The Delicate Art of Responding to Your Hunger

hungerWhen we talk about eating when we’re hungry and stopping when we’re satisfied, it sounds so simple.

So why do so many of us have trouble doing this?

  • We frequently let ourselves get too hungry. And usually this results in eating so much we end up overly full.
  • Or we don’t wait to feel the hunger signals, and eat whenever we are stimulated from the outside world… we may see a Taco Bell commercial, (my husband’s favorite on Sunday evenings) and suddenly get an urge to eat.
  • Or we’re hungry, and eating, and we completely miss the signal that we’ve had enough. We focus on the food and how delicious it is. So we keep going until we are bursting and remorseful.

Why do these things happen when the instructions our bodies come with seem so simple… eat when you’re hungry and stop when you are satiated?

There are many reasons we’ve trained our bodies and brains to get off kilter. It’s no accident… it takes practice.

Here’s what can happen that can derail us:

When we are used to dieting we’re learning to eat according to a plan. Not our bodies’ plan, but someone else’s plan. So we learn to feel hungry but take it as a sign that our diet is working. We’re supposed to be hungry, right? And so we don’t respond to the hunger. We ride it out and power through it. Whoo hoo! Weight loss is around the corner! Or so we think.

But, eventually, our survival instincts click in. They are genetically installed in our brains to prevent us from starving. So when we’ve been hungry enough, for long enough, boom, we’re suddenly finding ourselves elbow deep in a bag of chips. We simply couldn’t resist anymore.

And then, as a result of this ‘near-starvation experience’ (to your brain, anyway!) you will overeat to make sure that you’re not in danger of starving again in the near future.

If you’ve been a dieter many times, and who hasn’t, then your survival instincts are permanently on high alert… so anytime we see food, smell food, or see someone else eating, we get an urge to get some. Quick.

We’re not really physically hungry, but this urge is strong.

And it can feel impossible to not obey it.

Thus, compulsive eating and binge eating are born.

Or, let’s say you try to always eat ‘perfectly’… whatever that means to you. No carbs. No sugar. No fat… (What ARE you eating??)

And after a while of doing this, your body will drive you right up to the fattiest, sweetest, and starchiest treats you’ve ever seen.

And it will make sure you get more than your share.

Because you’ve been depriving yourself. And that old survival instinct in your lower brain simply can’t be fooled.

When you have been depriving yourself and you finally give yourself some of the ‘forbidden’ foods, you won’t be able to stop.

It’s as if you have switched on something in your brain that is going for it… way past satisfied, way past full, all the way to grossly overstuffed.

It feels terrible, and you feel like you’ve been possessed.

So what’s the remedy?

How do we actually get ourselves to eat when we’re a little hungry, and stop when we’re a little full?

Take a look at my hunger scale.

Your goal is to wait for a little hunger. A little emptiness. It’s a signal. You might have conditioned yourself to feel panic along with hunger. There is nothing to worry about. If you are reading this, most likely you don’t have to worry about starving. When you feel the slight hunger, just notice it, and begin to think about where your next meal is coming from.

If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy knowing ahead of time where that next meal is coming from.

And this means planning, shopping and maybe doing a little bit of prep work. It’s ok. This is part of taking care of yourself.

Did you ever watch a mother traveling with her children? She probably has a bag bigger than one of the kids, filled with all kinds of food… snacks, drinks, fruit, maybe even whole meals.  You deserve this same treatment… getting your hunger needs met easily.

For now, just know that the hunger you feel doesn’t require panic. Just planning.

When you eat, the goal is to be awake… so you can tell when your stomach is near filling up in a comfortable, light way.

And then you can stop.

There will be more next time.

You’ll definitely enjoy it more when you’re hungry again.

And so it will go… a little hungry, to a little full.

Never starving, never stuffed.

It really is simple.

It’s just that we’ve trained ourselves out of this wonderful survival mechanism… and we can retrain ourselves back into it.

No panic required. No remorse either.

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