The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating are from Tribole and Resch's Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.
Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger
Honoring your hunger is one of the most frequently mentioned Intuitive Eating principles, but I think itis often one of the most misunderstood. Sometimes people roll their eyes at me when I talk about listening to their bodies and honoring their hunger. I was even teaching a class one time where a participant exclaimed "Yeah right!" when I was explaining that honoring your hunger is the first step to re-learn to trust yourself with food. It's true, but I suspect this participant was in the trenches of a diet mentality.
I feel Some Stories Comin' on...
Consider this story:
You've recently started your newest diet, and you're cutting out all forms of carbohydrates. A few days into the diet you decide to go out and about town to run errands. After a few errands, though, you start to feel hungry. You're feeling a gentle hunger for something like a sandwich so you drive to a local sandwich shop. When you get there, though, you start to get overwhelmed with the choices. This is when your diet voice chimes in: "You don't need to eat. Just ignore this hunger, and it will go away. You can't eat carbs, you're on a diet. You'll feel so guilty for eating them, and then you will have failed. If you have to eat, just get a salad. And don't get it with croutons because of the carbs! You're on a diet to lose weight, not gain it!" So, you decide to get a salad with greens and veggies only with light dressing. You go about the rest of your day, but all day long you've been thinking about that sandwich you wanted... and the bread. You didn't eat carbs again for dinner, but it's late at night and now all you can think about is the bread... or maybe some rolls.... You bought some earlier today fresh from the best bakery in town (after all, you're the one on the diet, not your whole family—they're allowed to have rolls), and you just want to have one because they're the best. You go to the pantry to get a roll, but you find one just isn't enough. So, you keep eating... and eating... and eating. Now all the rolls are gone, and you feel guilty. Your diet voice chimes in again to egg you on: "You ate carbs, and you failed! All you had to do was not eat them, and you ate them! Really?!" You feel terrible and crawl into bed hoping you can get things right tomorrow.
Did any part of this story sound familiar? Maybe it was all-too-familiar?
Because carbohydrates were being restricted (dieting) in this example story, gentle hunger for the individual was ignored and later a different type of hunger set in: primal hunger. Think about it—when you go on a diet and limit your carbohydrate intake, what the first thing you want to eat? Bread sticks and pasta or maybe cake and cookies. After a little while of not eating these foods, though, aren't they all you can think about? You'll quickly go right past gentle hunger for them and straight into this primal hunger. These cravings are biological reactions. Our bodies don't know there's a bakery down the street or a bag of rolls in your own pantry. It just knows it doesn't have access to the foods (more specifically, carbohydrates) it needs to sustain you. Gentle hunger is a sign you're in touch with your body's needs—not a sign of your body's failure at some imposed delusion of willpower.
Gentle hunger is a sign you're in touch with your body's needs—not a sign of your body's failure at some imposed delusion of willpower.
Carbohydrates make up the majority of our body's supply of energy when they're broken down into blood glucose. Blood glucose is your brain's number one source of energy and your red blood cells' only source of energy. When you don't get enough of this basic nutrient, your body's primal hunger kicks in, and a wall of distrust starts to form. You start to not trust yourself around these foods because you feel like you'll overeat them, and your body starts to not trust you since it cannot regularly get what it needs to sustain you.
Now, I discussed Rejecting the Diet Mentality in the last IE&Me post, but it's important you understand principles one and two go hand-in-hand. It's extremely difficult to honor your hunger when you're still knee-deep in the diet mentality.
The above example story featured the diet mentality in a starring role, but consider this next story with a non-diet mentality in the starring role:
You've recently started seeing a non-diet dietitian. You're learning about Intuitive Eating and what it means to reject the diet mentality and listen to your body's hunger cues. A few days after your most recent visit with your dietitian, you decide to go out and about town to run errands. After a few errands, though, you start to feel hungry. You're feeling a gentle hunger for something like a sandwich so you drive to a local sandwich shop. When you get there, though, you start to get overwhelmed with the choices. This is when your Intuitive Eater voice chimes in: "Hey, how's it going? You're feeling hungry, right? Well, what sounds good to you? A sandwich? Okay, well are you small sandwich hungry, or big sandwich hungry? Oh, somewhere in between? Well what would you like do? Okay, that sounds good—order the big sandwich, and you can stop eating when you're comfortably full. It's okay if there's some left over. You don't need to be a member of the clean plate club. You're honoring your biological hunger and trusting your body." So, you order a big sandwich. You get full after eating about three-quarters of it and decide to stop. You go about the rest of your day thinking about food a little bit, but not too much. You have dinner, and even though you were pretty full already you decided to eat a roll because the rolls you picked up earlier today are from the best bakery in town. The first roll was so good you decided to eat another one! When you eat the second roll you feel satisfied but a little uncomfortable. Your Intuitive Eater voice chimes in: "Hey there! Feeling a little full? That's alright! Intuitive Eating isn't about hard and fast rules. Intuitive Eating principles are guidelines that help you in your journey to becoming an intuitive eater. How wonderful you could find enjoyment in those rolls!" You feel satisfied for the rest of the evening and go to bed excited for a new day.
Did any part of that story sound familiar? Maybe it sounds like something you'd like to experience?
How Did Natalie Handle This "Honor Your Hunger" principle?
Do you remember my client Natalie*? Well, in the beginning Natalie spent most her days like the first example story. When she first started seeing me, she often talked of "trigger" foods. She had practically forbidden these trigger foods because she just knew if she had them, she would be compelled to eat the whole package (or two, or three). When she was able to look back and see the part diets had played in her history, though, she saw the trigger foods were almost always part of the foods typically eliminated in the diets.
After some time and hard work, she began to truly honor her gentle hunger with the trigger foods, and she found she was not ravenous with primal hunger for them all of the time. She would even get in touch with me sometimes in between visits just to tell me how she enjoyed one of her previous trigger foods without going on a binge. A particularly exciting moment for her was one time she was out having a meal with a friend and when it came time for dessert she didn't feel hungry for any, and she didn't eat any (in the past, she used to eat a dessert whether she was hungry or not, and then she'd finish off her friend's dessert when the friend didn't eat all of theirs). She wasn't denying herself the piece of cake—she just felt full from the meal, and she knew the cake would be there for her next time.
... and she knew the cake would be there for her next time.
Time to Reflect
The above example stories are only one example each of how a dieting mentality looks like for some and then how a non-diet mentality looks like for some. I have great respect for each of our individual experiences, and I know dieting and a diet mentality can wreak havoc in so many ways—especially on our hunger!
The first thing honoring my hunger meant for me was getting help to manage anxiety. Anxiety does many things to many people, but in my body, it makes me feel nauseous and not want to eat. Getting help from a counselor and learning to practice compassionate self-care to manage the anxiety has been life-changing for me. I am grateful for caring and compassionate therapists**! Some days still bring struggles, but now I have lots of tools in my toolbox o' healthy coping mechanisms to help me manage anxiety in a safe and therapeutic way (yoga, anyone?). Praise God, I am now able to honor my hunger in the midst of struggles when previously I was nearly entirely unable to do so!
Another thing learning to honor my hunger meant for me was reintroducing myself to so many foods I had stopped eating over the years because they were "bad" or "unhealthy" (my journey with principle two is closely matched with principle three: making peace with food—but more on that later!). I was hungry for them many times, but I denied the hunger for them and ate something with "more quality nutrition". My Intuitive Eating journey has brought me back in touch with so many yummy foods, and I'm grateful because I can have these foods any time I want and no longer feel guilty for eating them instead of "better" foods. I find myself enjoying these once forbidden foods every now and then whenever I'm hungry for them. It's nice having the freedom to enjoy fun foods without the shame and guilt!
*Client names have been changed so their true identities will not, in any way, be revealed, in order to maintain their anonymity.
**There are many wonderful therapists and counselors who teach mindfulness and encourage Intuitive Eating by partnering with registered dietitians. If you are in need of counseling, please reach out to me, and I will be happy to share some recommended counselors in the Tulsa area!
Hi there! I'm Sydney Cavero-Egúsquiza.
I'm a small town Oklahoma dietitian with a passion for enjoying life. I love Disneyland, Smarties, and sharing time with family. My mission? To help individuals enjoy their lives by making peace with food and trusting their bodies!