As babies, we came hard wired to eat when hungry and stop when full.  As we get older, those lines might blur a bit in regards to the taste and smells of food, but ultimately we still use them as a guide throughout childhood.  Have you ever seen a child push away a bowl of half-eaten ice cream because it was no longer satisfying for them?  I’ve seen it many times!

At some point, we start to ignore natural feelings of hunger and fullness.  This could be due to being told to finish your meal even though no longer hungry or being told that you shouldn’t eat because you have already eaten too much.  It’s also possible that starting a diet means disconnecting with your natural rhthyms in favor of giving your power and decision making over to a set of rules.

Above is a hunger scale that can act as a guide for you to start reconnecting to your natural born ability to trust your body and yourself.  Remember, this isn’t something new you are learning, it’s something you already know and just need to re-connect with.  Ideally, stay within the numbers 4-7.  As you eat regular, balanced meals every 3-4 hours to stablize blood sugar levels and fuel your body, these natural rhythms will start to remerge.  Eating regularly throughout the day prevents you from dropping below a 4, where anything looks good! It’s much easier to stay level-headed about food choices at a 4 than at a 1.  On the other hand, as you eat slowly and mindfully, you will be better able to listen to signs of fullness and prevent overeating.  It’s very common to go too long between meals and become ravenous, eat very quickly and end up at 10, or there abouts.  As you slow down with your food, you will be better able to listen to your intuitive signals, as well as feel psychologically and physiologically satisfied from your meals. Your body is also better able to digest and use the nutrients you feed your body when done in a state of relaxation.

I do feel that the BEST thing you can do for your health is to slow down.  Instead of blaming the food, let’s start looking at the behaviors around the food.  In my experience, as you start to normalize eating behaviors with regular, balanced meals eaten in an open, accepting and relaxing way as part of self-care, many issues take care of themselves.  Not only that, but you learn to love food again!

The last thing I would want you to do is turn Intuitive Eating and this hunger scale into yet another strict diet plan.  There will be times you drop below a 4 – I mean life happens, right!?  There will also be times when you may choose to eat past a 7, and that’s OK!  A good example of that may be eating out at a restaurant with friends and choosing to share food in order to try many new dishes.  An an intuitive eater, you may know that you are full but cognitively make the decision to continue eating past a 7.  If you turn Intuitive Eating into a diet, that may cause you to go back to past disordered eating behaviors where you pay penance for “eating too much” by skipping breakfast the next day or over-exercising.  Instead, a big part of making peace with food and applying the principles of Intuitive Eating is to trust your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.  Naturally, your body will let you know what it needs.  As you listen to it, you may be guided to have a lighter meal the next time you eat (but you do eat, no skipping!), encouraged to move your body in a way you enjoy, or your body just may have really needed the extra food!  It reminds me of Ellyn Satter’s definition of normal eating:

“Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.

In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.”

— Ellyn Satter

Now, in my experience this quote can cause anxiety for many people.  Finding that balance between restriction and chaos can feel overwhelming and many doubt they can do it.  I’ll tackle that subject a little later in the week – find out how to develop self-trust.

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD