For the next few weeks, I am going to make my articles specific to those of you who are actively working through Natural Eating or wanting to begin exploring how to go from that annoying old Diet Mentality to the peace, ease, and flow of Natural Eating.
To do that, I’m going to spend the next few weeks answering some questions that I often hear clients asking regarding natural eating.
I’ve listed some of the questions I’ll be answering in the weeks to come below. If you have a question on Natural Eating that is not on that list, send it my way and I promise I will answer it at some point in this series.
Please know that these questions are perfectly normal to be asking when you’ve fallen into the trap of the diet mentality and are working to get back to a normal relationship with food, or perhaps even to create a natural relationship with food for the first time ever.
Some common questions that arise when people begin to explore natural eating are:
- How do I know if I’m really hungry?
- What if I haven’t felt hunger for so long that I don’t even know if I’m hungry or not?
- How do I know when I’m full?
- How do I “not feel guilty” for eating something when I’ve been telling myself/or others have been telling me for years that certain foods are just plain bad or that they’ll make me fat?
- What if I try to check in but the voice in my head just says: who cares about checking in! I just want food now!!!
- How can I trust my body to know what it wants/needs when in the past I always end up binging? Clearly I can’t trust myself to just let myself have whatever I want. Help!
- How can I trust myself around certain foods when every time I get around them or have them in the house, I binge?
I’m going to answer these questions and a few others over the next few weeks. After that, we will explore some all-or-nothing stories that will trip us up if we’re not on the lookout for them, like: “If I forgot to check in before I binged, there’s no point checking in now,” or “I’m never going to get this,” or “If I binged it means this isn’t working.”
Your healing requires that you learn to catch those all-or-nothing stories and let them go so that you can think rationally and clearly and respond to your stressors and your needs appropriately.
So stay tuned!
Now, on to the Q&A.
Question 1. How do I know if I’m really hungry? &
Question 2. What if I haven’t felt hunger for so long that I don’t even know if I’m hungry or not?
(These two questions are similar enough I’m going to answer them together).
Answer: The quick and simple, and correct answer is: If you have to wonder, you’re not hungry. Regardless of your past behaviour with food and how long you’ve been restricting or ignoring your fullness cues, if you just stop and ask yourself if you’re hungry, with the intent to truly listen, and just stay present with yourself for 5 seconds to see how your tummy feels, you will know.
If you “can’t tell,” you’re not hungry. Even if you think you should be hungry because of how long it’s been since you last ate or because it is lunchtime, you will benefit greatly from waiting to eat until you know for certain that you’re hungry.
First, you benefit because you’re demonstrating self-respect and self-care in listening to and responding appropriately to your body’s signals. Secondly, when you do eat from true physical hunger you will feel less guilt, have less judgement and negative self-talk (Drill Sgt.), and you will feel more peaceful and entitled to eat and to enjoy your food because you were hungry when you ate it. In other words, you will have a sense of true integrity because you are meeting your most basic human need for food in the way you are meant to be meeting it: Eating when hungry.
*See below for special notes for those who restrict and those who binge.
A Special Note For Restrictors: Those of you who engage in restriction often will naturally need a little while to get comfortable responding appropriately to your hunger cues. This should start to feel more comfortable after the first week and increase in ease and comfort over a month to 6 weeks, assuming you are also processing your stressors and emotional needs appropriately and not just white knuckling yourself and forcing yourself to eat. You must realize that you have trained yourself to ignore your natural hunger cues, just like you were trained by others to believe that your needs didn’t matter or that your needs, and therefore you, were somehow “too much” or burdensome.
Your needs are important. They are the foundation of life. When your needs are met, you’ll feel peaceful and when they aren’t met, you’ll feel anxious. That is normal, appropriate human instinct. Your ability to know when you have needs that aren’t being met and to respond appropriately is fundamental to your happiness and success in life. It’s not something you can take or leave or choose to do when you get around to it. It’s fundamental.
You have likely had key people in your life who intentionally or unwittingly dismissed your needs or judged you for having them. That doesn’t mean there was ever anything wrong with your needs or with you. And it doesn’t mean you don’t experience needs now or that they are not valid and important. Same with hunger cues. You may have taught yourself to ignore them or judge them as bad. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Don’t mistake one for the other. You do get hungry. You’ve just trained yourself to ignore those cues or to discount them and make yourself wait. Those cues are there right now likely, if you just take a few seconds and sit and ask if you’re hungry. I assure you that staying tuned to yourself in this way will lead you to begin to be able to respond more rapidly to your hunger cues which will mean greater self-care overall, less preoccupation with food and body image, more energy, and less binging when you do eat. This is good, right? Yes. And you’re entitled to experience this every day. Trust me, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full will not make you fat. It will make you happy and healthy and sexy and fun, and it will bring you to a natural weight for your body without constant thoughts of food and body image. X my heart.
A Special Note For Binge Eaters: Waiting to eat until you are hungry can seem like a very, very scary prospect when you use food to cope with emotions and when you’ve come to identify every sensation in your lower torso as hunger. As you move through this healing process, you’ll be surprised to see how often you thought indigestion was hunger, or that digestion was, or anxiety, or constipation, or the flu, or fatigue. You’ll also see how often you ate when you were really just tired or thirsty or had a headache or were angry or sad. In fact, you’ve learned to interpret pretty much any physical sensation in your body as hunger, hence, you feel naturally drawn to eat 24/7. Add to that the sensation of pleasure and nurturing that you get from eating processed carbohydrates and refined sugars (they trigger a chemical reaction in your body that mimics the release of the bonding hormone, oxytocin, truly producing an internal sensation of nurturing and connectedness), and it’s no wonder that you’ve felt triggered to reach for food to deal with every moment of every day.
I promise you, nothing bad will happen if you just wait a few minutes, or a half hour, or even an hour or two until you truly are physically hungry, to eat. Remember, if you have to wonder if you’re hungry, or can’t tell for sure, you’re not. Sorry. I know. I’m a total downer!
But I’m only telling you what you already know, and it’s because you already know when you’re not really hungry that your dear old Drill Sgt. gives you such a bitch of a time when you eat and you’re not hungry – you can’t even enjoy it! You have to inhale it before you “realize” what you’re doing or else you don’t even get a moment of peace. And then the criticism and judgement kicks in and you have to eat even more and turn the crappy TV on louder just to numb out to yourself. And there goes another day.
Rather than continuing with that, how about inviting yourself to just wait until you know that you’re really hungry to eat, and commit to allowing yourself to have whatever you’d really like to have at that time, regardless of what time it is.
It is important during this stage in your healing to make sure you carry food with you at all times (i.e. nuts, protein bar, crackers, a piece of fruit, etc.) so that as soon as you’re at all hungry you can have something to eat and you don’t have to sit with the feeling of hunger at all.
Again, the key to challenging the auto-eat program is to wait until you’re hungry to eat (remember if you have to wonder, you’re not hungry) and carry foods with you at all times so you can eat as soon as you feel true physical hunger. Doing this you will very quickly feel safe to wait to eat. You will also be amazed to find that you feel so much lighter and more adult and happy instantly simply because you’re demonstrating self-care and integrity by responding appropriately to your body’s cues of hunger. You can do it!!
Just remember, don’t white-knuckle your desire for food to cope (meaning, don’t pretend you’re not wanting to binge or try to restrict yourself without taking the time to try and figure out why you’re needing food to cope then). That’s just more of the same old ignoring your needs. Instead, try offering yourself the empathy and compassion you really needed so often and didn’t get. Allow yourself to have something whether you’re hungry or not if you really feel you need to. Just do so consciously. Tell yourself that you’re eating because you’re stressed and then commit to taking 5 or 10 minutes while you’re munching on whatever you’ve grabbed to write out a list of stressors!! Figure out what is triggering you to feel whatever you’re feeling while you’re eating and you’ll eat much less. I promise.