This post in the Intuitive Eating Series might be my most favorite because it is one that breaks several societal norms and involves lots of science. Society tells us eating after 7 causes weight gain, that we should drink a glass of water before eating so we feel “more full”, and only eat when the clock allows despite what our hunger is telling us. What all these lies society have in common is that they all teach us to deny our biological hunger. To deny a cue that is so important it helps tell us when we need more fuel to survive and function at our prime. The following is a little about what denying hunger does to the body. No fluff- just some information.
I don’t know about you but when I’m hungry I can’t think straight, all I can think about is food, and my body starts letting me know- lowering my energy, making my tummy growl, and initiating my “I’m pissed off” mood. That’s all normal! Somewhere along the road in society we were taught that hunger is bad and feeling this wonderful, natural, cue is something to be denied.
Denying hunger eventually leads to overeating or chaotic eating. It’s not a matter of willpower, its a matter of pure biology. Your physical deprivation triggers a cascade of hormones and thoughts that inevitably initiate eating out of what is eventually primal hunger if you have been depriving yourself slightly for days or weeks or just out right not eating for 5+ hours. Some of this could be due to the restrict binge cycle- or it could just be pure hunger. Even intuitive eaters who forget their snacks or get caught up in their day can get to the point of primal hunger- myself included.
Denying this hunger sets you and your body up for a pretty poor relationship. Your body says “I’m hungry” and if you say “too bad… gotta wait 2 more hours till it’s “time” to eat” that lets your body know that it can’t tryst you to feed it. As a survival mechanism, your metabolism begins to slow to compensate for the lack of energy you are giving it which can hinder your life in various ways in terms of energy to work, mental clarity, and energy to perform other daily activities such as exercise or just being you!
Eating out of primal hunger or constant denial of hunger cues regularly tells the body to store that food for later when you starve it again so instead of getting used as fuel, that food might get stored more long term as fat because your body can pull on fat stores for energy longer than it can pull from your stored glycogen from regular carbohydrates eaten at every meal from your muscle and liver.
An alternative to this dental of hunger is the beautiful principal of honoring your hunger. Honoring your hunger is one thing that can set your body up for prime metabolism. Side note- I think it’s funny that the media tells us to “rev up your metabolism by doing x diet” when really the only way to “rev” your metabolism is to give your body the energy to perform its daily functions, which is essentially what metabolism is. So in short- the sure fire way to get that metabolism started is to EAT.
The body likes to be fed every 3-4 hours. Your body might be a bit different and ultimately you know yourself best but anything more than 4 usually gets you in the near primal hunger zone and the body dis-trust zone. Now, life happens, not eating regularly happens- traveling, getting sick, stress. Intuitive Eating is not a perfect way of eating and loosing focus of feeding yourself every now and again just happens. If you are skipping meals and eating every 6-7 hours on the regular- then I would encourage you to take a step back and see what’s going on there. See how you might be able to care for yourself in a more regular manner.
So back to the feeding. Eating a balanced snack or meal (we will get to that in later principals!) every 3-4 hours allows your body to know it will be fed adequately. It allows you to build that trust up with your body so instead of that food being stored as fat for later it can be used to fuel your workout, your big meeting, your daily functions through efficient carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. You may have to store fat, too, but it’s intentional, not out of fear of starvation again! You are setting yourself up for success at meal times giving yourself the space to reach the comfortable full and satisfied feeling instead of loosing control around food. You will also be able to pin point what food your body might be craving or needing more of rather than just anything and everything.
Honoring your hunger means listening to your INTERNAL cues. Not what the clock says. Not what your strict meal plan from whatever trainer or website says. Not what your friends say. Your hunger manifests itself different than your friends and family. Your hunger is unique to you. Honor that! If you have denied hunger cues for days, weeks, months, years, feeling hunger may not really be in the cards for you. Over time if we suppress them for long enough, those cues go away but have no fear- they CAN come back! This is where the knowledge of eating a balanced plate or snack every 3 -ish hours comes into play to help you get back those hunger cues. If you don’t have those cues you can try this method. You can also reach out to a trained professional that can help you gain skills in this arena. I hope I can be that person for you next year!
*please note that if you are following a meal plan from a registered dietitian on your care team to help you establish hunger and fullness cues again in eating disorder recovery that is important and needed! Also note that if you are in recovery from an eating disorder this post may not apply to you in your journey right now but it CAN apply as you work through regulating your body’s cues and learning to trust your body again with the care of your team 🙂
Honoring your hunger is freeing. It means eating just when YOU are hungry and learning what that means for you!