5 WAYS TO TRUST YOUR HUNGER SIGNALS...AGAIN
Honor your Hunger is principle 2 of Intuitive Eating. It is a critical part of listening to and learning to trust your body again. I say ‘again’ because we’ve all been born with the innate ability to know what hunger feels like and to do something about it. One of the reasons why babies cry is because they are hungry, and when you feed them, they usually stop crying.
Through the messed up world of dieting or from the non-stop go-go-go nature of life, you may have gotten out of touch with that innate ability. The good news is you can get in touch with it again! Getting to know your hunger signals and actually acting on them is one of the major steps towards normalizing your eating! Here are 5 strategies to get you started!
1. Eat Structured Meals by Following the Rule of 3s.
This tip is good for people who don’t have a regular structure of eating. Some days they might find themselves raiding their kitchens for food because they’re ravenous and other days they might go with barely eating just one meal. This tip is also good for those who can’t seem to identify what hunger actually feels like in their bodies. They may use the time of day or go based on what other people are doing, but they don’t know how their own personal hunger can guide their eating.
The Rule of 3s aims to provide a regular and consistent eating pattern so as to remind your body that it can produce hunger signals again. Oftentimes when people diet, they try to curb their hunger as much as possible and deny themselves eating. This tells the body that you aren’t paying attention and eventually the body will give up trying to give you those signals, especially if you body is in a deficit in which it will try to conserve as much energy as possible.
Aim to eat 3 meals (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) with 3 snacks (you can decide the best way to divide those up between meals) and eat at least every 2-3 hours. Make sure to include all 3 macronutrients at your meals and ideally your snacks too. These are Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat.
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2. Use Mindfulness Techniques to Learn Your Unique Hunger Signals
Mindfulness is basically the same thing as awareness. With mindfulness you are generating awareness of your body signals, your surroundings, your thoughts, emotions, and actions. This is great for people who are constantly living that go-go-go that they forget about themselves and how they are actually feeling in the moment.
Building mindfulness takes practice, especially for people who are new to it. Think of it like a skill or habit; it takes time for it to become ingrained and feel natural. Using the hunger and fullness scale is how you can begin to quantify these ambiguous sensations going on in your body.
The scale looks like this. This is a basic interpretation of hunger and fullness. As the numbers go down to 0, hunger signals become more extreme and uncomfortable. As the numbers go up to 10, fullness signals also become more uncomfortable. Keep in mind, everyone’s body is different and so some people may experience different signals than this and that is ok.
Here are some common signs that your body is hungry:
- Sensations in the stomach including rumbling, gurgling, emptiness and gnawing
- Heartburn or an aching in the throat or esophagus
- Clouded thinking, inability to focus, headache, dizziness, thoughts about food become more intense
- Moodiness, cranky, irritable, hangry
- Tired, lethargic, apathy
Attending to your hunger is an act of self-care. When you think of self-care you may think of vacations, bubble baths, or massages, but there is so much more to it. The basic core of self care is honoring your needs and taking care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I know what you might be thinking. You might think that sounds corny or “I take care of other people, so my needs come second to theirs.”
Here are just some basic self care behaviors: getting adequate sleep, going to the bathroom to urinate and defecate, having healthy personal relationships, eating regularly and eating enough, relaxation, drinking water, and expressing your emotions. If one or all of these self-care behaviors aren’t being met, you are most likely not feeling like your best self. It’s not selfish or a luxury to take this time for yourself because when you are feeling your best, you can serve others better.
So the next time you notice you are feeling hungry, but tell yourself you don’t really need to eat, remember that eating is an act of self-care and helps you be the best form of you! Which brings me to my next tip…
4. Challenge Unhelpful Thought Patterns
Changing behaviors comes easier than changing thoughts believe it or not. Through dieting you may have latched on to some pretty harmful thought patterns which are making it much harder for you to listen to your body. Common thought patterns that may emerge for you are:
- I can’t be hungry! I just ate ___
- I shouldn’t have that [food]
- I am afraid to eat that food because it will add unnecessary calories
- I should have a glass of water instead of eating
- I don’t like this feeling, I’m going to ignore it and see if it goes away
All of these thoughts have one thing in common: You are telling yourself you don’t deserve to have your needs met. You are telling yourself you are unworthy! Dieting has taught you external rules must be used to manage your intake, but where has that gotten you? I’m guessing it makes you feel pretty low. Instead, try using an internal and nonjudgemental perspective. Next time you feel hungry, ask yourself “what sounds good to me?” or “what would hit the spot?”
5. Put a Plan in Place
Now that you know that your body is wise and eating is an act of self-care, it’s also important to realize that your body isn’t perfect (no one is). Some days you won’t feel your natural hunger cues, or your schedule will be off or you’ll forget to eat. This is only natural. But guess what? You still need to eat! Yes, really.
Your hunger cues could be affected by many factors including how much sleep you get, certain medications, being stressed or depressed, and being sick or busy. So normally when you rely on your hunger cues to tell you when, what and how much to eat, it will be challenging to continue this when you don’t feel hunger. When this happens, you should have an action plan in place. It is super important to keep up with eating regularly in order to maintain your hunger signals and also to keep your metabolism functioning well. It will also provide your body the nourishment it needs to get better!
Refer to tip number 1: eating structured meals by following the rule of 3s. If following tip number one is too challenging, then aim for smaller, more frequent mini meals or snacks to eat throughout the day. Use convenience foods and easy to prepare meals to make your life easier.
*Bonus Tip!* Be Compassionate with Yourself!
So those are my 5 tips for helping you get in touch with and trust your hunger signals again. Remember, this is a skill set that takes time to develop. Think back to how long you may have been denying your needs or dieting. Put this into perspective and be compassionate with yourself to help yourself understand that change takes time.
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