Principle 2 – Honour Your Hunger
Chronic dieters (and/or wellness-seekers) often ignore, or intentionally try to curb, their biological drive for food (aka hunger). While this might seem like a good idea at the time, it’s really important to realise that our body is not designed for starvation. When we deprive our body of the nutrients it needs to survive, it will eventually rebel and cause us to binge uncontrollably, eat beyond fullness, crave foods, lose trust in our own hunger/fullness cues, disrupt metabolic pathways and so much more. Failing to eat when we are hungry, or using shakes, water, plain rice crackers etc… in place of an actual meal or snack, is extraordinarily confusing for the body. After decades of disregarding our natural drive to eat, we lose the ability to tune in and truly recognise what hungry looks and feels like for us.
If we are to rebuild our relationship with food and become an intuitive eater, we need to develop an understanding of our hunger cues. What does it feel like to be hungry? What’s happening in our body and in our mind? We can become attuned to our body cues without necessarily focusing on hunger though – we can concentrate on our breathing, our heart rate, our pulse… just becoming one with the body, and actually listening to it mindfully is really the first step to becoming an intuitive eater. This is why Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating really are two peas in a healthy-relationship-with-food pod! But it isn’t enough to just tune in to the body when we sit down to eat a meal – it’s a practice which needs to be cultivated every day, and is a skill which takes time to re-learn. Patience and consistency is the key here – and what’s really important to remember is that this is NOT a chore! It is a form of self-care. It is OUR TIME to focus on US every day. It is OUR TIME to become balanced, centred and focused. It is an opportunity to recharge and regenerate. Having regular self-care practices is a necessary part of being an Intuitive Eater because it helps us to deal with “attunement disrupters”, or anything which gets in the way of us responding to our body’s needs. These usually come in the form of distractions, thoughts, rules, toxic nutritional beliefs, and “busy lifestyle” factors.
Having a busy or stressful life (or time in your life) usually leads to a loss of attunement, and an inability to pick up on your hunger and fullness cues. Also, when starting out on your Intuitive Eating journey, it can take a long time to really be able to hone in on these body cues. So what to do? We need to go back to basics and make sure we nourish ourselves, even in the face of stress and anxiety. Having a good balance of the key macronutrients (carbs, fats and protein) is a great place to start, followed by having regular meals timed according to your lifestyle. For many people, 3 meals a day plus some snacks in between seems to work well in terms of keeping them full and satisfied. This then helps to prevent overeating, mindless eating, bingeing, and the guilt/shame often associated with these. It’s important to remember here that overeating or bingeing after periods of not eating enough or NOT honouring our hunger is TOTALLY normal. It is part of our biological drive to survive. Again, self-compassion goes a long way in helping us on our Intuitive Eating journey!
To put this principle into action, try to reflect on:
- What thirsty, hungry, tired, full, sick, stressed, needing to pee feels like in different parts of the body? Are these feelings pleasant, unpleasant or just neutral?
- What your body is telling you about self-care. How does it feel when rested? Tired? Stressed? Do you have hobbies? Time for family and friends? Do you move your body in ways you enjoy? Are your emotional needs being met? Do you spend time nurturing your spiritual self? Do you set appropriate boundaries?
- What your “attunement disrupters” might be. Jot them down and reflect on those.
- The Mindful Eating hunger and fullness scale – practice noticing whether hunger/fullness is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
- What you can do to help you stay nourished during busy times. Does batch-cooking help? Preparing meals the night/day before? Finding a local restaurant that you could get take-away from which makes you feel nourished and satisfied?