But there’s actually a step in between those two: learning to honor your hunger without judgment.
So, once you’ve made peace with food (meaning you understand there are no good and bad foods, you’ve stopped judging the foods you eat or are craving and have liberalized your diet to include all foods) and in order to truly lean into satisfaction & pleasure, you need to make peace with your hunger.
If you often say or think “I’m so hungry today, what is wrong with me?” or “I can’t possibly be hungry yet, I just ate” or “I ate that entire bowl, how can I still want more?” or if you just generally feel scared or intimidated by your hunger, then this post is for you.
As with most of things when working to break free from diet culture, this seems somewhat straightforward at the outset, but putting it into practice can be a whole lot trickier.
For one, when trying to work towards a more peaceful relationship with food, we’re still unfortunately surrounded by toxic diet culture messaging and unfortunately, the mantra of diet culture is ‘eating less is better.’ From ways to ‘trick’ our hunger to ‘volumetric eating’ as a way to fill up on less, the ‘less is better’ message is constantly reinforced. (And not to spoil things, but, it’s all garbage – your body knows how much energy it needs to function at its best, and ultimately really can’t be ‘tricked’ into eating less).
So not only is that floating around in the back of your mind (again, showcasing the importance of breaking free from the diet mindset in order to heal your relationship with food & body), but on top of that, we know that restriction messes with our hunger cues.
We’ve talked about how both deprivation backlash and the diet-rebound cycle explain the way in which restriction leads to ‘rebound eating’ (eating to make up for restriction & deprivation). The more we restrict and deprive ourselves, the harder it becomes to feel even-keeled when we actually do eat. This then creates an intense fear of hunger because hunger leads us to want to eat and eating feels chaotic.
Similar to the diet-rebound cycle, this fear of hunger becomes cyclical. We restrict, which sets off feelings of chaotic eating, which causes us to fear our hunger, so we try to gain ‘control’ through more restriction, which only puts us right back at the beginning of the cycle.
In the past I’ve written about the fact that these feelings of chaotic eating are actually your body trying to survive, not betray you. You body doesn’t know you’re purposely withholding energy or certain foods in attempts to shrink yourself or ‘improve your health.’ All it knows is that when it signals for food, it’s not getting it.
When the body believes it’s starving, intense biological signals are set off that create a powerful drive to eat. In many cases what may seem like a binge to you, is often just your body making up for needed energy and/or nutrients. It may feel like a lot of food and it may even make you feel uncomfortably full (especially if you’ve been restricting), but it very likely could be just the right amount of food in order for your body to function well.
Again, for all your body knows, you’re in a famine and it needs to get all it can while food is available. One hint that the deprivation dam has broken and it’s going to send every signal off that it can to get you to eat, eat, eat. It wants you to survive and thrive and providing your body with the appropriate amount of energy to allow that to happen is all it’s concerned with.
This is why learning to make peace with your hunger is so important. Every time you respect your body’s call for food without judgment, it builds trust. Every time you reject an external food rule in favor of your body’s internal signals, you strengthen that bridge of trust that was so broken by diet culture.
Again, you don’t need to be (and won’t be) perfect at doing this, it will take time and you will have slips where you let the diet mentality rule, but every positive experience you’re able to offer your body of listening to and honoring its requests will add up. Eventually, your body will begin to realize it can trust you will feed it when its hungry and it will start to relax. As a result, your body will stop sending off alarm bells at every eating opportunity, making the whole experience of eating feel calmer.
The Bottom Line: Honoring your hunger is the act that will allow you to get out of the diet rebound cycle, stop fearing your appetite and help you to not only enjoy, but gain pleasure and satisfaction from your eating experiences.0