We all know that hunger is innate and instinctive for all humans. In college, I was introduced to Ellyn Satter’s work, in which her big domino belief is that we are born natural, intuitive eaters, yet it is common that as we age and undergo life’s transitions, that innate ability to tune into our hunger and fullness cues is muted. Sometimes this quieting of our inner voice is subtle and not an everyday occurrence, while other times we could go years without knowing what hunger or fullness actually feel like.
Physical hunger itself is adaptive. We are simply hardwired for survival, and proper energy and nourishment are key components of survival. You may experience low energy, feel “hangry”, become preoccupied with food, and have your stomach growling. Once your fullness cues kick in, these symptoms begin to dissipate and you feel more content. There are a lot of biochemical intricacies involved in physical hunger, but to keep it simple: ghrelin= your hunger hormone and leptin = your fullness hormone.
If you feel that these signals are erratic, out of control, or just don’t work like they used to, you are certainly not alone. Here are some common hunger/ fullness cue problems I see:
Inconsistent Sleep Patterns
Sleep is your ultimate reset button, and a great way to be proactive about your brain health, energy, and more for the next day. Changes to your normal sleep patterns inevitably mean you are riding the low energy struggle bus the next day. Again, your body is adaptive, so naturally it undergoes biochemical changes to make you crave the core energy source in our waking hours: food, and more specifically carbohydrates. Ghrelin surges and leptin is often muted, making us feel insatiable.
Intentional or Unintentional “Appetite Suppression”
Historically, we’ve always praised “appetite suppression” like it was a good thing, and how it is connected to caffeine intake, nicotine, and more. I’m hearing less and less of this language these days, which is definitely a sign of growth. The truth is caffeine, nicotine, and many prescribed pharmaceuticals can alter these hunger and fullness signals, leading to you not totally trusting your internal cues.
Chronic Dieting or Disordered Eating
I would say the hallmark of a toxic and short term “diet” would be where you mostly rely on willpower for your eating habits. This has been a key component of most weight loss/ health advice in the last few decades, although I am hearing less and less of this language as well. This leads to us turning off those hunger cues in our brain, at first intentionally, then unintentionally. In diagnosed eating disorders (as a more extreme example of this), that internal voice is similarly muted.
Living In Survival Mode
There are varying degrees of this, but if you are a self- proclaimed cortisol junkie, in a stressful season of life, or in various stages of burnout, it might be difficult to understand when you are hungry or full. Hunger sometimes comes on powerfully and quickly in these circumstances, and salt or sugar cravings can arise.
Nutrition, LIfestyle, and Mindset Priorities for Real Physical Hunger
Tuning into actual, real physical hunger can take work and awareness, especially if it has been suppressed for a while. Here are a few priorities, in which I encourage you to take inventory of what you’re already doing vs. what you can work on:
If you’re feeling stuck on the implementation/ integration piece, working with an RD can help discuss all factors associated with this and devise a game plan. Simply fill out this application form and we will be in touch. During my free consultation, I deep dive into a “My Symptom Questionnaire” to take all of this to another level and really help you understand your body. All visits are telehealth and I do have insurance options.