Are You Afraid of Being Hungry?

Understand the most common fears of respecting your body signals.

Do you listen to your hunger cues? Unsplash - Karan Mandre

What is the fear of hunger? 

If you have any trace of diet trauma, it is very possible that the idea of eating only when hunger strikes, one of the basic principles of intuitive eating, makes you uncomfortable.

This is one of the main hurdles I realize as I begin to explain to people about the importance of eating when hungry — for both body self-regulation, weight loss, and weight maintenance.

There are two key thoughts surrounding the fear of being hungry and respecting your body’s signal.

1. If I get hungry, I will surely overeat.

This fear is the result of the confusion we tend to make between genuine hunger and false infinite hunger that is caused by food deprivation.

The second is driven by your perception that you are a bottomless bag, as you “feel hungry” all the time. Or perhaps the idea that it is nonsense to wait for hunger to appear because you already eat all that lies ahead without hunger — could you imagine if you’re hungry?

Reinforcing what I always repeat, I assure you: what drives you to overeating is NOT hunger, it is deprivation.

If it was true that hunger leads to overeating, that skinny cousin (or any child) would eat horrors the moment her belly growled.

It is very likely that you have associated hunger with overeating because the constant energy restriction has left you with “chronic” hunger. In the alert mode on all the time, your body gives you hunger signals all the time.

This restriction need not be physical. The mere feeling that you can’t eat things is enough to turn on this scarcity mode on your body. To save you, it will stir some chopsticks to make the food much more interesting.

French toast with fruits and cream

This is reversible with unconditional permission to eat what you really want and with sufficient intake of energy and nutrients.

2. But isn’t it horrible to be hungry?

The second common fear is believing that being hungry is painful. You can be sure that anyone who wants to sell a weight loss plan will assure you that “you will not starve”.

That’s because everyone who has ever been on a diet has associated hunger with pain and sacrifice.

So at some point, you internalized that feeling hungry is abhorrent.

But it’s not.

Hunger is a sign of your perfect self-regulation and survival mechanism that keeps you healthy and alive. Hunger is a sign that your body is working, and very well.

Genuine hunger is a gentle sign that looks nothing like an urge to eat. It is an innate sign of your body, such as the urge to pee when your bladder is full or to sleep when you are tired.

Generally speaking, if you ignore the signal in the stomach (or the pee signal, for example), it will get more intense. Increasingly intense until your head starts to hurt (or you pee your pants).

It is like sleep. What happens when you spend a few sleepless nights on a roll?

You keep getting more and more exhausted, and you’ll probably need to sleep a few extra hours over the weekend. But you don’t sleep days in a row to make up.

In short, the signal only intensifies if you ignore it.

So ignoring hunger or trying to trick your body with a sugar-free gum won’t work. You may not be able to eat at exactly the moment you felt the first sign of hunger, but rest assured that the signal will intensify until you meet it (or faint).

Respecting your body’s signals is easier than it sounds, and it’s possible even if you’ve spent a lot of time silencing them with dietary rules and restrictions. Confidence in these signals depends on practice and trusting that your body is on your side, no matter what.

Strawberry popsicles homemade

If you treat it well, it will be your greatest guide — a far better one than any meal plan you’d stick on the refrigerator door.

Last updated: February 23, 2024

I am a Brazilian girl (living in Sao Paulo with my fiancé — and other 20 million people). I love coffee, books, and good food. I also really enjoy studying and learning new things that allow me to further develop myself both professionally and personally. I have a degree in Food Science and hold a Ph.D. in Agri-food Marketing. In addition, I am a Certified Nutrition Coach and an enthusiastic Nutrition student.

After 15 years of living in war with my body and with food, I found freedom through mindfulness and intuitive eating, practices that allowed me to overcome yo-yo dieting and binge eating.

I’m passionate about helping women rewrite their food and body histories so they feel free and confident to live their lives to the fullest.

There is a power that comes alive when women free themselves from the food prison in which they have learned to live, when they realize that they are capable and deserving of feeling fantastic in their own bodies, and that confidence is a state of mind — not a body lotion which you get the right to use when you reach a weight-loss goal.

My work is dedicated to nurturing, celebrating and sharing this message.

Preparing dashboard.