Diet culture tells you you are in control of your hunger. That all you need is willpower and you can manage and even suppress this innate biological signal that was put in place for your own survival.
But like most messaging in diet culture, this is a fallacy. Ignoring your hunger does not make you strong or mean that you have an exceptional amount of willpower. Nor does it make you morally superior to those people who listen to, embrace and respond to their hunger (another falsehood diet culture likes to promote).
Let me say that if you have felt these things, you’re not alone (raising my hand over here!). We’re taught from an early age to fear being ‘too hungry’ (whatever that means), believe we’re ‘strong’ if we ignore our hunger and that we should turn our noses up at those who ‘just don’t care enough’ to ‘take care of themselves’ through diet and exercise.
The reality is that we were born with these innate hunger signals for our own survival and ignoring or trying to suppress them only makes your body believe it’s in famine – which essentially, puts it into panic mode. When the body believes it’s starving, intense biological signals are set off that create a powerful drive to eat (*see the below sidebar for more on this).
* When the body is deprived of needed fuel, there is a particular drive toward starchy, sugary carbohydrates. Not only are these foods digested quickly into glucose providing the body the fuel it needs quickly, but glucose is the exclusive fuel for the brain and nervous system.
If you’ve ever felt fatigue or brain fog when not eating enough, that’s because your brain and nervous system don’t have enough fuel to run properly. They slow down functioning in order to preserve whatever fuel they have. When that fuel finally runs out, the body begins breaking down your own muscle (heart, liver, lungs) in order to get the fuel it needs to continue baseline functioning. Think of your body like a car and food like the gas (or electric) you put in your car to make it go. You wouldn’t expect your car to run on empty, so you can’t expect your body to either.
Additionally, if you find the foods you’re most likely to ‘binge’ on or be ‘out of control’ with are starchy, sugary carbs, that’s why. It’s your body’s biology taking over from the external rules of diet culture and/or disordered eating in order to help itself survive and function.
Equally as important to consider is that it also sends the message to your body that it cannot trust you to respond to its most basic and essential needs to sustain life. The erosion of this trust is one of the biggest barriers to intuitive eating. Re-building it in order to have a settled and intuitive relationship to food & eating takes time, patience, self-compassion and a lot of unlearning with regards to diet culture’s backwards messaging.
Again, diet culture’s demonization of hunger is to blame here. We are made to feel like we’re meant to be managing our hunger for the sake of our health. But the reality is that we were created with hunger instincts in order to protect our body’s health and survival so the idea that we should be ignoring or somehow controlling those signals in order to promote health is just ludicrous. Every person was born with full permission to listen to, embrace and respond to their hunger signals guilt-free and every person deserves to maintain that.
The beauty of beginning to listen and respond to your hunger signals unabashedly is that it begins to rebuild that bridge of trust between you and your body. Once your body realizes that you’re not going to purposefully deny it the fuel it needs, it can shift itself back into neutral and just coast. It no longer has to be in overdrive sending constant SOS signals to try to get you to feed it.
There’s a calm and peacefulness to eating once you re-establish that trust and eating becomes easy. You no longer have to overthink whether you ‘can’ or ‘should’ be eating. You can trust your body to tell you when it needs food and it can trust you to respond when it does.
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