Intuitive Eating Part#1; Hunger & Fullness

When I first heard about intuitive eating at a dietetic seminar, I was a little scared.  Or, rather, I was a lot scared.  Scared silly.

At the seminar, I was told to…

Eat whatever I wanted.

Learn to trust my body in order to know when to start eating and when to stop, thereby honoring my hunger and respecting my fullness.

Forget calorie counting, measuring, good foods/bad foods, etc.

Kiss dieting and dieting mindsets goodbye (so long!)


My first thought was: “I could never do that!  I ate what I wanted as a kid and that’s how I ended up fat!”

(Which is only semi-true, because I did not know how to respect my fullness as a kid.)

My second thought was: “That defeats the purpose of trying to live a healthy life.  If I can eat whatever I want, than what’s the point of eating salads, fruits, nuts, etc when I could eat just eat cake?”

(Yes, I think a lot.)

But let me just jump right to the punch line and spare you the suspense.

I started eating intuitively on that very day, despite my qualms and concerns.  Through it all, I’ve learned a lot (mostly through my mistakes!)  I’ve maintained my “happy weight.”  I never count calories, I never feel deprived and yes, I eat whatever I want.

And no, despite what I half expected, I don’t eat cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 😉

So.  What is intuitive eating all about?  What have I learned?  What am I still learning?  That’s what these posts will be about.  A series of my own personal experiences of intuitive eating.  What worked (and didn’t work) for me.  How you can apply the intuitive eating principles to your life.  And plenty of room for q’s and a’s as well!

Let’s get started!

Lesson #1: Honor Your Hunger, Respect Your Fullness.

Everything about intuitive eating comes down to this very basic (yet not so simple) principle.  I first had to learn what true hunger and fullness felt like, as it can be a little different for everyone.  After trial and error, I found that moderate hunger felt like an emptiness in the front of my stomach.  Light and airy.  Ready for food without feeling ravenous (which is the point you never want your body to reach.)

Fullness, on the other hand, felt like…normal.  Not hungry, not stuffed.  Just comfortable.  Like if I stopped eating, I wouldn’t be hungry again for a few hours.  I was amazed at how I had always had these sensations of hunger and fullness but never really considered the possibility of…well..relying on them!

So I practiced this very lesson before ever moving on to the next steps.  I practiced for days and weeks.  I ate whenever I felt that familiar hunger which I had grown to recognize.  I stopped when my body felt comfortably filled.  The hardest parts of this entire process for me was learning that (a) it was okay to eat something an hour after a meal if I was truly physically hungry, (b) it was okay to not lick the plate clean when I had had enough and (c) there is no need for calorie counting so long as I stayed in tune with what my body was telling me.

me, my dad and my sister

Tips For Success/How To Get Started:

  • Begin to recognize what light hunger and light fullness feels like for you.  Document this and see if you tend to eat right away when you feel hunger or if you put it off until you’re ravenous.  How about fullness?  Do you stop or are you part of the clean plate club?  There’s no right or wrong answer, just the opportunity to discover yourself a little bit more.
  • Make meal and snack time a pleasant time.  Don’t rush it.  Use your fancy bowls/plates.  Don’t talk politics at the dinner table.  Etc, etc, etc.
  • Once you recognize fullness/hunger, begin to practice it.  Respect your hunger by having a snack or a meal when your body feels moderately hunger.  Never deny yourself, no matter what time of the day it is or how long ago you just ate.  In the same way, begin to respect your fullness.  Put your fork down half way through your meal and check in with yourself.  Are you physically still hungry?  Could you stop right now and be physically satisfied?  What makes you want to keep going?  Do you feel bad for wasting food?  Pop any leftovers in the fridge and save it for later when you feel hungry again.
  • Eat slowly.  Put your fork down between bites.
  • Enjoy your food.  Don’t let guilt sweep over you when you decide you need something to eat and don’t let any snark comments from others ever upset you.
  • Don’t beat yourself up over “mistakes.”  Remember.  This is a learning process.  You may find yourself eating when you’re not hungry or forgetting to eat when you are.  Or you might keep eating beyond fullness.  It’s okay!!  You’re learning.
  • Trust yourself.

QUESTION: How do you feel about intuitive eating?  Is this generally how you approach your snacks/meals, or do you find yourself eating on a “schedule” depending on the time of day?



11 thoughts on “Intuitive Eating Part#1; Hunger & Fullness

  1. Phew, being in the dietetics field and working on my advisor’s research studies where interventions are to help people lose weight, this whole concept is really foreign. But, I want to work with eating disorder patients, and I think after substantial work has been done in therapy and re-feeding, intuitive eating might have a place… carefully! And easier said than done 🙂

    • Intuitive eating is surprisingly easy…once diet mindsets are thrown by the wayside, that is!! 😉 I have found intuitive eating to be very helpful for my patients who are both trying to lose weight and also for those who are trying to gain. Of course, this is only step #1 (recognizing hunger and fullness.) It goes on after this is self discovered and it helps to have a counselor to accompany the process.

      That being said, intuitive eating is *not* for everyone. I’ve had many clients who I would never think of bringing this up with. I find it works best for people who *have* been dieting all their lives and who are sick and tired of all the rules. This way of eating can be eye opening and reassuring that weight loss is possible without “dieting”.

  2. Thank you for this post.
    I was first introduced to intuitive eating during the recovery process from an eating disorder 6 years ago. Like everything in life, it remains an ongoing learning process for me. I always know when I’m hungry and the difference between sated and full; the primary challenge that lingers for me, well 2 challenges, really: 1) Because I began intuitive eating during eating disorder recovery- at a transition when it is common to gain weight- my associations automatically include weight gain in the absence of some cap on an overall day-to-day calorie intake if I am to maintain my now smaller size. 2) I don’t trust that my body will necessarily provide the best feedback, and the research delineates how the body is effectively manipulated by many of the processed or higher-glycemic foods out there by eliciting more frequent and stronger hunger signals despite calorie and or fat-denseness- hence the overall trend in my diet to eat minimally processed, whole foods, replete with plenty of veggies. I am a gal with a sweet tooth, and do still feel a sense of mistrust and fear when I eat cookies or sweet breads (even when they are created from healthier ingredients like whole grains, apple sauce in place of oil, etc.).
    The line of thinking that has helped me overall is to plan for foods that taste good but are 80% vegetables, legumes, fruits, and some grains. This likely makes it easier for me to stay within a caloric range appropriate for my body’s daily needs without too much frustration over some added treats that aren’t for nutrient purposes, i.e. cookies, wine, chocolate (and yes, some of these foods have benefits too, but they can also easily add another several hundred calories to a day’s intake). Whereas I see the opposite is true for my partner. He primarily eats meat, starch, dairy, and highly processed diet foods rich in sugar, low in fat. It’s also different because he has a difficult time detecting his own levels of satiety, but in order for him to have the volume quotient of a satisfying meal, he’ll have at a minimum 2-3 slice of thick sandwich bread along with his grilled chicken, and he’s hungry less than an hour after dinner. And if he does respect his body’s messages, for him it means eating pretzels, then a weight watcher’s ice cream bar, later some dried chickpeas, and maybe a nonfat yoplait yogurt before bed.
    Sorry for the lengthy reply, but I guess this is all to say I agree with the overall guiding logic of intuitive eating but I think it only results in mid to leaner range of a person’s weight setpoint/range when foods are primarily whole, nutritionally dense, and largely plants.

    • Great points! I do believe (and completely agree!) that whole foods tend to be more satisfying while keeping our weight in check. These foods also tend to make us *feel* better. More wholesome. Energetic. Which is also part of intuitive eating, as how we feel *after* we eat certain foods will begin to influence which foods that we choose…this usually comes later on in the practice of intuitive eating, but it is definitely a huge influence on our main food choices when all is said and done!

      I also feel that guidance is important with intuitive eating. Sometimes the way people eat need to be questioned in a constructive and safe way by a counselor (dietitian, specialized psychologist, etc,) especially if weight loss or weight gain is part of the journey.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  3. This is a great post and I look forward to more. This is something I’ve struggled with (as you can read on my blog) but I think it is so important. Just to listen to your body and try to ignore all of the other things that people tell us about healthy eating. It is just so simple; eat when hungry, stop when full; too bad it’s just not that easy!

  4. I have tried the intuitive eating plan before. I have gotten the ‘hunger’ part down pat…don’t eat by the clock. My problem is the stopping when pleaantly full. Yes…I do know when I reach that stage…but I am a great cook, and it just tastes soooo good! I do eat healthy, mostly non-processed foods because I am on a Low FODMAPs regimen. I am working on the stopping part. I guess I just didnt realize it was OK to eat again in an hour…if hungry! Hopefully, I will be able to stick with it this time. So far…so good. And I seem to have a little more energy, too! Looking forward to your future posts!

    • Thank you, Jackie! And yes, always feel free to eat again if hungry within an hour. It can be hard to stop eating when the food just tastes SO darn good, but remind yourself that (a) there will always be good food to make and eat and (b) you can eat the very same thing that you’re eating right now AGAIN later on if you’re still hungry.

      I’m glad that intuitive eating is working out well for you!!! 😀

  5. Pingback: Top 10 of 2013 | The Simple Dietitian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s