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Hunger: Friend NOT Foe

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

Journey to Befriending Your Hunger Again.

Kacey Legnitto, MS, RD, CEDRD



Too often we are taught to push off hunger, ignore hunger, or to not trust our innate hunger and satiety cues that have forever kept us alive. Rather, it is quite common in our world today to use a set of “rules”, often guided or manipulated by diet culture, to tell us when or when not to eat throughout the day. Why is this an issue? Let’s take a deeper look.


We are born very attuned to our hunger cues. When a baby is hungry, the baby cries. The parent or caregiver then responds by giving their child nourishment. So why has responding to our hunger cues become so much more complex than this over time? What messages have led us to distrust and avoid our hunger cues when they arise? Any ideas? Feel free to take a moment to pause and answer this for yourself.


Hunger is defined as our body’s natural response to inadequate energy stores leading to an increased appetite for food. Understanding our hunger can be complicated as there are many different levels of hunger, from subtle to ravenous. There is no “perfect” level of hunger that tells you when to start eating. We all perceive these levels of hunger differently in our own, unique bodies. Often you may hear diet culture make a claim to “only eat at certain levels of hunger”, however, this is another “rule” that can lead to us struggling to nourish ourselves flexibly and adequately.


We rely on honoring our hunger and fueling our bodies, much the same way as that of a car relies on gas to operate. Responding to our hunger before our tank hits empty, and ideally responding to our hunger at subtle to moderate levels versus pronounced levels of hunger consistently, allows us to function optimally in our daily lives. Pushing off hunger, ignoring hunger, or waiting until we are ravenous regularly, makes it harder to sense our hunger cues, can lead to a disordered relationship with food, inadequate nourishment, increased food preoccupation, fatigue, difficulty focusing/thinking, difficulty staying present, body discomfort, difficulty managing stress, difficulty managing emotions, and even eating disorders. In other words, chaotic hunger often creates more chaos in our day-to-day functioning. Just like the efficiency and longevity of our car running is hugely dependent on regularly filling up the gas tank prior to the tank reaching empty, we are meant to honor our hunger regularly and adequately in order to perform at top capacity. We wouldn’t expect a car to run if we consistently ignored the fuel gauge and refused to add fuel, so why does diet culture suggest we live this way?


Our bodies are amazing. We are born with an internal satiety meter that gifts us the ability to know how much to eat in order to flourish in our lives without calorie counting, meal plans, food tracking, etc. Diet culture often robs us of our ability to feel and listen to our internal satiety meter and shifts the focus to managing our nutritional needs through what diet culture prescribes versus what our bodies are trying to tell us.


An important step in becoming more attuned with our hunger again is not only consistently “honoring our hunger” when it arises, but also “rejecting the diet mentality”. These are two essential principles in the journey back to intuitive eating (See this book: Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, CEDRD). This is not an easy journey because diet culture will try to use fear-based tactics to tell you that you are “doing it wrong”, “will gain too much weight”, “will become unhealthy”, “are eating too much”, etc. These are all fears diet culture promotes to keep you coming back and investing your money in the diet industry. After all, the diet industry is a $60 billion dollar industry that makes its money off of promoting countless diets that research has shown almost never work. The fact is 95% or more of dieters end up gaining all of the weight back they lost within 2 years, if not more weight. Yet diet culture tells us we are doing it wrong and we failed. The truth is that diets fail, not us.


Make peace with your hunger. It is not to be feared. It is meant to be honored and listened to. Every time we feed our bodies appropriately, we are telling our bodies that we care about meeting our needs. Would you ever tell a loved one that you don’t care about their needs? My guess is you would not. Try giving yourself that same love and respect.


Bolded Terms Defined:

Rules: Diets often create rules around what is “ok” to eat, when things are “ok” to eat, creating lists of “good” and “bad” foods, make eating a moral issue, etc. Diet rules are often not based on science, are not realistic, and often lead to feelings of guilt and shame around food and eating. You can often identify a food rule when hearing the following words in a sentence in related to food: “I should”, “I shouldn’t”, “I can’t”, “I am not allowed”, etc.


Diet Culture: Diet culture is what we are surrounded by on a daily basis. It is a culture that creates thinness as the ideal and “moral” body shape, which often creates issues such as disordered eating, eating disorders, weight stigma, increased stress, yo-yo dieting (which is associated with poor health outcomes), vilifies certain foods and/or ways of eating, etc.



Resources:

1. A. Fildes, et al., “Probability of an Obese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight: Cohort Study Using Electronic Health Records.” American Journal of Public Health 105, no.9 (September 2015): 54-59, 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302773.

2. D. Crawford, et al., “Can anyone successfully control their weight? Findings of a three year community-based study of men and women.” International Journal of Obesity 24, (August 2000): 1107-1110: https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0801374.

3. J. Linardon, et al., “Rigid dietary control, flexible dietary control, and intuitive eating: Evidence for their differential relationship to disordered eating and body image concerns.” Eating Behaviors 26, (August 2017): 16-22, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2017.01.008.

4. J. Schaefer, et al., “A Review of Interventions that Promote Eating by Internal Cues.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 114, no. 5 (May 2014): 734-760, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.024.

5. L. Bacon, et al., “Size Acceptance and Intuitive Eating Improve Health for Obese, Female Chronic Dieters.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 105, no.6 (June 2005): 929-936, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2005.03.011

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