Tune into Hunger

What’s the problem?

If you’re a problem eater, hunger can turn into your worst enemy. What is a completely natural and non-threatening bodily signal for many others might seem erratic, confusing and overwhelming for you.

Sometimes you might experience hunger that is completely ravishing. At other times, you may not feel hungry for hours, or even days, on end.

Being out of touch with your internal hunger and satiety cues can force you to rely on artificial external cues, such as diet plans, calorie counting, or bingeing and purging.

You might also find yourself eating for emotional reasons. Not feeling physical hunger often causes people to use food as a psychological crutch.

After a while of disregarding your bodily signals, it can become difficult for you to figure out how much you should eat.

Instead of mild, natural hunger, you might only experience powerful binge urges.

Not knowing how much food you should consume often causes intense fear. You might find yourself worrying constantly, asking yourself if you’ve eaten too much and not being able to answer the question.

As this anxiety grows more and more powerful over time, some people turn to purging in an attempt to deal with it – and purging makes matters even worse.

Okay, what’s the solution?

In order to recover from problem eating, we need to get back in touch with our natural, balanced hunger.

Before we can fully trust our hunger again, we need to become aware of it and get comfortable with how it feels. We need to explore and learn as much as we can about our own personal hunger.

It’s like reconnecting with a long-lost friend.
The connection is still there – it’s just that it’s been neglected for a while.

If you want to rebuild your friendship with your own body and its natural instincts, you have to nourish that connection. You have to listen to your body’s needs and you have to respect those needs.

The good news is that the first step in this process is relatively easy.

All you need to do is start paying attention to your hunger cues.
The more attention you pay to your natural hunger cues, the easier they’ll be to notice.

For a long time, I didn’t trust my hunger. I saw it as my enemy – something to be ignored, fought with and challenged.

Yet I realised that in order to really make peace with my body and food, I needed to make peace with, listen to and understand my hunger first. And you do too. ♥

In time, once your hunger signals have been fully restored, you’ll be able to use them to decide what, when and how much you should eat.
You’ll be able to trust them and let them guide your natural food choices.

Hunger is complex. The more you explore it, the more it reveals about itself and your physical being. Once you get familiar with it, you’ll be able to let your hunger guide you, advise you and help you to enjoy your life to the fullest.

Science & Studies

Over the years, numerous scientific studies have successfully demonstrated the relationship between hunger awareness and a more balanced, happier life.

One of these studies examined 372 men and women.

They were divided into three groups: those who exercised rigid control over their eating habits, those who were a little bit more relaxed and those who simply followed the wisdom of their internal hunger and satiety cues.

At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that the people who listened to their internal bodily signals were the least likely to report episodes of disordered eating and body image concerns.

They were also able to appreciate their body much more than the first two groups.

Even the people whose control over their eating habits and hunger signals was described as “flexible” tended to be much less comfortable with their bodies!

Another in-depth study, which focused on a group of patients in an eating disorder treatment center and took place over a period of two years, revealed that developing the ability to eat in an intuitive way and to recognise one’s natural hunger cues can aid in the recovery of sufferers of all the major eating disorders.

Research like this allows us to conclude that hunger is much more than just a simple bodily response – instead, it’s an integral part of who we are. Disregarding our hunger can have serious consequences when it comes to our overall well-being.

Your body is always communicating with you. A steady stream of subtle feelings, sensations and feedback constantly informs you about your current state. The big question is, are you listening?

Pick a new habit

Choose a new habit to work on from the list below. Learn more about habits here.

Rate your hunger before every meal

Shortly before each meal (or snack), stop for a moment, take a deep breath and focus your attention fully on your body. Try to be as aware of your hunger as possible.

Ask yourself:
“How hungry am I and what does it feel like?”

Everyone is unique and no two people experience hunger in the exact same way.
While a growling stomach and a hollow feeling inside it are the usual physical signs, they may not become noticeable before it’s too late. Keep that in mind and look out for other symptoms of hunger, such as:

  • Lightheadedness.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Empty, uncomfortable feeling in the stomach.
  • Irritability.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Shakiness.

Try and rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely hungry and 1 being not hungry at all.

What number would you assign to your current experience of hunger?

Now consider how you want to use this awareness. Answer to the following questions:

  • Are you sure that your hunger is physical, not emotional?
  • Do you still want to eat?
  • If so, how much?
  • What kind of food is your body craving?
  • What type of food would bring you the greatest satisfaction?

Helpful tips

Keep in mind that daily hunger fluctuations are completely natural and normal. As you begin to get back in touch with your hunger, you might notice that it fluctuates all the time. For no apparent reason, you may feel only slightly hungry one day, yet completely ravenous the next. Your body is very complex and its hunger levels depend on numerous factors, such as:

  • Exercise and other physical activities.
  • Your previous food choices.
  • A woman’s menstrual cycle.
  • Genetics.
  • Amount of muscle.
  • Metabolism.
  • Amount and quality of sleep.
  • Alcohol consumption.
  • Mood and stress.
  • Drugs and medicines.

Sometimes there are no obvious reasons for day-to-day hunger fluctuations. Nevertheless, we must accept that changes in hunger levels are normal and trust that our body knows best.

If you’re still learning to trust your hunger again, this can be scary. You may feel greedy or out of control, while in reality your hunger is absolutely normal. Try and remember that there’s nothing for you to be afraid of. 

Ready to move on?

Once you’re back in touch with your hunger, you’ll be able to use it as a guide when it comes to your recovery journey. Try and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you able to recognise your personal sensations of hunger?
  • Are you eating consistently when you’re hungry?
  • Are you less scared of your hunger signals?
  • Do you feel more at peace with your natural bodily instincts around food?

If so, then you’re more than ready to move on!