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Honor Your Hunger

The next principle of intuitive eating is all about listening to your hunger cues—an essential skill that dieting takes away from you.

I recommend completing this module over the course of a week, taking some time to review the material a couple of times, and to complete the journal exercises and audio meditation each day.

Start by listening to the talk below. When you're done, scroll down for the notes, journal exercises, and audio meditation. 


Audio: how to Honor Your Hunger


PDF Workbook (New!)

Module 3 Notes

If you’ve spent a long time dieting or fighting to lose weight, you’ve probably lost touch with your body’s natural hunger cues. Diets encourage you to suppress hunger in many ways, such as eating extremely small meals or snacks that don’t really satisfy, or putting off eating until you’re ravenous.

Similarly, if you have a particularly hectic or chaotic life, the emotional ups and downs you deal with every day can also cause you to suppress or ignore hunger. Over time, you stop being able to reliably notice hunger cues.

In reality, if you want a healthy relationship with food, you have to honor your hunger.

If you consistently ignore or downplay hunger, eventually your body will be so deprived that you’ll find it extremely difficult to stop eating even when your stomach feels full.

If you want a healthy relationship with food, you have to honor your hunger.
 (Click image to download PDF)

(Click image to download PDF)

Similarly, if you consistently eat well beyond the point of comfortable fullness, it may be tough to tell when you’re hungry again.

This pattern both makes you fear hunger and creates the conditions for out-of-control eating, which in turn just reinforces the fear of hunger. But the out-of-control eating is actually your body's way of trying to protect you.

That's because when you deprive your body of adequate fuel, powerful biological mechanisms kick in that drive you to eat. As explained in depth in Tribole & Resch's book Intuitive Eating:

  • Digestive hormones are increased, both before and after eating.
  • Chemicals in the brain trigger an overwhelming desire for carbohydrates (which is why most people's "binge foods" tend to be starchy or sugary).
    • This drive for carbohydrates is the body's way of protecting the brain and nervous system, which rely exclusively on glucose ("blood sugar") for fuel; glucose comes primarily from carbohydrates.
    • If there isn't an adequate supply of carbohydrates or calories in the diet, the body starts breaking down protein to convert it into glucose. It gets this protein primarily from your muscles—including the heart, lungs, and liver. Not good. It can't make much glucose from body fat.
    • A high-protein diet won't solve this problem unless you're also eating adequate carbs and calories. 
  • Your body continues to have this heightened drive to eat for as long as the diet continues.

If you're recovered from an eating disorder that involved restrictive eating, you may have experienced the loss of hunger and/or fullness cues while you were struggling with the disorder, which is part of the physiology of eating disorders for many people. That's why it's difficult to trust your body's cues while in the midst of an ED, and why this course isn't designed for people with active EDs.


 (Click image to download PDF)

(Click image to download PDF)

Journal exercise 1: hunger Levels

Before each meal or snack, rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not at all hungry and 10 being ravenous).

This may be difficult at first, so give yourself some compassion and time.

It can feel very foreign to try to assign a number to a feeling, but ultimately it will help you notice and respond to your body's needs (and then you won't need the numbers anymore).  

Note: If you find this exercise to be triggering (for example, if you've recovered from an eating disorder that involved obsessive "logging" of your food), feel free to skip it. You can also try simply checking in with your hunger a few times throughout the day, rather than writing it down. The goal is just to bring awareness to your hunger so that you can start to honor it, NOT to track what you ate in detail.    

Remember there are no wrong answers to any of the following questions; this is about exploring your unique experience of hunger.

  • How does each level of hunger feel in your body? Do you notice any uncomfortable sensations or symptoms at the higher levels that weren't there at the lower levels?
  • How soon after your last meal or snack do you generally start to feel low levels of hunger? How about moderate or high levels? Is there a clear pattern, or does it change from day to day?

After the meal or snack, rate your level of fullness on a separate scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not at all full and 10 being overly full).

  • Do you notice any differences in your level of fullness after being excessively hungry (8-10 on the scale) versus after being moderately hungry?
  • Is it easier to stop eating at a moderate fullness level when you didn’t start out ravenous?
  • Do you notice any other patterns, for example changes in your emotional state at different levels of hunger and fullness?

Continue this exercise throughout the week, as often as you are able.

Keeping track of your hunger in this way can help you start to notice it sooner, and take action to keep yourself nourished and satisfied.

We'll come back to fullness in a later module; right now we're only examining it as it relates to hunger.


Give yourself permission

Permission to feel your hunger, and permission to eat at moderate levels of hunger rather than waiting until hunger is extreme.

When you’re used to a diet mentality or a chaotic life, it can be tempting to ignore or downplay hunger. Notice if you catch yourself trying to talk yourself out of being hungry.

Contrary to what the diet mentality says, ignoring hunger only tells your body it's starving—and at a deeper level, ignoring hunger tells your core self that you don't care about meeting its needs.

Be compassionate with yourself if you find that you struggle to honor your hunger. Many people have this experience when they're coming out of years of dieting, and it can take time to truly feel that you're allowed to eat when you're hungry. Keep practicing.

We all deserve to honor our body’s needs for nourishment, whatever our size.

Give yourself permission to eat at moderate levels of hunger, rather than waiting until hunger is extreme.


this is not a diet rule

The principle of honoring your hunger does NOT mean "you're only allowed to eat when you're physically hungry," the way some people interpret intuitive eating when they're starting out.

In reality, there are plenty of reasons you might eat at low levels of hunger:

  • Practicality or timing. Sometimes you have to eat at a certain time because that's all you have room for in your schedule, or because of prearranged plans. For example:
    • You may not be hungry for lunch at, say, 11:30am, but you're going to be in back-to-back meetings from noon until 4, and you'd certainly be ravenous if you waited until then. So eating at 11:30 is good self-care, even if you're not hungry.
    • You're feeding your kids dinner at 5:30pm, and it's just easier to eat with them, since later you have to help them with homework. You're not very hungry, but you eat because you know you won't have another chance until they're in bed. 
    • You have dinner plans at 7pm, but you were really hungry at 5pm, so you had a big snack. You're not very hungry when you get to the restaurant, but you eat because that's the plan, and you'll need dinner at some point anyway.
    • What scenarios can you think of in your life where you have to eat when you're not particularly hungry?
  • Celebrations or social eating. Many social events include some special celebratory food, and enjoying it is part of the larger goal of intuitive eating: having a balanced, flexible relationship to food that includes bonding over food, as humans have done for millennia. You may not be particularly hungry at these events, but you still want to partake for social reasons. For example:
    • A birthday celebration for a friend or loved one
    • A religious feast
    • A wedding
    • A business lunch or conference
  • Emotional eating. This is eating in the absence of physical hunger, to quell uncomfortable feelings. In reality, many people think they struggle with emotional eating, only to realize when they begin this work that they're actually eating at least in part due to hunger. Either way, we will address emotional eating in a later module.
    • For now, if you consider yourself an emotional eater, try to be particularly attentive to your hunger levels right before each episode of emotional eating.
      • Do you notice that you are actually at least somewhat hungry (between 4 and 10 on the hunger scale)?
      • Or is hunger objectively quite low before you begin eating (around 1-3 on the scale)?


Meditation: Tuning in to Hunger

Whenever you find yourself struggling to rate your hunger or questioning whether you are hungry, try this meditation. It's audio-only, so you can close your eyes and really tune in to your own intuition while listening. 


Journal Exercise 2: Post-Lesson Reflection

In your journal, reflect on what you learned in this module.

  • Are there particular aspects of honoring your hunger that seem more challenging for you than others?
  • Did anything seem easier than you'd expected?
  • How will honoring your hunger help you move closer to your goals and intentions?


Module Evaluation

Please provide your feedback to help us improve this module.

1. This module helped me understand the importance of honoring my hunger.
2. This module gave me practical tools for tuning in to my hunger cues.
3. This module helped me feel more compassionate toward myself for my struggles with honoring hunger.
4. This module was clear and easy to understand.

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