Honoring Both Hunger AND Fullness
The feelings of hunger and fullness are typically very familiar sensations during our 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, the amount of sleep you received, what you ate the day before, your stress levels, on top of SO many other things happening in the body will 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 we at Focus Integrative Centers steer clear of diets while working with our clients. Diets that we often encounter include food “rules” like:
“I can only have this amount of calories today.”
“I can’t eat after this specific time of day.”
“I can only eat 3 meals a day.”
“I can’t eat this food group or that food group.”
The problem with these rules is that they do not account for the daily changes in your body that I mentioned above. The body is an amazing, multi-faceted machine! It would be foolish of us to think we could run on the same exact amount of (usually very limited) calories every day or that it would stop processing foods after a certain time of day. That’s just not how it works.
A big part of being an intuitive eater - making food choices without experiencing guilt, honors hunger, respects fullness and enjoys the pleasure of eating - is letting go of those rules. Instead of using rules and regulations (aka diets), using an intuitive approach to eating teaches you how to understand your body’s cues, like different physical symptoms of hunger, meanings behind a craving, and/ or ways to feel fullness.
*** Disclaimer! If someone is in recovery from an eating disorder or any level of disordered eating where hunger and fullness cues have been skewed by the disordered behavior, using a structured meal plan would be wise until the body can trust its hunger and fullness cues again. This meal plan should be designed and monitored by a professional Registered Dietitian who specializes in eating disorder recovery like the ones at Focus.
Our bodies were intended 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 feature these bodies have! 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 their rules instead, which can really skew our 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.
In order to reconnect to this inner-nutritional wisdom that 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 point of this 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 3-4. 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? Ending a meal at a 7-8 fullness is ideal, because at this point you should feel satisfied, but not overly full and the hunger cues have subsided.
To clarify, this is not a hard and fast rule to always stop at a “7” fullness. These are just suggestions. Overeating happens and is a normal human experience. It is nothing to beat yourself up about. This scale is simply a guide to help you bring a bit of mindfulness to your mealtimes.
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:
1. 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 above comfortable fullness, more like an 8-9. Also it would be wise to choose something a bit richer in calories and density with a good bit of fat and protein to sustain your fullness longer. Another good way to plan for a hectic schedule is bring plenty of snacks to hold you over with!
2. 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, because they feel guilt or shame around eating to satisfaction. 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. Simply put, it’s wiser to eat for satisfaction at the beginning.
3. Lastly, most people can’t even really recognize what hunger feels like for them. For most, hunger is explained 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. Hunger can take the form of low energy/fatigue, moodiness (or “hangry”), 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 very well could be 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.
Again, 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 and study your body, the better you can care for it. That is the ultimate goal. To care for this vessel physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually the best we can with the lives we have been given.
Hope you find it helpful friend!
By: Kaitlyn C. Tucker, RDN at Focus Integrative Centers
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