diving into the most important aspects of making peace with hunger
Before I begin this post, I first want to take moment to acknowledge that there is extreme privilege in being able to make peace with and honor your hunger. Experiencing food insecurity makes much of the process of intuitive eating really difficult. If you have or are currently experiencing food insecurity I want to offer you compassion not only for going through that but for the interference it has likely had on your ability to enjoy a calm and stress-free relationship with food. I also want to remind you to offer yourself that same compassion for that experience.
This week’s reminder discussed the importance of honoring your hunger without judgment.
We discussed how ignoring or suppressing hunger messes with our internal cues and severs trust between us and our bodies, all of which interfere with our ability to enjoy a calm relationship with food and eating.
So now that we know the harm favoring external food rules over our inner body wisdom causes, I want to take a look at the critical tenets of making peace with your hunger. Understanding these important aspects will help make it easier to honor your hunger without judgment, no matter how, when or why it shows up.
Allow Yourself to Be Satisfactorily Fed.
This is basically a wordy way of saying, allow yourself to eat enough food to feel satisfied.
Diet culture likes to dictate what, when, why and how much we eat. We know that these external rules around food wreak havoc on our mental and physical health, not to mention distance us from our innate cues.
In order to make peace with your hunger, you need to give yourself permission to be satisfactorily fed. This means, feeling free to eat what you want or need in the amount you want or need, whenever you want or need, in order to feel both physically and mentally satisfied. Only your body and brain knows what this amount is and it will change day to day, meal to meal, moment to moment.
Notice that I mentioned mental satisfaction. Our body and brain will often put food at the forefront of our minds when deprived of what they need. If you feel consumed by thoughts of food, it’s likely there is some deprivation present. The only way to stop these intrusive thoughts is to be satisfactorily fed.
Will this be something that comes easy? No. Especially if you are used to restricting or controlling your intake. However, each time you have an eating experience where you feed yourself as much as you need and want, you build trust between you and your body. With each eating experience where you walk away satisfactorily fed, that bond of trust grows stronger. This is so important as the more your body trusts that it will have what it needs, the less it will panic and go into overdrive.
The importance of having enough food – not diet culture’s version of ‘enough,’ but truly enough food to feel satisfied and content – cannot be overstated when it comes to making peace with your hunger. When you know you’ll be able to have enough when you sit down to eat, it makes feeling and honoring hunger a lot less scary. Not only is your body calmer when it’s appropriately fed, but you no longer have to worry about trying to fill up on the measly amount dictated to you by diet culture.
If you’ve restricted so much that you’ve lost touch with your hunger cues, work to eat consistent meals and snacks throughout the day (every 2-3 or 3-4 hours), even in the absence of those signals.
This will help to rebuild trust between you and your body and eventually, once your body realizes it can trust you to feed it, you’ll start to feel and recognize those cues again.
Avoid Extreme Hunger.
Food often tastes better when we’re hungry. Have you ever had an instance where you got really busy and by the time you got a moment to sit and eat you scarfed whatever you could get your hands on?
As a method of survival, our body increases pleasure signals in response to eating when it feels it has been deprived of what it needs. This ensures that when we finally have access to food, we take advantage of it! The body works not only make up for the deprivation experienced, but to safeguard against a future experience of deprivation. This is why extreme hunger and deprivation often lead to feelings of out of control eating. The body goes into overdrive the moment food touches our lips sending off every signal it can to get you to eat, eat, eat. Remember, the body wants you to survive and thrive, which means making sure you get enough food to do so.
So, avoiding extreme hunger is a good way to ensure a calmer eating experience, which again, makes honoring those hunger signals a lot less scary. The body doesn’t feel this pressing need to drive us to eat everything in sight when it feels like it has what it needs and can trust it will get more when it signals.
If you’re someone who easily gets caught up in the day and/or often eats only when you absolutely can’t ignore your hunger anymore, try setting a reminder on your phone to take a break and eat every 2-3 hours. Keep things on hand that are easy to grab so you can eat them and get back to your day.
It can also be helpful to start paying attention to your more subtle hunger cues (fatigue, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, thinking about food, etc.). These are easier to push away then say, a ferociously grumbling stomach (especially when we’re busy) but beginning to tune into and respond to them is helpful when trying to avoid that ravenous state.
Respond to Hunger without Judgment.
We know that judging our food choices as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ harms our health, and the same is true for passing judgment on our hunger.
Think of how silly it would seem to deny yourself a drink of water because it made you feel ‘bad’ or ‘guilty’ to respond your body’s thirst cues. Imagine holding off on running to the bathroom when your body signals it needs to go because you felt like you’d already gone ‘too much’ that day or it wasn’t the ‘right time’ to go.
Considering these scenarios might make us laugh, but what I hope it showcases is that diet culture has demonized certain internal signals (hunger, fullness, exhaustion) because they found a way to make money off doing so.
The idea that somehow, we should have ‘control’ over these signals when we would never expect ourselves to do that with other, just as benign, bodily cues is ludicrous if you really think about it. Yet somehow, diet culture has managed to permeate our intelligent society with that exact message. It has made us all turn some of our most important innate cues into the enemy, making us not only believe we cannot trust them, but need to work to suppress, control and ‘tame’ them. All of this, as you can imagine, causes us to feel a whole lot of judgment when these signals don’t act in line with how diet culture tells us they ‘should’ behave.
Again, I will say, our bodies are set up to help us survive and thrive. The signals they send us are not indulgent, but rather the result of an innate need that will help us to function at our best.
As we know, when these signals go unanswered, our bodies don’t just move on and forget the need, they press harder to get us to respond. And it is this, our ignoring an innate need followed by the body’s subsequent response to help us get it, that puts us in situations that feel chaotic with food. Not lack of control, willpower, or sticktoitiveness, as diet culture likes to tell us.
There are a whole host of reasons why you might be more hungry one day versus another and only our bodies know what they need. When we start judging our hunger based on external rules that dictate how hungry we should be, the trust between ourselves and our bodies gets eroded. And we know that when our bodies can’t trust us, they panic and this panic is the jumping off point to an incredibly fraught relationship with food and eating.
Things go wrong when we judge and respond to our bodily cues based off external rules made up by diet culture, not when we fail to ‘control’ them.
Responding to and honoring our hunger regardless of when, how or why it presents is key to enjoying a peaceful relationship with food. It is only when we lean into respecting and honoring our hunger just as it is, that our bodies begin to trust us and can relax.
Consider the ways in which you might be suppressing or ignoring your hunger. Review what you came up with and see if you can come up with solutions to break those patterns.
A couple things to note:
1. To be clear, making peace with your hunger is not about finding some ‘correct’ level of hunger to eat at. That’s taking this aspect of intuitive eating and turning it into a food rule. Instead, this is about learning not to fear hunger when it pops up and reminding ourselves that it’s okay to eat whatever amount of food satisfies us whenever we feel hungry to ensure we’re satisfactorily fed at all times.
2. Just as we want to reminder ourselves that it’s also okay to eat when we feel hunger, it’s just as important to know that it’s okay to eat at times when we don’t feel physical hunger too. There are a number of things that might cause one to eat in the absence of hunger (a celebration, dealing with a hard emotion, boredom, taking part in a new food experience we don’t want to miss out on, because we know we won’t be able to eat again for a while, because we’re having trouble accessing our hunger signals, etc.) and there is nothing wrong with that. Again, making peace with your hunger is not creating a new rule to eat by, it’s about permission to eat as much as you want and need whenever you want and need anytime, for any reason.
The Bottom Line: Making peace with and honoring your hunger is an essential act of self-care that is stripped away from us as a result of living in diet culture. In order to enjoy a peaceful relationship with food, we must reclaim our right to honor our hunger anytime, anywhere, for any reason, without judgment.
Note: This post does not apply to anyone with an active eating disorder. Eating disorders can severely interfere with hunger/fullness cues making them unreliable and thus worsening the eating disorder and overall health. If you are currently suffering from an eating disorder, I recommend working through the principles of intuitive eating with a trained IE therapist who specializes in eating disorder treatment. Find a list of counselors here.1