Posts tagged Hunger
From Dieter to Intuitive Eater: Should I *Always* Honour My Hunger?

Moving from dieting to intuitive eating can be fraught with all kinds of confusion and challenges. While dieting encourages you not to listen to your hunger — just drink water, right? — and to actively suppress it using all manner of things, intuitive eating is all. about. listening. 


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CONSEQUENCES OF NOT HONOURING HUNGER

Part of this is based on the Ancel Keys landmark food deprivation study conducted during World War II. Thirty-two healthy men with “superior psychobiological stamina” were selected for the study. During the first three months, the men ate as they liked (ate intuitively); during the next six months, the men endured semi-starvation. The effects studied and observed closely mirror the symptoms of dieting, including: 

  • 40% decrease in metabolic rate 

  • Obsession with food (the men experienced heightened food cravings, talked about food, and collected recipes)

  • Participants would ravenously gulp their food, stall, play with food, or dwindle over a meal (symptoms seen in those with eating disorders)

  • Episodes of bulimia and binge-eating 

  • Incidents of over-exercise to increase their food rations 

  • Changes in personality (i.e. the onset of apathy, depression, irritability, moodiness.)

But…should you always honour you hunger, Sarah? 

In short — yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Diet culture teaches us that our appetites can’t be trusted. Whether it’s carbs, macros, calories, sugar, fat, “clean foods”, and the like, we’re constantly being told what to do (um, bossed around) — and constantly left questioning whether we’re doing “it” right

Dieting really complicates eating, transforming everything we’re doing with food into a conflict to be resolved. And semi-starving us all the while.

Eating actually doesn’t have to be so hard. 

HUNGER IS ACTUALLY HEALTHY

One of the 10 principles of intuitive eating — the second one, in fact - is “honour your hunger.” It’s an important principle, and one that’s easy to get stuck on (particularly if the diet mentality hasn’t been fully rejected.) 

While hunger is a meaty topic that could easily cover several blog posts, I do want to illuminate the following today: your hunger is natural, healthy, helpful. Even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Honouring hunger is fundamental to feeling sane around food.

Ignoring it, dismissing it, or actively trying to suppress it can have unintended consequences. As Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole discuss in Intuitive Eating, “eating is so important that the nerve cells of appetite are located in the hypothalamus region of the brain. A variety of biological signals triggers eating. What many people believe to be an issue of willpower, is instead a biological drive. The power and intensity of the biological eating drive should not be underestimated.” (62)

For most of us, we breathe consistently without any work on our end. We don’t have to try, or think about it. We just do.

Our detoxification organs are always working for us, whether we realize it or not. 

And our hunger? It lights up when our energy stores are low and we need more food

Hunger isn’t a trick. It’s not a “problem” to be suppressed with all kids of low-cal diet foods, beverages, or “hacks.” It’s not out of control. Getting hungry often doesn't mean there’s something wrong (and in fact, there could be a whole lot right.)

Hunger varies. Sometimes you’ll be super hungry, and sometime less so. Sometime the reason will be apparent — and sometimes not. 

Sometimes you’ll need three snacks, and sometimes your three meals might be enough. 

So…how do you work with hunger instead of against it? 

You listen to it. 

You honour it.

You eat. 

Unsure of what hunger feels like? Let’s chat.



WHY DO I STILL FEEL OUT OF CONTROL AROUND FOOD?: DEEP DIVING INTO RESTRICTION

When coaching clients through the intuitive eating process, many people find unconditional permission a super tough act to integrate. 

If you’re relatively new to intuitive eating and slowly working through the intuitive eating principles, you may feel ready to throw in the towel. You’re eating all the things! You’re eating the cake! You’re honouring your hunger and fullness cues! 

You’re eating with attunement! You’re enjoying dessert, feeling comfortable around potato chips, and going out for ice cream with friends. All experiences and pleasures you previously denied yourself. 

But regardless of what you tell yourself, you still feel out of control. You worry you’ll never stop eating. You worry you’ll never stop gaining. You find you can’t not eat an entire pint of ice cream in one go. If there’s cake in the house, you’ll find it. Cheeseboards? Game over. 

Intuitive eating, body positivity, health at every size, eating disorder recovery.

 

But before you decide that you’re not cut out for intuitive eating — that intuitive eating may work for some people, but not you — we need to dig deep into restriction. 

I’ve never, ever seen binge eating operate without some level of restriction.

I’ve never, ever seen out of control eating without some level of restriction. 

Because the reality is, even if you’re giving yourself “permission,” restriction is often so deeply ingrained that we aren’t even aware of when it's operating. 

I liken restriction to a volcano. Everyone can see when a volcano is erupting. I mean, there’s lava. That’s some very obvious restriction: “I’m on a diet,” “I’m not allowed to eat anything good,” “I don’t buy that stuff,” I would never eat x.” This is lava restriction. You’re fully aware of what you’re doing. 

But what about the kind bubbling beneath the surface? The kind that you’ve never not lived with? We call it “the diet mentality” in intuitive eating because so many people are dieting — even if they’re not on a diet. 

And sometimes it helps to have a coach on your side to identify those areas for you — to point out where you’re still restricting so you can fully make peace with food and body. 

We have to tease out the stories. 

The story your mother taught you about what you need to look like to be loved.

The shame you carry from what your father said to you when you were six. 

The terrible things kids said to you when you were twelve, just as you were trying to make sense of your changing body.

The beliefs you hold about sugar — that you are inherently addicted

…Or the beliefs you hold about carbs — that they make you gain weight.

The belief that weight gain is "bad."

…Or the beliefs you hold about fat — that fat makes you fat. 

The belief that fat is "bad."

The stories magazines and billboards tell you about your worth. 

The story that you should always be on a diet. 

The story your friends repeat about how you should always be on a diet.

The story products marketed to you — the yogurts, the cereals, the snack packs — repeat about how you should always be on a diet. 

The story that there will be a diet that works this time.

The story that we can change our lives by changing our bodies. 

The story that our bodies are wrong, not enough, and we should always be aiming to lose weight, shape up, or ship out. 

The story that women should not weigh. 

Which parts— which stories — of your life are begging you to be smaller? And how can you grow outside of them? What’s included in the next chapter? Who gets to write your book? 

If you are restricting in any way, intuitive eating will reveal it. Today I’d like to dive deeper into the way restriction shows up in our lives and how to begin unpacking it by looking at physical restriction vs. psychological restriction. 

Physical restriction is exactly what it sounds like: where the lack of food is apparent to the naked eye. 

Not all physical restriction creates issues, but I think it’s important to be aware of the way it informs our eating decisions. 

Some forms of physical restriction include:

Seasonal availability. Not all foods are available year-round. I live in Toronto, so let’s use strawberries and asparagus as examples. I experience a greater “emotional charge” with these foods than, say, potatoes and cabbage, because they’re only available for a limited time. 

Ask any business coach: few things move us to action like scarcity. During May and June, I’m loading up on these because I know it’ll be another year until I get them again. And sure, I can eat imported berries and asparagus, but because “it’s not the same,” I can’t help but feel enamoured by these foods. 

Consider this for yourself. How do you feel about sweet potatoes vs. watermelon? Apples freshly picked from the orchard vs. eating those from cold storage months later? 

Travel. Whether you’re enjoying pasta and gelato in Italy or guacamole and margaritas in Mexico, there’s an element of scarcity — restriction — here. Think of the stories you’re told: 1) it’s not the same at home 2) you don’t know when you’ll get to eat quite like this again.

Often, these foods are less expensive — wine is cheaper in Europe than it is in Canada, for example. If you’re someone who “always overdoes it” on vacation or views this as your one chance to go all-out, this can add fuel to the fire. Because you don’t have access to these foods all the time, you may feel compelled to eat more than usual.

By the way: there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a vacation. That’s part of the experience. But your trip may also not be as enjoyable if you’re uncomfortably full the entire time. 

Moving away from home. Nothing tastes as good as mom’s home cooked meals, right? Or Dad’s. Or someone else’s. The point is, when we return home (or to our neighbour’s) after a long hiatus, it’s totally natural to eat more than we normally would. 

We haven’t had access to these foods for a while, which has left us feeling deprived. There’s also the limited-time-offer thing (must get our fill in now!) If you find you eat a bit more whenever you visit family, this may have something to do with this. 

Food insecurity and food deserts. If food was scarce when you were growing up — you never had enough — this may follow you into adulthood. The same can be said for survivors of war, refugees, and those facing excruciating economic conditions. 

What about those struggling in food deserts? Yes — the same. Being denied food, a basic human right, can incite feelings of deprivation and lead to overeating and binge-like behaviours to compensate for that deprivation. 

Food allergies or sensitivities. Allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities can be tricky to navigate (I have Celiac’s disease and understand what it’s like firsthand.) I used to feel out of control around gluten-free donuts, cookies, pizza, and other foods because I so rarely got to enjoy them. I think the biggest takeaway here is to approach your allergy/sensitivity from a place of choice (empowerment) vs. circumstance (disempowerment.) 

For example, you could eat [x food], but you probably wouldn’t feel very well. This might be a more helpful way to frame your eating decisions, as opposed to stating how you “can’t” eat something. I could eat gluten; no one will arrest me. But I’ll feel like shit, so I choose not to. 

Psychological restriction can overlap with physical restriction, but it’s generally self-imposed vs. situationally-imposed. 

For example, believing a food, ingredient, or macronutrient is inherently “bad” for you. This form of restriction can lead you to deny your cravings for favourite foods and to feel deprived, leading to binge-like behaviours and compulsive eating, either to compensate for the deprivation (“stuffing it”) or when in the presence of off-limits foods. Carrying negative beliefs about food the have little basis in science is a form of restriction. 

Denying cravings because you feel the craving is inherently unhealthy — or denying your experience. Believing your body is “wrong” for its cravings, rather than validating those cravings as natural and life-affirming. For example, believing something is off because you’re craving carbohydrates (an oft-demonized macronutrient), or for wanting a cookie. Denying an experience is a form of restriction. 

Not eating something for fear it will lead to weight/fat gain. This is in line with the previous forms of restriction, but it’s important to acknowledge separately. Avoiding “fattening” foods is a form of restriction. Why? Fat isn’t bad — it isn’t a problem to solve — and secondly, when a food caries a higher energy load, we’ll probably fill up on less. Our bodies can self-regulate. If you eat a lot of rich foods, you may naturally crave lighter fare. You could eat more, but you’d probably feel uncomfortably full. 

Not eating something for fear it will give you X or lead to Y. Again, this folds into the other forms of restriction, but has less to do with weight gain/fat phobia and more to do with believing [X food] will give you cancer. While certain foods may help to prevent or support disease, illness has to do with far more than what we put (or don’t) in our mouths. This choice has more to do with fear-mongering than it does with science. 

Being on a diet with “yes” and “no” lists. Same deal. When you’re on a diet, you have lists for which foods are acceptable — and which aren’t. This is an obvious form of restriction that gets dealt with during the first stage of the intuitive eating process. 

Naming foods or eating styles (including slightly more subtle, insidious labels such as “clean eating” and “real food”.) Let’s get one thing out of the way: all food is “real” food. All food is made of chemicals. What makes a food “real”? Most foods are at least minimally processed — it’s what makes them edible and digestible. It also doesn’t matter what these foods are. “Clean” implies some foods are dirty, while others are good and virtuous. Food hierarchies are a kind of restriction, where some foods are better than others (which means the “others” should be avoided.)

If you’re engaging in overeating or binge-like behaviours, there’s a good chance you’re restricting in some way. Which point resonates most with you? Did you experience any “aha” moments while running though these lists?

4 Questions I Filter My Food Choices Through Before Eating

While intuitive eating is a land without rules, learning how to navigate its waters is often challenging for those of us who’ve spent the fast few years relying on macros, calories, and carb counts. How will I know when I’ve had enough to eat? Can I trust myself to stop eating? Will my body ever stop wanting pasta and mashed potatoes? Am I actually full or should I keep going? My head is spinning just thinking about it. 

To ease your way into intuitive eating, I’ve pulled together a list of four questions I filter my food choices through before I eat — and that you might wish to filter your food choices through, too! I want to emphasize that these are not rules; they’re guidelines to help you to become more intuitive about your food choices and to connect with your internal wisdom. 

Intuitive eating, body positive, emotional eating, anti-diet, body image, holistic nutrition. 4 Questions I Filter My Food Choices Through Before Eating.

I really love these questions because they root me. They remind me of what’s important when the noise of diet culture beckons me back. They allow me to pursue authentic health — my own authentic health — without regard for social expectations. If you’re struggling with moving away from counting fat grams and hitting a certain amount of protein per day, you might find this both liberation and helpful. 

QUESTION #1 - WHAT WOULD I LIKE TO EAT? 

Due to various factors, like budget and availability, I’m going to bet you can’t always eat exactly what you would like. I mean, if I’d be feasting on plump peel-and-eat shrimp straight from the Gulf dunked in warm garlic butter, a big fancy salad, red wine, and sweet potato fries. My reality? A re-heated black bean veggie burger sans bun topped with mayonnaise and hot sauce — the furthest thing from a fancy al fresco lunch.

But you can get pretty close. What’s the temperature like outside? Do you have a hankering for something hot or cold? Crunchy or soft and easy to chew? Are you craving something tart and bright, or something spicy and bold? Would you like a dish that’s light and elegant, or hearty and filling? Plant-based or meat-heavy? Answering these questions will help you to really find satisfaction in the foods you’re eating while giving your body what it needs to function optimally. 

The problem with dieting is that we often think about what we should be eating (or shouldn’t!) and never ask ourselves what we feel like. I don’t want you to focus on macronutrients, micronutrients, and other things right now. I just want you to ask yourself what you’d like to eat. Try to ignore your inner food police. Ignore your food rules. Ignore whatever your mind is telling you and try to listen to your core instincts. 

If you find this question challenging, try entering into it as an anthropologist and explorer rather than a judge. Why do I want this food? What’s delicious about this food? How will this food satisfy me? Get nostalgic if you like. It’s fine to want a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup in the same way that it’s also fine to want a green smoothie or a hot dog with a ton of ketchup. Let your choices be what they are. 

QUESTION #2 - HOW DO I WANT TO FEEL?

This is the next question I recommend filtering your choices through because figuring out how foods feel is a BIG part of intuitive eating. Let’s say you love potato chips, but find they make you a bit bloated. This doesn’t mean you won’t eat them, but maybe you’ll reserve them for a time when it doesn’t matter so much. Maybe you love wine, but know it gives you a headache and interferes with your work. This doesn’t mean you’ll never drink it, but maybe you’ll leave it for the weekend, when you can sit around and relax. 

If you’re super new to intuitive eating, I recommend stopping at the first question. But if you’d like to proceed, begin to consider how foods feel to you. Which ones give you energy? Which make you feel amazing? Which foods keep you full? Which foods feel lighter in your stomach? Again, try exploring this rather than judging it, knowing what you uncover is a tool to help you navigate the world of intuitive eating — not a hard-and-fast rule. 

The question of food allergies and sensitivities often comes up. How do I work on my relationship with food while honouring these issues? Awesome question. I think it still harkens back to how you want to feel vs. which rules you need to implement. If someone with Type II Diabetes eats too much sugar, they’ll feel sick. If I can’t tolerate dairy, I may avoid it for reasons that have nothing to do with diet culture and everything to do with how I want to feel.

I’ll admit this is tricky territory, but flipping externally-motivated rules into internal cues is probably the best approach there is to co-existing with restrictions. Another would be to find satisfying substitutes so you don’t feel like you’re missing out. For example, there’s a number of gluten-free options — donuts, ice cream cones, bread, cereal — for those with Celiac’s Disease and related issues, and dairy-free options — ice cream, yogurt, cheese, and so on — for those who cannot tolerate it. The goal is always satisfaction. 

QUESTION #3 - WHAT DO I NEED TO DO?

Food is definitely pleasure, enjoyment, love. But it’s also energy to fuel our focus, optimize our concentration, and allow us to do exactly what we need to do. 

So you’ve decided what you feel like eating. And you know how you want to feel. Now what do you need to do? Do you need to run a marathon? Work all day, all night in the office? Are you headed to the cottage? 

I like considering this question because it helps me to view food as fuel. As the raw materials from which I will build my amazing life. If I want to spend the afternoon really killing it, I may choose to eat a filling, sustaining lunch to help me to do exactly that. If I plan on lounging around the house getting some laundry done and organizing my things (with a Netflix and popcorn date later, because #whynot), maybe I’ll be satisfied with something on the lighter side. 

When filtering your choices through this filter, consider what you need to do. Do you have time to stop for a snack? Or do you have back-to-back client meetings? Are you having a late dinner or are you the type to eat before 6pm? Dieting often gives us set serving amounts, calories, and times. It can feel super awkward, then, to connect with our bodies and ask ourselves what we need to do and how much food we need to do those things

This step is challenging, so try to go easy. Sometimes you’ll over-eat, or intentionally under-eat, but I think eventually you’ll get the hang of things. I’ve found that eating meals with more fat — which fills you up without leaving you feeling too full — can be helpful if you have a lot to do or need a meal that sticks. 

QUESTION #4 - WILL I FEEL DEPRIVED IF I DON’T EAT IT?

This final filter is an important one, and possibly one of the most confusing. But you told me to eat whatever I damn well please! You told me to honour my hunger! You told me I have unconditional permission to eat! Right. I did. And I have no intention of pulling the rug from under you. But I also don’t heed all of my cravings and desires, because I’m not hungry enough to eat all of them and because there’s a difference between wanting to eat a certain food and feeling like eating a certain food. Namely, one is intellectual while the other is physical. 

I love sour gummy candy. I would totally eat it daily. But then this wouldn’t actually be all that intuitive — it would be automatic. I would consume it on autopilot. And then I wouldn’t be all that satisfied by it when I did eat it, and I probably wouldn’t feel so good from all of the sugar. So I eat it when I feel like it (when I’m craving it!) and if I see it and feel lukewarm about it, I let it go. This is how I make most of my food decisions. I don’t always want potato chips, but when I do, I honour that choice. When I want pasta? I honour it. But I try not to eat things I don’t actually want even though I like them, because I’m after self-care and satisfying eating experiences, not just doing things for the hell of it. 

This question isn’t meant to keep you from the foods you actually want, but to help you to recognize when something is a choice and when it’s just another option

To summarize:

  1. What do I feel like?

  2. How do I want to feel?

  3. What do I need to do?

  4. Will I feel deprived if I don’t eat it?

What do you think of these filters? Do you have any filters you run your food choices through before eating? 

 

Sarah Berneche, Intuitive Eating Coach

Hey! I'm Sarah, Intuitive Eating and Body Image Coach. I work with purpose-driven women who want to let go of diets and stop fighting their bodies so they can show up fully in their lives. If you're interested in learning how to have an amazing relationship with food -- one where you can enjoy it all -- I'd invite you to book a discovery call so we can get to know each other and discuss your options.