Honoring Hunger AND Fullness
The feelings of both hunger and fullness should be very familiar sensations during the human experience. Multiple times a day, your body is sending you cues to eat or stop eating. These cues are different for everyone, every day. Your activity that day, amount of sleep, what you have eaten the day before, stress levels, on top of SO many other things happening daily in the body- ALL effect and can change your level of appetite on the daily.
Read that last part again… appetite levels and patterns change DAILY.
This is a huge reason why I get so aggravated with diets. In my own experience and so many others I speak to- we fall victim to these food “rules” like:
“I can only have ___ calories today.”
“I can’t eat after ____ time of day.”
“I can only eat 3 meals a day.”
The problem with these rules when we implement them into our lives is that they account for no humanity!! Like hellloooo, your body is a freakin’ multi-faceted machine!!! We would be so ignorant to think that this masterpiece runs on the same exact amount of calories every day, stops processing food after a certain time of day, or needs the same amount of meals every day. That’s absurd!!
A big part of being an intuitive eater- making food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honors hunger, respects fullness and enjoys the pleasure of eating- is letting go of these rules. Instead of using rules and regulations, an intuitive approach to eating teaches you how to understand your body’s cues, like different physical symptoms of hunger, meanings behind a cravings, and/ or ways to feel fullness.
Our bodies were designed to communicate these physical needs to your brain through what we call the gut-brain axis. This is basically a nerve highway from your intestines to your brain telling it what it needs, when it needs it, and how much. Pretty cool. Well what’s not so cool is that your brain is also receiving signals from the media, your friends, and culture that tell us to suppress these feelings and follow rules instead, which can really skew your choices when it comes to food.
For many of us, we have listened to outside sources of information for so long we don’t even really know what true hunger is.
Others are totally dissociated from the purpose of food and feeding yourself that they either: are constantly eating out of a distracted, numbing, or emotional place OR so used to putting off hunger in order to lose or maintain a certain physique that the body has gotten so used to not getting an answer to its hunger signals that it stops sending them. Neither totally honor the goal of food- to nourish us.
In order to reconnect to this inner-nutritional wisdom I believe we all have- I want to introduce you to a tool that helped me reconnect with the intuitive eater inside of me. This tool is called the Hunger and Fullness Scale.
The whole point of the scale is not to give you another food rule to follow, but simply a guide to help ask yourself before, during, and after a meal how you feel. Ask yourself, where am I on the hunger & fullness scale?
Ideally, before starting a meal you’d be just at a 3. Feeling physical signs of hunger. Halfway through your meal, pause for a few seconds to check in with yourself and ask, where am I now? I usually try to finish my meal feeling between a 6-7.
Now lessssss beeee honest shall we??
Do I always eat until a 6-7 and stop?? Ummm, n o o o o! I experience a 9 fullness probably once every few month and definitely on Thanksgiving (all thx to my bby pecan pie). Sometimes when the food is just making my tastebuds sannggg or I just simply want more- I eat to an 8 (@ Tomato Head's pizza and Babalu’s guac, I <3 you both fiercely.). I explain all that to say that overeating happens and is a normal human experience. Nothing to beat yourself up about. This scale is simply a guideline to help you bring a bit of mindfulness to your mealtimes. Maybe you could even log in your phone for a few days your hunger and fullness numbers before during and after each meal!
It seems simple to do in theory, but putting it to practice can be difficult for a lot of people.
Common issues I see are:
- Some people have crazy schedules that don’t allow them to eat for long periods of time. I’ve had these moments. A long car ride or comprehensive exam- this is where planned overeating can come in. If you think you might not be able to eat again in the next 4+ hours, it makes sense to eat until you're slightly uncomfortable, more like an 8. Also, it would be wise to choose something a bit richer in calories and density in times such as this, with a good bit of fat and protein- all in hopes to sustain your fullness longer. OR just do like I do and become a prepared snack QUEEN. I have at least one protein/granola bar or easy to-go fruit with you all the time. Ask my friends, they’ll tell you. I have an apple with me always… always.
- Other people have a hard time, mentally and physically, reaching fullness (6,7). Instead these people aim for mere suppression of hunger at let’s say a 5, in hopes of losing weight. At a 5, you may not feel hungry, but it won’t be long before you go back to a 4 or 3 and need to have another meal. Eat for satisfaction!!
- Lastly, most people can’t even really recognize what hunger feels like for them. For most, hunger is explained by most as an emptiness or gnawing in their stomach, but it’s important to know that hunger can present itself in a lot of different ways. Personally, I first feel hunger in my head most of the time! I start getting a tingly headache- that’s my body telling me I’m at a 4 and about to be a 3. Soon after that, I start getting *somewhat* irritated (aka HANGRY) at a 3. I know I'm really pushing it too long without eating if I start to feel anxious and need to adjust my schedule to include food very soon.
Other ways you might notice hunger is- low energy/fatigue, moodiness, poor attention, headache, stomach upset, dizziness or shakiness. If you notice one of these physical signs pop up 3-4 hours after you last ate a proper meal, it's probably hunger.
Signs of fullness are usually easier to feel and decipher but taking a minute or two in the middle of a meal to assess your satisfaction can really help make those distinctions easier.
Before I go, please remember this is simply a tool. Not a tool to create a diet around, but a tool to help you begin to be more in touch with your body's needs. Just like any other responsibility you have; the more you know, study your body, the better you can care for it. That is the goal. To care for this vessel physically, mentally, and spiritually the best we can with the lives we have been given. Hope you find it helpful friend!