Step one of breaking out of the diet cycle mentality was to stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and instead adopting an all foods fits eating plan! Have you been able to drop your personal opinions or society promoted beliefs around foods? Or has it been hard for you to look at a cookie and think, “hmm… even that can fit into my eating plan in moderation”? I know it’s a strange concept to think that chips, pizza and cake can fit into a balanced diet, but I promise you it all can when eaten in moderation! Once you have adopted this mentality, it is time to move on to step two in breaking out of the diet mentality which is LISTENING to your body (not society) regarding what to eat!
This world has taught us so many rules around eating: eat these foods, not those foods, eat at this time, eat this amount in these specific ratios, don’t eat after a certain time, fast for this many hours, eat 3 big meals, eat 6 small meals, eat only once a day, don’t eat snacks… the list of crazy rules goes on and on! But what ever happened to the unofficial rule of eating what you are craving when you are HUNGRY?! Why do we give google or any meal plan the power over our lives in regards to when and how we choose to nourish our bodies? Its time to take back that control and start listening and TRUSTING our bodies hunger, fullness and food desires.
People often ask me, what is hunger and how do I know if I am really hungry versus just emotionally hungry, bored or having a craving? The way I explain true stomach hunger is the grumbly tummy feeling, foggy brain, beginning to become irritable, losing the ability to focus or increased fatigue. If you are having any of these sensations then it is time to eat. (Yes, even if your meal plan says you need to wait X hours between meals!) If these physical sensations are not present, then maybe consider that you are experiencing emotional hunger or are just bored and looking for something to do- if this is the case then drink a tall glass of water, go on a walk or find a good book to read until you are truly hungry!
However, if you have identified true hunger, don’t ignore it! When hunger is ignored it often leads to overeating or choosing less nutritious options at the next meal. So when true hunger strikes, honor the sensation. We can do this by asking yourself how hungry am I and what am I hungry for? Don’t look at your meal plan to see when and what you are “allowed” to eat! Look inside and ask your body what it needs in the present moment to be satisfied.
It is helpful to identify how hungry you are as this can help you decide whether it is time to eat a whole meal or maybe just have a little snack. On the hunger scale, you typically want to stay fairly neutral. You never want to be TOO hungry as it can lead to overeating later on, or TOO full as this is just uncomfortable and causes many people to feel guilt and shame regarding what they have eaten and may cause them to restrict food at the following meal (which puts people into the awful restrict-binge cycle!). If you are feeling the beginning signals of hunger maybe it is time for a small snack. If you are experiencing the lightheaded, unable to focus, grumbly tummy sensations then its probably time for your next meal! Only you can know how hungry you are. Everyone’s body is so different regarding how often they need to eat so don’t rely on what your friends, family or google searches tell you!
After determining your current level of hunger, check in with your body to see what it is craving. Cravings are NOT bad and should absolutely not be ignored! Often cravings are unspecified: a craving for salty, crunchy, sugary, carb rich or other flavors of foods. When non-specific food cravings arise you have the opportunity to be flexible with what you chose to eat! I encourage you to find healthier, nutrient rich sources to satisfy these types of cravings. As you continue listening and nourishing your body properly, you may actually start craving fruits, vegetables and other nutrient rich choices! Until then I have included a chart to help you identify what your body may be asking for when food cravings arise and some healthy choices to nourish your body with when you feel the sensation to eat!
Along with unspecific food cravings, many people also experience SPECIFIC food cravings. We all know that “must have chocolate” feeling! Society has taught us that these food specific cravings are BAD and should be ignored, fought against and never acted upon. I think that ignoring your specific food cravings is a terrible idea! And often ignoring cravings backfires on you! If you are really wanting a piece of chocolate right now, then allow yourself to have one piece! Research shows when people ignore their specific food craving, it causes them to obsess about that one food until they give in to the craving and eat excess amounts of it later! Wouldn’t it be better to allow yourself one piece of chocolate now rather than eating the whole bar later and feeling guilt and shame due to your “lack of willpower” around the craving? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to eat chocolate (or other craved foods) every time you get hungry! After all, every time you get hungry, you probably wont be craving chocolate- but when you are, accept it and answer your body’s request so you don’t end up obsessing and binging on it later!
By dropping “good” and “bad” labels on food, listening to your hunger and honoring your cravings you can get one step closer to breaking free from the dieting cycle! It takes time, but your body and mind will eventually become accustomed to honoring your true hunger signals again! You wont need to rely on any meal plan or google search. You will learn to nourish your body properly as you tune in and LISTEN! Remember that your body is so unique. Your needs are not the same as your friend’s or family’s so don’t assume that what or when they eat is appropriate for your body as well. The only way to know what YOU personally need it by tuning in to your mind and body and honoring its sensations! I dare you to try listening to your body for just a week and see how you feel! I’m sure you will feel much happier, energetic and more satisfied than you ever did when following a strict diet plan