Hunger, Needs and Intuitive Eating

Many of our dietary challenges stem from our difficulties, or even inabilities, to identify real hunger in time and to address it in a fitting manner. Hunger is a very basic need, not different from the need to empty our bowels, to sleep or to have sex.

Our engagement with hunger as a need can teach us a great deal when thinking about the way we handle other, more complex, needs – the way we identify, recognise and fulfil them. And, perhaps, also as to the way an inaccurate fulfilment of our needs carries a cost.

For many of us, disrupted eating patterns or the sheer burden of life leads to a very fragile link between eating and hunger, and when such a link exists, it is almost always distorted. This could be manifested in, for example, periods of prolonged hunger, on the one hand; or a fear and difficulty of experiencing it, coupled with a feeling of panic if it arises, on the other.

Familiarising ourselves with our hunger, with the physical sensation that it ignites, truly supports our ability to nurture ourselves in a better, more precise, way, and to design an accurate diet for ourselves.

If engaging with hunger is of interest to you, think about dedicating to it a minute a day. One day fleeting thought will suffice; another day it can be visited en route to breakfast; and on a third day it may be met during the very course of a meal, as we go for a second helping. Crucially, the point of this engagement is a curious inquiry, and not depriving yourself of food or ceasing to eat.

Retaining the question of hunger embedded in our consciousness can work wonders, and is the source of important learning. When the answers to your questions will begin repeating themselves and will feel familiar, it will be possible to move, quite easily, from the understanding of your own, personal, hunger towards a better understanding of the way you deal with other needs. Every layer will strengthen its predecessors, increase your ability to recognise needs and to satisfy them and pave the way towards an excellent diet.

As one challenge meets us across a range of layers (for example: a thought, a feeling, an action) there is a greater chance that an internal movement will begin within us, towards the challenge. It may be a process of hit and miss, but eventually we will meet our challenge in a manner that will ignite a movement. It may be possible to choose, sometimes even randomly, one question to ponder for a moment. Any such thought will do, will enhance your awareness to its existence, and will eventually advance a conscious engagement with hunger, and with fulfilment.

Here are some ways to fill the daily minute that you have agreed to dedicate to the engagement with hunger.

Possible questions to engage with may include: what feeling does the thought of hunger raise within me? When I think of hunger – what do I feel like doing? When I truly feel hunger, what would be the first thought that comes with it?

These questions offer an preliminary observation into your own, personal feeling towards hunger. It is possible to address them when the hunger is present, or when it is satisfied; in the morning before the first meal or at the end of the day when you feel that you are done eating. It is interesting to see how the answer to the same question is different under different circumstances.

Moving from thought, to action to inaction: try to delay breakfast until you feel hunger. Tackle the habit of eating, or even drinking, at a set time (which is often attached to the daily routine, rather than to hunger) and opening your mouth when hunger sends a signal.

Check for yourself: how does hunger send a signal? Is eating that follows hunger different from other types of eating? What breakfast did I feel like having? Is this a normal meal for me? Are the portions identical to those that I normally have? What are the feelings within me that are associated with the physical signal? What feeling do I think will follow if I do not fulfil the need.

And from action to a dialogue with other needs. If a meal consists of a central plate, as part of a social occasion, try to look at your outreached hand towards more food. Check: why did you reach out your hand? What does your body signal you? Is this hunger? If so, how does my hunger look like during a meal after I’ve already eaten? If not – what is it that sends my hand forward, if not hunger?

In social scenarios our hunger plays a secondary role to other social needs – to impress, to take part, to be heard and to listen, etc. And so, it is not necessarily the body that ‘eats’, but rather other parts of ourselves that ask for attention and instead, receive more and more food, to an excess.

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