comes with slides, handouts, and audio is perfect if you are looking to learn about nutrition 101, balanced eating, and navigating emotional eating. See you next time for principle #3!

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