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Moving from dieting to intuitive eating can be fraught with all kinds of confusion and challenges. While dieting encourages you not to listen to your hunger — just drink water, right? — and to actively suppress it using all manner of things, intuitive eating is all. about. listening.
CONSEQUENCES OF NOT HONOURING HUNGER
Part of this is based on the Ancel Keys landmark food deprivation study conducted during World War II. Thirty-two healthy men with “superior psychobiological stamina” were selected for the study. During the first three months, the men ate as they liked (ate intuitively); during the next six months, the men endured semi-starvation. The effects studied and observed closely mirror the symptoms of dieting, including:
40% decrease in metabolic rate
Obsession with food (the men experienced heightened food cravings, talked about food, and collected recipes)
Participants would ravenously gulp their food, stall, play with food, or dwindle over a meal (symptoms seen in those with eating disorders)
Episodes of bulimia and binge-eating
Incidents of over-exercise to increase their food rations
Changes in personality (i.e. the onset of apathy, depression, irritability, moodiness.)
But…should you always honour you hunger, Sarah?
In short — yes. Yes, yes, yes.
Diet culture teaches us that our appetites can’t be trusted. Whether it’s carbs, macros, calories, sugar, fat, “clean foods”, and the like, we’re constantly being told what to do (um, bossed around) — and constantly left questioning whether we’re doing “it” right.
Dieting really complicates eating, transforming everything we’re doing with food into a conflict to be resolved. And semi-starving us all the while.
Eating actually doesn’t have to be so hard.
HUNGER IS ACTUALLY HEALTHY
One of the 10 principles of intuitive eating — the second one, in fact – is “honour your hunger.” It’s an important principle, and one that’s easy to get stuck on (particularly if the diet mentality hasn’t been fully rejected.)
While hunger is a meaty topic that could easily cover several blog posts, I do want to illuminate the following today: your hunger is natural, healthy, helpful. Even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Honouring hunger is fundamental to feeling sane around food.
Ignoring it, dismissing it, or actively trying to suppress it can have unintended consequences. As Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole discuss in Intuitive Eating, “eating is so important that the nerve cells of appetite are located in the hypothalamus region of the brain. A variety of biological signals triggers eating. What many people believe to be an issue of willpower, is instead a biological drive. The power and intensity of the biological eating drive should not be underestimated.” (62)
For most of us, we breathe consistently without any work on our end. We don’t have to try, or think about it. We just do.
Our detoxification organs are always working for us, whether we realize it or not.
And our hunger? It lights up when our energy stores are low and we need more food.
Hunger isn’t a trick. It’s not a “problem” to be suppressed with all kids of low-cal diet foods, beverages, or “hacks.” It’s not out of control. Getting hungry often doesn’t mean there’s something wrong (and in fact, there could be a whole lot right.)
Hunger varies. Sometimes you’ll be super hungry, and sometime less so. Sometime the reason will be apparent — and sometimes not.
Sometimes you’ll need three snacks, and sometimes your three meals might be enough.
So…how do you work with hunger instead of against it?
You listen to it.
You honour it.