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 My intern, Ally, is taking over my blog to bring you a 10-part Mini training teaching you about the ten principles of Intuitive Eating. Each week, a new blogpost will go live summarizing the key elements of the principle while also giving you actionable steps to bring the principle into your life. Last week Ally gave the low down on Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out that post! This week, Ally is teaching you about one of my favorite principles, Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger. To make sure you don’t miss any posts from this series, click here to subscribe to my weekly newsletter.  

Take it away, Ally!

Diet culture places shame around the feeling of hunger, which teaches us to distrust our own biological hunger signals. By fighting these natural cues, you deprive your body of the energy it needs to function which negatively impacts all other aspects of your physical, social, and emotional wellbeing.

Honoring your hunger is the first step towards trusting your body and reclaiming peace with food.

In order to be able to honor your hunger, it is important to first reject the idea that hunger is a bad thing. Contrary to what diet culture preaches, there is no reason to feel shame around simply eating when you are hungry.

After years of living in the diet mindset, hunger cues may be faint or challenging to recognize; you can start by focusing your awareness on hunger symptoms and types of hunger (keep reading to learn specific techniques for reconnecting with your body’s hunger cues).

To one dieter, “hunger was terrifying, and often resulted in out-of-control eating, which reinforced his fear of hunger.”

(pg 87 in Intuitive Eating)

The feeling of hunger is a mind-body connection, and when you don’t fuel your body properly, you lose control around food. The reason you end up feeling out of control is because your body feels that it needs to take protective measures in case there’s another period of food restriction in the future. In other words, your body is trying to protect you against the perceived threat of starvation. 

Likely, many of us have also had a similar experience with fearing hunger, as diet culture wants us to believe we can’t trust ourselves around food. This fear of hunger has been instilled in us by diet culture. Ultimately, diet culture doesn’t care about your health- rather, it profits off of people distrusting their body’s cues and instead using their calorie tracking apps, meal plans, and point systems to govern eating behaviors. Intuitive eating, on the other hand,  gives you full permission to eat when you are hungry. This is crucial because it’s much easier to stop eating when you’re full if you know that you’ll have the chance to eat again when hunger strikes.

In a study that simulated food deprivation from dieting, rats were divided into a food deprivation group and a control group. “The food-deprived rats went without food for up to four days and then were allowed to eat again… while both groups gained weight, those in the food deprived group gained more weight, in direct proportion to the length of their prior deprivation.” (page 86)

The rats in this study exhibited the biological response for starvation, similar to how our bodies respond to dieting; after the period of starvation, their metabolisms were slowed and their animalistic drive was to overeat to protect against the perceived threat of future starvation periods. These are the factors that drove the food-restricted group to ultimately gain more weight than the control group (the control group represents the group that was able to simply honor their hunger). Essentially, not honoring your hunger leads to primal hunger, leading you to gain weight as a protective measure for future periods of starvation.

Dieting is actually a form of food insecurity, as people are pushed into the vicious cycle of restricting and overeating to compensate for the loss of energy. Contrary to what diet culture wants us to believe, gaining weight isn’t a result of individual “willpower.” Gaining weight after a period of restriction is your body very literally trying to protect you… Your body needs enough fuel to keep you alive and functioning optimally.

Food insecurity is a form of trauma, and it affects social relationships, mental health, and metabolism. If you have the privilege of having reliable and consistent access to food, consider how self-imposed food restriction induces the experience of food insecurity on the body. Your brain knows no difference- ignoring your hunger cues makes your brain think that food is actually scarce, even if you literally have a full pantry.

Even if you aren’t experiencing literal food insecurity, your body doesn’t know the difference between true food insecurity and self-imposed restriction. 

Upon first attempting to “honor your hunger,” you may find it difficult to actually hear your hunger cues. There are many reasons a person may experience lack of attunement with their hunger cues including having a history of chronic dieting, frequently skipping meals, or experiencing intense emotions. Don’t fret! With the right tools, it’s possible to get your hunger cues back. 

To begin the process of regaining awareness of your hunger, identify what hunger feels like in your body.

Did you know hunger can be felt in many places besides the stomach? Your hunger may manifest as mild gurgling in your stomach, lightheadedness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, increased thoughts about food, decreased energy levels, and/ or headaches.

For me personally, I tend to feel gurgling in my stomach when hunger first strikes, followed by a lethargic, unfocused brain fog that sets in as the hunger intensifies. Check in with yourself a few times each day (without judgment) and focus on dropping into your body to consider your level of hunger.  

 The concept of “dropping into your body to feel your hunger level” can certainly feel vague; to give the experience more structure, you might try rating your hunger on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0= ravenous and 10= uncomfortably stuffed. Another option is you can remove the numbers attached to this rating and focus on qualitative ratings, such as feeling unpleasant hunger, pleasant/ neutral hunger, pleasant fullness, or unpleasant fullness. This activity helps to manually flex the muscle of dropping into your body. Though it may seem vague at first, the more you practice dropping into your body to hear your internal cues, the easier and more reflexive it becomes.

Think of your intuition like a muscle- the more you practice flexing it, the stronger it becomes.

To help you implement this principle, Leah is giving you access to one of the most valuable tools that she uses with her clients. Click here  to get FREE access to your very own Intuitive Eater’s Hunger/ Fullness scale. This tool is seriously game changing and she’s so excited for you to get your hands on it.

Did you hear the news? We launched a podcast here at Leah Kern Nutrition! Shoulders Down Podcast is a podcast designed to teach you how to harness your intuition to govern not just how you eat but also how you live. Click here to listen to our latest episode on Intuitive eating in pregnancy and diet culture in motherhood. 

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