Learn to listen to your body

Hunger v’s Non-Hunger

Unless I am seeing someone for a specific medical condition, I generally don’t tell them what to eat.

What I DO do is teach people about nutrients and food – quality, portion sizes and cooking techniques. I also teach people about eating and getting back in touch with their bodies, and one of my observations has been that the ‘food’ side of things is often easier to grasp than the ‘getting in touch with your body’ side of things!

Hunger is often the first thing we talk about and yet can be one of the biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments for clients. The first thing to always think about is that hunger is a normal body cue and it feels different for different people (and some people manage better with different levels of hunger!). Fullness is also a normal body cue. It indicates to us when we have had enough to eat, when our body perceives that it has received enough energy.

Some people are even afraid of feeling hungry. Some popular diets even market to this, promising that ‘you will never be hungry’, which is not really of advantage to you. You are supposed to feel hungry and supposed to feel full!

There is no need to be afraid of hunger, it is normal, and even a good sign that your body is working well. Best of all, hunger is easily fixed!

Often diets will advertise themselves as having the ability to make you ‘never feel hungry’


So what does hunger feel like?

As I mentioned, different people, feel hunger differently. Some of the ways hunger can be felt can be described as:

  • Hunger ‘pangs’
  • Hollow or empty feeling
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • ‘Queasy’ feeling
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Crankiness
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

Here is an exercise you can do right now sitting at your desk:

Close you eyes and bring awareness internally.

Start at your mouth and work your way down to your stomach.

Are you aware of any signals that your body is giving you that you are full, or hungry?

Does any part of your body feel tense? Or hollow?

Is your stomach moving or is it still?

Can you associate any other feelings with how your stomach is? Are you happy? Anxious? Nervous? Tired?

You may notice other emotions that are unique to you. Acknowledge these. Maybe write them down, but don’t focus on them…

There are a couple of reasons why we are getting you to understand and value your body cues and that is because, it is likely (if you are a human – very likely!) that you have, in the past, used food for reasons other than hunger.

Chances are you have used food for one or more of the following:

  • Comfort
  • Reward
  • Distraction
  • Boredom
  • To stay awake
  • In celebration
  • To clear your plate
  • So you don’t offend anyone.

Whist some of these are quite acceptable reasons to eat when not strictly hungry, they are the reasons that don’t happen every day – celebrations are occasional, usually once a month at best; Not offending the person giving you the meal or snack is also minimal. The big issues are around when you find you are CONSTANTLY eating for emotional reasons, as a distraction, or as entertainment.

Eating when we are not hungry is called ‘non hungry eating’. Non hungry eating also includes overeating, grazing, nibbling and bingeing. Most people do a significant amount of non hungry eating and it does appear to be one of the biggest factors in causing weight gain, and difficulty loosing weight.

So how do we decrease our non-hungry eating? 
Well, there are two ways.

1. The first way is to recognise it! Check in with yourself before you eat something and see if you are really hungry or not. Using your hunger-fullness scale is a great tool for this. Being more aware of our physical hunger and fullness also helps us to become more conscious of the reasons we might be eating when we are not physically hungry.

2. The second way to decrease non hungry eating is to be more aware of weather we are enjoying all of the food we are eating. This may sound strange to some of you, but it is very common habit a lot of people have where they are not really paying attention to this aspect of eating. For example, we might start off enjoying something – that first bite or two taste fabulous, but then we loose the pleasure and we just keep eating to finish it off. Another thing that can happen is that we start off with a food we really enjoy, and then we get distracted, by the TV usually, and before we know it, our plate is empty and we barely tasted the food!

Always remember – YOU are the expert on your own life, no one else. A dietitian can help guide you; give you up to date, evidence based advise; help manage medical conditions nutritionally in conjunction with your GP; teach you to manage your own nutrition and that of your familys, but we are NOT experts on YOU!
with love,

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