When it comes to eating, trust your gut instincts

April 9, 2013

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

You were born knowing exactly how much to eat. Hunger is your body's way of telling you that you need fuel. By reconnecting with your instinctive signals, you can manage your eating without restrictive dieting and obsessing over every bite of food you put in your mouth.

Perhaps you've ignored hunger for so long that you've forgotten how to recognize it. Maybe you even blame hunger for your issues with food and see it as the enemy. Perhaps you confuse hunger with all the other reasons you eat, like mealtime, boredom, stress, or tasty food.

At the same time, you may have learned to ignore the feeling of satisfaction so you eat until you're stuffed and uncomfortable. Perhaps you "clean your plate," "never waste food," and "eat all your dinner if you want dessert," instead of stopping when you've had enough. And you'll perpetuate this cycle if you teach your children the same things.

Reconnecting with your hunger signals helps you reach a healthier weight

"¢ You'll eat less food when you're practicing to satisfy physical hunger than if you eat to satisfy other needs. Use mindful eating. If you aren't hungry when you start eating, how do you know when to stop? When the food is gone of course!
"¢ You're more likely to choose foods that nourish you. If you aren't hungry but you're eating because you are sad, mad or glad, what kinds of foods do you want? That's when you're more likely to want chocolate, cookies, chips, or other snacks and comfort foods.
"¢ Food actually tastes better when you're physically hungry. Hunger really is the best seasoning "” so you eat less but enjoy it more.
"¢ You'll feel more satisfied because food is great for reducing hunger but not so great for reducing boredom, stress, or other triggers.
"¢ You'll notice you're hungry before you get too hungry and decrease overeating.

Trust your gut instincts

To break out of the pattern of eating on autopilot, get in the habit of asking yourself, "Am I hungry?" every time you feel like eating. This simple but powerful question will help you recognize the difference between an urge to eat caused by the physical need for food from an urge to eat caused by head hunger.

Practice mindful eating by looking for symptoms like hunger pangs, gnawing, growling, emptiness, low energy, shakiness, or headache. Notice that hunger is physical. It's not a craving, a thought or a temptation. By focusing on hunger as your guide, you can become your own internal expert about when, what, and how much to eat.

Food for thought

"¢ What specific signs of hunger do you usually have?
"¢ What other thoughts and feelings do you confuse with hunger at times?
"¢ What else could you do besides eat when you feel like eating even though you're not hungry?

'When it comes to eating, trust your gut instincts' is from Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle by Michelle May, M.D. (download chapter one free). Michelle May, M.D. is also the founder of the Am I Hungry? ® Mindful Eating Workshops and Facilitator Training Program that helps individuals learn to break free from mindless and emotional eating.

Originally published Apr 9, 2013 10:00:51 AM.