Recognizing and Responding to Hunger
Many of us have struggled with issues around eating or a distorted body image - there is no such thing as a completely "normal" eater who feels 100% comfortable in their body. The good news is that I think people are starting to wake up to this and I feel that the negative stigma is lessening. We are finding that we relate to each other and I see people being more vocal. We are realizing that we are all in this together.
First of all, know that it is NOT your fault that you are struggling.
On a very basic level we face this dilemma in regulating our food intake because we don't know how much is too much or too little. It started when we were younger and were told to finish our plates or to eat this and not to eat that; we totally ignored the signals our body was sending us. . . and then began the influence of society and the media. Forget about it.
Isn't it funny that our culture tells us to eat less while the food industry adds chemical ingredients with sensory properties designed to make us want more and more! No wonder we are so confused. This dynamic leads to a brutal cycle of overeating, feeling shameful about it, throwing in the towel, and then trying to adhere to a strict meal plan - all of this ruckus instead of getting back to the basics of listening to our own needs. We hand the power over to calories and numbers and Instagram fitness models, and begin to let them run the show, when really our own bodies are the wisest part of the whole equation.
If we can pause and connect to our inner wisdom, tuning in to that inner knowing, we will become aware of what we need. Proof of this traces back to our childhood - before eating got so confusing.
Judith Brown, author of Nutrition through the Lifecycle, explains that children have the natural ability to self-regulate food intake. Studies have shown children as young as ages 3 - 5 years can innately adjust caloric intake to meet their energy needs. Parents who try to interfere with the child’s ability to self-regulate intake by forcing the child to “clean her plate,” or using food as a reward, are asking the child to overeat or undereat.
How do we get back to that place of innocence where eating was more simple and didn't require so much effort? When our body automatically knew what to do? Well, we start by unlearning what we were taught whilst incorporating more mindful habits.
Let this table (developed by Ellyn Satter) serve as a tool to help us relearn how to listen to and trust our bodies - using food as nourishment instead of a punishment or reward or a way to relieve us of emotions like boredom, anger, stress, or sadness.
Admittedly, I used to eat most of my meals at my cubicle - staring at my computer, answering phone calls, checking emails, typing away at my computer, with 23 browser tabs open at once. It was more of an inhaling process rather than chewing and fully digesting. My body probably didn't even know that I was eating. This is an example of a habit that completely throws off our signals.
I am providing some actionable tips below that help me personally, as well as a few mantras I developed to say before I put these tips in to practice. I have started this mindful eating journey with just ONE meal a day (baby steps).
First, the mantras. Before my meal I might choose to say to myself one or two of the following statements - a couple that seem the most impactful in that particular moment.
Don't overthink it.
It is healthy to have an appetite.
Nourishing my body allows me to function at my fullest potential.
I am not alone in my struggles with eating patterns and habits.
I am learning how to detect and respond to signals of hunger and satiety.
I trust myself to eat when I am hungry and to stop when I am full.
I am willing to practice mindful eating to strengthen my connection to my inner compass, so that eating will feel more natural and intuitive.
Then to practice these principles, I take these steps below. Remember - just ONE meal a day. Though the steps are simple and straightforward, that doesn't mean they are easy. Changing our habits around food can be rather intense, as there are many deeply rooted emotions involved. These changes happen incrementally and gradually. So be gentle with yourself and try your best.
To start, I sit down to my meal without any distractions (no book, no phone, no TV, no computer, no nothing).
I take a deep breath before I start to eat and then I pause for a moment to recognize what exactly is happening here. I think about where my food came from and all of the work that was put in to it - just so that I can sit down and enjoy a meal. For example, look at these potatoes! They were planted in the ground, grown slowly, and then someone had to dig them up and wash them off. They were bought, sold, and shipped to the store where I was so easily able to purchase them. Pretty miraculous...
I kindly ask my body to help me regulate my eating and to respond to my hunger and fullness cues throughout the meal.
I do my best to chew slowly and to observe the food's flavor, temperature, and texture. Chewing slowly helps the enzymes in my mouth to start to break down food and prime the rest of my digestive tract for what is to come.
To help with eating at a comfortable pace, every once in a while I will put down my fork/spoon and check in with my body.
Voila! Done. Good job. If it helps, you can also write about your experience, and notice if anything came up for you during the meal.
Thank you for reading! As always, let me know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns. I want to be here as a guide. Deep down you already know what you need, but sometimes you just might need someone to help you to tune in and remember.
With love and peace,