Hunger-Mind Body Connection:
There is an intricate system between your body and mind that works in a coordinated method to signal you to eat. Your body tries to get your attention in multiple ways including physical sensations as well as changes in mood and energy. Now I am sure some of you are reading and thinking, I know when I am hungry, why the big long spiel? Let me break it down for ya…
When we are born, our brain and body work well in signaling us to eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full. Babies are the PERFECT example of being in-tune to your body’s hunger and satiety cues. Fast forward to adolescents/ adulthood and there are SO MANY distractions that make it harder to notice when our body is actually signaling us to eat. Distracted eating in front of the TV/ other screens, eating while busy with tasks such as errands/work, following diets that set rigid food rules (i.e. not eating past a certain time) and eating for other non-physical hunger reasons all cloud our ability to tune into what our body is trying to tell us.
If you ignore your body’s cues for hunger and satiety for long enough (through rigid food rules, lack of planning/ not eating all day), eventually your body turns down the dial on those signals and your interoceptive awareness (ability to perceive the physical sensations that happen within the body) goes dormant. This means that you are likely to go on “autopilot” and only eat when you are reminded to (i.e. your coworkers break for lunch or its 9pm and you realize you haven’t eaten all day). For many adults, slowing down and making eating occasions intentional is the first step to being able to listen to what our bodies are telling us.
Below are some of the different ways that you may experience signs of hunger. Keep in mind that everyone is different and your experience may change over time as you work at becoming more in-tune to your body’s hunger cues.
The Hunger & Fullness Scale
It is important to recognize that hunger can be experienced at different levels. The best way to gauge “how hungry” you are is to check in with your body at different times during the day. Pay attention to how you feel before eating, while eating and after eating.
Below are the the different levels of hunger & fullness and descriptions to help you understand what it looks like/ how you feel. Check in with your body right now and try to determine where you sit on the scale currently.
Putting it All Together:
Why starving yourself before a big meal actually backfires
Picture This: You know you are going out to a buffet dinner tonight for a special occasion OR you are anticipating your big holiday meal with friends/family. You starve yourself and don’t eat anything all day thinking that you will be able to eat more later. Its 2pm you are sitting at your desk and you are HANGRY, 5pm can’t come soon enough. You feel like you are going to rip your coworkers head off. You can’t concentrate in that afternoon meeting and you feel a nasty headache come on. FINALLY it’s time to eat! You pile a mountain of food on your plate and quickly scarf it down. By the end of the meal you want to unbutton your pants, you vaguely remember tasting any of the food and now you just feel sick.
Has this ever happened to you?
It may seem like a good strategy to starve yourself all day if you are anticipating to have a larger meal but it actually almost always backfires (I know some of you might be skeptical at this point, but keep reading). When you reach the intense, uncomfortable primal level of hunger, the possibility that you will actually be able to enjoy your meal goes completely out the window. This is biology people- your brain is literally screaming at your body, “GET FOOD IN, NOW!!!”. Your body is not concerned with the fact that the restaurant or your grandmother made your favourite dish or that you should slow down your eating and really savour it. Instead of enjoying the food and feeling comfortable enough to engage with your loved ones, you feel sick, overly full and sleepy.
Next time you are anticipating a larger meal during, have a lighter lunch or a snack beforehand but don’t starve yourself.
Written by: Brittaney Berendsen RD, P.H.Ec.
Sources: The Intuitive Eating Workbook, 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food