Common wisdom says that one should not go grocery shopping whilst hungry! From experience, this piece of hunger insight can be extrapolated to help you see body signals as an ally of productivity and health...
Perhaps you have been on many weight loss diets or wellness plans. You might feel like you get hungry “too fast” or “too often;” you might think you lack willpower or see hunger as the enemy to be defeated by drinking water and eating low-energy foods. Or perhaps you get so busy that you don’t eat much during the day and then see hunger strikes hard when the pressure lifts after a day at work? Maybe you just don't feel hungry or eat out of fear of getting hungry? Whatever the case is, I’d like to share with you 3 ways to reflect on hunger more efficiently.
Hunger is not a matter of willpower.
As part of Enritsch community, you likely have an interest in wellness and total health. You might also value the body and mind connection. Hunger is a great example of how biology and psychology interact. You may know that as our body uses energy, blood sugar gets depleted, a hormonal cascade response occurs, our brain gets the memo that nourishment is needed and we make the decision to eat, or not. That being said, “mental hunger” is another story (to be covered in another post).
In terms of physical hunger, I invite you to think about hunger as a scale from 0 to 10; 0 being not hungry at all and 10 being “starving” (a point at which I refer to as “emergency eating”). In the 4-6 hunger range, food choices in terms of quality and quantity are easier to make whereas, at the 7-8-9-10 end of the spectrum, decision making becomes hard or impulsive. As we move towards 10, whatever we know about nutrition becomes increasingly trivial. At this point, the body’s instinct for wanting to raise our blood sugar is strong. This is not a matter of willpower. At this point you are facing an adaptive feature of human evolution.
Asking yourself the right questions will help you connect with your body signals and approach hunger from a self-care perspective. Being better attuned with hunger intensity can also help you plan ahead and stay away from unpleasant hunger. Can you appreciate these aspects of biology and evolution and dissociate motivation and hunger?
Hunger awareness as a self-care practice
How does hunger show up for you during the day? What kind of attention do those signals get? Do you get to the point where you would eat anything you see? Argue with your partner about what to eat without being able to make an efficient decisions? Do you settle for ordering in again this week? Do you end up eating fast or overeating passed your comfort zone?
For most people the question, “How hungry are you?” is both obvious and blurry. For some, hunger signals are faint and tired -- similar to a parent (or spouse) being tired of repeating the same things over and over again without acknowledgment. Everybody feels hunger in different ways and has a different past record of answering to it. Does your stomach rumble, growl, gurgle? Do you feel nauseous, irritable, lightheaded, weak or tired? Do you experience headaches, have trouble concentrating or are preoccupied with food?
If so, be delighted! Your body is working to keep you alive and nourished. So let us be humble and don’t take all the credit for your questionable food choices -- our response to intense hunger is not a lack of knowledge but a lack of interoception and honouring it. Interoception is the concept of perceiving body sensation such as feeling your heart beat or your stomach growling, for example. Knowing that your body needs to be fuelled every 2 to 6 hours while we are awake and planning an individualized flexible meal structure can help navigate the distraction and factors interfering with hunger signals. Maybe self-care and the attention toward fueling your body was the one part of the meal plan you tried that worked for and with your body?
When we are out of touch or ignoring it, hunger can also feel like an intense pendulum swinging between “too hungry” and “too full”. Reaching an uncomfortable level of hunger, your mind and body are looking for a “fast source of energy”. This is normal and rooted in survival but modern day reality is such that carbohydrate-rich foods (pastries, crackers, fruits, breads, etc.) are often the most accessible. This is actually the “quickest fix” and will spike your blood sugar levels when eaten on their own. A combination of carbohydrates, fibre, protein and fats yields a steadier, moderate blood sugar response and a satiated (or full) feeling for longer. When becoming a more intuitive eater, you get a chance to enhance energy and performance. You honour your hunger and eat a variety of nourishing foods from a more peaceful place.
In the field of digestion, gut microbiome (the balance of good gut bacteria) is fascinating. As we move forward with knowledge and research on the subject, I like to set my clients up with a great foundation for optimal digestion. Being attuned with hunger is also a big part of preventing bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort and is vastly underestimated. Do you recall planning to go out with friends to a brunch or dinner? Have you skipped a meal to “leave more room” for a specific occasion? How did it feel when you ended up eating? Did you feel so hungry you felt like trying everything at the buffet? Or perhaps you felt full quickly and got some negative digestive feedback? We often blame bloating and discomfort on specific foods but for your sake and in defence of food, I invite you to look at how timing and hunger can be the first steps of a beneficial domino effect.
Get off the hunger rollercoaster, take a step back and nourish your body regularly. You’ll have more energy, less stress and likely improved digestion!
So now! Are you hungry? How intense is it? Where and how does hunger feel for you? Are you hungry for a snack or a meal? What food would be both nourishing and satisfying?
If this sounds scary or unrealistic to you at the moment or you are just not sure how to get there, consult a professional dietitian trained in Intuitive Eating to guide you to rediscovering the body wisdom that we are all born with.