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THE DIET CYCLE

In the world of dieting, hunger is sometimes something to fear. But, we can give ourselves permission to validate our hunger in a way that is joyful and satisfying to us. Hunger is not just something to suppress, quiet and/or avoid. Instead, we can undergo a paradigm shift to view hunger as a signal our body needs energy: the energy that keeps our bodies moving, breathing and thriving. Our hunger can be something we listen for, recognize and then respect by nourishing our bodies the way we see fit.

Perpetually denying your hunger is a common theme in dieting. Intuitive Eating calls upon you to listen for physical signs of hunger and honor them - no matter the time of day. Respecting your fullness becomes much easier also when you take care of your body at the first signs of physical hunger.

Our bodies need food; it is vital energy for us. When we do not provide our body’s with this energy, powerful biological and psychological mechanisms kick in. Since humans are biologically wired for survival, at the first sign of famine (restrictive dieting) your body will kick up the hunger cues, cravings and need to eat. These mechanisms are triggered when your body does not get the energy from food it needs. 

Extreme hunger leaves you preoccupied or even obsessed with food. The more you deny your hunger and fight your body’s natural biology, the stronger and more intense food cravings and obsessions become. Sound familiar?

Effects of Deprivation

Studies have demonstrated the power of food deprivation on biological and psychological well-being. One study examined starvation in healthy participants in which after a period of freely eating, they entered a semistarvation period where the researchers cut their calories in half.

The effects of this study mirror symptoms of chronic dieting including:

  • Decreased metabolic rate by 40%.

  • Food obsession and preoccupation.

  • Heightened food cravings.

  • Eating style change (ravenously eating or stalling with a meal).

  • Binge eating.

  • Deliberate exercising to obtain more food.

  • Personality change: apathy, irritability, moodiness and depression.

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During the refeeding period of the study, where participants could eat freely again, hunger pangs became more intense and hunger was insatiable - meaning it was much more difficult to stop eating.

This study suggests the connection between self-imposed food deprivation and out-of-control eating, overeating and/or binge eating, commonly causing feelings of guilt and shame. This is not due to lack of willpower; this is your body trying to get you to eat and survive. 

When hunger is consistently ignored/denied, natural hunger signals can begin to dull and you won’t be able to hear them any more. But honoring your hunger can be re-learned.

How? Consistently provide your body with food and cease dieting and deprivation for good. Give yourself permission to eat food and remind yourself that you will always be able to eat what you want, when you want.

Listen, check-in and trust your body.

Intuitive Eating authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resche spell out “Honor Your Hunger” as a call to action:

“Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor the first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and your food.”

Action Item

Keep a Food Log that records your hunger and fullness levels before/after each eating experience. Observe non-judgmentally with neutral, mindful awareness. This is purely objective information, not something to fear or cause guilt/shame. What do you notice?


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