Ignoring hunger and restricting intake can trigger an impulse to overeat (Mathes et al. 2009). Becoming aware of and honoring biological hunger can help. While this sounds simple, it can be challenging. “Many people seem deathly afraid to trust their internal hunger cues,” Washington, D.C., dietitian Victoria Jarzabkowski, MS, RDN, says. “It shouldn’t be terrifying, but that just goes to show how out of touch most of us are with body awareness.”
To foster this ability, encourage clients to have a dialogue with themselves concerning their hunger. Have them ask, “What’s my hunger level?” before eating and at regular intervals throughout the day. Jarzabkowski recommends using a hunger scale, where 1 is completely starving and 10 is uncomfortably full, to help clients begin to “hear” their hunger. “Clients should eat when they’re hungry, but not starving, and stop when they are at a 6–8 on the scale. It takes a lot of hyperawareness at the start but becomes easier over time,” she says.
“After years of dieting, many people don’t even recognize signals of hunger,” says Marisa Molina of Hello Beautiful Health. “So it’s important to give them examples of what hunger actually feels like. These can include a growling stomach, fatigue or a drop in energy.” By becoming reacquainted with their hunger cues, clients can begin eating in response to physiological hunger and avoid becoming ravenous later.
*Editor's note: To learn more about intuitive eating strategies such as the one described here, check out Kelsey Brown's article in February 2017 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.