Managing Hunger & Diet

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Managing Hunger & Diet

Posted 05 May 2019

Diet & Weight Management

Jeanne Bedard

Managing Hunger & Diet

Common wisdom says that one should not go grocery shopping whilst hungry! From experience, this piece of hunger insight can be extrapolated to help you see body signals as an ally of productivity and health...

Perhaps you have been on many weight loss diets or wellness plans. You might feel like you get hungry “too fast” or “too often;” you might think you lack willpower or see hunger as the enemy to be defeated by drinking water and eating low-energy foods. Or perhaps you get so busy that you don’t eat much during the day and then see hunger strikes hard when the pressure lifts after a day at work? Maybe you just don't feel hungry or eat out of fear of getting hungry? Whatever the case is, I’d like to share with you 3 ways to reflect on hunger more efficiently.

Hunger is not a matter of willpower

If you are reading this, you likely have an interest in wellness and total health. You might also value the body and mind connection. Hunger is a great example of how biology and psychology interact. You may know that as our body uses energy, blood sugar gets depleted, a hormonal cascade response occurs, our brain gets the memo that nourishment is needed and we make the decision to eat, or not. That being said, “mental hunger” is another story (to be covered in another post).

In terms of physical hunger, I invite you to think about hunger as a scale from 0 to 10; 0 being not hungry at all and 10 being “starving” (a point at which I refer to as “emergency eating”). In the 4-6 hunger range, food choices in terms of quality and quantity are easier to make whereas, at the 7-8-9-10 end of the spectrum, decision making becomes hard or impulsive. As we move towards 10, whatever we know about nutrition becomes increasingly trivial. At this point, the body’s instinct for wanting to raise our blood sugar is strong. This is not a matter of willpower. At this point you are facing an adaptive feature of human evolution.

Amy Gilbert Hunger Scale

Asking yourself the right questions will help you connect with your body signals and approach hunger from a self-care perspective. Being better attuned with hunger intensity can also help you plan ahead and stay away from unpleasant hunger. Can you appreciate these aspects of biology and evolution and dissociate motivation and hunger?

Hunger awareness as a self-care practice

How does hunger show up for you during the day? What kind of attention do those signals get? Do you get to the point where you would eat anything you see? Argue with your partner about what to eat without being able to make an efficient decisions? Do you settle for ordering in again this week? Do you end up eating fast or overeating passed your comfort zone?

For most people the question, “How hungry are you?” is both obvious and blurry. For some, hunger signals are faint and tired -- similar to a parent (or spouse) being tired of repeating the same things over and over again without acknowledgment. Everybody feels hunger in different ways and has a different past record of answering to it. Does your stomach rumble, growl, gurgle? Do you feel nauseous, irritable, lightheaded, weak or tired? Do you experience headaches, have trouble concentrating or are preoccupied with food? 

If so, be delighted! Your body is working to keep you alive and nourished. So let us be humble and don’t take all the credit for your questionable food choices -- our response to intense hunger is not a lack of knowledge but a lack of interoception and honouring it. Interoception is the concept of perceiving body sensation such as feeling your heart beat or your stomach growling, for example. Knowing that your body needs to be fuelled every 2 to 6 hours while we are awake and planning an individualized flexible meal structure can help navigate the distraction and factors interfering with hunger signals. Maybe self-care and the attention toward fueling your body was the one part of the meal plan you tried that worked for and with your body?

Digestion matters

When we are out of touch or ignoring it, hunger can also feel like an intense pendulum swinging between “too hungry” and “too full”. Reaching an uncomfortable level of hunger, your mind and body are looking for a “fast source of energy”. This is normal and rooted in survival but modern day reality is such that carbohydrate-rich foods (pastries, crackers, fruits, breads, etc.) are often the most accessible. This is actually the “quickest fix” and will spike your blood sugar levels when eaten on their own. A combination of carbohydrates, fibre, protein and fats yields a steadier, moderate blood sugar response and a satiated (or full) feeling for longer. When becoming a more intuitive eater, you get a chance to enhance energy and performance. You honour your hunger and eat a variety of nourishing foods from a more peaceful place.

In the field of digestion, gut microbiome (the balance of good gut bacteria) is fascinating. As we move forward with knowledge and research on the subject, I like to set my clients up with a great foundation for optimal digestion. Being attuned with hunger is also a big part of preventing bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort and is vastly underestimated. Do you recall planning to go out with friends to a brunch or dinner? Have you skipped a meal to “leave more room” for a specific occasion? How did it feel when you ended up eating? Did you feel so hungry you felt like trying everything at the buffet? Or perhaps you felt full quickly and got some negative digestive feedback? We often blame bloating and discomfort on specific foods but for your sake and in defence of food, I invite you to look at how timing and hunger can be the first steps of a beneficial domino effect.

Get off the hunger rollercoaster, take a step back and nourish your body regularly. You’ll have more energy, less stress and likely improved digestion!

So now! Are you hungry? How intense is it? Where and how does hunger feel for you? Are you hungry for a snack or a meal? What food would be both nourishing and satisfying?

If this sounds scary or unrealistic to you at the moment or you are just not sure how to get there, consult a professional dietitian trained in Intuitive Eating to guide you to rediscovering the body wisdom that we are all born with. For more advice, feel free to reach out.


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Celestine says:

7 months 3 weeks ago
Hi Jeanne, I'm interested to get your take on the enlightened ones such as Ghandi that consciously moved their body to extremes of hunger in order to reach a heightened state of thinking?

Jeanne_Bedard says:

7 months 3 weeks ago
Hello and thank you for taking the time to ask Celestine, There are so many ways to approach this subject ! To be fair, I could not claim to understand the full process and experience of Ghandi in his journey. In my understanding Ghandi has also used fasting many times to protest against violence. One can only respect the physical and mental strength associated with such act and the causes he stood for. In terms of spiritual practice and meditation, I am sure you would agree that enlightenment is a complex journey and goes beyond hunger. However, extrapolating from Ghandi’s wisdom, I am personally and professionally passionate about the practice of equanimity, which applies very well to nutrition. When define as « calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation » … I would consider extreme hunger as a difficult one… In a day-to-day life and not necessarily in a fasting situation, one powerful exercise that I could relate to Ghandi’s journey is in terms of observing the physical sensation of hunger with a certain level of curiosity and patience. I have seen and supported this kind of reflective process. I have seen it be enlightening for many. Some of us are afraid of hunger… are often reacting in a « default setting » way when hungry. We have become increasingly surrounded by nutritional information and external cues telling us what and when to eat. In my experience, consciousness, mindfulness and kindness (including self-care) are central to peace and success!

Darnell says:

8 months 6 days ago
How about for the people in the world that are hungry because they just have no food to eat? where do they fall on the hunger scale? Darnell

Jeanne_Bedard says:

7 months 3 weeks ago
Important and difficult subject. More than ever we are in need of innovation and change in the food system and distribution so that everybody has enough. I stand with you on that one. When being constantly hungry without access to food, at some point hunger signals tend to lessen. The metabolism slows down and binges can occur when food is available. On the other hand, some people might not go hungry but still be malnourished in terms of imbalance in nutrients. As you know, it comes a point where the body cannot cope and malnutrition develops. Malnutrition by excess is also possible when energy is readily available but nutrient density is low. Metabolically there are similar responds when people go on restrictive diets. The body does not make the difference between shortage of food and voluntary deprivation. Food insecurity has a long-lasting impression even after food becomes more available. I do treat people from all walks of life with past history of chronic hunger from a lack of access to food or dieting which has impacted their relationship to food. The fear of not having enough is real and persistent but can be improved with the proper guidance and support. Thank you for your question Darnell.

Tasha says:

8 months 1 week ago
What if all you want to eat is chocolate!???? Doesn't make you fat because the quantity is not the same as putting 3 big meals in your stomach each day. Gives you the energy lift when you need it, and doesn't make you feel bloated and sluggish from two much foooooooood!!! ;>

Jeanne_Bedard says:

7 months 3 weeks ago
Good point Emma. In terms of food quantity ; energy and nutrient density is to consider when we talk about food. For the same amount some foods have more or less energy. Example : 1 cup of chocolate chips would be 10 times more energy than in a 1 cup of blueberries… That’s basically the main concept that certain diets use to guide people about food choices. However choosing food for its volume and energy content can’t be the full answer to an optimal nutrition. One of the many factors to consider in finding a sustainable eating style is the individual satisfaction provided by food (I could talk to you about that for days). Disregarding these aspects is the reason why selective meal plans fail in the long term. Have you ever tried eating only chocolate for a day? It probably would not feel great digestion wise. That being said, we also know that intense craving can come from conscious or unconscious food rules, restrictions and deficiency. Taking a deep dive in intuitive eating gives so many tools and factors that affect what we want to eat beyond hunger. Also, you are totally right that too much food can make us sluggish and slow. I will write about it soon in another blog about satiety. Stay tuned! Thank you for your question!

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