Eat When You Are Hungry
The best way to respond to your hunger is to eat according to internal cues, as opposed to the clock or your schedule. Allow yourself to get acquainted with the unique way you experience hunger.
Choose a day when you can control your schedule to begin practicing paying attention to your hunger cues. Rather than thinking in terms of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, try to think in terms of refueling sessions. Whenever the tank is getting low, regardless of the time of day, it’s time to “fill up.” While most people feel hunger within an hour or two of being awake, some are not hungry until later. If you don’t feel hunger until late morning, don’t eat until then, even though it has been drilled into your head that you must eat an early breakfast. Wait until your body signals you. If you are hungry before bedtime, your body is letting you know that a light snack may be in order. Forget any rules you have heard regarding when to eat, and just pay attention to your hunger cues.
Charting Your Hunger
Check in with yourself throughout the day. Every time you want to eat, ask yourself the following questions:
“Am I hungry?”
“What physical symptoms am I experiencing?”
“What emotions, if any, am I experiencing?”
“What is my hunger level?”
“What am I hungry for?”
Use the Hunger/Fullness Scale and the Daily Eating Log as often as possible to to help you become more aware of your hunger signals and emotions before and after eating. Try to eat when you are at level 3 or 4 on the scale. Waiting until level 0–2 may lead to ravenous overeating. Notice that your hunger signal will vary from day to day according to your activity level and bodily needs.
Write down anything you notice about your eating behavior, such as “I notice hunger only when I’m starving, and then I grab anythig in sight,” or, “I never allow myself to get very hungry — it doesn’t feel safe.”
There Are No Forbidden Foods
When you experience true physical hunger, I want you to select whatever foods look good to you. I’m not going to tell you there is any food you can’t eat. That would just trigger a sense of deprivation and a rebellion of your feeling self. If you want grains and fruit for breakfast, go for it. Perhaps you prefer lentil soup and a potato. If you want a slice of chocolate cake and ice cream, choose that. Yes, you read correctly. Allowing yourself a free choice of foods when you’re hungry will lessen any sense of restriction you may feel. Eating foods you believe you should eat but don’t want to eat only leads to feeling deprived. And there’s a high probability that later you will overeat the foods that you really wanted. At this point in the program, I’m not concerned with what you eat; I just want you to eat only when you feel true physical hunger. As you become more balanced in mind, body, and spirit, you will naturally begin to make healthier choices.
Pay attention to your cravings. Cravings are part of the hunger drive, signaling you to eat foods that supply nutrients your body needs. When your body needs vitamin C, it will signal you with cravings for things like oranges and strawberries. When your body needs fat, then rich foods like avocados and nuts will look good. Cravings should go away soon after eating. If you have strong cravings for drug-like junk foods and you feel compelled to eat these foods, you may have an allergic addiction. I address food allergies in principle #3. At this point, just note which foods trigger compulsiveness.
Your cravings may also be highlighting an emotional appetite. Many emotional eaters can’t tell the difference between a true physical appetite and an emotional appetite. Often emotional hunger feels just like physical hunger. Let me suggest that if you’re uncertain whether you’re truly physically hungry, ask yourself the following question: Did I eat enough food throughout the day yesterday and today? If you did not, your hunger may be physical, even if you just ate a big meal. Your body may be signaling you that it did not get enough calories or nutrients recently. If it is already late in the day, then it’s best to have a light snack, if possible, such as a piece of fruit, or some fruit with a few nuts, and begin fueling first thing in the morning. If you believe you did eat enough yesterday and today, and you have a strong desire to keep eating, try a light snack; if the hunger continues, it may very well be emotional. Focusing your efforts on the self-care skills will help you address your emotional hunger.
Please note that if you have been diagnosed with insulin resistance or diabetes, you will have to be mindful of your food intake, especially of foods that convert to sugar quickly. Having to watch your food intake carefully may intensify the feeling of deprivation and trigger emotional eating. I have found that the best way to work this program and work with these metabolic imbalances is to still allow forbidden foods periodically, but in limited quantities. Try to strike a balance — practice setting limits and consciously allow yourself a few bites of a favorite forbidden food. Do this often enough that you don’t feel deprived, but infrequent enough that it doesn’t unbalance you too much. The key here is to consciously choose your forbidden foods rather than to sneak them or binge on them. Keep in mind that we all need to eat our favorite junk foods in moderation. You’ll need to work closely with your health care practitioner before making any changes to your diet or medications.
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