When you’ve been dieting for any amount of time, as simple as it might sound, one of the hardest things to do can be to “eat when you’re hungry.” How do you even know what hunger feels like?!
Dieting is tricky. It tells us to follow certain rules, like, “if you’re hungry, drink water.” Or, “you’re only hungry if you’d eat an apple.” Or worse even, telling you to “ignore your hunger and do XX activity instead.”
Let’s get one thing straight right now: all of these rules are completely ridiculous, rooted in deep diet culture.
When you’re hungry, the only way to appease your hunger is to eat. Period.
It can feel really tough to reconnect with those hunger cues though. What does hungry feel like? How do you know when you’re actually hungry? Use these guidelines to work through it and better recognize what hunger actually feels like, so that you know when you’re hungry and can eat ASAP.
PHYSICAL HUNGER Physical hunger is hunger that we feel in our stomachs. We may feel our stomach rumbling and, consequently, know that it’s time to eat. Signs of physical hunger can include: Signs of physical hunger can include: -A growling stomach -An empty feeling stomach -A feeling of lightheadedness -Or a lack of energy It’s important to note that hunger levels vary. Like anything else, you can be a little hungry, very hungry or overly hungry. Likely, by the time you reach feelings of lightheadedness or a lack of energy, you’re probably overly hungry. It’s okay if you get to those points! While our ultimate goal is, of course, to avoid feeling that way, at first, when you’re navigating and re-learning your hunger, you might not notice it until it’s reached those more extreme levels. Try not to worry - as you continue to practice feeling and understanding your hunger, it will feel easier to notice it sooner, before it’s reached that point of ravenous hunger.
MENTAL HUNGER Alternatively, hunger isn’t only felt in our stomachs. There are also signs of hunger that our brain will tell us, too. Signs of mental hunger can include: -Thinking about food -Feeling grumpy, or hangry -Having a headache -Feeling irritable Like the physical signs, as your hunger progresses, so will these mental signs of hunger too. When you first start to feel hungry, you may be thinking about food and recognize that it’s time to eat. However, as your hunger grows, you might start to feel more of those less pleasant feelings, like feeling hangry or irritable. And, just like physical hunger, these mental hunger cues will become easier to notice over time. Keep at it! These signs will continue to feel easier to recognize.
The key here is to continue to practice. When you start to feel those first signs of physical or mental hunger - stomach growling or thinking about food - don’t ignore them! Ask yourself if you could eat right now. Ask yourself what sounds good. If you can think of something that fits the bill, try to eat it! Also at these times, it can be helpful to assess the feelings you’re having. Are you grumpy because you’re tired or because you’re hungry? Is your stomach rumbling because you’re hungry or because of a stomachache? There’s definitely no right or wrong here. Sometimes it might be hunger and sometimes it might not be. But, knowing the signs to look for, as well as how to assess them, is the best place to start understanding and honoring your hunger cues. It’s also important to note that your hunger will vary drastically from day to day. This doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Or that you’re not understanding your hunger cues. In fact, if you notice that your hunger levels are different each day, then you’re probably on the right track. So many factors influence our hunger: what we ate the day before, what we ate the in meal before, how much sleep we got, (if you’re a woman) the time of the month it is, how much activity we’ve done that day, and so on. It’s normal for hunger levels to fluctuate day to day.
Lastly, remember that intuitive eating is not the hunger and fullness diet. It doesn’t boil down to “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.” There are many, many other reasons to eat, like practicality or enjoyment. It’s really important to understand your hunger cues and eat when you’re hungry - especially when dieting has taught you not to listen to your hunger cues for so long. But, at the end of the day, there’s no such thing as perfection. You will never only eat when you’re perfectly hungry every single time you eat. Instead, aim to understand your hunger, try not to let yourself get too hungry when you can prevent it, and most of all, enjoy the food you’re eating.
-Health Coach K