As a cute little baby (I know you were!) here’s what happened when you were hungry. You cried or asked for food, you ate food, and then pushed the bottle/boob/food away when you’d had enough. Babies and toddlers don’t overanalyze their hunger and fullness. They trust, lean into, and respect it.
YOUR BODY IS MEANT TO BE TRUSTED when it comes to knowing when, what and how much to eat. Unless you have a specific medical condition that interferes with the hormones that participate in hunger and fullness or some other GI complication, but I digress. But while we’re at it, just want to mention that this is a pretty complicated, nuanced topic.
Food insecurity, eating disorders, GI conditions, medications and other medical issues can severely disrupt one’s relationship to their hunger and fullness. I could not possibly cover ALL of that in this blog post. The purpose of THIS post is to focus specifically on how diet culture, dieting, restricting, & the pursuit of unrealistic body ideals and weight loss has stolen your hunger and fullness cues, and how to get them back.
We’re gonna dive into how our diet and thin-obsessed culture fucked with your body trust and connection to these (natural) internal cues. I’m also giving you specific, actionable tips for how to reclaim those sensations and learn to lean on them once again.
Why your cues are off – because your body said, “ugh, fuck it”
Due to a myriad of reasons, your hunger and fullness cues may be quite “off.” You may have a history of dieting, food restriction, food insecurity, bingeing, purging, or other food and lifestyle behaviors that impact your body’s ability to tell if you’re hungry or full.
Relying on external cues (diets, other people’s opinions, rigid meal times, etc) ends up resulting in a body that says, “ugh, forget it – they’re not listening to me anyways” and your cues get very quiet, or may go away completely. The good news is, we can get those back! And we can get you to a place where you are TRUSTING your hunger and fullness, instead of constantly second guessing them.
Before we talk about how to reconnect to your hunger/fullness cues, let’s talk about why women specifically fear fullness and chase/glorify hunger, thereby adding to the disconnect between your brain and stomach in terms of what you ACTUALLY need.
Why women fear fullness
When you were little, aka a baby, you cried when hungry to signal to your caretaker that you needed food. No one freaked the fuck out being like SHE’S HUNGRY AGAIN GIVE HER WATER OR SNAP A RUBBER BAND ON HER WRIST INSTEAD! They just gave you food. Hunger is a biological cue, just like peeing. Your body sends you a signal, fueled by your hunger hormone called ghrelin telling you to eat (side note – I remembered this in school by telling myself it was the “gremlin” hormone because when we don’t eat, we get hangry!) You eat food, your body calms down. Leptin kicks in (your satiety cue) to let you know when you’ve had enough and you stop eating.
Eventually though, as a woman in OUR culture, you end up swimming in a sea of toxic body shame and unrealistic expectations. These mess with your natural, innate, human desire to fix hunger by eating food.
The real reason women fear fullness has nothing to do with food or the actual physical sensation of “too much” or “enough” food in your stomach. It has to do with our severely unrealistic, capitalistic, misogynistic, oppressive, and obsessive culture re: women’s bodies. Diet culture is a 72 billion dollar industry designed to keep repeat customers obsessing over their body and attempting weight loss at all costs. From a very young age we’re taught that if we could JUST nip, tuck, shred, or shrink our bodies enough, we’d be healthy, wealthy, desirable, and destined for a perfect life. Even Barbie taunts us at 6 years old when we realize, “ugh. I don’t look like that! Better eat less so I can be smaller like my doll and the pictures I see of women in magazines!” This sets in motion the rollercoaster of ups and downs of a life on and off diets. What happens when women don’t eat enough? Nothing good.
One of my favorite quotes I share all the time,
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” -Naomi Wolf
Women fear being even COMFORTABLY full because of all the messages they’ve been flooded with around how HORRIBLE it is/would be to be fat, gain a pound, or not fit into a size __. So here’s all the weird shit women have been taught to do INSTEAD of eating food at the sign of hunger:
- Chew gum
- Drink water
- Snap a rubber band on your wrist
- Say hateful things to yourself in the mirror
- Run around the block
- Distract yourself
- Put a picture of your “thinspiration” on your fridge
- Lock your fridge
So, they chase hunger. They’re taught to fear fullness – even the slightest bit of fullness in one’s stomach may set off a chain of self-loathing and the urge to diet or restrict even harder.
When you’re hungry, nothing good happens. You tend to be:
- Tired, low energy
- Thinking about food a lot (your body’s natural response to not getting enough of something is to make you think about it more so that you do the thing!)
- Not fully present
Nothing good comes from being underfed. In my personal and professional opinion, it’s also really dangerous for women to stop trusting their hunger, thereby preventing themselves from fulfilling their needs.
Think about it this way – our hunger sensations are in our gut. Our gut is our instinct – it tells us if the relationship we’re in is right for us or toxic and harmful. It tells us if that job is the right fit. It tells us what does or doesn’t feel good about any particular person, situation, or place.
So if we’re taught from SUCH a young age (most girls start dieting at age 8) not to trust our OWN guts/intuition, how does that affect us otherwise in life? I can tell you from working with hundreds of women, it doesn’t lead anywhere good.
Conversely, when we can relearn how to trust our hunger and the innate wisdom of our bodies and trust ourselves to meet our own needs, I always say: watch the FUCK out! The ripple effect is HUGE. My clients always end up:
- Leaving unhealthy relationships
- Leaving shitty jobs
- Asking for what they need/deserve/want
- Saying no to things that feel shady or crappy
- Feeling more grounded
- Staying true to themselves
We need more women standing in their power, not walking around hungry, thinking about food and snapping rubber bands on their wrists. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that intuitive eating leads to intuitive living.
Now onto the powerful piece, the juicy stuff…reconnecting to your hunger and fullness cues.
And like I said, watch out! Who knows how your life might change with this simple skill. You think we’re talking about food, but really we’re talking about SO much more. If you’re still wrestling with hesitancy to eat enough, check out this post on why focusing on weight loss could be bad for your health and remember:
- When we restrict our diet, we restrict our life
- Nothing good ever comes from hanger
- Our $72 billion diet industry wants to keep you small, but fat on the body is normal and so is body diversity
Reconnecting to hunger and fullness cues
First things first, get into the routine of eating regular meals and snacks. There’s no better way to make sure you feel out of control with food and end up bingeing than by not eating enough. *AN UNDERFED BRAIN CANNOT MAKE ADEQUATE AND APPROPRIATE DECISIONS AROUND FOOD* So don’t try and think your way into eating enough, because your brain will be doing backflips overanalyzing it, since it’s underfed and struggling around food. When we don’t eat enough, our brain freaks out. It course corrects by making you think about food A LOT.
Eating regular meals and snacks may feel almost impossible because of all the diet culture talk that’s been running your life for (potentially) years. I have a feeling you’re reading this because you’re sick of it. Note the negative self-talk trying to keep you small and tell it to go sit in a corner. WE’RE NOT DOING THAT ANYMORE! You’re working on becoming your truest, healthiest, happiest self, goddamnit! When it feels hard (because it will) call on that part of you that wants the best for you to help you eat.
I remember during my most disordered eating days, being on 7 day detoxes and legit making lists of all the foods I couldn’t wait to eat on day 8 (#thisisnothealthy). It’s a natural response to deprivation to think about food a ton – and overthink it. That oppressive/obsessive diet culture-y part of your brain will try and convince you eating more is bad. Tell it to STFU and call on your truest, healthiest self to make the decision to eat enough. Make sure to keep reading onto the part about associating eating enough with positive experiences and a full life, as this will also help.
If you want to try a fun way to reconnect to your hunger and fullness, try a snack plate and check out this blog post all about how snack plates can revolutionize your relationship with food. Especially as it relates to honoring your hunger and fullness and reconnecting to these cues.
Your next step on the journey, once you’ve started eating more regularly and are in a routine of meals and snacks again, start using the hunger / fullness scale. When you’re getting ready to eat, ask yourself, “Where am I on the hunger and fullness scale?” Halfway through your meal, pause for 10 seconds and check in with your body. Ask again “Where am I on the scale now?” Practice it one last time when you finish your meal.
Do this exercise until you’ve become more in-tune with your hunger and fullness cues. And remember, this can change over time. Some days you may feel full after just a small meal, while other days it can feel like you’re eating a ton and not feeling full. The goal is to begin associating how hungry or full you are with the specific physical feeling in your body, NOT with any particular serving size or porton.
REMINDER: Intuitive Eating is NOT the hunger fullness diet! These aren’t rigid food rules we’re following. It’s normal to eat a bit more/less than needed sometimes, and that’s totally okay. Our goal is to *for the most part* honor and respect the amount of food our bodies are asking for. You won’t nail it every single time. Sometimes you’ll be hungry again in 30 minutes because you didn’t quite eat enough and sometimes you’ll be a bit uncomfortably full. Those are both normal things that happen occasionally in the course of a neutral and peaceful relationship with food. They don’t signify failure, just normalcy!
Do you notice a wicked increased appetite around that time of month? Check out this post where I dive into the reasons why, and what to do about it.
If you’re finding it challenging to connect to your hunger/fullness – close your eyes, put your hand on your stomach and feel the connection. Be patient with yourself, this may take some time.
In terms of satisfaction, pay attention to what foods are satisfying to you. Hot, cold, crunchy, dry, salty, sweet, etc. This may be the first time you’ve ever considered what’s satisfying to you or what you’re craving in a given moment. Satisfaction plays an important role in feeling a sense of fullness and contentment with a meal or snack, so this is a critical component of intuitive eating to lean into when you are trying to trust your body with its hunger and fullness cues.
If you’re new to the hunger and fullness scale, or just need a refresher, here’s some additional details and instructions:
Practice rating your hunger and fullness on a scale of 1-10 for as long as you need to in order to feel more connected to your own cues.
1 = famished, faint, irritable
2 = very hungry & need food fast
3 = hungry & ready to eat
4 = beginning to feel signs of hunger aka growling stomach
5 = physically full
6 = satisfied, no longer hungry
7 = slightly uncomfortable feeling of fullness
8 = feeling too full, have to loosen belt
9 = too full, have to unbutton pants
10 = overstuffed & feeling sick
Associate eating enough food with GOOD things
Lastly, do some soul work and really emphasize associating adequate food intake with positive outcomes. You can reflect on your own life and experiences, and also just think generally about humans as a species. Food is energy. Energy is how our body and brain accomplish anything. A fully nourished body and brain are capable of incredible feats. Energy from food gets used up and needs to be replenished, which requires regular, frequent consumption of more food. Food intake allows all of us to continue to be our best, brightest and most inspired selves.
Here’s an example of a list of things you can do when you eat enough:
- Run faster
- Swim farther
- Be present with your loved ones
- Achieve your greatest potential
- Be your best self
- Focus on what’s important
- Stop thinking so much about food
- Feel stronger
- Lift heavier weights at the gym
So make your own list. Get motivated by your unlimited potential. And then go and eat.the.food. that will allow your body and mind to achieve it.
I hope you found this encouraging and helpful. We’re all in this fight against diet culture together, so share the love with anyone that you think might benefit from hearing this message. If you’re not signed up for my email list yet, why the heck not!?
Head here to download your free copy of my Befriend your Body eBook and get on the list for lots of goodies to help you in your journey of making peace with food and building a better relationship with your body.