Updated: Mar 2
Did you know that years of dieting can dull your senses and your ability to feel hunger?
The second principle of Intuitive Eating is all about tuning into your body signals of hunger.
Have you ever had a busy day at work with little time to eat, then after work you feel famished and want to eat the whole fridge? And when you start eating, you feel like you just cannot stop?
If you have experienced this, it was probably because all day you had been ignoring your biological hunger ; And hunger is not something to be ignoring. It is a normal biological process. If you ignore it or override it, then there are consequences. Just like if you ignore your urge to urinate, you will eventually pee yourself; Ignoring hunger overtime causes a reaction which is usually overeating or binge eating.
This is because hunger is our primal instinctive signal to eat, it is part of being human. Your brain needs to ensure that you always have enough food and it does this by releasing hunger hormones when energy supplies get a bit low. These hormones cause the onset of gentle hunger signals. If you try to override these initial feelings of hunger and don’t eat, your body reacts and releases more hormones. That’s when hunger signals start to become more intense and overwhelming. It is the start of intense food cravings that can leave you feeling out of control around food.
The more you deny and ignore your biological hunger, the more intense your food cravings and food obsessions can become. Overeating, binge eating, intense food cravings, and out of control eating behaviours are not about a lack of willpower; they are simply symptoms of food deprivation or what we call the starvation syndrome. The starvation syndrome was first recognised by the famous Minnesota starvation study by Dr. Ancel Keys during World War II. It found that some of the effects of calorie restriction, or semi-starvation were food obsessions, food cravings, together with overeating or bingeing on foods. Simply put, restrict your food intake, override hunger and you will end up overeating.
So, start to ask yourself, are you are numb to your hunger signals? Do you ever feel hungry? If yes, what does hunger feel like to you? Do you only feel the intense overwhelming type of hunger that drives you to overeat? If this sounds like you, then you have probably lost your ability to notice the subtle and gentle signals of onset hunger. If you cannot feel hunger anymore, or you only know extreme hunger, then maybe it’s time to start to reconnect with your hunger signals again?
Reconnecting with your hunger
There is a simple way to start to reconnect with you hunger. Firstly, stop being afraid of hunger- that’s just something dieting or fasting has taught you- and then start to pay attention to hunger in your body and how it feels. Before you start to eat, ask yourself, how hungry are you? How can you tell you are hungry? What sensations do you have? Where are you feeling these sensations, in your head, in your stomach, in your body? For example, ask yourself, do you feel lightheaded? do you have stomach rumblings, do you feel tired?
Here is a list of some things that you may experience when you are getting hungry. It is important to note that everyone’s experience is different;
Nausea Faint Blurred vision Irritable
Gnawing in stomach Light headed Dizzy Fatigue
As you begin eating, notice how these signals change. As you begin to get full, notice how it feels to get full. If you pay close attention you can feel your stomach stretching as you eat the food. Can you feel when the hunger sensations have gone away? Do you have any new sensations like the feeling of satisfaction? What does this feel like? What does it feel like to be neutral, neither hungry nor full? Begin to journal these feelings and see if you can rank them in a hunger-fullness scale of 1-10; 1 being absolutely famished and 10 being totally stuffed. This will be a gradual process of exploration for you, and as you pay attention, you will be surprised at what you notice.
If you would like to learn more about Intuitive Eating and how to get started, contact us at our clinic. We do face to face and skype consulations.
Check out our next blog in this series. Principle # 3. Make Peace with Food
References Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012) Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
Keys, A., Brozek, J., Henschel, A., Mickelsen, O., & Taylor, H. L., The Biology of Human Starvation (2 volumes), University of Minnesota Press, 1950.
Image by StoryTime Studio
**Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes.