The other day I talked about reaching a point where I finally recognize physical hunger. The more I thought about this, the more I wanted to do a series dedicated to hunger. Unmasking hunger has been one of the most difficult aspects of intuitive eating (hunger directed eating, mindful eating) for me. Maybe it’s equally difficult for you, and if so, perhaps this series will be of benefit.
Over the years, I have confused physical hunger with so many other things. I reached a point where I believed I was addicted to food because of it. I remember being so frustrated. For the first couple of months of my Intuitive Eating journey, I couldn’t even identify true physical hunger. I’m certain that a major contributor was the diet mentality noise in my head. Once that began to clear, I was able to recognize some subtle cues, but I would often still confuse it with other needs. We will most definitely address this confusion during the series, but before we get into that, we need to know how to recognize true physical hunger.
I’ve read a few descriptions of physical hunger, but the sign I look for the most is growling/heat in my stomach (between my solar plexus and belly button). Since, for me, a headache can mean any number of things, I can’t always rely on a headache to mean “I need food”. If I feel a “rumbling” below my belly button, that’s digestion, which is not a request for food. If I feel a heavy sensation in my throat, that is thirst… and again, not a request for food.
Over the years I bought into the notion that we should never let ourselves get hungry. I think I even feared being hungry. I would have dramatic drops in blood sugar that would turn me into a cranky bear if I got hungry (at least I thought it was hunger). And then, of course, dieting just made me hate the feeling of hunger all the more because it meant restriction and deprivation.
Gentle, physical hunger cues feel nothing like blood sugar crashes resulting from sugar spikes (more on this later). They feel nothing like the ravenous eat or be eaten feeling you get from starving yourself. It’s also not a craving for a specific food. True physical hunger is gentle and not unpleasant at all. You need not fear it because it’s merely a prompting, a simple signal that says, “make your way to food”. Your taste buds become more sensitive and almost anything you eat will taste great. Likewise, almost anything you choose will be satisfying. Your nose also becomes more sensitive and I highly recommend smelling your food choice before eating it.
Admittedly, waiting for physical hunger still feels miserably tedious some days, and when that happens, I might end up eating before the signal arrives to keep from obsessing about it. In general though, I keep working on waiting for those cues and since I’m going for progress, not perfection, I don’t need to beat myself up if I jump the gun some days. I simply make a mental note that I misread my body’s signals, try to assess what it was actually telling me, and move on.
So, now that we know what physical hunger is, the next post will begin to address hunger confusion.