Are you applying diet mentality to intuitive eating? Are you on the hunger fullness diet? In this post, we dive into what listening to hunger/fullness means, how you know when it turns into a diet, and how to ditch the diet mentality.
I’ve seen a common trend with some of my intuitive eating clients. They break up with their diet of choice in an effort to give intuitive eating a try to help heal their relationship with food. They learn all about the 10 principles of intuitive eating and are super excited to put them into practice and then get hyper focused on two of them: honor your hunger and respect your fullness. All of the sudden, intuitive eating has become the hunger fullness diet.
What is this hunger/fullness thing anyway?
Intuitive eating is about getting back to the way we were naturally born to eat. We weren’t born counting calories. We didn’t start eating by measuring out portions beforehand. We began eating by listening to our bodies. We weren’t subject to external forces (doctors, media, diet industry, parents, etc.) telling us what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. We just cried when we were hungry and stopped when we were full. We intuitively knew when it was time to eat by turning inward. Part of the practice of intuitive eating is getting back in touch with those internal cues like hunger and fullness to help us determine when to eat and when to stop.
How do you tap into hunger and fullness? It depends on where you’re starting out. Perhaps you haven’t felt hunger in years and feel awkward and uncomfortable listening to your body so you might start with some simple somatic/mindfulness work, working on feeling different sensations in your body, like your heart beat for instance. Or, maybe you are familiar with what hunger feels like in your body but you’ve been overriding those sensations out of fear of what might happen if you honor your hunger. If that resonates, maybe you do some journaling around hunger and your fears about what hunger (and honoring your hunger) means. Or, perhaps you’re just so used to focusing on calories and macros that you haven’t thought about eating according to hunger in a while. Then, you might want to shift from tracking your food and calories to tracking your hunger and fullness on a scale from 1-10 before and after you eat. Or, you can ditch the scale and ask questions like, Am I ravenous? Am I hungry for a meal? Or, am I hungry for a snack? Or, am I neutral?
Overall, the purpose of becoming aware of your hunger and fullness is to eat according to your body’s needs. In doing so, your body can start to trust you again that you will respond to its signals and as your body begins to trust you, you can begin to repair the trust with your body. Body trust is a two-way street. Your body has to know it can trust you again before you can truly repair your relationship with it.
When does listening to hunger and fullness turn into a diet?
You can apply diet mentality to just about anything. Diet mentality is that perfectionistic, black-and-white, all or nothing, rigid thinking that we apply to food and nutrition, in the form of dieting. Well, guess that? You can apply that mentality to just about anything. Exercise. Self-care. Yoga. Meditation. Work. Relationships. Etc. And you can apply diet mentality to intuitive eating. Usually this shows up in the form of the hunger fullness diet. What exactly does this look like? Here are some of the types of comments I hear from clients that let me know they might be falling into the hunger fullness diet trap:
- I was so bad yesterday. I ate a piece of chocolate cake and I wasn’t even hungry.
- I’m so disgusted with myself. I knew I was satisfied halfway through my dinner but I kept eating anyway.
- I would be fine if I only ate when I was hungry and always stopped when I was full.
- I didn’t eat until late in the afternoon because I just didn’t feel hungry all day.
Maybe you’re thinking I’ve said that exact thing before! Or, maybe you’re reading these comments thinking, “what’s the problem?” Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these.
I was so bad yesterday. I ate a piece of chocolate cake and I wasn’t even hungry. –>
This statement insinuates that you must only eat when you are hungry and if you’re eating when you’re not hungry, you’re a bad intuitive eater. First of all, there’s no such thing as a bad intuitive eater. Second of all, part of intuitive eating is taking the morality out of food so notice when you’re referring to yourself as good or bad because of your eating choices. You are a good person no matter what you eat. But most importantly, intuitive eating does not say you must ONLY eat when you are hungry. That would be applying rigid, all or nothing thinking to intuitive eating. Instead, reframe that belief to aim to eating when you’re hungry most of the time, not all of the time. Like I tell my clients, I almost never eat dessert when I’m hungry. Because typically when I’m hungry, I’m craving something more substantial. I eat dessert because it sounds good or it looks good or I’m in the mood for it, not because I’m physically hungry. And that’s OK. It’s OK to eat sometimes when you’re not physically hungry.
I’m so disgusted with myself. I knew I was satisfied halfway through my dinner but I kept eating anyway. –>
This comment is insinuating that you must always stop eating when you are full. But what if you’re eating something and you’re really enjoying it, it tastes delicious, it’s satisfying and you want to finish it? I’ve been there, done that. Remember that there’s a spectrum of fullness too. Maybe you are satisfied halfway through and you’re also really enjoying it and you know if you finish it you’ll end up comfortably full but not painfully full. And hey, we’ve all eaten until we’re painfully full too (Thanksgiving, anyone?) and that doesn’t make you a disgusting person; it’s just something to notice and observe and get curious about. Like if you notice a pattern that you’re consistently eating to the point of an uncomfortable level of fullness, rather than criticizing yourself (which will only lead to more self-loathing), get curious about what feelings were coming up in that moment and were you able to check-in with your body. This type of work isn’t easy to do and you may find yourself needing the support of a dietitian and/or therapist.
I would be fine if I only ate when I was hungry and always stopped when I was full. —>
Only and always are words that fall under all or nothing thinking. There’s also some judgment tied into this comment too, right? Meaning that you are not fine as you are. A alternative thought could be “It feels good in my body when I’m mostly eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full.” Mostly allows some room for flexibility. Chances are if you only ate when you were hungry and always stopped when you were full, you’d start to feel restricted and would start to rebel against that and might enter the restrict/binge cycle again. And let’s not forget about the other 8 principles of intuitive eating! Intuitive eating is NOT just listening to your hunger and fullness, it’s also about rejecting diet mentality, making peace with food, giving yourself full permission to eat all foods with attunement, honoring your feelings, challenging the food police, discovering satisfaction from foods, respecting your body, finding joyful movement and practicing gentle nutrition. If you find yourself getting hyper focused on the hunger/fullness piece, maybe it’s time to focus on a different principle for a period of time.
I didn’t eat until late in the afternoon because I just didn’t feel hungry all day. —>
Again, this comment assumes that you should ONLY eat when you are hungry, which is just not the case. It also assumes that with intuitive eating, you should ONLY be listening to your body, which again, not true. Our bodies are not reliable 100% of the time. For instance, if I’m super jet lagged or feeling under the weather, my body might not be sending regular hunger cues to me. At that point, I’m going to tap into my head and self-care practices and realize okay, I know I don’t feel physically hungry right now but I know that in order to treat my body with kindness and fuel my body appropriately, I should eat something. Another example would be using logic and self-care to eat something when you know you won’t have the chance to eat for a while. Like you’re about to board a 3 hour flight and you don’t feel hungry in the moment but logically you know that in an hour or so, you might feel hungry and so you eat proactively as a form of self-care. I should also note that if you’ve been restricting for a long time and/or have an eating disorder, you won’t be able to rely on your hunger cues in the beginning and you may need more structured meal/snack times in the beginning of your recovery until your hunger cues are more consistent and reliable.
How to get off the hunger fullness diet
So now that you have a better idea of what the hunger fullness diet looks and sounds like, how do you ditch it? I’ve talked about this a little bit above but let’s reiterate:
- Start to notice when you apply rigid thoughts and beliefs to your hunger and fullness and call it for what it is: “Oh, there’s that diet mentality trying to sneak in again.”
- Give yourself permission to eat when you’re not hungry.
- Give yourself permission to eat past the point of fullness.
- Take a week (or more) off of focusing on hunger and fullness and focus on a different principle of intuitive eating like discovering satisfaction from food.
- Practice eating for self-care when your body’s signals might not be 100% reliable.
- Remind yourself that there is no such thing as perfecting or failing at intuitive eating, only learning. It is a process.
- Shower yourself with compassion that it’s really normal to apply diet mentality to intuitive eating when dieting is all that you know.
- Seek out the support of a registered dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating and/or a therapist.
I’d love to hear from you guys. What are some other ways to get off the hunger/fullness diet? In what ways does this show up for you?