Recall the last time you were around a little one. Their hunger cues were unmistakable. They push the plate away when full and they have had enough.
Most of us start out with a strong intuitive sense to our bodies’ physiological needs and are able to respond naturally. Our bodies give us signals to start or stop eating and we respond accordingly.
For others, the hunger/full signal is more complicated. Our eating patterns are more complicated. Our eating patterns are shaped by environmental influences. A few are: family rules around mealtimes, cultural influences around good and bad foods, and exposure to different types of foods. And, of course, societal pressures around body image.
And if we have a history of disordered eating behaviors, like restricting or binge eating, our ability to respond to our body’s cues can really suffer. This is further complicated by self-image and identity (think the distorted pride that a workaholic might feel in being able to skip one or more meals a day in order to achieve more at the office).
When we diet or restrict, our body will eventually react by acting like it is in starvation mode. More likely for most of us this will result in a binge. Our physical and psychological tools for detecting our own hunger are dysregulated. Our sense of trust in our bodies is gone.
The dieticians I work with are often telling their patients to set up “challenges.” Challenge yourself by asking, “Do I need to eat 9 chocolate pretzels or am I satiated after 5?”
Using a hunger scale can help you gain control of your eating. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being ravenous and 10 being stuffed, rank your hunger right before you eat. At the halfway point of your meal, rank your fullness again using the same 1-10 scale. If you are at a 5,6, or 7, put your fork down and stop eating.
If you decide to finish eating, rank your satiety. Be honest with yourself. If you feel like you ate Thanksgiving dinner but you still have room for the bowl of ice cream, chances are you’re eating to deal with some emotional triggers.
Those who have been living with eating disorders for a long time will need to re-establish these signals. Using the hunger scale is a great way to practice body awareness. Utilize this scale daily as practice makes perfect (perfect-for-you). And if you eat past the point of comfortable fullness, be kind to yourself. Recognize this is an iterative process. No one has perfect eating habits.
Consider how you can create frequent, predictable low stress eating environments. For my clients, anytime they are not in front of a screen, means they are in a low stress-eating environment. This may also mean challenging the familial culture in which you grew up. Perhaps your television screen was your babysitter and dinner in front of your “babysitter” was a routine occurrence. Now, the challenge will be to sit at a table without distractions. This will take practice but believe me your body and your mind will thank you. Let us know how your challenges are going or if you have any questions about eating disorders by contacting us here!