What If I Never Feel Hungry When Doing Intuitive Eating?!
A big part of the process of becoming an intuitive eater is listening to hunger and fullness cues. At first, this can feel pretty confusing, especially if you're been dieting for years. In time, you can learn to respond to them effectively. When starting on this journey, it can be temping to get overly worried about why you're eating past fullness or snacking for emotional reasons. I know it's hard, but try not to worry too much about that for now and just get curious about understanding and honoring your hunger.
Being disconnected from your body's hunger and fullness signals is common with chronic dieters and those who deal with disordered eating. It can feel confusing when you start digging into Intuitive Eating and you hear you're supposed to be eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full. I mean, sure sounds easy enough, but in practice it can be anything but. There are many reasons why you might be out of touch with these body cues. Here are a few.
You've been suppressing your appetite. Many years of listening to only outside sources to tell you when, what, and how to eat has made it irrelevant when you're actually hungry (not to mention what you may want or need). When you're dieting, hunger doesn't matter - it can't matter! You are often eating such a small quantity of food per day, often way less than your body needs, so you absolutely have to ignore hunger to get through the day. Think about how many times you've felt hungry during the morning and tried all the recommended ways to get to lunch. Drink coffee, drink water, distract yourself. If none of those work, well, you can eat something small - but only raw vegetables or if you're lucky a few almonds. In time, your body forgets what it feels like to be appropriately hungry for breakfast, lunch, or snacks.
You're too busy or distracted during the day to notice the subtle signs of hunger. This happens so frequently in our society. For some, it can require that you actively prioritize your self-care during your workday. Many work environments do not make that easy, but that doesn't mean it's okay to skip lunch. This may mean making slight alterations to your schedule, or talking to your boss or colleagues.
You're afraid to feel hungry. Extreme hungry is a binge trigger for many people, so it makes sense that it would become scary if so often when you feel that type of intense hunger, you end up eating in a frantic manner until you're overfull and in pain. Learning to recognize subtle hunger can be a really helpful exploration on the path of healing from binge eating. Really, we need to be eating every 2-4 hours, so there may be a period of time where you need to eat on a schedule until your hunger signals come "back online". This process can be very scary and emotional, so it is often a good idea to work with a dietitian and therapist trained to work with eating disorders.
You're afraid to gain weight. This fear can come up all the time when you're in the beginning stages of Intuitive Eating. It is normal in our culture to want to adapt to the cultural narrative that "thin is better". But the truth is that body diversity is real and accepting this will take you way further than striving for the unattainable. It can be hard at first to push through the fear of weight gain when you've been told that skipping breakfast or staying under a certain number of calories is the way to lose weight or maintain your weight. Eating consistently throughout the day has a ton of benefits including increased energy and mood, less cravings later in the day, and regulated blood sugar. So even though difficult feelings may come up at first when you start trying to eat breakfast, eventually you'll notice your eating is more calm and you feel much better throughout the day.
You have a health condition, like PCOS, which does make food less appealing in the morning. It is true that for those with PCOS, appetite can be suppressed in the morning and not really kick in until mid-day. This is due to circadian rhythm disturbances that are common with PCOS. Even if your appetite is not strong during the beginning of the day, you can still have negative effects of not eating. Often those with PCOS who do not feel like eating early, get ravenous later in the day and then eat more than they would if they had eaten earlier. It's not easy, but finding some meals and snacks that you can tolerate (and hopefully enjoy) even though your appetite is not strong can help.
Learning to hear and respond to gentle hunger is a super important and healing part of the intuitive eating journey. The first step is usually finding a couple breakfasts that work for you. Toast and peanut butter works, leftover beans and rice, an egg or two with a dollop of hummus, whatever pleases you. Just start off by trying something small. And if possible, eat it mindfully and not in the car.
I hope this helps explain why it can be so hard to hear and honor your hunger. It's important to give yourself time, patience, and compassion in this process. You deserve to have a peaceful relationship to food, and in time, you will get there. Questions? Comments? I'd love to hear from you.