That Gut Feeling

By Carla Schuit – Registered Dietitian

We eat when we are happy. We eat when we are sad. We eat when we are bored. We eat when we are mad. Many of us experience that 3pm craving for something to eat. Whether it being true hunger or just needing an escape from work for a moment. There are hundreds of diet books and theories out there for how to schedule your eating. Don’t eat after 8pm, eat six small meals a day, eat three large meals, intermittent fasting or hitting certain macronutrients. We spend so much time and money listening to the latest diet trend or “expert” that we have forgotten who really knows what our body needs… our body!

Hunger, defined as the “feeling or display of needing food”, is the bodies way of telling us it needs energy. Fullness or satiety is the feeling or sensation of the body being satiated or full. These are cues that we are born with but over time override. Be it from your parents making you clean you plate or as we age developing an unhealthy relationship with food. Our ancestors hunted and gathered what foods were available to survive. We now eat to be social, to occupy ourselves or even to cope, ignoring our digestive intuition.

Intuitive eating at its most basic level is “Eating when you are hungry, stopping when you are full”. Can you identify those feelings? When reaching for that snack at 3pm can you stop and ask yourself “Am I really hungry or am I just …….?” When asking for food as a kid my mom would frequently ask us this question.

We obsess over hitting a specific calorie, protein, fat or carb number but forget what we are eating for. I am not saying it isn’t important to pay attention to these calorie and nutrient requirements but don’t ignore what your body is telling you. If you do not feel hungry to not choke down five egg whites just to hit a protein requirement. Listen to your body. Would you put a band-aid on a finger with no cut or take Tylenol when you have no pain? No, most likely not.

Chances are you haven’t been listening to your hunger/full cues for some time now. The cause for weight gain (outside of other medical factors) is that the body is getting more energy or nutrition than it needs to function. So it stores it. So how can you re-learn to hear these cues?

  1. Start with a schedule- This seems counter intuitive to what I am saying above but to hear the cues you must first create them. I do not necessarily mean a meal or time schedule but cognitive eating. Assess what your calorie needs are for your body weight and stick to them. Use an app like My Fitness Pal to help track foods. This will give you an idea of how to identify hunger but also teach what real portions are and their nutritional value.
  2. Honor the hunger, Feel the fullness- If you are hungry, eat. If you aren’t, don’t. Ask yourself that question “Am I hungry or am I… (bored, mad, sad, etc)?”. Start small with your meals or snacks. When I was learning how to cook my mom always told me to add a little, taste and add more if needed. She would say “ you can always add more but you can’t take it out”. It is a lot easier to eat a small meal and if still hungry eat more than to burn additional calories off.
  3. Listen to your body- As you are feeling the cues and eating to your requirements listen to how you feel. Recognize what foods make you feel full and which aren’t worth the calories. Some bodies work best off more fat and some off more carbs. Your activity level and lean body mass will effect which nutrients are best for you. The fitness or meal tracker app will help you identify this as well.

Your body is smart and knows what it needs. Get in tune with your gut and listen to your intuition. We use our instinct and intuition to make choices in regards to fight or flight or safety but rarely apply it to food. Let your body be your guide to health.