What does pleasant hunger feel like to you? This can be a hard question to answer! Pleasure and hunger don’t always seem to belong in the same sentence. Unpleasant hunger makes more sense. “Hanger” and the negative emotions associated with a feeling of “starvation” come to mind right away. Luckily, hunger can be pleasant if it is realized early on and leads to intentional planning of when and what you eat.
Pleasant hunger is thinking to yourself “I think I’m ready for a meal/snack” and allowing yourself to consider what’s available, sounds satisfying and meets your health goals. You sit down to eat and find yourself savoring your food. This is a pleasurable feeling! On the other hand, let’s say you ignored that initial hunger cue. Time passes, you start to feel impatient and anxious, maybe you have a headache or feel shaky. You’ve reached a point where you don’t care what you eat, you just. need. to. eat! You scarf down whatever is within reach, not paying attention to how it tastes, how much you eat or if it’s truly satisfying. While you might feel relieved afterwards, wouldn’t you rather have enjoyed the complete eating experience?
Enjoying your eating experience is a concept of intuitive eating, or mindful eating. It encourages listening to your body’s cues about hunger and food. It’s also sometimes called the “anti-diet approach” because it takes the rigidity out of eating we see with dieting. Mindful eating frees you from the “dos and don’ts” of eating that a culture of fad diets attempts to instill in us. Mindful eaters have more body appreciation, they enjoy eating, and they experience fewer disordered eating behaviors like intentionally skipping meals, yo-yo dieting, and feelings of guilt and shame around food. Mindful eaters also tend to be more food budget conscious- something we can all appreciate!
Below are the 10 principles of intuitive eating, developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. (https://www.intuitiveeating.org/) Remember, these principles are guidelines, not rules. Food and rules are like oil and water; they just don’t blend.
- Reject the Diet Mentality – Has living in a culture that promotes fad diets distorted your thoughts about yourself? Has it impacted your social life, opinions about food, or your personal relationships? Try redirecting your time and energy into something meaningful that brings you joy.
- Honor Your Hunger – How do you handle your other bodily cues, like a full bladder? When you feel the need, you use the restroom without following “rules” or questioning if you “deserve” it. Try approaching hunger in the same, ordinary manner. Eat when you really are hungry or find an alternative activity (read, dance, listen to music, etc.) if you’re actually bored, emotional or looking for a distraction. Consistent and accurate honoring of hunger cues heals and rebuilds connection with your body.
- Make Peace with Food – While traditional food fights (the kind that involve messes) are fun, the battle between food “rules” and your needs or wants is anything but fun. Try taking a bite and then ask yourself: how does this food taste?
- Challenge the Food Police – The food police enforce those unreasonable rules that diet culture has created. Remember, food and rules don’t belong together. Work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who can help you find healthy eating style that works for you.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor Explore your food, especially taste, texture and aroma. Does it bring back any memories? How does it make you feel? Satisfaction in eating comes from within.
- Feel Your Fullness We’ve explored pleasant hunger; how would you imagine or describe how pleasant fullness feels?
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness While food is comforting, it can’t solve our problems. Consider writing down how you’re feeling, making a pros-and-cons list, or calling a friend. Explore actions that might offer you some clarity.
- Respect Your Body How awesome is it that you have your very own, one-of-a-kind genetic blueprint? Nobody is like you! So, is it fair to compare your body to another body, or judge your food preferences or cravings against those of others?
- Movement- Feel the Difference Can you reflect on a time, perhaps as a child, when you looked forward to physical activity? What has changed, and how can you rebuild that positive relationship?
- Honor Your Health- Gentle Nutrition Healthy eating looks different for everyone- there is not a perfect formula. Try making food choices that honor your health and preferences while also making you feel good.
After practicing intuitive eating ideas for a while, you might find yourself going for a walk because you want to, not because you “have to.” Maybe you’ll try your hand at art, pick up a fun book, or try a new yoga class. Practicing intuitive eating can help you honor your needs -social, emotional, cultural, physical, etc.- and find pleasure in truly nourishing yourself. Hopefully these ideas bring peace to your meals and snacks!
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