Exploring Mindful Eating for Successful Weight Management: When Are We Really Hungry for Food?
What’s a first step in mindful eating (also called intuitive eating)? Getting in touch with feelings of true physical hunger. Sounds simple, but at first it may be hard. That’s because either due to dieting or chaotic patterns of eating, people often ignore physical hunger cues or eat when they are not physically hungry at all. Then they often end up confused about when they are truly hungry for food. Just following this one principle of mindful eating, however, would very likely improve the way most people eat.
Mastering Mindful Eating – Intuitive Eating
The most logical place to start getting back in touch with physical hunger cues is to establish some structure for the timing and balance of meals. This is especially true for someone dealing with binge eating — a solid structure that supports nutritional health starts to put our bodies back into balance so that our appetite regulatory system can begin to work the way it was intended.
Ideally, start by eating within the first few hours of waking, then every 3 to 5 hours from that point on. Ensure that most meals/snacks contain grains/starchy vegetables, protein foods and fruits/vegetables.
Next, experiment with separating “mouth hunger” (emotional and spiritual hungers) from “stomach hunger” (physical hunger). If you think you may be hungry but aren’t sure, wait a while. It will become clear. Physical hunger becomes more intense with time. Emotional or spiritual desires that you experience as hunger generally do not intensify over time.
Working with a hunger and satiety scale can help increase your awareness of physical hunger and satisfaction. Rating your level of hunger or satisfaction with a number helps you to stop and consider what is actually going on in your body.
Hunger Scale Used in Mindful Eating or Intuitive Eating
- ravenous, may have a headache or feel nauseous
- overly hungry, may be preoccupied with hunger and pangs may be VERY uncomfortable
- urge to eat is strong, stomach growls, can sense pangs/gnawing sensation; may even notice a slight pressure in the back of the throat
- a little hungry, feeling empty or hollow in the stomach, perhaps noticing your thoughts drifting to food
- neutral, no longer experiencing pangs, but not feeling full or satisfied; at this stage you would not sense food in the stomach
- able to feel the weight of food in the stomach, and notice the feeling of the stomach stretching slightly as a result of eating
- hunger is gone; rate of eating slows; experiencing a sense of well being from having had enough to eat
- not uncomfortable, but definitely full; taste, texture, appearance of the food may not stand out very much at this point. You may notice yourself eating without paying attention to the food
- uncomfortable, noticing a significant stretch to the stomach, perhaps noticing difficulty breathing due to physical stretch, would be uncomfortable with light activity (walking) after eating
- painfully full, “couldn’t take another bite,” activity is out of the question.
Effective Weight Management Based on Mindful Eating
If you consistently eat without listening for hunger and satisfaction cues, you may very well end up overeating, given the many opportunities to eat most of us face daily.
Take a moment to reflect on your typical hunger & satiety range, without judging.
- What number are you at when you sit down for most meals and snacks?
- How do you rate at the end of most meals and snacks?
- Ideally, we begin to eat when at a 3 or a 4, when it’s clear our bodies need food.
- Most of us feel most comfortable when we stop around 7 or 8.
Consider when your range of hunger and satisfaction is“off.”
- Do you often get overly hungry (1’s and 2’s)? When? Why?
- Do you eat until stuffed and uncomfortable at times? When? Why?
- Do you eat when not yet hungry? What triggers this?
- Practice eating within a range that feels right to you. What changes when you do?
Internal cues for starting and stopping eating are something we’re born with but often lose touch with. By tuning into our bodies’ physical hunger and satisfaction cues, we can begin to return to ‘normal’ eating, which is really what mindful eating is all about.
In the end, our internal cues intuitively support healthy weight management.
Mindful Eating or Intuitive Eating for Lasting Weight Loss and Management
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