Part of the Eating with Intention Series

Principle II: Honoring Your Hunger

In the previous article, we looked at the counter-cultural concept of rejecting the diet mentality. It should be said that for most, fully rejecting the diet mentality is something that unfolds slowly over time. When we’ve operated in the world with external rules for dieting, the thought of letting go feels a bit too risky, maybe even foolish. When we feel out of control with our food we tend to look to measurements and rules to keep us safe, to give us boundaries that evoke feelings of being in control.

Oh, control. Aren’t there so many things we wish we could control and yet cannot? When it comes to the biological processes of our bodies, control (unfortunate as it may seem) is often an illusion. We want to think we are in control of things like whether or not we develop cancer, or even a common cold. While we can work to build our immunity and reduce our chances of developing illness, ultimately, our biology will call the shots.

What if instead of working to control our bodies, we thought about working with our bodies?

While we can’t have perfect control, we do have endless opportunities to honor our body’s cues. When we begin to train our conscious brain to respond to our body by listening carefully and tending to those needs, something wonderful begins to happen…we engage in a dynamic relationship with our bodies. Our bodies have biological drives that consistently ask for good things like movement, rest, sex, and yes…food.

Tribole and Resch speak of honoring our body cues by naming the phenomena of “introceptive awareness”, namely, our body’s powerful, innate ability to perceive physical sensations. Hunger, satiety, a rapid heartbeat, and a full bladder all fall into this dynamic concept of introceptive awareness.

You might be thinking, “Well what if my body is cuing me to a dozen donuts, then what?” Believe it or not, there’s a lot to unravel in this sentence, which I’ll speak to more in later articles, but for now, imagine your body in each of these two scenarios:

Scenario I: You’ve consumed two cups of coffee and a glass of water before 9am, and it’s now 10:00am. Where might your body be telling you to go right about now?

Scenario II: You’ve had a long day at work, skipped lunch, and you are doubly proud of yourself for refusing your co-worker’s birthday cake. Since your back has been aching, you’d promised yourself a trip to the gym, but now you’re feeling a headache and just too tired. Driving home, you see a donut shop drive-thru (and donuts are your thing). Where might your body be telling you to go right now?

These are different scenarios aren’t they? Scenario I calls for a straight, simple response…go to the bathroom…while scenario II is a bit foggier. An over-hungry, exhausted, and restricted body is totally lost…it’s cues have gone unanswered all day, and suddenly donuts seem like a good idea—but not because that’s what the body is cuing. Several other factors are going on there.

When our bladders are full, we respond by making our way to the restroom, and yet we never judge ourselves for having a full bladder (as far as I know). And yet, we do often find ourselves putting this judgment into our eating i.e.; “No snacks between meals” or “No carbs.” These become obstacles that we must defeat with our willpower rather than honor with nurturing. With these kinds of rules and anxieties around food, slowly, we chip away at our ability to hear and answer and ultimately honor our body’s hunger and fullness.

Tribole and Resch write, “Eating is truly a mind-body experience…a variety of biological signals that trigger eating. What many people believe to be a matter of willpower is instead, a biological drive…through a complex system of chemicals and neural feedback, the brain monitors the energy needs of all of our body systems, moment to moment. And it makes very emphatic chemical directives as to what we should eat.”

Our bodies do know what they need when it comes to hunger and fullness and our conscious brains have the capacity to honor these cues with care and nurturing.

So how does one move from the confusion about what and how to eat, to honoring our hunger?

If our hunger and satiety cues have been dormant for a while due to patterns of dieting and disordered eating, we’ll need to work at reviving them. Just like a patient with muscle atrophy can re-learn to walk—we can learn to re-engage the capacity that we already have. Simply put, we practice paying attention, releasing judgment, and responding accordingly. We practice responding to introceptive and emotional awareness. We strengthen these connections by acknowledging obstacles keeping us from attunement with our body. We identify and rate hunger and fullness, and we develop holistic plans for nourishment. These elements work together to usher us on the path that isn’t necessarily comfortable or easy, but so worth the freedom that comes with the work of honoring our hunger, and our bodies.

If you’re interested in learning about more principles of intuitive eating, check back for more of this weekly article series.

Source: Tribole, E, Resch, E. Intuitive Eating. New York: St. Martins Griffin 2015. Print

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