How do you feel when I say that transforming our relationship with food actually has very little to do with what we eat? The truth is, that what we eat is really only one small part of the big picture. We also have to look at how we eat and who we are when we eat.
Do you ever eat when you’re not really hungry? Maybe it’s lunch time, you’re not really that hungry, but you eat anyway because it’s noon and that’s what you do at this time.
Or do you ever eat too little because you’re feeling quite stressed out and overwhelmed and you don’t feel like you have time to eat?
Or perhaps you’re depriving yourself on yet another diet, so you’re not eating enough. You feel hungry but are choosing not to eat, even though you’re really hungry.
When we are in situations like these, we are not honouring our hunger. Honouring your hunger is about recognising what happens internally before you get hungry. Instead of waiting until you’re so hungry that you could eat an entire house, you start to tune in to the internal signals that your body is ready that it’s needing nourishment.
The fuel gauge analogy
I like to use the concept of a car and the fuel gauge in a car. Obviously, you don’t want your car to run out of fuel. If you’re driving down the motorway and suddenly your car runs out of fuel you’re going to be stuck and could end up stranded for hours waiting for someone to help you while you try to get more fuel just so that your car can go.
The thing is our bodies are much the same as cars. Our bodies also can’t run properly if we are feeling hungry or when we’re running on empty. But with our car, we don’t have to think for it- our car does the thinking for us.
The car has the fuel gauge and it will be down in the red zone down when it’s almost empty. When it’s full of petrol, the needle goes all the way to the full side of the gauge. You can see all the time whether your car is full of petrol, halfway full of petrol or if it’s about to run out of petrol so that you need to get to the fuel station. You usually have a little buffer zone of maybe 10 kilometers until your car is going to be completely out of fuel and you need to fill up.
Unfortunately, our bodies don’t have a fuel gauge that we can read. Maybe one day in the future there will be a little button we can press on our watches that will tell us when we are hungry but for now we can’t rely on that. We have to actually trust ourselves and listen to our own body.
How to recognise our hunger signs
We do not want to wait until we get into that red zone that our car gets into when it’s about to run out of fuel before we eat, because if we do, that is when we become hangry (hungry-angry). We might feel dizzy or really light-headed and unable to focus.
I know for myself when I get like this, I get in a really bad mood. I just can’t think about anything except getting some food into my belly as fast as possible. Other people I know get into a slump. We just aren’t ourselves because what’s happening is our body needs nourishment. Our brain needs some glucose to keep functioning properly.
We don’t ever want to reach this point where we are just feeling so hungry that we’re desperate. When this happens, one or two things might take place. We will end up just eating anything and everything in sight- it won’t matter whether it’s food that’s good for us or food that’s bad for us, we’ll just whatever we can find.
When this happens, often we will make those unhealthy food choices that leave us feeling guilty afterwards. We will eat food that doesn’t give us energy and which doesn’t nourish us. We choose foods which don’t satisfy or fill us and usually we don’t sit down and give our bodies time to actually enjoy the food- we just reached for whatever we can find just so that we don’t die or faint.
Another thing that might happen is we end up just eating something really, really quickly. We don’t chew our food 30 times and we end up feeling bloated afterwards because we haven’t digested our food properly.
We want to try and avoid feeling hangry at all costs. We don’t want to get to the red zone.
What needs to happen is that we start looking for food before we get to the red zone, so that we are able to make those conscious choices, the healthy choices, the choices for the high-energy foods that make us feel good.
The first step is to actually recognise hunger and how hunger manifests for you in your body. How do you know when you’re about to get hungry? What are the signs that you need to start looking for food? Start to notice how your body feels when you haven’t eaten anything for a few hours.
What are the physical signs? What are the emotional signs that you have? It could be that you start to get a little bit light-headed or you start to get shaky maybe you feel grumbling in your stomach, your stomach feels empty.
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The intuitive inner hunger and fullness scale
Once you recognise what the physical signs are and what the emotional signs are for you feeling hungry, you can start to create your own hunger scale. This hunger scale goes from one through to 10. Number two or number three is the point where the low petrol light would come on in your car to warn you that you need to get to the petrol station to fill up your car soon.
The Hunger Scale
When you get into number 2 or 3 on the hunger scale, that’s the indicator for you that it’s time to start planning for nourishment. Number 10 on the hunger scale would be where you are just crazy hungry and you just cannot think, where you just can’t do anything. It’s actually ideal to be sitting down and eating a meal before you get past number 5 on the hunger scale.
If you get over 5 and closer towards 10 that’s where you’re actually setting yourself up to probably have a binge or to probably choose foods that are not nourishing for you.
The Fullness Scale
Just like we have the hunger scale from one to 10, we have a fullness scale from one to 10. Number 10 on this scale is where you are so completely full that you actually have to unbutton your jeans so that you can open your zipper up just to let your belly hang out- never a good feeling. Imagine that number 1 on the fullness scale would be where you haven’t really even started eating yet.
What you actually want to be achieving every time you eat is a number 7 on the fullness scale. This is where you are nourished and you are energised from the food you eat, where you feel satisfied but you don’t feel so stuffed that you have to undo your button.
When to use the hunger and fullness scale
I know that this might sound a little bit simplistic and actually very easy. However, the problem is that most of us have habits that go beyond fullness. Many of us will keep eating even though we are no longer hungry or starving. This can be particularly bad if you’re going out for example to a buffet and you’re helping yourself to many different foods on display. In the buffet scenario, there’s lots of little things that you want to try, you don’t want to miss out on anything, so you end up eating way more than you need to.
This can also happen if there’s just food on the table. If there’s a situation at a dinner where you’re all sharing food with one another, there might be a lot of food that’s in front of you and you end up eating a lot more than you actually need. Or it could be just that you’re engaged in conversation with somebody and you’re not really paying attention to how you feel and you end up just eating all the food that is on your plate.
It’s a problem when you feel like you have to eat everything on your plate, because then you are going to be on that number seven on the fullness scale. It’s useful to start realising that any food that goes beyond number seven on your scale is actually like eating trash that is going into a trash can. It’s not nourishing for your body anymore and it’s not making you feel good.
How to know if you’re truly hungry
A quick test if you’re not sure if you’re physically hungry or not is the 15-minute time out. When you think, “I need to eat something. I need a little something-something in my belly,” but you don’t know for sure if it’s hunger or emotional – you think you feel tired, or there might be a little growling; you just don’t know – take a 15-minute break.
During that 15 minutes, do something that you really, really love to do: play with your kids, read a book, start a painting, exercise, go for a walk – whatever it is that you really, really love doing. Do that for 15 minutes and then come back to your hunger.
If you still feel like you need to eat, you’re probably hungry and you should eat some food. But if that feeling has passed and you don’t quite feel it anymore, chances are that it was an emotional hunger and we can look at other things to fill that hunger rather than food.
This is your thing to practice and to keep practicing- don’t feel like you can perfect honouring your hunger and fullness right away.
Your key take-aways are:
- Start to recognise when you start feeling hungry so that you can go and find nourishment. Start eating food before you reach 5 on the hunger scale. Finish when you reach 7 on the fullness scale.
- Begin tuning in and listen to your body’s hunger needs. The more you practice tuning into your body’s signals, the better you’ll get at knowing when you should eat.
- When you do eat, be really present and mindful with your food.
When you can start to truly honour your hunger and fullness it will help you to control your cravings and totally transform your relationship with food. It isn’t easy but will be well worth the effort and will help you in so many aspects of your life and you go through this journey to better health.
Where do you struggle most with honouring your hunger and fullness? Please feel free to share with me in the comments below!
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