Updated: Dec 17, 2021
One of the many ways that dieting disrupts a person’s relationship to food is in recognizing and responding to hunger. As a Michigan holistic nutritionist and Intuitive Eating counselor, I know the importance of becoming aware of your internal body cues.
Intuitive Eating principle #2: Honor Your Hunger
The idea of honoring your hunger runs counter to diet culture and diet mentality which states that you need to control your hunger - or eat as little as possible to satiate it. This message masks an important truth emphasized by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, the creators of Intuitive Eating:
“A dieting body is a starving body."
Dieting is deprivation.
When you diet, you are depriving your body of the fuel it needs to function properly. This can happen through:
Counting points or macros
Only allowing yourself to eat during certain hours
Labeling foods as “good” or “bad”
“Saving” calories now so you can “indulge” later
When you don’t get the fuel that your body needs to function, a whole host of new problems can occur.
Your mood can be affected. Dieting interrupts neurochemical processes, some of which affect the production and function of chemicals that keep our moods stabilized.
Preoccupation with food increases. You’ve surely encountered this before – maybe it was with a toy as a child, a relationship, a vacation, or an outfit. Anything that is “forbidden” has the potential to become a fixation. When your preoccupation with food increases, there is constant conflict and stress in the struggle to resist it.
Your social connections can be impacted. You might find yourself declining a lunch or other social engagement as an attempt to avoid any temptations to eat “forbidden” or “bad” food.
Dieting triggers our neurochemical drive to eat (Tribole and Resch, 2020, p.84).
The Low-Carb Example
There are several diets that have become famous for restricting carbohydrates. However, carbohydrates are actually “the body’s primary and preferred source of energy (Tribole and Resch, 2020 p.88).”
And ultimately, depriving yourself of carbohydrates will increase your biological drive for more carbohydrates.
Because carbohydrates are the body’s main source of glucose, which is necessary for optimal functioning of your brain, nervous system, and red blood cells.
When you restrict carbohydrates, you are decreasing the functioning of these systems and forcing your body to find other sources of glucose. One way the body will do this is by consuming its own protein tissues as fuel, which is one reason people on low carb diets lose weight initially.
This is just a single example of what can happen when we restrict or forbid foods or whole food groups. There are entire systems of our bodies that are affected and start to function poorly as a result of dieting or ignoring our hunger.
Honoring Your Hunger
Hunger communicates our body’s need for cellular fuel.
When we don’t honor our hunger, we either overeat or encounter hunger silence over time. Hunger silence is our loss of ability to hear and recognize our hunger signals.
Intuitive Eating creators Tribole and Resch (2020) identify several factors that contribute to developing hunger silence:
Unmet Basic Needs
To honor your hunger and recognize/respond appropriately to your body’s request for fuel, you must learn to listen for it. This is done through increasing mindfulness and reflection about your hunger signals. Intuitive Eating suggests you ask yourself the following questions before and during meals, as well as in regular intervals throughout the day:
What does it mean to honor hunger?
What’s my hunger level?
In the past, what have been my hunger cues? How did I know that I was hungry?
The only way to fuel our bodies is to eat.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that you should eat at least every five hours while you’re awake. This ensures that your body has an optimal level of fuel to function properly. Increasing awareness and using mindfulness with food is a principle of holistic nutrition as well as a key part of Intuitive Eating.
An Intuitive Eating coach and holistic nutritionist in Michigan like myself can help you through the process of discovering and unpacking your hunger cues and eating patterns.
Most importantly, know that “Eat only when you’re hungry” doesn’t have to be a rigid rule. If you find yourself eating when you’re not hungry, just observe it with curiosity and reflection. This doesn’t mean that you blew it and failed. It's diet mentality that says that food is pass or fail. Intuitive Eating says that rebuilding our relationship with food takes time.
Be patient with yourself. Ask for help if you need it .Remember that food is the fuel you need to function, and your body is communicating with you. You CAN learn to trust it again.
Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. St. Martin's Essentials.
Katie Valley is a Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor whose goal is to dispel the myths of diet culture and reinforce a holistic, health-focused approach to wellness. After her own experience with disordered eating and poor body image, Katie found true healing by practicing Intuitive Eating and Body Acceptance.
Now she has her own practice, Katie Valley Wellness, where she helps women who feel out of control around food learn to eat intuitively, pursue TRUE health, & feel confident in their own body.