Often one of the first challenges faced in healing one’s relationship with food is unlearning the cultural conditioning we received from childhood. This conditioning is typically created by well-intentioned parents, encouraging us to eat when we are not hungry, when something isn’t appetizing, and to eat just a few more bites (even when we are full). The messaging is meant to keep us alive by way of ensuring we get enough calories and enough variety in our diets. Unfortunately, the result is typically that we are taught to ignore our hunger signals.
In adulthood this disconnection from our hunger signals can lead to under and overeating and/or eating in a way that causes discomfort, out of control feelings and shame. When we clean our plate because that was what we are taught, we can experience everything from mild bloating and discomfort, to slowing our digestion and pain. Or the opposite, we may be under eating… just because the plate was full and we ate the whole thing doesn’t mean we will be full or satisfied by it.
My clients come to me because they are seeking a different relationship with food. We always discuss whether they know when they are hungry, when they are full and whether they honor their hunger. Most often, the answer is no. As busy women (moms, professionals, entrepreneurs), we are taught a very different message than we received when we were children. Now the message is, your hunger is not a priority and/or is bad and should be ignored. If we are considered “overweight” by society or by our own standards, we might even curse our hunger signals or go to extreme measures to suppress them. Such as appetite suppressants, caffeine, nicotine, vagal nerve surgery and gastric bypass surgery. The more we try to restrict food, the stronger the message to eat becomes. In fact, as shown in a 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine our appetite and hunger signals are increased for up to a year after dieting. Restriction over time leads to a pendulum swing and we invariably eat many more calories than we typically would have.
From my own personal experience, my hunger signals get louder and louder until I listen! I am much more likely to eat in a way that feels out of control when I haven’t fed myself enough throughout the day. I’ve learned to look at patterns and circumstances surrounding eating that feels out of control. I examine what happened- before, during and after eating. Looking at it without judgement has motivated me to make my hunger (and satisfaction) a priority. I now listen to those messages and am grateful for them.
In the intuitive eating model, developed by by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, Fiaedp, FADA, FAND, honoring your hunger is the second principle introduced. The hunger scale can be a great way to begin to help us to get back in touch with the messages our bodies are trying to give us. We learn what each level of hunger feels like to us, how long it takes to get from one level of hunger to the next, how a few more bites can impact our comfort level and digestion after a meal and more. We learn to feed ourselves before we are “hangry”. We learn how soon we will be hungry after eating based on what fullness level we ate to. We also start to differentiate between eating for hunger and eating for other reasons, such as schedule/convenience, pleasure/celebration/fun, as a response to stress or being overtired, and for soothing purposes.
Learning how to reconnect with our hunger signals is a great way to ease into learning about our body’s messages and opens the door to healing our relationship with food. If you are not already using the hunger scale and would like to get more in touch with your body’s signals, I hope you will be inspired to begin today. I’ve created my own fun and colorful take on the hunger scale, click here to get your free copy now!
PS- I’m writing this at lunch time and it’s making me hungry! Hmmm, I’m at a 3, better run and get some foooooodd! lol
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The first step to healing your relationship with food is reconnecting with the signals your body gives you. One of the ways to do that is by checking in with your hunger before you eat. Here's my spin on the traditional hunger scale..