As newborns, we let our moms know when it was time to feed us. For a newborn baby, when the body says food, he/she sends signals to be fed. As the baby grows into a toddler and then a young child, the food on demand becomes less and the family food routine takes over. Generally, this looks like three meals plus snacks.
Along the way as we grow, expectations and messaging from both our parents and the ways of our society, affects our ability to listen to our body when it comes to food. Often, we don’t know our signs of hunger, and more complicated, we don’t recognize our bodies’ sign for when we’ve had enough.
The concept of eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied seems foreign to most of us. How do we recognize hunger or satisfaction? And harder yet, how do we break our cycles for eating routines that were ingrained in us since early childhood? Think about this for a few seconds — when was the last time you recognized that your body was truly hungry? How did you know it was hunger signs?
As a child, one message given to me was eat before you feel hungry, if you wait till your body tells you it needs food, it’s too late. (Too late for what, I have no idea.) I worked hard, literally for years, to recognize my true hunger signs. It’s hard work to break childhood lessons.
I know now that I generally get two body signs when I’m hungry – a growling stomach or a headache. You may get different signs – irritability, loss of concentration, light-headedness, nausea, mood swings, something else.
Something surprising to pay attention to is how food tastes when you’re hungry. It’s unbelievable how much more pleasing food is to your tastebuds when your body genuinely desires food.
Also, try listening to what your body is craving when you’re hungry. Believe me, if you’re truly hungry it won’t be chips and pop. Your body will crave for nutrients that it’s needing. You might be surprised to find you actually crave an apple.
If I wait too long when I’m hungry and I’ve gone from early signs of hunger, to “feeling famished” it becomes very difficult to make good food choices. I then look for the fastest thing available, and that is not usually a healthy choice. There is a line you want to be wary of between feeling hungry and feeling famished.
On the other hand, when was the last time you noticed the sign your body gives you when you’re satisfied, when you’ve had enough food? This one can be harder to notice. And it’s likely before you finish your plate and long before you feel full.
I get one sign from my body when I’ve had enough food — a sigh. It’s that small, and that simple. And so easy to miss. However, after years of paying attention to my body and listening to what it needs, I have learned two things that help me immensely to feel that sigh:
- Slow down when eating. When you slow down, you can sense your body signals more clearly. Notice signs of hunger. Notice signs of satisfaction. Take the time to savour the flavour.
- Smaller portions. If you’re truly hungry you can get seconds, but likely you’ll notice the signs of satisfaction before going for seconds.
Other signs of feeling satisfied are the food doesn’t taste as good as did when you were hungry, the food brings less pleasure than it did when you first started eating. The signs for feeling satisfied are almost negligible, certainly easy to ignore. Making them all the more important to pay attention to to prevent overeating.
Many years ago I read about a hunger scale to help regulate how much to eat. Imagine a scale from 1 to 10, one being starving and 10 being overfull and feeling sick. Five is feeling just right, comfortable. It was advised to eat when you feel around a three and stop eating when you feel around a four or five. This helps reduce overeating and also ensures that you’ll most likely be hungry for the next mealtime. What I really like about this scale is it’s individual to each person, so adaptable to many. If you feel hungry between meals, you can always have a snack that brings you back to a feeling of four or five. Eating smaller meals, more often through the day helps to balance blood sugar and prevents tiredness.
Paying attention to your hunger and satisfaction, plus eating food following the 10 components of a healthy diet will keep you alert with good energy and in a better mood through the day. Now that’s eating with intention!