One of the most important things you can do in trying to lose weight is to get in-line with your hunger cues and to listen to your body.
Called intuitive eating, for many people, weight gain is as a result of eating when you aren’t hungry, not stopping eating when you are full, or simply eating for reasons other than to fuel your body, such as emotional eating, or social eating.
As you work on your weight loss start focusing on understanding what your hunger is telling you so that you can tune in to when your body actually needs food and when you simply mis-understand your hunger cues!
- You have low blood sugar – Yes, you get low blood sugar when it has been a long time since you ate last, but you also get low blood sugar following a spike in your blood sugar. For example, if you tend to eat a pastry or baked good for breakfast with your coffee on the way to the office at 8:30, you love it, because you start the day on an energy high as a result of the sugar and coffee. But at 10 am, your stomach is grumbling, you’re hungry, cranky, and lacking in energy, because your blood sugar has rapidly dropped following the spike caused by the pastry. Now you are tempted to reach for the muffins or cookies in the office staff room and you start the cycle again. Focus on consuming foods that are lower in sugar and made of complex carbohydrates so that they release slowly into your blood stream and don’t cause big spikes and drops. Regulated blood sugar allows hunger cues to come when you are low on sugar due to not having eaten, not low on sugar due to just needing another pastry fix!
- You’re on an eating schedule – Have you ever noticed that if you eat your meals at the same time every day, you end up hungry at that exact time? Even if you had a late breakfast, your stomach still starts grumbling at 12:30 when you would normally eat. Like a natural body clock for sleeping and waking, your body develops a natural clock for eating. Most of the time this is good, as it helps us eat meals regularly. But it’s bad if you listen to it no matter what the circumstances and assume that since it’s “lunchtime” you should eat. Eat when you are hungry, whether that is at the classic lunchtime, mid afternoon or a late dinner, and stop when you are full. These are more important cues to teach your body and learn to listen to, rather than simply obey the times on a clock.
- You forgot to eat – It’s been a busy day at work, you had several meetings this morning and were up early to get the kids to school. You have an appointment in the afternoon and soccer practice tonight, and with everything going on, you look at the clock and realize it’s after 2pm and you haven’t eaten since your hurried toast early this morning. Unfortunately, not eating is not the quick answer to your weight loss goals. Your body will simply hold on to fat and calories, as it thinks it won’t be getting food any time soon, and it will disrupt your naturally occurring hunger cues. The result will be that later on you will start eating and then just shove everything in sight into your mouth because you will realize how hungry you are and your blood sugar will be low and craving the boost. Avoid all of this by simply eating at regular times and paying attention to how long you go between meals (3-4 hours is ideal)!
- You’re craving something – One of the biggest disruptors to hunger cues and listening to your body’s hunger needs is cravings. When you crave food, your body makes you feel like you definitely need it, and are definitely hungry for it right now, no matter what. This is the case with sugar, carbohydrates, salty foods and sweet foods. Break this cycle by finding coping mechanisms for your cravings. For example, if you always crave sweets when you stop off for your morning brew at the local coffee shop, find a shop that doesn’t serve sweets, or make your coffee at home. If being in the kitchen after dinner makes you want dessert, wait until an hour after dinner before going into the kitchen. Likewise, if lounging on the couch to decompress after work makes you crave salty snacks and ice cream, find some other way to wind down after work so you don’t end up setting yourself up for eating junk food! Cutting off your craving at the trigger will eventually rid the craving altogether and keep you on track for your weight loss.
- You’re emotional or stressed – We all wish we were the type of stressed person who hardly ate versus the one who just eats more. If you find yourself constantly hungry, craving food or eating to excess, look at your stress level, or analyze what might be happening emotionally. Look to deal with that problem first, and improve your emotional state or reduce your stress. This constant burden and overwhelming feeling we have in our head due to the stressful situation makes us crave some form of control or relief, and this is often in the form of food. Address the problem, remove yourself from locations or situations where you are tempted to eat, such as the kitchen, office staff room, coffee shop etc. and work on reducing this same cycle in the future.