Intuitive Eating — Tishrei — Principle #2 Honor Your Hunger

Tishrei – Principle #2 Honor Your Hunger

By Rena Reiser and Elisheva Blumberg

Can You Feel Your Heart Beat?

At this very moment your heart beats—can you feel it?

This miraculous organ pumps life-giving blood throughout the body at an average of 80 times per minute, and it goes about it in a manner as quiet and unassuming as the earth’s unending orbit—though we don’t think much about it, we owe it our existence.

But while we cannot feel the earth move no matter how still we sit, we can, in fact, detect our hearts beating, as well as notice scores of other physical feelings and emotional sensations that course through our bodies every day.

Like our heartbeat, hunger is a primal, G-d-given force; it is essential to our survival. A newborn’s cry reveals hunger to be inborn—a pulsing signal that our bodies need fuel. But after years of ignoring our hunger, trading its characteristic pangs for a cup of coffee and a clenching hope to fit into a smaller dress size by next month, we have forgotten what hunger feels like.

The diet mentality is so entrenched in our culture that people believe the ability to restrict food is a simple matter of willpower. But it is much more complicated than that. Trying to externally control a biological drive as primal as hunger can trigger a drive to overeat, and mess with the body’s finely tuned signals of hunger and fullness.

Honor Your Hunger

Do you ever berate yourself after a meal? “I should have eaten less/skipped dessert/kept the breadbox on the other side of the table.” When this happens, ask yourself where this regret comes from.

Sit quietly, clear your mind, and pay attention to the signals in your body. Do you feel physically overstuffed? Or is it possible that the niggling feeling of guilt is more in your head than your stomach?

Different Shapes of Hunger

The framework of IE recognizes that to be fully satisfied, we must account for two types of hunger: physical and emotional.

We are not cars that need to fill up a gas tank and go; we are humans with a complex palate, food memories, and associations. Food fills a nutritional void, and if eaten within the framework of IE, can fill an emotional void as well.

Part of the reason diets fail is because they do not account for emotional hunger. Perhaps chicken, rice, and steamed broccoli will be “permitted” on the diet, but who will feel satisfied eating that every day? What happens if the dieter’s family goes out for pizza and she cannot share in the warmth and satisfaction that comes with eating a shared meal? What if she feels physically full, but must pass on the freshly-fried doughnuts on Chanukah, the dairy delights on Shavuos, the birthday cake at her child’s upsherin? With IE, there is room to enjoy treats for emotional satisfaction, and without dieter’s guilt, you may need much less than you think to feel fully satisfied—physically and emotionally.

Eating Whatever You Want…Intuitive or Impulsive?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that Intuitive Eating means eating whatever you want, whenever you want it—that’s not Intuitive Eating, that’s impulsive eating. Or as Evelyn Tribole says, “Intuitive Eating is eating whatever you want…with attunement.” The problem, Tribole says, arises when people forget those last two words. Attunement is everything when it comes to hunger and satisfaction. Once you learn to listen to and interpret your body’s hunger and fullness signals, you can eat whatever you want (barring any medical restrictions, of course.).

Honoring your Hunger at Yom Tov Meals

On Sukkos afternoon Shiraz and her friends sit at a table laden with gorgeous fruits, nuts, and pastries. “It’s okay, my diet starts after yom tov,” says Shiraz, excusing herself as she reaches for another slice of cake. Her friends laugh in agreement, and the women all agree to swear off cake after the holidays.

This upcoming Sukkos, practice Honoring your Hunger. The holidays are meant to be filled with celebratory eating and enjoyment; when you honor your hunger, you can enjoy all the delicious yom tov food without compensatory guilt or restriction. (See next month’s column, “Making Peace with Food”, to learn why guilt never needs a spot on your menu.)

Throughout the month, try to eat sustaining food every few hours to make sure you do not get overly hungry (which can lead to bingeing), and fully allow yourself to delight in the holiday specialties when you are hungry. And when you have had enough, you can relax and remember: with IE, the diet does not start tomorrow!

Rena’s Tool of the Month

The Hunger Scale
-10 -9 -8 -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 +8 +9 +10
(Hungry) → (Satisfied)

This month, try to pay attention to the quality of your hunger and fullness. How does hunger feel in your body? Pleasant? Painful? Like a burning rock in the center of your stomach? A headache? What does fullness feel like?
These feelings are uniquely experienced by each person.

Rate your hunger per this scale before, in the middle, and after your meal. After doing this a few times without self-judgement, you may be surprised at what hunger and fullness feel like in your body. You may find that if you wait until your hunger gets very severe before eating, you are more likely to overeat.

If you find yourself eating past the point of satisfaction, but still wish to continue eating, do so, and see how you feel throughout the process. Remember: This is NOT an “eat-when-you-are-hungry-stop-when-you-are-full” diet! This is simply an exercise to become aware of that quiet voice inside of you — there are no hard and fast rules.

After years of dieting and ignoring your body’s cues, you may find the hunger/satiety scale difficult at first, but attunement to our bodies gets easier with time.

Have a question about Intuitive Eating? Email Rena Reiser at rena@mindovermunchies. Your question may even be featured in an upcoming column!

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Rena Reiser and Elisheva Blumberg
Rena Reiser is a certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. She has changed the lives of countless women who have tried dieting and are “fed up.” She helps women come to peace with both food and life by discovering and satisfying our real hunger. She lives with her family in Karmiel. Find her at towardsahealthybalance.com. Elisheva Blumberg is a freelance writer living in Edison, NJ. She can be reached at elishevablumberg@gmail.com.

This article was previously published in Olam Yehudi, a publication of The Jewish Press.