Picture this: you’re in your monthly team meeting with a bunch of important executives, giving a presentation, when all of a sudden … ROAR! Your stomach can be heard grumbling and growling across the room, and every high-ranking professional is there to bear witness. What is your next thought?
Are you embarrassed? “Oh, my gawd. What will these people possibly think about my body making such ruckus?”
Are you angry? “How dare you body! Giving me reminders to fuel this wonderful brain of mine after such a long, hard-working morning. Psht – who do you think you are?”
Are you pleasantly surprised? “Oops! Looks like I underestimated my breakfast today!”
Thing is, there are so many reactions to a situation like this, and too often it isn’t a positive one. Somehow diet culture has morphed a biological signal like hunger into something that elicits a variety of emotions for different people. Embarrassment, frustration, anger, happiness, contentment – how might you react or feel about other biological cues?
Hunger is directly related to our body’s strive to survive. Like other biological mechanisms, our bellies and brains have an insane communication system in order to keep us alive. The body’s ability to find constant balance is typically referred to as homeostasis, a lot of which is ruled by this awesome part of our brain called the hypothalamus (1). The hypothalamus sits on his high throne, calling the shots to manipulate different body systems all day long with one goal: survival. Eating, drinking, sleeping, reproducing – you name it, the hypothalamus probably has a say. Main players in the dance of hunger and fullness with the hypothalamus are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is often known as the hunger hormone as it stimulates hunger and is released more when the body is in a fasting state, thus reminding us to fuel up when blood glucose is decreasing and/or low. Leptin, its partner in crime, is known for its role in satiety and fullness. Released by adipose tissue (fat cells!) leptin helps send signals we feel that usually say, “okay, I’m done eating for now!” and stimulates metabolism to help use that recent fuel for energy. (1)
Although this is a super simplified version of biology, it’s real, and not it’s appreciative or receptive to diet trickery. Part of honoring hunger is understanding its purpose and mechanism. Our bodies are so in tune to what we need, how much, and when, that ignoring its cues usually leads to a big ‘ole mess and a whole bunch of distrust. We would cringe at the thought of “using our willpower” to work through the pangs of having to urinate [hence, the potential big ‘ole mess], so when did it become normal to will ourselves through hunger?
Like other body cues, we all have different ways of determining hunger. The super noisy belly experience resonates with some, while others may simply tune into a dull headache in the afternoon. Before working toward honoring your hunger, you have to become more comfortable with something called interoceptive awareness. Interoceptive awareness describes the way one perceives physical body signals (2) which becomes an incredibly powerful tool when exploring intuitive eating. Imagine allowing your body to do the talking instead of some external guide of food instructions [whaddup rigid diet rules]. Problem is, even aside from the millions of diet-suggested thoughts and beliefs we’re given to navigate, there are plenty of other things in our lives that become “attunement disruptors” (1).
Anything related to a busy, noisy, chaotic lifestyle can create barriers to our ability to tune into our body signals. Stress, for example, elicits both biological and emotional obstacles, often making it near impossible to adequately understand and respond to something as normal as hunger. If our fight-or-flight survival system is activated, the body actually knows enough to prioritize blood flow to your extremities [punch or run, people!], which means your digestive track is getting less attention and hunger cues can be put on pause. Put wonderfully by the Intuitive Eating Workbook, “using energy to digest the food in your stomach will just slow you down if you are trying to outrun a tiger.” (2)
So, what do we do about attunement disruptors you ask? It is so important [and helpful] for us to understand the ways we best take care of ourselves, mind, body and spirit. This is not the first, and certainly not the last time I’ll be mentioning self-care. If you’re sitting here recognizing that maybe parts of your busy life are making it hard to honor your hunger, I suggest you consider the ways in which you know you can nourish yourself physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.
All in all, hunger can be complicated. If you are considering exploring intuitive eating, this is what I hope you take away:
- Hunger is biological, and a signal to remind you to fuel up. Diet trickery is essentially a big “Eff you” to your body’s innate ability to help you survive.
- There are plenty of things that make understanding this body cue, a hard thing to do. Consider the chaos of your life as something that very well may contribute to this difficulty.
- Self-care is an important way to begin enhancing your interoceptive awareness, and ultimately building trust with your body in order to honor its communication.
One step at a time. Like any principal of IE, everyone and every body will have to call upon their individual experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Looking for support in this? Reach out for some guidance in individual check-in’s with me!
BONUS!! Need some self-care ideas? Here are a few of my favorites:
- Reading before bed
- Catching up on favorite Netflix/Hulu shows
- Walking with Momma
- Calling a girlfriend to catch up
- Planning a morning to sleep in
- Taking my sisters Zumba class
- Grabbing a fun drink from Starbucks mid-afternoon
- Playing old podcasts I love while doing my not-so-beloved chores
- Mini dance parties in my car [anything by Lizzo]
- Saving money to get my nails done or a massage
- Going to therapy
- Bacon, Linda. Health at every size: The surprising truth about your weight. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2010.
- Tribole, Evelyn, and Elyse Resch. The Intuitive eating workbook: Ten principles for nourishing a healthy relationship with food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2017.