Respecting Your Body's Signals
Overcome the most common fears about respecting your body's signal
If you have any traces of diet trauma, it’s very possible that the idea of eating only when hunger strikes, a basic principle of intuitive eating, makes you uncomfortable.
This is one of the main obstacles I notice when I start explaining to people the importance of waiting to be physically hungry to eat — both for body self-regulation and for weight loss and weight maintenance.
There are two main key thoughts surrounding hunger that scares people — and make it hard for them to respect their body’s signals.
1. If I get hungry, I will definitely overeat
This fear is a result of the confusion we make between genuine hunger and the endless hunger that is caused by food deprivation fostered by diets.
The second is driven by your perception that you are a bottomless pit, as you “feel hungry” all the time. Or maybe because you feel that it is impossible to wait for hunger to appear because you already eat everything in sight without hunger — imagine if you were actually hungry!
About that, I guarantee you: what drives you to overeat is NOT hunger. It’s deprivation.
If it were true that hunger leads to overeating, that skinny cousin of yours (or any child) would eat like crazy the moment her belly rumbled.
It is very likely that you have associated hunger with overeating because the constant restriction of energy has left you with a kind of “chronic hunger” — with the warning signal on all the time, your body gives you signs of hunger all the time.
Moreover, the restriction need not be real (like, physically real). The mere feeling that you can’t or shouldn’t eat this or that is enough to turn on this scarcity mode in your body. To make you safe, it will pull some strings to make the food much more interesting.
This is reversible with unconditional permission to eat what you really want and with a sufficient intake of energy and nutrients. Don’t be scared to eat and feel satisfied.
2. But isn’t feeling hungry horrible?
The second common fear is believing that being hungry is painful. You can be sure that anyone who wants to sell you a weight-loss plan will guarantee that “you won’t go hungry.” That’s because everyone who’s ever been on a diet has associated hunger with pain and sacrifice at some level.
Therefore, at some point, you have internalized that being hungry is abhorrent.
Only it isn’t.
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 functioning, and very well.
Genuine hunger is a gentle sign that doesn’t feel like an urge to eat. It’s an innate signal from your body, such as wanting to pee when your bladder is full or going to sleep when you’re tired.
Generally speaking, if you ignore the stomach signal (or the pee signal, for example), it will get more intense. More and more intense, until your head starts to hurt (or you pee your pants).
It’s like sleep. What happens when you go through several nights with poor sleep?
You get more and more exhausted, and you probably need a few extra hours of sleep over the weekend. But you don’t sleep for days on end to make up for it.
In short, the signal only intensifies if you ignore it.
So ignoring hunger or trying to trick your body with sugar-free gum or water won’t work. You may not be able to eat exactly at the moment you feel the first sign of hunger, but make sure the signal will intensify until you answer it (or pass out).
3. How often will I be hungry?
When you accept the idea of eating when genuinely hungry, a common question may arise, which is “when will I be hungry?”.
Well, broadly speaking, this depends on two major factors.
The first is the composition and amount of what you ate last.
As you may already know, the digestion time changes according to the composition of the ingested food, some of which keeps you satiated longer.
In terms of satiety, it is quite different to eat a dish of meat with potatoes and salad than noodles for lunch.
Taken alone, simple carbohydrates cause a strong release of insulin (the famous insulin spike), and this will lead to a sudden drop in blood sugar (sugar crash) so that hunger returns much faster.
The second factor that will determine the frequency of your hunger is the efficiency of your metabolism.
Your amount of movement and your basal energy expenditure will affect your appetite. Amazingly, a fast metabolism is not synonymous with thinness, it is only synonymous with being hungry faster. If you really respect your body and eat when hungry — until satiety -, it doesn’t matter the speed of your metabolism.
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. Trusting these signs depends on practice and trusting that your body is on your side, no matter what.
Interested in more, read here on listening to your body when it’s telling you to rest!
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 at 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.