If you’re trying to lose weight or eat better, sometimes you may try to ignore your hunger signals, thinking that perhaps skipping a meal will help you reach your goals.
Big mistake. Huge. If you do that, you’re likely to trigger the primal (hear that, primal!) drive to overeat, and once you reach that point, eating in moderation or making nutritious choices is out the window.
When you diet, you often are taught that you should ignore your hunger. After all, how else are you going to stick to a reduced-calorie plan? How are you going to manage to make it from lunch to dinner after eating only a plain salad and a handful of almonds unless you can ignore your body’s requests for food?
And once you rebound off the diet (which is inevitable), you may continue to ignore your body’s hunger signals, but this time by never allowing yourself to get to a state of hunger, because you spent so much time in a deprived state.
There’s no upside to being out of touch with your hunger signals, but it can be hard to find your way back. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Commit to honoring your hunger. This means that you’re willing to feed your body the appropriate amount and types of calories it needs when it asks. Beware of feeding your body foods it doesn’t really want, whether you’re feeding it a pastry when it craves oatmeal or feeding it a chicken breast when it craves a sweet potato. And remember, the amount of fuel your body needs day to day may change, especially when exercise is factored in. Trust that your body knows what it needs.
- Decide to pay attention to what your body is telling you. As I mentioned above, dieting teaches you to ignore your body’s hunger signals in the name of “health.” Getting away from that means being open and willing to listen to what your stomach is actually saying, rather than what your mind is telling you is “right.” Start by simply noticing how your body tells you it needs food and what you feel like if you don’t feed it.
- Remind yourself that undereating leads to overdoing it later, and creates the belief that you can’t control yourself around food. Our bodies are designed to stay fed, period. They will do anything to get enough to eat, once they reach a certain point. If you ignore your hunger in the short term, it will come back to bite you and create a situation where overeating is inevitable. Once this happens, you may be tempted to think you can’t be trusted around food, but the real problem is that you need to start allowing yourself to eat when you’re hungry.
- Be patient with yourself. I give this advice for just about everything related to improving your health and well-being. It can feel really difficult to make big changes in the way you feed yourself, and sometimes you might feel frustrated that you can’t tell if you’re hungry or not, that you’ve overeaten, or that you’re not doing it perfectly yet. It’s all fine and part of the process. It took you years to stop honoring your hunger; it may take months to get that ability back.