Identify and Honor your Hunger
One of my favorite topics when working with clients is not the latest vitamin or food trend, and it’s definitely not calorie counting. In fact, it’s a basic human need for survival—hunger. Learning to identify and honor your hunger is an essential part of feeling energized, focused, and positive. It also happens to be an essential part of reconnecting with your body and healing your relationship with food.
We’ve all been there before: you get wrapped up with work or with kids and hours have passed since you've last had anything to eat. Before you know it you’re raiding the cabinets, eating whatever food is in front of you. Forget about carefully assessing what it is you’re in the mood for or preparing a meal or a snack and sitting down to enjoy it. When you are ravenously hungry, you may find yourself eating at a rapid pace, maybe even consuming food while standing up at the cabinet or refrigerator, eating directly out of a box, bag or container. When this happens, it’s common to overeat. When you learn to identify true hunger, eat to manage hunger levels, and honor your body when it is hungry, you’ll take in what your body needs, when it needs it and avoid possible excessive and erratic intake.
Think about a time where you went out to dinner feeling ravenous. The bread basket calls your name, and you’ve filled up on rolls before you even order your meal. When you sit down to a meal, it’s good to feel hungry, but not to the point of being famished. Going to a table overly hungry will only increase the likelihood of overeating. One of the best ways to prevent this is to have a strong understanding of your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and then learning how to respect and honor them.
The top three principles of hunger management include:
1. Identify foods that leave you feeling satisfied. Sweet? Salty? Crunchy? Savory? Cold? Hot? What is it that your body is seeking?
2. Differentiate between true physical hunger and an emotional desire to eat. Are you still feeling hungry after eating a balanced meal or snack? You may be eating out of an emotional response.
3. Learn when to stop eating once you're no longer hungry. Being able to feel truly satisfied with your intake, reaching a feeling of contentment is key. If you're hungry again soon after eating, you may not have had enough food or enough of the right balance of foods.
Simple enough, right? Like many things, these practices are easier said than done. Here are a few steps that you can take to help you move towards compassionate and successful hunger management:
Step 1 - Observe.
Keep a journal and note your hunger levels before and after your meal. Did the food satisfy you? Were you overly-full after eating it, or perhaps still hungry for more? How long did the food keep you full? Download our Hunger / Fullness scale including our pre-meal / post-meal challenge and log sheet HERE.
In this log, you may also identify how your environment influences what you eat, how fast you eat, and how much you eat. Do you eat differently while multi-tasking or watching TV? How about when you eat alone compared to when you eat with friends?
Step 2 - Aim for balanced meals and snacks
Generally speaking, you’ll be more satisfied if your meals and snacks contain adequate amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Each of these macronutrients has its own important roles and functions in the body, so it’s necessary to eat a balance of each.
Carbohydrates provide the preferred source of energy for the body, allowing it to work efficiently. Having protein and fats accompany carbohydrates slows the digestion of the snack. This will keep you fuller for longer, and also helps avoid any blood sugar spikes and crashes. Combining the three provides steady, reliable fuel that can keep you focused and energized. Need more help with this? Check out our Mindful Meal Planning Workbook #3 for more guidance and inspiration.
Here are some quick ideas to try that will offer you a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat:
Avocado toast: 1 slice of whole wheat bread toasted with sliced avocado. Sprinkle fresh pepper on top for a little added kick. Add some protein by adding a fried egg up a slice of tomato for some added antioxidants!
Olive Tapenade: Add ½ cup of your favorite black and green pitted olives, ½ cup of roasted red pepper, and 1 clove of garlic to a food processor. Pulse a few times until roughly chopped. Now you have a healthy, savory spread for toast, veggie sticks or egg dishes. Impress your friends at the next wine and cheese party with this tapenade!
Chia pudding/Overnight oatmeal: Mix 2 cups of milk or non-dairy beverage (Almond milk, soy milk, etc.) ½ cup of chia seeds, a dash of vanilla extract and maple syrup. Let sit overnight, the chia absorbs moisture from the milk and forms a tapioca-like texture and ¡Voila! You now have a nutrient packed pudding. Substitute oats for the chia and you have overnight oatmeal. Add berries for an extra antioxidant punch and/or chocolate chips and shredded coconut flakes if you are seeking something a bit more savory.
Frogs on a log: Yes, this classic balanced snack of nut butter spread on celery with raisins is a great snack to provide fuel during your day. Switch up the recipe by spreading almond butter on apples with dried cherries instead. Again, if you are looking for something a bit more savory, add some chocolate chips
Build your own trail mix: Add equal parts of assorted dried fruit, nuts and whole grain cereal, chocolate chips for a fuel packed snack!
Smoothie for one: Add handful of greens, ½ banana, handful of berries, 1 cup of almond milk to blender. Blend until well mixed. Switch the fruit or add avocado for a twist. Enjoy!
Banana Roll Ups: Spread thin layer of peanut or other nut butter on a slice of whole grain bread or wrap and top with sliced banana. Roll up and enjoy. This simple recipe sounds crazy, but it’s just as easy as it is delicious, we promise! Add a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds for a juicy punch or some dark chocolate shavings if you’re seeking something a bit more sweet.
(are you catching onto my love for chocolate yet?! Personally, this is what I need to feel satisfied so I add it to most things ;-)
Step 3: Pay extra attention to hunger and fullness sensation.
Stay present. Tuning into the eating experience and tuning out all extraneous distractions will help you connect to these signals your body is sending you.
Keep your food journal sheet handy and note your hunger, as explained above. If you haven't already done so, download the hunger and fullness gage and a log sheet we created for you to use HERE.
Avoid feeling rushed or distracted while you eat. This will allow you to be more in tune with how you’re feeling. Take your time to hone into the sensory experience of food intake. See our step-by-step guide to tuning into your senses in our Break up with dieting and Heal your Relationship with Food post.
Ask yourself these questions when keeping your hunger and fullness journal:
When was the last time I ate? Was it less than 2-3 hours ago? If yes, then was my meal balanced with carbohydrates, protein, and fat?
Am I really hungry, or do I want to eat out of habit?
Take a break. If you want to eat but can’t pinpoint if you’re hungry or not, give yourself a 10 minute pause. Get up and move around, have a drink of water, and re-assess if you’re truly hungry, or if you’re wanting to eat for some other reason (out of an emotional response like boredom or stress).
Ditch the diet principles. You can’t listen to the signals your body is sending you if you are always focusing on exact portion sizes or calorie amounts to determine what and how much you eat.
Avoid being distracted or rushed when eating. Taking a relaxed approach allows your body time to communicate with your brain’s feelings of satiety. With your food journal at hand, ask yourself the questions mentioned above about the types of food you ate, and your timing of meals and snacks. Assess how the foods you ate satisfied your hunger and made you feel. The more you log, the more accurate you can learn what works best for you.
Why should we tune into what our body is truly hungry for?
Not listening to internal hunger creates a disconnect between you and your body. We need to work towards being one with your body instead of fighting against it.
Being too hungry may lead to overeating, and overeating may lead to feelings of guilt or shame after intake. We can avoid this by tuning into our appetite and responding appropriately.
Tuning in and understanding what true hunger feels like can be challenging! If you’ve been caught up in a nasty cycle of dieting, you’ve likely suppressed these natural signals which can make it even harder for you to start feeling them again.
Many of my clients feel some emotional connection to the hunger also, which can keep them stuck in the grips of their eating disorder or disordered eating patterns. If this is how you are feeling please reach out - we can help you with this :)
Sometimes we think we’re still hungry when we’re really just not satisfied with our intake. Say you’re craving something salty and crunchy after lunch, for instance, but you choose to eat an orange instead of having chips. As a result, you may be left feeling unfulfilled or unsatisfied, which can then lead to you overeating when you do eventually give into what it is your body is telling you it needs. If you find that you’re not truly satisfied with your intake, you may be missing out on the “satisfaction factor,” which is an essential piece causing this hunger that makes up the fullness equation!
If you find that you’re never full after eating, this could be due to eating out of emotional hunger rather than physical hunger. Tuning into this and by keeping a hunger/fullness log should help you get a better understanding of what is driving your need for food.
Thinking you SHOULD be satisfied with your intake is a heck of a lot different than truly being satisfied with your intake. Make sure that what you are choosing is leaving you full, satisfied and not wondering when your next meal or snack will be coming.