Updated: Feb 11, 2021
Honoring your hunger is a more subtle step in learning how to be an intuitive eater. Hunger is a physiological signal that tells us our bodies need fuel for energy production and continued functioning. Without this powerful signal, we would not know when or how much to eat. Unfortunately, many of us have learned to rely on external cues to guide our food intake, instead of listening to our bodies’ internal cues. Chronic dieters, for example, often brush feelings of hunger under the rug because of the strict eating rules they follow. In response to hunger cues, they may think, “Am I allowed to eat this late at night?” or “I can’t have lunch yet; I just ate breakfast a few hours ago.”
If these examples sound familiar to you, you may find that at times you want to eat so badly, but your strict food rules don’t allow you to. Denying your body like this creates several problems. Constantly suppressing your hunger signals can make it hard to realize you are physically hungry until you have reached the point of ravenous hunger. And if your body is depleted of nutrients and believes it is in a starvation state from restricting food intake, once you begin eating again you may struggle to stop. This can lead to overeating and loss of control, resulting in guilt, shame, anxiety, and a subsequent lack of trust around food.
Fortunately, you can get your hunger cues back! First try to listen for them. This can be hard in the beginning if you have been ignoring these feelings for a while. Check in with yourself – do you have a headache? Is your stomach growling? Is it hard for you to concentrate on whatever you’re doing? These are all signs of hunger and they can be different for each person. Try to be aware of what your body is telling you. This will make you more intuitive. Check in with your body a few times a day and ask yourself, “what is my level of hunger right now?” Let the answer to that question guide when and how much you eat during your next meal or snack.
It is also worth mentioning that intuitive eaters may eat for reasons that are not related to physical hunger, and that is totally okay. Intuitive eating is not rigid, and we should not beat ourselves up if we sometimes eat because we are bored, lonely, or upset, or when food smells and looks good, or when we are at a social gathering. That is all part of having a healthy relationship with food.
With all of this in mind, you can start to embrace your hunger cues and listen to your body. Practice gratitude by reflecting on your amazing body and its ability to send signals that keep you alive and thriving!