In my private practice as well as online I encourage and teach people to listen to their own body’s cues when I comes to food and what’s right for them. It’s about turning away from the external ‘rules’ and ‘shoulds’ of the diet-industry and beginning to tune into what it it that your unique body actually needs and wants. Part of this is re-learning how to read hunger-cues.
For many, it’s been a very long time since they have experienced real hunger. In fact, non-hunger eating is often the main driver to consume food throughout most of our days. It could be because of emotional triggers such as boredom or sadness, or it could be simply eating because it’s lunchtime or finishing off our plate to somehow save some starving children in a foreign country.
Learning to listen to hunger and fullness by simply pausing and asking “Am I Hungry” is a powerful instinctive eating tool and is often all one needs to completely change their relationship wth food and non-hunger eating.
But, what happens when we receive mixed messages? What about those times when we ‘know’ we shouldn’t be hungry because we’ve just ate and yet the overwhelming desire to eat is still nagging? There are some really powerful physical (and not so physical) triggers and situations in general that can scew our body’s hunger-fullness signals and being aware of these can help us to make informed decisions around whether or not we’d still like to eat.
Our body is clever but has a limited vocabulary at times. Sometimes we have a strong urge to put something in our mouths when really the need is thirst rather than hunger. Imagine you’ve just had a big lunch before heading to the beach. Shortly after arriving and enjoying some sun, you pass an ice cream vendor. You know you’re not hungry but you have an overwhelming urge to consume something – in particular, ice cream. If you can simply pause and ask “Am I Hungry” you may find that you’re mouth is dry or other symptoms of thirst are present. Have a drink of water, wait, and ask yourself if you still really want the ice cream. If you do, go for it! But more often than not, it was the thirst that was calling out for moisture.
Did you know that our appetite increases by 25% when we’re tired? Sometimes, nothing seems to sustain us, and we’re often craving things that will energise us (namely, carbs and coffee). By recognising that this hunger isn’t genuine, that your body actually needs rest, you can then be in charge of your next move regardless of what it may be.
For women in particular, there is often a time of the month where our cravings and hunger go a bit awol to say the least. Hunger increases by 17% when leading up to and sometimes during our period. We beat ourselves up for over eating and craving (and consuming) chocolate and other treats. Truth is, our body needs the extra energy it is calling out for and so during those times the best course is to simply listen and pay attention to our body’s needs. If you’re hungry eat! Enjoy a variety of nutrients and even some soul food and know that as always, it will all balance itself out the following week.
4. Blood Sugars:
Sometimes a dip in our blood sugars can produce an overwhelming urge to eat. We feel light headed, dizzy, fatigued, and just a little bit ‘hangry!’ and yet we just ate an hour ago! My own experience with this wasn’t enjoyable, I’d panic if I didn’t have food at my side 24-7 and was constantly needing to refuel. Sometimes some tweaks to our diet can help manage these highs and lows, I know it certainly did for me and I’d be happy to discuss this with you if you find you’re riding the roller coaster like I did.
Imagine your body as a survival machine (which it essentially is). If your cortisol is raised and you’re in a state of stress whether it’s acute or chronic, your body is going to want to accumulate and store energy to protect itself from this unknown danger. Stress is a powerful hunger initiator and so recognising what is triggering the stress and coming up with an alternative to sooth other than food is going to help to make some lasting changes and help you feel more in charge of your eating.
So, go back to the original question in these situations and ask “Am I Hungry?”. Practice listening to and identifying genuine signs of hunger (gnawing, grumbling, emptiness etc) and check in to see if something else is motivating your desire to eat. Remember though, you always have the choice to eat. Even if you’re not hungry – but doing so will not always sooth the underlying urge and those pesky cravings will continue to rear their heads.
If you feel like you may need a bit more support with this, my Empowered Eating Course is a great start. Get in touch and see how it can help.