Intuitive Eating isn’t a diet. If we roll with what the OG Intuitive Eating professionals call it, Intuitive Eating is a mind-body self-care eating framework. Which sounds complicated and fancy, but I assure it’s much simpler to navigate that you think.
There are no rules. Rules are make a restrictive diet, a diet. Instead, the Intuitive Eating framework is based on 10 core principles. There are:
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honour your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Feel your fullness
- Cope with your emotions with kindness
- Respect your body
- Feel the difference with joyful movement (exercise)
- Honour your health with gentle nutrition
Honouring hunger was one of the biggest hurdles for me.
Honouring hunger means eating more food even if you have just eaten a full dinner dinner. It means eating more food even if you had a snack 30-minutes ago. It means eating more food even if you are going out for dinner in a couple of hours but you’re actually hungry now. It’s recognising your hunger – be that the early signs like restlessness or lack of concentration, all the way up to full-blown hanger – respectfully giving you body the food that is needs and not making it wait.
When I was in the midst of my disordered relationship with food and exercise, I had a classic case of the ‘food rules’. My disordered relationship with food came from finding comfort in control. This meant that meal times were pretty regular, or with ‘allowed’ flexibility, but I would rarely deviate by eating more frequently (or generally just more at all) than what I had told my body it needed.
Over time, as I adopted more of the Intuitive Eating principles into my relationship with food, I became much better at honouring my physical hunger, but my mental hunger took much longer to get a handle on. The term ‘mental hunger’ is actually still pretty new to me, but it’s a term that explained so much of what I had been experiencing – a real lightbulb moment, I can tell you!
But, what do we mean by ‘mental hunger’?
I’ll admit, I had to do a lot of my own research around this. I found this article to be particularly useful in explaining the different types of hunger we can experience, which I’ve summarised below…
Physical hunger is the physical symptoms you experience after a long period of time without eating. It’s the eventual growling of your stomach, low energy (and , if you’re like me, hanger that follows, if ignored) to tell you that all of the energy from your last meal has been used up, and “please can we have some more”.
Mental hunger is that feeling of craving something more, even when you physically are full. Maybe you have just eaten a full meal, but you still don’t quite feel fully satisfied. Nowadays I experience this mostly in the form of wanting something a little sweeter after a savoury meal. But there have been other days when I would, despite eating a full meal, would happily eat the full meal all over again. It’s that feeling when you can’t stop thinking about food.
Mental hunger can be really challenging if you’re coming out of a period of restrictive eating, be that an actual disordered relationship with food, or just a long-term diet that hasn’t allowed you full access to the food you really want and need. It is your body’s response to that period of restriction – making you think about food in the hope that you will give it more. You body is fearing that more restrictive times are coming, and it needs to prepare.
In the early stages, whilst uncomfortable and mentally challenging, it’s easier in the long-run to also honour this mental hunger and allow your body the access to food it craves. Mental hunger is a phase, and from experience I know that it does eventually pass. It can take time, but once your body understands that no foods are off-limits any more, and it comes to understand that all foods are available whenever it needs it, the mental hunger become less and less overpowering.
Mental hunger is a form of eating for pleasure, because it’s eating when you’re not physically hungry. But mental hunger and eating for pleasure aren’t experiences to be demonised. Eating is eating and it’s a huge part of how we live, and experience things and connect with others.
I hope in talking about this, that more people can also understand why they are experiencing thoughts of food so frequently, and learn how to work with and honour your hunger, rather than fighting it!
Until next time,
I would also hope that a disclaimer isn’t entirely necessary, but just in case: I’m not a certified, registered or qualified Dietician, and can only therefore talk about Intuitive Eating based on my own understanding, research, learning, and personal experiences. If you’re interested in exploring intuitive eating and need guidance, I recommend reading ‘Intuitive Eating’ by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and ‘Just Eat It’ by Laura Thomas. You can also seek advice from a certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor or Dietician.