#014: How to stop hating hunger & use it as a guide

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Tune back into your body so that you can find the most supportive pattern of eating for you

So often, eating “well” or eating “healthily” involves trying to follow a set of rules dictated by someone else.

It’s not surprising our bodies and our minds rebel—and that rebellion can lead right to a session of binge eating or overeating.

In this episode, you’ll learn how to switch hunger signals from being something to dread into becoming a trusted guide.

You’ll discover how to tune back into your body so that you can find the most supportive pattern of eating for you. 

And how to effortlessly move to, or stay in, your right-sized body.

Click here for your FREE Guide: 8 Unexpected Strategies to Change Your Eating

View the full episode transcript

Through tuning into her physical hunger and fullness, she discovered what felt good to her, what supported her body, her mind and her lifestyle, and she stopped needing those frantic overeating and bingeing sessions which left her feeling so bad.

Welcome to the YoYo Freedom Podcast.

This is the place to learn actionable, step-by-step tools and strategies to help you stop bingeing or overeating and start feeling relaxed and confident around food, 

so that you can show up for your life on your terms.

I’m Gemma Keys and I know first hand what it’s like to feel out-of-control around food and trapped in the pain of binge eating and body-shame.

There is a way out. 

Keep listening to discover your path to food freedom.

Welcome to another episode of The YoYo Freedom Podcast. It’s wonderful to have you here.

As we’ve discussed before, bingeing & overeating can happen for many reasons.

Overeating large amounts in a very out of control way—or bingeing—has in particular been associated with dieting and restriction. And, with intermittent fasting being so topical & popular right now, that’s perhaps particularly relevant. I’ll definitely talk more about intermittent fasting in a future episode.

For many people—& I spent many years & years in this category myself—eating “well” is more about trying to follow a set of rules than it is about finding a way to feel good, eat genuinely enjoyable food and feel amazing.

It’s as if our body becomes a sort of appendage to be manipulated and any messages it sends are not to be trusted—they’re better ignored or overridden.

So it’s kinda not surprising that our bodies and minds rebel and protest and want to let loose sometimes—to break the constraints—-and that can look like an extended grazing or overeating session, or a full on binge, which might even last over days or weeks.

This episode is about how to tune back into your own, individual experience of hunger and fullness, and how doing that can help you pull back from bingeing and overeating, and, if this is another goal of yours, to find your natural body weight.

If not really trusting your body and instead looking for external rules to control your eating—whether it’s a diet or fasting protocol or replacement meals or macro plan or whatever it might look like—-if that sounds a little like your experience, please be especially careful to just notice and be curious rather than to tune out or to shame or blame yourself. 

In many ways, to tune out and hand over our decision making power, or to think something’s wrong with us, is exactly the way the diet industry that’s all around us has been set up. 

It makes me so mad sometimes when I think of all the messages that we’ve absorbed without even realising, all so that some company or corporation can make money.

We’re not good enough, we need to change ourselves and be better and to be happy and accepted—and the only way to do that is to pay for this product or that plan. When I think of that message seeping into my 11-yo daughter I just feel outraged … and scared too. 

Because, looking at another person, especially a young person, it’s so clear to see that they’ll thrive if they can trust themselves and their instincts, and grow in a way that’s right for them. But, as our confidence in ourselves has been chipped away at, as we’ve been told we’ve got it wrong and second guessed our decisions or desires, it’s way less easy to trust ourselves

So if any of what I’ve just said does resonate with you, please don’t judge it, just notice. Just be curious and open. And also, give yourself a huge pat on the back for keeping going through all that negative and limiting messaging. You’ve done your best. We’ve each done our best. And, frankly, that is something significant in itself.

And perhaps now is the perfect time to begin to tune in again. Tune in to you, your body, you’re innate inner wisdom or whatever you’d like to call it.

And physical hunger is a wonderful way to begin.

So what does tuning into physical hunger look like and what difference does it make?

Well, bingeing and overeating are often a way to zone out, to numb out or, in many ways, leave your body.

Let me tell you about Nat. Nat’s an example of someone who’d been binge eating for a number of years and had the courage to wonder what it might be like to tune back into her body to see what was going on.

As she began to notice her body’s signals and her hunger levels, she didn’t change anything right away, she just started noticing.

As she took moments through the day to check in with how hungry or full she was feeling, using the tool I’m going to describe in detail in a few minutes, she found that:

  • Mornings were the easiest time of day for her—when she woke up she didn’t usually have any desire to eat at all.
  • As the morning progressed, she tended to try to not eat for as long as possible—she described it as a way to compensate for what she’d had the day before
  • By 11am, Nat was experiencing clear signals of hunger from her body. Her stomach was growling and tensing, her throat felt hollow, and she found she was rubbing her tummy or wrapping her arms around herself, and thinking about food much more
  • She usually tried to see it through til lunch, by which time she was VERY hungry
  • When she finally got to eat she experienced such relief and ate quickly—she described as “stuffing the food down”
  • She felt a bit better after lunch but something in her just couldn’t stop there. She wanted more food—something sweet. So she went to the vending machine at work and, after a chocolate bar, she suddenly had no willpower left at all, so any boxes of chocolates or biscuits in office were fair game, as were a few trips back to the vending machine.
  • By 3, Nat was uncomfortably full. Her clothes felt tighter, and she was dozy—she wanted a nap but couldn’t do that at her desk. So she kept pushing through for the rest of the day feeling pretty awful
  • When she got home at 6:30 she’d already had a can of coke for energy. She wasn’t really hungry enough to be interested in a healthy dinner but still felt driven to eat, so she grabbed at whatever was around—crackers, cheese, toast, a bowl of cereal, —& then collapsed, exhausted on the sofa to watch TV … with bag of popcorn or tub of ice cream.
  • By the time she went to bed, she felt stuffed, exhausted and defeated.

Over time, as Nat began to tune into her hunger, she recognised how hungry she was allowing herself to get early in the day, and began to eat a little earlier in her mornings, before she got to the ravenous stage. 

She found the time that worked best for her to eat was at 10ish, when she was already at work. And that was a time of day she found it helpful to plan for in advance, so she took a snack with her that felt good in her body & was sustaining—something to eat that didn’t trigger cravings.

(As a side note here, if you want to hear more about how to find the foods that work for you, check out episode #005—I’ll link to it in the shownotes or you can go to yoyofreedom.com/5)

Nat found that the morning snack meant she felt calmer at lunch—a little hungry but not so out of control. She discovered she was way more likely to make a food choice that supported her and she ate more slowly, feeling satisfied without the urge to get completely stuffed.

Her hunger in the afternoon was a little more unpredictable, so she decided to have a snack ready in her bag in case she felt hungry. She said it helped her brain relax from feeling panicky, even if she didn’t end up eating it—but more often she did get a little hungry and ended up eating it—and she felt good about that.

She also discovered she liked to snack on a few nuts while she was getting dinner ready—it took the edge off her appetite and was added to her enjoyment in preparing the food. And she liked a dessert! It was exactly what she wanted to finish off her meal—a sweet treat that she hugely enjoyed!

For the remainder of the evening, Nat noticed she felt less exhausted, and could take time for herself. Having the energy to do something she enjoyed—whether it was reading in bed or calling a friend or going out—meant she thought much less about eating.

Through tuning into her physical hunger and fullness, she discovered what felt good to her, what supported her body, her mind and her lifestyle, and she stopped needing those frantic overeating and bingeing sessions which left her feeling so bad.

Now that didn’t happen overnight. There were different stages to increase her understanding of and confidence around what to eat and when. But Nat’s story is an example of where tuning into hunger can lead if you stop to notice and follow those internal signals.

Regularly asking yourself the question, “Am I hungry?” is useful in lots of different ways. 

It helps you become laser focused on the times you’re eating in a way you end up wishing you hadn’t, so you can gather more insight into exactly what’s going on at those times and find different ways to cope

It helps you tune into your body and find eating patterns that are right for you rather than following what’s worked for someone else or a set of rules that’s being dictated to you.

It acts as a pattern interrupter, so automatic or unconscious eating becomes less likely.

And you notice the hunger or fullness levels where you’re more likely to binge or overeat—and that awareness means you can take action to ensure you don’t get there.

In other words, tuning into your hunger and fullness allows you to gather the data you need to set yourself up with a support system to stop the overeating or bingeing. And that might mean staying within a range of being very comfortably full to start with, if that’s what you discover that’s what you need to settle your system and the urges.

Over time, as you refine & streamline your understanding of your levels of hunger and fullness, you’ll become more likely to eat when you’re hungry & when your body needs it, and to stop eating when you’re pleasantly satisfied—and that’ll also mean your’ll reach and maintain your natural body weight much more easily. 

Now, not as many people as you might expect who binge or overeat carry excess weight, but some do. And for those that do, tuning into hunger using the tool I’m about to describe is a really effective way to drop those extra pounds that their body doesn’t really want or need.

So this is the tool. It’s called The Hunger Scale.

And it’s there because the answer to the question, “Am I hungry?” isn’t a simple yes or no answer. There are different levels of hunger and fullness, and it can be really helpful to quantify those different levels.

Imagine a horizontal line with 0 in the middle, -10 on the left to +10 on the right.

The minus numbers from -1 to -10 represent hunger.

The plus numbers from +1 to +10 represent fullness.

0 is completely neutral—there’s no hunger or fullness at zero, just nothing much going on.

As you tune into hunger and fullness, allocate a number on the scale to your physical experience

-10 so hungry that you’re in a weak and sort of collapsed state, you have no energy to do anything

+10 is at the opposite end of the scale. You’re so full you feel absolutely stuffed, have zero energy and might even be asleep.

Taking it down to the mid range,

-5 is hunger level that’s very apparent. You’re distracted by thoughts of food, there are clear signals from your body like tummy cramps or rumbles, and your mind is pretty alert to when you’ll get something to eat.

+5 is fullness that you’re very aware of. There’s some discomfort or maybe bloating, you have to loosen your belt and undo the top button of your waistband. Again, this level of fullness is enough to be distracting.

The numbers between -5 & -10 indicate the range of hunger that’s distracting & uncomfortable, and it’s the same or +5 to +10—they represent a range of fullness that’s distracting & uncomfortable, with 10 being the greatest impact.

And the lower numbers represent the early signs of hunger or fullness.

-1 is the first whisper of hunger

-2 is the first clearer, more obvious sign of hunger

+1 is the first whisper of satiety

+2 is where you’re just satisfied, but not full—you feel light, alert, and energetic

As you being to experiment with using this hunger scale to put numbers to your experience throughout the day, here are some extra tips to help you tune in:

  • You can start by asking yourself where you are on the scale right now in this very moment, and also where you were before your last meal, and after your last meal. There’s always a value in looking back to the recent past.
  • You might like to choose specific times to check in, for example 3 to 4 times during a day, or at very specific times like first thing in the morning, mid-morning, lunchtime, mid afternoon, dinner, and late evening
  • An alert on your  phone can be useful reminder to check in as you get going with this new habit
  • I also invite you not to give yourself goals of where you want to be to start with. Follow your life just as it is and see what you notice. That’s going to be such valuable data as you track your hunger & fullness, recognise the signals associated with different levels, & also tie the scale in with the times you eat in a way your happy with or the times you eat in a way your not so happy with

Using this hunger scale allows you to form a picture of your body, the signals it sends, and what it needs to support you best.

And what your body needs is likely to change over time. As I mentioned earlier, with bingeing, often eating to a clearly satisfied number on the fullness scale can be a great way to calm your system so it knows and trusts that food is coming—especially if there’s a history of fasting, or yoyo-dieting.

But, gradually, those numbers can shift and you find you can drop down the fullness side of the scale, even begin to feel a whisper of hunger, and be calm and relaxed with that because there’s way less food-anxiety going on.

So, to wrap up

Tuning into your hunger and fullness is a great way to tune into your body and find what it needs.

To begin with, using the hunger scale presents valuable data on how hungry or full you get, and the levels of hunger or fullness that are particularly triggering in that they’re likely to lead to overeating or bingeing—and those levels can be very different for different people.

Over time, you’ll become more familiar with the signals from your body, you’ll begin to listen to them & trust them. You’ll begin to eat in a way that fits with your life, that’s enjoyable & sustainable, energising and nourishing in ways you love, and that leads you to or maintains you in your right sized body.

You’ll find you’re eating in a way that’s right for you!

And, if you’d like more insight into even more strategies to help you move away from binge eating and overeating, do check out my free guide: 8 unexpected strategies to change your eating. You’ll find a link to it in the show notes at yoyofreedom.com/14

That’s it for today’s episode. Thank you for listening.

I hope you’ve found this episode helpful. Subscribe to The YoYo Freedom Podcast for more insight, tools and support as you pull back from bingeing, overeating or yoyo-dieting and step into your most authentic, vibrant life.

And, if you liked what you heard, it would be wonderful if you’d take a moment to rate this podcast on whichever platform you listen on.

Thank you so much! And Bye-bye for now.

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Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychological condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

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