You may have thought or even tried losing weight by going on a diet, following some type of food plan restricting your calorie intake or avoiding certain food groups like carbohydrates or fats. This might have worked for you temporarily or you maybe not at all.
However, this article isn’t about food or dieting nor about committing to rigid rules or standards that may not suit your lifestyle.
In this article, you will learn 4 skills that could help you eat better and feel happier about yourself and your appearance.
4 Skills of Learning and Honouring Your Physiological Cues
These skills are most important to learn, regardless of what you currently choose to eat. And these skills are what nutrition coaches consider to be the big rocks of nutrition.
- Recognising physiological hunger and fullness cues.
- Differentiating physiological hunger from cravings and emotional eating.
- Eating (relatively) regularly.
- Eating slowly and mindfully.
All of these skills apply to any dietary pattern, situation, and menu.
Recognising physiological hunger and fullness cues.
Recognising when you are physiologically hungry and when not will help you to recognise when to eat and when to stop. It will change from moment to moment and day to day.
Learning to correctly identify hunger cues and respond to them accordingly will help you to eat the right amount of food for your body’s needs.
Once you have learned to recognize the signs of hunger, you will also need to develop the ability to sense when you’ve eaten enough for your physiological needs at the given time.
This means you can create an awareness of when you are not hungry anymore when you are feeling satisfied with your meal, and when you feel full. Most of the time these will be 3 different states.
And learning the difference between these states will help you recognise when to stop eating before overeating and feeling stuffed, bloated, and sick.
TRY for a week to practice eating only when feeling physiologically hungry noticing when you are no longer hungry and stopping to eat when you feel satisfied, but not full yet. Pay attention to how this feels in your body and what feelings or thoughts come up. Best if you take just a minute to write it down in your notes or diary. By the end of the week, you might have some insights about your eating patterns or relationship with food. I would love to hear about them, please, share them in the comments or shoot me a message here
Differentiating physiological hunger from cravings and emotional eating.
Another important part of learning and honouring your body’s cues is to know un understand the difference between hunger and appetite.
Hunger signals the physiological need for food. It’s the sensation in your belly or body that tells you that your “biological machine” requires energy and nutrients.
Appetite can be a healthy and productive desire. Food can taste delicious to you. Eating can be pleasurable.
Food can help you connect with people, your friends and your family.
Your body or your physiological system that requires energy and nutrients often depends on your desire to eat. After all, it would be hard to meet your nutrition needs if you wouldn’t want to eat.
Essentially, appetite is a term to describe any desire for food that isn’t necessarily a physiological need.
You might have cravings for particular foods from time to time or choose to eat certain foods for pleasure or as part of social activity – for example, eating cake at a birthday party.
Maybe from time to time you use food and eating to change your mood, to cheer up, to calm and soothe, or to manage stress.
In itself, using food to change your emotional state like emotional eating isn’t a problem. Most of us do this sometimes. It’s only a problem if you feel out of control when doing it causing you more stress, or if it’s the only way you regulate your feelings and emotions.
Learning the difference between physical hunger and appetite may not always change your behaviour. But it can help you to become more aware of the reasons why you might eat.
In the long term, by building your appetite awareness, you might be able to make more conscious food choices and find new ways how to deal with your emotions and feelings.
It’s ok to indulge in food cravings or to manage stress or mood changes with food. What matters is to do it with awareness and honesty, rather than going on autopilot.
TRY for a week to ask yourself questions like:
- Am I hungry enough to eat a meal of protein and veggies? Or do I want to eat something specific simply because I like its smell or appearance, or thought about having it?
- Is my need to eat coming from my belly or body? Or is it coming from my mind?
- Is there something else I need rather than food right now? Am I looking for a distraction from my work, a hug or listening ear, or maybe a change of scenery by taking a walk outside?
Eating slowly and mindfully.
Long gone are the times when at every meal people would sit down to just eat and enjoy their meal. Minimizing distractions, eating slowly, and chewing your food will give you a fuller experience of smell, taste, and texture activating your senses and feeding into feeling satisfied with your meal.
Eating slowly and mindfully in a relaxed state activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps improve awareness of satiety. It also calms the gastrointestinal tract, which is highly sensitive to stress. This can help you prevent or decrease digestive upset like feeling bloated, or stuffed or improve symptoms of acid reflex.
TRY for a week to sit down for your meals remove all the gadgets, switch off your computer or TV and focus. Take a few deep breaths before reaching for food or putting it on the plate. Notice your body and check in with yourself if you can sense any tension in your shoulders, back or abdomen. Breathe into the tension to release it. While eating put your utensils down, chew your food, breathe and take small sips of water if needed. Notice the colours, smells and texture of your food. Enjoy it!
Eating (relatively) regularly.
There are no firm universal rules when it comes to meal timing or frequency. What works best will vary and differentiate from person to person depending on the schedules, preferences, and hunger.
However, it is important to attend to your physiological hunger and fullness cues. They are the body’s way of saying that energy and nutrients need to be put into your biological machine.
Eating frequently will help you stay intact with your physiological cues, listen to your appetite and avoid digestive upset too. You might have had a crazy busy day when you were hungry but didn’t eat. And then later in the night felt ravenous, and ate too much and too quickly leading to feeling bloated, having stomach cramps or even worst, being sick.
TRY for a week to eat every 3-4 hours and notice how your body responds to food choices and portion sizes. You might want to experiment with 3-4 larger meals, or 5-6 smaller meals to see what works for you. You can record your meals by taking pictures and making notes of how you feel after the meal and at the end of the day and the next morning. This information might give you clues of what’s the best way of eating for you right now. And this might change depending on your lifestyle or changing life circumstances.