How important is it to eat only when hungry? Get to know true body hunger and 5 of its awesome benefits.
Admit it, you have Googled “weight loss secrets” at some point in your life. I have too.
And while we hang our head in shame, the fact that Google queried about 21,500,000 results in 0.60 seconds tells us that we are not alone. I teach sustainable, habit-based weight loss and yet infomercials still intrigue me too.
We know that no magic formula for shedding pounds exists but it is tempting to look for a more glamorous solution than the “eat less and move more” mantra that dieticians and physicians always come back to.
The “secret” to good health and weight loss that I am going to share with you today won’t sell books and this post probably won’t go viral. Yet, you will learn that the most basic tool that you and I have for regulating our food intake and reaching our goals IS the most powerful.
It is SO effective, that it may be the ONLY tool you need. You may even be able to eat whatever you want (or whatever your body wants!).
This Thing Called Hunger
Running on a parallel highway to “eat less, move more” is the encouragement from the mindful or intuitive eating community to “eat only when hungry and stop when full.”
This advice teaches us how to organically reach the first part of that conventional equation to eat less. When true body hunger determines when and how much we eat, smaller portion sizes are the side effect.
But, why is hunger so important? Good question. Well, we all know that hunger is our body’s signal to request more food. When our stomach is empty and our easily used energy resources found in our bloodstream are exhausted, we get a gentle nod from our mid-section that says it is time to eat.
We can consume food at this time or bypass the signal. If we are busy or we don’t have time to eat, our body will break down stored energy for fuel.
Eating When NOT Hungry
When we eat prior to feeling true body hunger, we’re piling additional fuel on an already sufficient gas tank. We won’t feel hunger for quite some time and any excess fuel will be stored as body fat.
If this happens occasionally, it’s not a big deal. But, done over time, this practice will lead to excess body weight. Probably not what you want.
Hunger is the barometer that tells us where the food we eat will go. Eat when you’re hungry and that nutrition will fuel your life. This is the energy to play with your kids and to do those last 3 reps during your workout.
Eat when you’re not hungry and that extra food can start to weigh you down. These are the extra portions that lead to a haze; the heaviness that can turn your desire to get ‘er done into a call from the couch to watch the latest episode on Netflix.
It’s such a contrast and yet the desire to eat when we are not hungry is still strong. So, what keeps us from getting acquainted with hunger?
Does Your Hunger Have Baggage?
If you are anything like me, your initial thoughts about eating only when hungry may be a little scary. It’s not hunger, it’s “HUNGER!”
That’s what diets will do. Not to mention that many days you are so busy running after kiddos that you end up missing meals, only to end up overly hungry, to the point that you overeat.
Hunger like this is often called “gasping for food.” Imagine you are denied air for one minute– when it is time to breathe, you will gasp for air. You aren’t moderate about your breathing because being without air has created a demanding need for this essential resource now.
Breathing, which is an unnoticed experience in your life, has become hurried and emotional. Such is the case with diets that keep you in a state of “starving” for any length of time. After a while, it is hard to be rational or disciplined in your consumption.
Hunger Is Not THAT Bad
Thankfully, it is possible to restore a more balanced view of hunger in your life. Hunger can become just a signal that tells you it’s time to eat, just as you receive gentle reminders each day to sleep, drink, and use the restroom.
And this may surprise you- true hunger actually has a bit of laziness to it. Yes, outside of an internal dialogue laced with fear, hunger is actually easy and pleasant and does not require an iron will to tolerate.
A few weeks ago I was setting up the baked goods table at church before our Sunday morning service. The star of the show has always been donuts, but recently I have been bringing in some No Sugar Added Whole Wheat Banana Bread Muffins and they are a big hit.
A friend of mine quickly popped through the front door and was dragged to the donut display by her toddler. She was excited to see that I had brought in muffins this week and exclaimed how hungry she was. Then, as quickly as she arrived, she was pulled off in another direction, no muffin in hand.
Later that morning, she happily returned to the dwindling basket of muffins and calmly nibbled away on one as she caught up with friends. Hunger, for her, was not unpleasant or upsetting. It just was.
I probably don’t have to tell you that she maintains a very lean body, naturally.
Getting To Know Hunger
So what does real hunger, unclouded by the ups and downs of diets and overeating, really look like?
- You can’t miss true hunger.
- You can skip true hunger (for a little while).
1. True body hunger is clear as day. If you have ever wondered if you are hungry, you’re not. While hunger will ebb and flow, it will always return. You don’t have to fear missing it any more than you worry about missing the latest headline on a celebrity break up. It will be back, I promise.
2. True body hunger is not so uncomfortable that it must be relieved immediately. When left on its own, without fearful thinking and anxiety, it does not have to be solved right this second.
While hunger signals will vary from person to person, you can expect to feel some emptiness accompanied by a warm sensation just below your breastbone. Some may experience a growl, a dip in energy, or a lack of focus. Some may not.
Your best bet is to be aware while refraining from judgment. Try not to call it “bad” or threaten that you are “starving.” We both know that’s probably not true.
If hunger feels scary and overwhelming, examine what you are saying to yourself about it. Speak encouragement and reassurance as you become more and more comfortable with its sensations.
Eat Only When Hungry: 5 Awesome Benefits
When we play a game, there is a winner. When you play to listen to your hunger signals, you win The Hunger Games! Here’s what you can expect when you tune in to the signals and tune out your opposing hesitations and fears.
1. Eating when hungry increases your meal enjoyment.
No matter how bad (or good) a cook you are, hunger will make you better. When your body is asking for food, your taste buds are primed to make food as pleasurable as possible. Your senses are heightened and that first bite of your meal is amazing and eating mindfully is much easier.
2. Eating when hungry makes healthy food more appealing.
Have you ever noticed that if you have an inkling to snack for snacking’s sake, sweet and salty things sound best? This is because our tastes are dulled when our physical self is not in need of fuel. However, the opposite works in our favor as true hunger is not super-picky and nourishing eats often sound best.
3. Eating when hungry brings clarity to our fullness signals.
If you begin eating when you are hungry, it is easy to notice the absence of it. But, if you eat when you are not hungry, how will you know when to stop? By starting your meal when your body says so, you can also hear when it’s time to put your fork down.
4. Eating when hungry lets you know that you’re not eating more than your body needs.
When you listen to your hunger signals, you don’t have to wonder if you should be eating a 1/3 or a 1/2 cup of oatmeal. With time and attention, you will begin to uncover exactly what your body needs to thrive. You can move past assumptions and food plans and be led into your best practices.
5. Eating when hungry can help you meet your health and weight loss goals.
Eating when you are hungry (most of the time) is a simple way to maintain your bodyweight. If you have some extra weight to lose, allowing yourself to feel hungry for 30-60 minutes before meals will ensure that you are reaching an energy deficit during that time and space. Done consistently, you will find sustainable weight loss.
Finding True Hunger In Real Life
You’re starting to see the value of allowing true body hunger but, you’ve got some hesitation. You’re probably wondering how you can eat only when hungry while maintaining a busy life that is often dictated by other people’s schedules.
Your days may be so busy that you miss a meal and end up overly hungry only to eat more than you want before dinner. Then you eat dinner anyway!
Just like any other healthy habit, embracing hunger does not have to be all-or-nothing. Waiting for hunger sometimes is far better than never getting for the “go” signal.
Set Realistic Expectations
Rather than setting yourself up with unrealistic expectations, consider waiting for hunger at a time that works in your real life. For example, is there a meal time that is flexible for you? While you want to eat dinner with your family every night, you may not mind waiting to have breakfast and/or lunch until a little later. If that feels good, go with it.
In this case, choose 1 or 2 meals per day that you would like to wait for hunger before eating.
Another way to find your hunger is to work backward from a meal that is set in your schedule. Then determine what tweaks you could make to allow yourself to be good and ready for that delicious meal.
Let’s say you are aiming to be hungry for dinner… Can you lighten up your afternoon snack or skip it all together? Are there nibbles or bites that take place that cloud that clear call to eat?
You won’t nail it right away or all of the time but your intention and observation will serve you well.
This isn’t revolutionary but, then again, maybe it is. While apps and portion guides can be helpful tools, getting back to the basics won’t ever go out of style.
Download Your Hunger And Fullness Tracking Sheet
- Download your Hunger and Fullness Tracking Sheet BELOW and follow the tracking exercise.
- Determine what time you can realistically expect to feel hunger.
- Look at how you eat before that meal time and decide if there are any changes you need to make.
- Practice, practice, practice while giving yourself a TON of grace.
Hunger baggage is real but you don’t have to carry it anymore. By exploring and embracing your body’s signals, you can discover what it really takes to fuel your body and, in turn, eat in such a way that you can reach your health and weight loss goals.
Discomfort will come, but much of it can be dissolved by acknowledging your anxieties and reassuring yourself with the truth- hunger is a natural occurrence and it is only as uncomfortable as we make it.
By choosing small ways to reconnect with your internal cues to eat, you will be taking a big step to your longterm success!
Brandice Lardner is a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Author, Amazon #1 Best Selling Author, and Jesus Girl whose mission in life is to help women ditch the diet mentality and find peace with food and their bodies so that they are better equipped to do the great things God has called them to do.