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Understanding the Importance of Hunger and Fullness as an Intuitive Eater

Dec 31, 2023 09:00AM ● By Alana Van Der Sluys

Reasons to Honor and Respect Your Body’s Cues

If it were as easy as a coach telling you to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, you would already be an intuitive eater. But diet culture is ever-present pressuring us to diet, eat a certain way and be a certain size. There can be a very intense need to “override” our hunger cues in the name of weight loss. Unfortunately, that seems to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction as well; it causes us to eat past fullness and maybe even binge. 

There are many reasons to not only honor your body’s hunger signals, but also respect your body’s fullness cues. Ignoring physical hunger can lead to a number of issues.

1. More intense cues: Before signals go away completely, you may experience more intense hunger cues. Like when you ignore a toddler and he screams louder for you to hear him, your body may do the same with more intense hunger cues. These can manifest as brain fog, lethargy and lightheadedness.

2. Chronic loss of cues: Have you ever had a friend that you’d spill your darkest secrets and worries to? When you really needed someone to listen, only they just…didn’t? Eventually, since they never listen to what you have to say, you stop confiding in them. The same thing happens with our bodies when they try to “talk” to us and tell us they’re hungry. Eventually, if we stop listening to our body’s hunger cues long enough, we’ll lose those cues completely. Our bodies won’t trust us to give them what they need consistently.

3. Lack of body trust: If your friend doesn’t listen to you, you may not only stop confiding in them, but you may also stop trusting them as a friend altogether. Again, the same thing applies with your body. When you override hunger signals instead of listening to what your body needs, not only does your body stop trusting you—and will override your desire to lose weight by bingeing—but you will also stop trusting your own body. When we restrict, our metabolisms slow down. Then, if we eat just a little more than we typically allow ourselves, the scale jumps up; this can create a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy where you don’t trust your body, your body does something you don’t like because it doesn’t trust you either and, in response, you continue to not trust it. 

4. Loss of muscle: In a 2016 study conducted on some of the former contestants of the TV show, “The Biggest Loser,” researchers saw that severe restriction of calories caused the contestants bodies to cannibalize their own muscle tissue for energy. As a result, they lost weight, but when they eventually gained all the weight back—and then some—this weight was gained back more as fat. Therefore, the contestants ended up with more body fat (by percentage) and less muscle mass after the show.

5. Slowed metabolism: The same study showed that metabolism slowed in contestants who restricted their calorie intake, which makes sense. When you restrict calories, your body thinks it’s experiencing a famine or period of starvation. In order to conserve energy (which is what calories are), it slows down its processes. This is what makes it feel like you’re barely eating, but also barely losing weight. Or why when you deviate from your diet meal plan even a little one day, the next day you’ve seemingly gained five pounds. 

On the flip side, here are five reasons why it’s important to respect your body’s fullness. 

1. Find out your weight set range: You’ll never be able to figure out the weight range where your particular body runs most healthfully and optimally if you’re constantly manipulating how much you eat with external tools like MyFitnessPal or someone else’s diet regimen. On the other hand, if you binge often because of that restriction, it can cause unnecessary weight gain.

2. Feel comfortable in our bodies: Giving your body what it needs because you trust it enough to know what it needs will bring you to a stable weight set range where you feel good and energized in your body. You have to be honest with yourself and decide whether that physical discomfort is worth the “ideal” aesthetic, for the rest of your life.

3. To help our bodies run more efficiently: When you’re eating consistently and adequately, it’s like stoking a fire, otherwise known as your metabolism. If you give your body exactly what it needs, it has the resources and energy to run efficiently. This is also why when you heavily restrict, you may lose your period, which is called hypothalamic amenorrhea. Your body will shut down any nonessential systems in order to keep you alive and running on the minimal energy you’re giving it.

4. Improved energy levels: Just like you feel tired and lethargic if you don’t eat enough, you’ll also feel sluggish and uncomfortable if you eat past fullness. If you, for a moment, forget that satisfaction in eating is also essential, your body is like a car. Giving it no gas means it can’t run. However, giving it too much and “topping off your tank” can also harm your car.

5. Practice introspective awareness: The more you listen to your body, the more you can pick up subtle nuances. If you want to get to a place in your intuitive eating journey where you’re not bingeing on sugar, for example, you need to practice interoceptive awareness, or awareness of body cues, enough to know how sugar makes you feel—both in kind and quantity. 

Alana Van Der Sluys is a Connecticut-based certified intuitive eating counselor; a TEDx speaker; eating disorder survivor; contributing writer for national publications; author of Freedom with Food and Fitness: How Intuitive Eating is the Key to Becoming Your Happiest, Healthiest Self; and the founder of Freedom with Food and Fitness. She empowers women to heal their relationship with food and their bodies. Connect on Instagram @FreedomwithFoodandFitness.

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