How important is it to eat only when you’re 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 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 mindful or intuitive community’s encouragement for “eating only when you’re hungry and stopping 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’re 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’re 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’s 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’ve 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’ve ever wondered if you’re 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.
5 Awesome Benefits of Eating Only When You’re Hungry
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 only 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 only 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 only when hungry brings clarity to our fullness signals.
If you begin eating when you are hungry, it’s 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 only 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 only when hungry can help you meet your health and weight loss goals.
Eating this way (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 to 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 altogether? 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. Give yourself time, and you will see the results of eating only when hungry. 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 long-term success!
Brandice Lardner is a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Amazon #1 Best Selling Author, Homeschool Mom, 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.
Julie Ash says
Brandice, Just a note to say again how much I appreciate your work and writing. There is a simplicity to what you are teaching, but depth that I really appreciate. What I really love about it is that its sustainable. I dont have to have any food plan to follow. I started out really strong (as usual) for about 5/6 weeks, then for whatever reason (as usual) fell, but now (as usual) am back on the track. Thank you also for teaching how important it is to receive grace and accept myself. It really makes a difference and Im able to empathize with and encourage others around me. There are so many people who struggle with weight. Such a strong hold in so many lives. I pray my walk with Grace Filled Plate can encourage others. Thank you so much Brandice. Keep up your good work and may God establish the work of your hands. 🙂
Hi Julie! Thank you so much for the comment and the encouragement! It warms my heart that you see not only the impact of this journey in your life but in the lives of others. I see this whole “food thing” as a means to the end of sharing the Lord. I love that you’re doing the same.
Isn’t it the coolest how grace gets us back on track so much sooner? I used to be afraid to cut myself slack but then only good things happened when I did. Great work!
I really enjoyed this read. There are several factual situations that I can relate to. But what really intrigued me was in your snippet of who you are Brandice, you said “your 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 then to do.” This comment opened up my eyes because I have deeply always had this desire, need, and want to fulfill this task about my life. You just brought it to life. Also verifying my unspoken thoughts about this very mission you have. I have been a diet person my whole adult life and by all means I do well. I get to my goal weight and it’s great. On the downfall of my weight demise I get comfortable and start eating things for a few days up to 1 week that stops my progress and I find myself going a whole other weekly detox to get myself back on track. I want to break the monotony of this cycle. I just want to always eat food and every now and then snack on sweets without over indulging. I have learned that will power doesn’t work for someone like me when It comes to my diet goals because I have figured out what works and I now make excuses to snack and then start over. It’s truly a game of manipulation. But, again your article stamped a lot of my behaviors. So thank you for your insight.
So glad you found this helpful, Kahlilah, in an unexpected way! God is pretty good at surprising us, isn’t He? 🙂
I love the simplicity of this and how much sense it makes!! I am going to try this! I have been a yo-yo dieter my whole life, trying every fad there is, losing weight only to gain it back. I know a lifestyle change is what is needed. Thanks for this!
You’re welcome, Olivia! I think the mindset shift of knowing this is a long-term pursuit can help us to choose our focus wisely. I think you’ll enjoy tuning into hunger. And, just a tip, try not to turn this into just another diet. There may be days you miss the mark or need to eat because of timing– it’s OK! Don’t let it discourage you or make you throw in the towel. Simply do your best to wait for hunger later 🙂
Totally agreed. So simple, yet so clear. Hearing this has showed me the true meaning to hunger and when to answer this call.
Awesome, Grace! Check-in and let us know how it’s going 🙂
Glory to God for these tips!Thankful for how God is using you to help His Body Brandice.I had a few questions feel free to answer when you are able..
1.Im pretty skinny and as a breastfeeding mom its hard for me to keep weight on and not run the risk of being underweight..God had revealed to me in this season that I had been overeating and now it seems as though I’m losing weight..would you recommend I increase my protein?Curious to hear your thoughts.
2.I also feel like it takes my body 2 servings of something for my body to get full any less than that and I’m still hungry.Would you say overeating/gluttont is eating past the point where our bodies are saying enough?
Hi GG! Thanks for the note and encouragement. I’ll do my best to answer. Obviously, I’m not a doctor, so you’re best bet is to talk with your obstetrician or pediatrician about breastfeeding. However, eating enough to feed baby is important and protein is a part of that. Aiming for a palm-sized of protein at meals should be more than enough.
Gluttony is a state of the heart. There are some bodies that require more food than others. If you need more energy (calories) to maintain a healthy weight, that’s ok 🙂
If you find that you’re always hungry after meals, do a quick check to make sure you have some protein and fat there.
Do you have any follow-up questions?
Just received this and joined your email list. I am looking forward to having all this information in one place. In the past, I have had hints and facts copied from here and
there and condensed them in a notebook. But you cover everything I need in one place.
Looking forward to reading this more thoroughly and asking God for strenght and mindfulness to put it into action.
Thank you and God bless you,
So glad you’re here, Candace!
Interesting read. We’ve been taught to fear feelings and to Ignore our bodies messages. I have been fasting every day from anywhere between 18 to 23 hours and often For two full days or up to four days. In the beginning it felt unnatural but now I’m discovering that not only is hunger not a scary sensation but I think I still have yet to feel it. I don’t think I’ve been hungry. I eat because I fear that it might be unhealthy for me not to. The most fascinating thing I have discovered about the whole experience is that when I first started, I would break my fast with a very large meal. Now I am very thoughtful about exactly what I’d like to eat and my Meals are much smaller than when I ate three times a day. I also have way more energy and less Pains .
That’s awesome, Sam! You’re discovering that hunger is just a signal and nothing to be afraid of and that God provides– food is always there!
Today is my first day of starting with Grace filled plate. I’m weary and tired from a life….decades of losing weight/gaining weight, over eating, stress eating, eating when I’m not hungry, and most of all, feeling like gluttony is a chain around my neck that I drag around every day every where I go. I feel defeated…I’ve tried everything and I know it stands between me and my LORD. I pray this will finally break this chain off my life and allow me to have victory and draw nearer to the LORD. It began very early in my life. I grew up in a very dysfunctional home. Along with that, after my mom fixed my plate every day I was made to sit alone at the table till it was all eaten. I’m now in my sixties and I still make sure I clean my plate. Then I began to eat to cope with the stress around me. I’m praying this will change my life.
Welcome, Maleica! While this is a helpful post, I recommend that you get on our email list (in the header of the website) and focus on the free Faith [is greater than] Food intro email course. This will give you a Jesus-first foundation that’s not based on you, and what and how you eat. It will be a refreshing way to shift your heart!
Andrew Lin says
Hi. I really like the idea of eating only when hungry. I find my work schedule and other daily activities sometimes don’t allow for it. Would you like to add an article to address such?
Hi Andrew! In those cases, it’s helpful to focus on fullness and see if you can work “backward” and stop eating at a point that brings hunger about the time that you’d like to. It takes time and practice but, with some time playing with it, it will get easier. This post can help: https://gracefilledplate.com/how-to-stop-eating/