I have mentioned eating when you were physically hungry. You’ve probably heard me say it. You probably agree with it. It sounds perfectly logical, eat when you’re physically hungry. However, as humans in human brains who’ve been dieting probably for years or decades, eating when you’re physically hungry can be confusing.
- Am I hungry?
- What is enough?
- How do I learn to trust myself with eating?
- My relationship with food?
- My relationship with my own body?
Is being hungry, good or bad?
Let your brain answer that. I’m just curious what comes up.
Many of us can be really out of touch with physical hunger. If you have been;
- trying to lose weight,
- trying to eat less,
- trying to restrict
- trying different plans where you take out whole food groups,
- where you only eat four hours out of the day,
- all of these things,
we can definitely lose sense of what is normal hunger.
We can also have a lot of stories about hunger. Should I eat? Should I not eat? Leptin and ghrelin are hunger hormones, which can be thrown out of alignment from years of dieting, or years of starving, or years of overeating or going back and forth, gaining and losing the same weight. I don’t think necessarily, it’s prevalent.
I’m not going to urge you right now to go out and get your leptin tested. In my experience, that is not the major hormone issue most women have. Usually it’s more around cortisol, insulin, and then obviously, the decline of sex hormones, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, and throwing a little thyroid in there.
There are hormones involved in our hunger. You could imagine if I never listened to my hunger, or I always overeat, chances are they’re not really working. Maybe I don’t even know what it is to be truly physically hungry.
I also understand if you’ve wanted to lose weight for however many years, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s 10 pounds or 100 plus pounds, you could be having the same thoughts and feelings. This idea that I shouldn’t be hungry. I don’t deserve to eat.
If I’m hungry, if I feel really hungry, I’m probably doing it right. That’s my body burning fat. That’s good news, right? We have a lot of different things our brain will offer us about whether we are hungry, or we are full, or we are over full, or we’re starving to death.
I think if you’re going to lose weight and keep it off, you’re going to have to do it in a more sustainable way and have more flexibility on board. Again, flexible eating is different for different people. There’s not a one size fits all. What’s flexible eating to me is not flexible eating to you. That is okay. It is what is going to work for you right now. What is doable right now. Rather than the only way to lose weight is if you’ve never have carbs. The only way to lose weight is if you only eat chicken breast.
If the only way to lose weight is you only eat broccoli. I don’t think that’s going to work out long term. We’ve already tried that. I want to get into helping you figure out what this physical hunger is. Chances are you have eaten when you aren’t physically hungry. I know speaking for myself, I have eaten when I’m not physically hungry. So what gives? If I’m So smart and I know what physical hunger is, how come I can’t figure this out? Welcome to being human.
You’re going to be able to take some of these tactics, apply what is useful, and you will get more insight into your own physical hunger. The cues, the feelings, how it shows up for you and how you want to take care of it.
1) Are you eating enough?
What is enough? How do you rate your fullness, or your ability to not overeat? Or go beyond full? When I think about eating enough, that is probably like if I imagine a percentage. 100% would be really full. Full to the top. For an example, eating to 75%. That is almost like a visual. You could imagine it as maybe a pie chart. Just going from zero to 100%. How full am I if this is a thermometer and it got to 100 degrees? That is the breaking point.
I want to point out why enough is an interesting term and why it can be very dangerous. It’s never going to be enough if you’re eating for emotional hunger. I think that’s what gets us into trouble. We’re trying to eat to enough, but I don’t feel better yet. I don’t feel any differently. I’m not happy yet. And I’ve already gotten to the bottom of the ice cream carton.
It might be that the word enough doesn’t not work for you. It just might be a trigger. Like what does that even mean? It’s just eating to the point where I am satisfied physically. I’ve had enough physically and nutritionally. We just might have to put a disclaimer on that.
I do think for a lot of women, when they’re trying to lose weight, they’re going about it in sort of that diet mentality where we’re just not. We’re never eating enough. We’re trying to eat as little as possible to lose weight. This does not work and it makes us feel hungry all the time. Ravenous, starving,so many cravings and feel very powerless around them.
If you want to lose weight, I encourage you to think about actually eating more.
2) What is physical hunger?
How do you know if you are hungry? This is going to vary by person. You might not actually be in tune at all. You might not even notice if you’re hungry. You might eat at certain times, because it’s breakfast time or it’s lunchtime or it’s dinnertime or someone made me the meal. Someone told me it was time to eat or this is when my lunch break is so this is when I’m eating now.
Sometimes, we do have a tight schedule. If your lunch, the only break you have, is 12 noon and you know you’re in meetings till 6pm then I would probably eat something. You should have a plan. Not because bad things will happen if you get hungry, but because it is going to feel better. You will have a more balanced blood sugar. You won’t feel starving later. Which can lead us to eat all the things, especially if we’re not being aware of what is happening.
How do you know if you are physically hungry? I know for me, I literally feel my stomach is empty. I get the sensation of my stomach. I always say this, my stomach is eating itself that it feels that empty. There are other times during the day I noticed my blood sugar actually dropped. It’s usually with physical activity, like going for a walk and I didn’t time my meals correctly. I start to get hot, sweaty, shaky, and feel like I need to sit down and also eat something. Preferably sit down and eat but I can’t do that in somebody’s neighborhood where there’s no refrigerator.I just have to make it home. I used to think it was hot flashes. It feels sort of similar, except it feels much more debilitating where I just need food now.
I hate getting to that place. If it’s ever happened to you, it’s not necessarily the end of the world unless you’re a type one diabetic and your blood sugar is going very low, maybe dangerously low. I can feel hunger for myself.
I do find it interesting, the more I talk about this topic that the majority of my life has been about being hungry, and that my brain and my body consider that to be normal. That’s sort of interesting.
3) What about rating your hunger as a level?
This could be helpful. I do think that for different parts of your weight loss, there might be some value in doing that food journal. You don’t have to do it for the next 30 years. Somewhere you can give yourself some notes like;
- Had a good night’s sleep.
- Hydrated, this is how many glasses of water I had.
- I went for a walk.
- I got busy and I didn’t have time to eat.
Just notes around the day, how you feel your mood, and you know. All of the things that would just give you more data.
One of those pieces of data that could be helpful is rating hunger. You could of course use words; very hungry, not hungry, super hungry, hangry. You could use those words or you could develop your own scale of hunger. Many people will use simply 1-10. One being absolutely not hungry at all. Ten being hungry AF, going to kill someone, going to jail, going to eat my own arm. Five being where I decide that I’m actually going to eat. Five is where I’m getting the inkling to be eating. You know that 6, 7, 8, 9 is more hunger coming if I actually don’t eat.
There is no right or wrong way to do a scale. You could do a scale that’s one to five. I have a lot of friends who will do the scale that’s negative two to positive two. Where zero is when they feel satisfied.
Hunger wise, there’s a difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Many times we’re eating for emotional hunger. This is where the work is. I want you to eat for physical hunger. I’m going to ask you to eat when you are physically hungry.
I think we have to pinpoint;
- When are you physically hungry?
- What does it look like?
- What does it feel like?
- How do you know when you’re physically hungry?
- How much should you eat?
- How do you know when you’re full?
Then also recognize the different times when you are emotionally hungry and what are we going to do about it? Because we know if I’m using food to satisfy an emotion, that doesn’t work. We tried that. It is the square peg round hole scenario. That is the hammer to the head where you’re like wow, this really hurts. I don’t know how to make this stop. Make it go away. This is so painful. I need to stop doing.
All you have to do is put down the hammer, as if it were that easy,
4) Keeping a food journal.
Recording as you go. I think this is a very easy way to get started. This is not the judgment journal. This is not everything I put in my mouth I have to give it a gold star or I have to give it a sad face. Like oh, you fucked up, that was a bad choice. I can’t believe it, you’re so stupid. I wouldn’t do that in the food journal. I would make it just very black and white.
It’s just for recording food and for recording fat, not judgments, not stories, not embellishments. Not these descriptions of your lack of willpower or whatever. That we can do in a different journal. If you want to do this, maybe the back of the journal is where you dump all the shit that’s in your head. All the thoughts and feelings that are coming up for you, put that separate, away from what you’re actually taking in for food.
Then the flipside, moving more towards this idea of flexible eating, is the planning ahead of the meals. You wake up in the morning, you pour yourself a cup of coffee, you take a look at your calendar, or maybe you do this the night before because you know your mornings are crazy. There’s no time for coffee, there’s running out the door and the kids are running out the door and it’s chaos. There’s no time to make that plan. Make it the night before. Take five minutes, look at your calendar. You know where you have to be, the meetings. Yes, things come up. I get it but you might be able to start planning ahead.
We won’t know if we can unless we try.
5) Eating the food.
When we talk about eating for physical hunger and we talk about flexible eating or flexible dieting or flexible nutrition or nutrition in general or just clean eating, you name it. What does that even mean?
For me, and my clients, I really try to talk about this idea of plating your meals. Building a plate. Let’s all imagine a plate and what I put on that plate at any given meal. This way we start to get into the automating of our meals and we just build a meal. We know how to build a meal, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
We’re building a meal. We’re building a plate, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Like you would pack a kid’s lunch, maybe minus the cheese doodles. The adult version of lunch. It’s probably going to have protein, and it’s probably going to have vegetables. Then I can build other things around that.
- Is it going to come with rice or potato?
- Are you having fruit?
- Is it a yogurt?
- What is in the meal that you can do on automatic?
You know how to build a meal. This takes practice.
You need to find the things that you like to eat. Not everybody wants to eat chicken and broccoli, I get that. You know who does not want to eat that? Me! I’ve eaten probably a metric ton of broccoli. I don’t want it anymore. That is okay. There’s so many other things to choose from.
Keep it really simple and think about building a meal that is enough nutrition, enough fuel, enough food. So that you aren’t constantly thinking about food or thinking how hungry you are. Thinking that wasn’t satisfying. That’s a tricky one. Because do you mean physically satisfying? Or emotionally satisfying? What would you have to make or add to the meal to make it a little bit odd or more fun? Do you need ketchup? What do you need? This just takes practice. This isn’t something that you innately know how to do or you would have already done it.
6) Eating with awareness.
I know we’re all very busy. We’re;
- Sitting in front of the computer eating.
- On our phones scrolling.
- Eating in the car.
- Eating while running out the door.
- Eating as fast as we can because we have to drive the kids to their sporting events or what have you.
- Eating at a drive thru.
- Go Go, go, go go.
However there are times that you can take, even if it’s just five minutes, and eat without distractions.
Just you and your food. Or if you are with your kids or your spouse or your friends. It is just being present, with the food, the company, looking out the window, breathing, chewing and thinking;
- How does this taste?
- How is this working for me?
- Am I satisfied?
- Am I full?
- What is this feeling?
Just being very curious, as if you’ve never eaten before. We usually find that we eat a lot less when we’re less distracted.
You can also start to notice when you are eating with more awareness, things slow down, things are calm. It’s like blocking out the noise and blocking out repetitive thoughts. What happens a lot of times with our eating for physical or emotional hunger is that we do a lot of things automated things that are not in our favor.
So automation goes both ways. Automation is super helpful. Tie my shoes, drive a car, brush my teeth, make a meal, take my supplements, all these things. I can learn to do those automatically. So easy and fabulous.That makes my life better. But some of the things that we do automatically, are these things called habits.
The habit of;
- When I come home, I open a bottle of wine.
- When I make dinner I start snacking on cheese and crackers.
- As soon as I get the mail out of the mailbox, I see all of those bills, and I start snacking.
- As soon as I clean up my kids plates, I start eating as I’m cleaning.
It’s going to allow you to get awareness of some of our triggers.
Some of our triggers can turn into responses. Those responses are what become habits. If we are always going, how do I break this habit? How do I get out of his habit? Well, we want to figure out where it’s coming from. It’s not just coming out of nowhere.
An action that we’re taking with food, when we’re eating something when we’re not hungry, it’s coming from a thought, and a feeling. In no particular order, it is automated. It’s so cool how your brain just does this. Your brain gets pissed. Your brain gets excited.
- I’m procrastinating.
- I don’t want to actually do the work.
- I don’t want to clean the kitchen.
- I don’t want to pay the bills.
- I don’t want to walk the dog.
- I don’t want to do this stuff.
- I want to relax,
- I deserve a reward.
- I deserve a treat.
- It’s me time.
- Nobody’s helping me clean the kitchen.
- Everybody gets to do what they want but me.
All of this shit is going to come out when you just have a little bit of awareness.
I get it. Sometimes we don’t want to be aware. That’s why we’re eating. It’s to not be aware. But when we get awareness, then we could just feel the feelings. What’s the worst that can happen if I’m pissed that nobody else is cleaning the kitchen but me? What is the worst that can happen? I can figure out why. Why is that a problem? I know why it is, I make it mean that nobody cares about me. Nobody’s respecting me. I know my own shit at this point, but there might be more there.
I want you to know that being aware of the triggers, habits, and reasons why we eat isn’t a bad thing. You don’t have to necessarily make them all go away. You don’t have to suddenly stop indulging. It’s getting the awareness around it first, once you’re aware, then we make a plan. How do you want to deal with it from there?
7) The joy of eating.
The big question that comes with all this flexible eating, what do I do when it comes to this idea of eating for pleasure? The foods I actually enjoy. The reason I’d be interested in flexible eating anyway is to figure out how I eat pizza. Whereas I think pizza is a problem. Pizza is a bad food or cheap food or I always overeat pizza, and so on and so forth.
Here’s the thing, there are going to be a lot of foods that you have thoughts about. There are going to be foods that you might not want to have in your house. This is about taking care of your current environment in the current state of your mind. You might not keep having pizzas delivered to your house or keep jars of candy or bring in bakery cupcakes every day. You might realize, huh, I eventually eat them, I eventually eat them all, even if it’s not all at once. Even if it’s not a binge. I’m definitely consuming more calories than I intended. Because these things taste good. That is just the real deal.
However, if you do want to have pizza or wine or chips and salsa and a margarita or whatever it is. Whether it is going out, meeting people at a restaurant, a social occasion or something you bring into the house, this is where planning ahead comes into play. Not Friday night at 6pm and I’m so tired. I worked really hard all week, I deserve a treat. I’m going to order some pizzas, and I’m going to open the wine and I’m going to keep eating till it’s gone. Not your typical Friday night.
You can have pizza anytime you want, but if you want to move towards this idea of flexible eating, you’re going to want to practice planning out the foods that bring you pleasure and normalize enjoying them. Normalize the fact that they do taste good, and you do like them. Sometimes you’ll get a pizza that you don’t like. It’s not worth it at all and you go and throw it away. That’s okay too.
It is a practice of planning in foods that we enjoy. I don’t want to call it a cheat meal or a reward or anything like that, it’s just food that you enjoy. Many of my clients will start with only having these pleasurable foods outside of the house. So if you really like ice cream, hey, we’re gonna go out for ice cream. I’d be really weird if I ordered a gallon of ice cream at the ice cream store. Like everybody has a cone or a cup and you come out with a gallon. You’re typically going to get a regular portion at that place rather than have the whole gallon that you bring home so you can practice it that way.
You want to be able to practice eating for pleasure when you are ready. If you’re like me, or maybe some other women in my circles, it takes time. We have spent years and decades thinking that certain foods were bad or that we had no self control, or that pizza definitely makes you fat, all of those things. So it just takes time to practice having something and slowing down, enjoying it. Ideally sitting down at a table, not rushing through it, not trying to eat it with urgency. Just really seeing what it’s all about.
8) Sometimes, food tastes better in our head.
Everything tastes better in our head. I will argue that the things we think about, the things that we crave, the things that we fantasize about. If you’ve ever watched somebody else’s eating pizza or ice cream, and we just imagine how good that is. And I wish I could have it and it’s not fair that I can’t and all the stuff and in our minds, we make it taste so good. I’m gonna say you probably have your favorite pizza place or your favorite ice cream place and everything else. But that is sort of mediocre.
As you move through your journey in flexible eating, it’s a letdown when you realize;
- A lot of food is mediocre.
- That it’s not that great.
- It does not make you feel good.
- It doesn’t solve any problems and feels like a colossal waste of calories.
It’s a letdown.
It’s like going out on a bad date. It’s kind of like in the photo you looked really hot and it seemed like this would be a really good fit. I was thinking about it. I’ve already got us married and all this stuff. Then you come and realize, he’s like three feet tall and nothing like you thought. It’s just a big letdown.
9) What about when you do over eat?
Where you do feel out of control with food this is going to happen. You’re going to overeat, either on purpose or by accident.
I told the story to my coaching clients. A couple months ago I was washing the dishes. It was like a Sunday night getting ready for Monday. I realized I’m the only one cleaning. I’m the only one who does anything here. I do all the things. Nobody does anything.
I like to reflect back on that story. As somebody who felt completely aware of the scenario I didn’t black out. I can’t say I wasn’t aware. I knew exactly what was happening. It’s just a great example that I’m human, you’re human, we’re going to over eat at times. It could just be;
- I wasn’t feeling resentful.
- I wasn’t rage eating cookies.
- I was just enjoying myself.
- I was just enjoying the food or enjoying the company, enjoying the moment.
- I lost track.
- I got distracted.
- I got it for a second when, this tastes so good.
I know I’ve mentioned about practicing this. We’re practicing everything we do. I’m practicing being a good mom. I’m practicing running a business, I have wins and I have less wins. They call them losses, I’ll call them learns. We have the Ws we have the Ls. we have the wins we have the learns. I just found the rage eating of cookies was such a great learning experience for me. I want to be able to share that with you. I want to share that with clients that you’re going to have times that things don’t go perfectly and we can learn from it. We don’t have to make it, what is wrong with me? I’m I can’t believe I did that. Beat myself up and then find more cookies.
It’s kind of the flat tire scenario where if your car has one flat tire and I’m gonna go slash the other three. No, I dusted myself off and pick myself up. Say okay, what just happened?I didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy the cookies. So that’s a big bummer, because that’s my favorite thing ever. I just didn’t enjoy it. So I won’t do that again. I learned my lesson.
I also think, if you do have foods that you genuinely enjoy, if you’re a Toll House cookie lover or you love nachos, pizza, or whatever your favorite thing is, there’s nothing worse than eating it enraged. That’s not fun. It’s like going on a date with somebody you just don’t like, it’s just not fun. You can’t wait till it’s over. It’s just not good for anyone. It’s just this unpleasant experience. Now we’re attaching unpleasant feelings to my favorite food and I’m creating more. I’m going to build a problem where there is not one. That is what I have for you.
If you are somebody who is looking to lose weight and to keep it off, flexible eating is a practice like anything else. However, it is worth doing the work. It is worth feeling at peace;
- In your own body,
- Around food,
- In your clothes,
- When you look in the mirror,
- When you talk to yourself,
We can end suffering by just acknowledging that we’re not going to be perfect.
We’re going to have thoughts and feelings that are also not perfect. We can learn how to eat anything we want, especially when we slow down, take a deep breath and not make everything off limits to ourselves.
ABOUT THE HOST
Bonnie Lefrak is a Life & Body Transformation Expert and Founder of Self Made, a program designed to help you tackle the physical aspects of health and weight loss as well as the beliefs and thoughts that drive our habits and behaviors. It is her goal to help women create certainty in their own lives, their own results, and their own abilities.
Weight loss is not about the one “right” diet – it is about MUCH more than that. Weight loss is not about the one “right” workout. Weight loss is not about being positive and putting a big smile on.
Weight loss is about FEELINGS. All of them. Not trying to bury them or hide from them but knowing and allowing the full human experience. Weight loss is not about grinding hustling and will powering your way to some end line. Transformation (when done well) is done from the inside out.
By addressing both the physical and mental aspects of dieting and weight loss, she has coached thousands of women ages 30-55+ from all over and helped them ditch the mindsets that are holding them back, achieve permanent weight loss, and get the bangin’ body of their dreams.
Bonnie is an expert at Demystifying weight loss. She helps you u****k your diet brain. She is on a mission to help women love themselves, to find PEACE in the process of losing weight, taking care of themselves, and leveraging the power they do have to become who and want they want right now.
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