A dieting body is at a constant battle with hunger cues. It’s saying things like “I shouldn’t be hungry. I just ate an hour ago; I’ll just drink some water to suppress my appetite; I can wait just a few more hours until dinner.” Ignoring biological hunger cues can have some pretty powerful effects on the body, both physically and mentally.
Have you ever heard of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment? It was a study done during World War II to help understand the effects of famine. Healthy men were put on a diet of around 1500 calories per day for 6 months and the effects observed were startling. Before I list what they experienced, you may be thinking that 1500 calories does not sound like starvation. It might even sound like a diet you have been on in the past. And you would be right. What they observed is a lot like what might be seen in a chronic dieter:
Their metabolic rate decreased by almost half
The men reported increased cravings and obsession with food
Some men reported episodes of food binges and even bulimia
Some exercised excessively so that they would be allowed more food rations
There were reports of emotional and mood changes, including depression
During the refeeding period of the study, participants became obsessed with food and it took most of them many months to begin eating regularly again. Can you see yourself in any of the observances above? This is what dieting does to the body. Honoring your hunger assures your body that you will feed it, that you are not in a state of famine.
Energy from food is just as essential to survival as breathing. When we ignore the subtle cues to eat for long enough, primal hunger kicks in. Primal hunger in real life might look something like this: Oversleeping and running out the door without your usual breakfast, then forgetting to grab the morning snack and having a lunch meeting run late. By the time you get to eat something it’s 1:00. You are HANGRY. You run to your desk and devour your lunch in a matter of minutes. This is primal hunger. If a version of this scenario has happened to your before, be grateful. Primal hunger exists to keep us alive. There should never be any shame in honoring your hunger.
The opposite of primal hunger is hunger silence. If you have ignored your hunger cues for long enough, you may not feel or notice any of the nuances of hunger anymore. Things like stress, chronic dieting and meal skipping can all cause this silence to happen. This is where eating for self-care would be important (i.e. eating in the absence of hunger.)
Did you know that not everyone experiences hunger the same way? Maybe you don’t get that rumbling feeling in your belly so you assume you can’t be hungry. Other ways you may experience hunger are irritability, light headedness, fatigue or difficulty concentrating. Becoming attune to your own bodies cues and signals will help you to better honor your hunger. Check in with yourself throughout the day. Has it been more than 5 hours since you last ate? See what sensations your body might be telling you that it’s time to refuel. Honoring hunger is a key step in becoming an intuitive eater.