Intuitive Eating: Honoring Hunger and Fullness

Thanks to COVID-19, more people are eating at home. Whether that means takeout or cooking, the pandemic has changed eating habits. Along with more meals at home, more virtual meetings and social isolation have caused increased device time and less physical activity. An approach to counteract pandemic-driven unhealthy eating, which continues to gain national attention, is Intuitive Eating.

Intuitive Eating is not about eating whatever you want based on whims. Intuitive eating is a way of relating to food from a place of interconnection between mind, body and health. It is an evidenced-based approach made up of 10 principles created in 1995 by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s a personal process where you listen and respond to what the body is telling you in order to meet your physical and psychological needs.

A diet plan can only be sustained for a short period of time. In fact, one of the greatest predictors of weight gain over time is chronic dieting. The more you try to change your body by enforcing rigid eating patterns, the more you are likely to bounce back and experience weight gain.

Often diets have rigid rules to eat in a very specifc way that can override and disconnect us from our own needs. Over time, this chips away at the trust we have in our own hunger signals and feelings of fullness and satisfaction with eating.

A key principal of intuitive eating is recognizing hunger and fullness. When you tune in and consider your hunger, you can make choices that are more aligned with your wants and needs. By recognizing inner signals, letting your body speak to your hunger and fullness, you foster increased satisfaction with your meal choices. When you enjoy what you eat and feel comfortably full after a meal, it is less likely that you will seek snacks or other foods.

To evaluate your hunger, ask: How hungry are you feeling? What might satisfy that hunger? Are emotions involved in your hunger? Are you using food to soothe an emotion? Or are you not eating because it’s not the right time, despite feeling hungry?

One way of tuning in to hunger and fullness is to use a hunger scale. You can rate hunger on a scale of 0-10:

  • 0 is starving
  • 10 is overfull
  • 5 is neutral

On this scale, you would aim to start eating at a rating of 3 to 4. You would stop eating at a rating of 6 to 7. If you wait until you are at zero to 1 to eat, it becomes much more difficult to make healthy choices. You are much more likely to overeat and feel uncomfortably full.

Recognizing hunger and fullness – and learning to trust the wisdom that we have is only one part of the journey to eating intuitively. But, it is a powerful way to address the self-doubt that years of following a diet may have caused.

Jeanette Lamb is a registered dietitian at Nuvance Health’s Vassar Brothers Medical Center.