Because I restricted food, one of the first intuitive eating principles I decided to tackle was honoring my hunger. Although apprehensive, I told myself that I would eat when I was hungry. It seemed easy enough. I’m hungry; therefore, I eat. It wasn’t that simple though. Because I denied myself food for so long and was used to being famished, the subtle feelings of hunger were completely foreign to me. Although I was born with the ability to identify hunger, I had to put some genuine effort into hearing those signals again.
It took me about 6 months or so to feel like I was somewhere in the ballpark of being able to consistently identify my hunger. Initially, I would sometimes miss my hunger cues because I was just out practice. After a while, I started to be more in sync with what my stomach was telling me and I began to recognize gentle signs of hunger.
IE newcomers often ask about identifying hunger. After years of dieting, hunger cues can be elusive at first and it may take some time for them to be restored.1 Here are some things to keep in mind if you are a newcomer trying to honor your hunger:
- Hunger pangs are just one possible hunger cue. These are other sensations that you might feel. Or maybe you feel hunger in a way that’s not listed here. Everyone is different. If these sensations start to come up for you, remember that this doesn’t mean you have to eat at that very second. Maybe you do if the sensations are intense. If not, your body is just telling you will need food in the near future.
- feeling faint
- stomach pain
- thinking about food
- empty feeling in stomach
- feeling lightheaded
- low energy
- problems concentrating
- shakiness or weakness
- feeling irritable, grumpy, or cranky
- stomach growling, gurgling, or rumbling
- Check in regularly at first. I’m was bit of a workaholic and would get so wrapped up in what I was doing that I would accidentally ignore my hunger signals. When I finally would take a breather, I’d be ravenous without realizing how I had gotten to that point. I started to check in with myself regularly and see where I was in terms of my hunger. I used the dismissal bells at the school I worked at, but setting a timer on my phone for every hour or so would have worked well too.2
- Do a body scan. I still use a body scan technique I picked up when I started to meditate. It helps me determine if I’m actually hungry or not by focusing on my body’s sensations. Then I can figure out my hunger level and if my desire for food is physical or emotional.
- Use the hunger chart. This hunger chart was a good guide for me when I was just starting out. Because hunger is a continuous spectrum, sometimes I wasn’t at a 4 exactly but more like a 3.5. The exact number was not something that I dwelled on, but it helped me be more aware of the subtler aspects of hunger. Happily, it became second nature after a while and I no longer use this chart.
- Sometimes hunger needs a kickstart. As odd as it sounds, I will sometimes eat a little something and then realize how hungry I am. It’s like a small bit of food kickstarts my desire to eat even though I thought I wasn’t very hungry. If it has been several hours since the last time I ate, I will have something small like a few grapes or some nuts to see if any hunger shows up.
- Hunger cues are suppressed sometimes. Although there are many reasons that I may have a loss of appetite, exercise and strong emotions like anxiety and stress are the top two for me. During and immediately after I exercise, my hunger is nowhere to be found.3 Strong emotions can mess with my hunger too. When my father got sick and died, I just wasn’t hungry because my focus was on him and my emotions.4
- Think of this as an experiment! I got so used to diets telling me what and when to eat that I was hesitant in trusting my body. I relaxed a bit and began to see playing with my hunger as an experiment. I began to ask myself questions such as “How does it feel if I’m hungry but I decide to wait a little while to eat?” or “What about if I decide to eat now?” Combining this with the hunger chart really helped me understand the finer points of hunger.
- Hunger makes food taste good. I used to fear hunger because hunger meant that I would consume calories and calories would make me fat. Once I began to appreciate hunger, I saw the wisdom in the saying “hunger is the best sauce”. A healthy amount of hunger makes everything taste a little bit better!5
Because I ignored my hunger cues for so long, they were completely out of whack. Over time, I was able to regain a sense of what subtle hunger felt like and respond to it. Once I felt comfortable with hunger, I was able to tackle more daunting principles such as giving myself permission to eat and making peace with food.
If recognizing hunger is a challenge for you at the moment, realize that it takes time. Be patient and kind to yourself as you work through this. Don’t worry though. Your body is smart and will speak to you. You just have to practice listening to it!6
How does your body tell you you’re hungry? How long did it take you to figure this out? Please share in the comment section below.
1But how much time? Check out my article “How Long Does It Take To Become an Intuitive Eater?” for more on this!
2This was tedious at first, but my reliance on it faded as I got more in touch with my hunger cues.
3But my hunger hits me eventually!
4And if you’re an emotional eater, that’s okay too. Own it!
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
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Podcast Version: Hunger? Is That You?