Embrace your hunger!
Updated: Jun 26
Do you often find yourself denying your hunger cues due to fear of overeating? If you believe that you cannot be trusted with food, listening to your hunger is actually an important initial step to eat more in alignment with what your body actually needs. It may sound ironic at first, so let’s explore hunger and its role as an internal regulating signal that is often feared.
First of all, what is hunger? What’s its purpose?
Hunger is an essential part of our physiology; it is our body’s most basic function to notify us we need fuel. Simply stated, it is a survival mechanism since we can only obtain energy from food.
Unfortunately, this toxic, fat-phobic diet culture that we live in teaches us that hunger is frightening and represents weight gain. It conveys this distorted message that we need to be in control. Spending hours without eating is seen as having willpower and renders praises for being disciplined. We learn to second-guess our hunger, a phenomenon that is not seen with other sensations we experience, such as thirst, fatigue, and sleep.
As we learn to ignore hunger cues and restrict food intake, we are only setting ourselves up for binge-like episodes, the very reason why we first started overlooking hunger. Talk about a counterproductive method!
Food deprivation, a.k.a. dieting, creates obsession around food as the body sees it as a starvation state. Hunger cues being constantly ignored eventually stop being noticed. As a result, gentle sensations of hunger are no longer perceived, and we are only able to recognize ravenous hunger at this point. In this case, it is very unlikely that we will be able to stop eating, and the saga for energy-dense foods is real and biologically reasonable.
The good news is that we can tune back into our hunger signals and avoid this vicious intense hunger-overeating cycle. The trick here is to identify and honor gentle hunger pangs, which will allow us to make food choices that align with our nutrition goals/values and the needs of our bodies.
One strategy is to check in with yourself randomly between eating events as a way to promote this reconnection. Ask yourself, “Am I hungry?”, “How do I know?”, as you look for physical (not psychological) signs.
Common signs of hunger include: feeling irritable, tired or distracted; difficulty concentrating; growling noises; weakness (light-headedness, feeling faint); headache; and stomach pain. These feelings of discomfort range from gentle to intense. Please note that hunger feelings are very individual. You will gain more confidence as you learn to recognize your unique hunger cues over time, and you will not have to keep overthinking it. It takes a lot of time and exploration!
Also, be mindful that there are different forms of hunger as there are many valid reasons to seek food. For example, a neighbor grilling some meat may make you feel hungry. Hunger is multifaceted, and we eat for a variety of reasons, which is not as straightforward as an urge to go to the bathroom, for instance. It is strongly influenced by diet culture, as previously mentioned, as well as eating disorder triggers and physical, emotional, and past lived experiences. However, regardless of the different forms of hunger, acknowledging when you feel hungry is essential so you can be in tune with your needs/wants and properly react to them.
After identifying hunger, the next step is to gauge it. You can ask, “What’s my hunger level?”, “Am I hungry for a snack? Or for a meal? Am I hungrier than for a meal? Am I starving?”. Asking yourself these questions before eating is a way to look inwards and connect to the body.
Bottom line: We don’t need to fear or try to numb our feelings of hunger!
If you would like more food for thought, here is another great post written by registered dietitian Paige Smathers, “How to recognize hunger and fullness”.
If you feel you need extra help to honor your hunger, I would love to work with you! You can schedule an appointment here.