Intuitive Eating: Listening to Inner Hunger Cues

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Intuitive eating, aka mindful eating is a pretty hot topic these days. Intuitive eating creates a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body. It allows you to become completely in tune with yourself as a whole. It teaches you how to distinguish between actual hunger and the emotional feelings that may be fueling your food fire. Do you ever wonder why children seem to have such an easier time refusing food or leaving half a cup of uneaten ice cream in their bowl? This is because we are all born with the innate ability to eat until we are full. Unfortunately, over time, many of us have unlearned this behavior. How often do you overeat and feel uncomfortably stuffed because the food was just TOO good?! I know this happens to me all the time!! So how do we relearn our childhood behavior? Lots and lots of practice! Mindful eating requires lots of hard work and diligence for most of us!

The basic idea of intuitive eating is learning how to recognize and respond to your inner hunger cues. It’s also a process of making peace with food so that you no longer have constant “food worry” thoughts. It’s realizing that your health and your worth as a person do not change, because you ate a food that may be considered “bad” or “fattening”. This may sound like an easy thing to do, but it is rather complex. “Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full” may sound like common sense but it can be quite difficult. Our “inner cues” are often misheard, or simply ignored due to our cultural habits. We all know that food is a huge part of our society. Besides dining out, where else do we spend the majority of our time with friends or family? Food will always be all around us. Instead of running from it, or in some cases, running to it, we need to learn how to include it into our lives in a healthy manner.

For those of us who need help returning to our “intuitive eater” state, here is a list of principles from the book Intuitive Eating that will help you learn how to trust yourself and become an intuitive eater.

Intuitive Eating Principles

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working. Learn what healthy eating truly looks like. Consuming as few calories as possible does not equal health and is actually very harmful to the body.

2. Honor Your Hunger

Keep your body fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates (Don’t listen to the myth that carbohydrates are bad. Our diet should consist of 45-65% complex carbs as our brain uses strictly carbohydrate as fuel). If your body is not supplied with adequate calories or carbs, this can trigger a drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are thrown out the window. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

3. Make Peace with Food

Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in a “Last Supper” overeating, and overwhelming guilt.

4.Challenge the Food Police

Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating under 1000 calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The “food police” monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative comments, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking thoughts. Chasing the food police away is a critical step in returning to intuitive eating.

5. Respect Your Fullness

Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or snack and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level? On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is starvation and 10 is overwhelming fullness, you should stop eating when you reach about a 7.

6. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food

Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own cure. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.

7. Respect Your Body

Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as silly (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are.

8. Exercise

Feel the Difference. Get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning jog or hitting the snooze alarm.

9. Honor Your Health

Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly develop a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.

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