Not sure what to eat or how big your portion needs to be? Get off Google and drop into your body - it already knows what it wants. Many of us struggle to stay in sync with our native hunger signals. Integrative nutritionist, Jennie Miremadi, has overcome the challenge first-hand and is sharing some savvy tips for how to reconnect with our natural appetite control system and how to use it for a more fulfilling relationship with food. The less we restrict the more space we have to live in line with the natural rhythm of our mind-body connection and use food as fuel to support our best selves...
Years before I became a nutritionist, I thought I had an “appetite problem” and was desperate to find a way to get it under control. My approach was to use diet pills to suppress my appetite or restrict eating by counting calories or measuring my food. But this made me so disconnected from my natural hunger signals that when I wasn’t tracking or artificially restricting my intake I would end up overeating at meals or would binge on really unhealthy food.
At the time, I remember hearing that if you listened to your body it would tell you how much to eat. I found this idea frustrating because I was actually completely disconnected from my body’s natural hunger signals and had no idea how to listen to them. I would look in awe at people who could eat half of their meal and stop—I was convinced there was something wrong with me.
But there wasn’t anything wrong with me. We all have a built-in appetite control system via our body’s physical hunger cues. I had just stopped listening to mine along the way.
It took discipline to stop my unhealthy eating habits. And I had to pinpoint my physical hunger sensations and then use them as the gauge for when to eat. But, with practice, it became easy to listen to my body, eventually becoming second nature.
How To Tap Into Your Natural Appetite Control System
If you’d like to reconnect to your natural appetite but don’t know where to start, here’s my step-by-step guide:
Before you eat, scan your body. Notice whether you have any physical hunger sensations, such as a growling stomach or an empty feeling in your belly. If you do, that’s your cue to start eating. If you can’t sense any physical signs of hunger, wait to start eating until you do.
Next, put food on a plate and sit down while you eat.
Then, put away anything that might distract you from your food such as your phone, computer or television. The goal here is to be totally present with your food. You might find eating without distractions challenging at first. But, once you try eating this way, you'll love it—being fully present with your food enables you to enjoy it so much more.
Now, take a bite of food. Eat slowly, and taste each and every bite.
Notice all of the textures, flavors and taste sensations flowing from the food as they land on your tongue and in your mouth.
After each bite, check in with your hunger levels and observe how they change with each bite.
When you no longer notice any physical hunger sensations, that’s your cue to stop eating.
Have food left on your plate? That’s okay. You can save it for later and eat more again when physical hunger signals come back.
Connecting with and responding to natural hunger signals is the key to accessing your natural appetite. Practice until you’ve mastered it!
Influences That May Deter Your Natural Appetite
Be aware that even if you get to the point where your physical hunger signals are guiding your eating, there are still food and non-food influences that can screw up your natural appetite. Here are some of the culprits:
Skipping Meals + Nutrient Poor Food | The best way to send your appetite into a tailspin is to eat a diet that is totally devoid of nutrients and comprised primarily of processed, refined carbs and sugar. These foods spike your blood sugar and cause cravings, making it very difficult for you to listen to natural hunger signals. Similarly, if you skip breakfast and lunch, by the time you start eating in the afternoon your body is so starved for nutrients that you’re likely to devour anything you can get your hands on, which will make it difficult to listen to your body’s hunger cues.
Instead, have breakfast, lunch and dinner. And eat nutrient-rich meals made from real, whole foods. Make sure to add protein, healthy fat and fiber-rich carbs to each meal to help balance your blood sugar and make you feel satiated. One of my clients recently tried this and reported: “When I eliminated sugar completely, I discovered that my body actually began to crave nutrients. Instead of craving donuts, I wanted nuts and spinach! It was a revelation.” Like my client, if you fill your body with nutrient-packed foods, you’ll be setting yourself up to listen to it.
Alcohol | Alcohol is not only filled with empty calories, it distorts what you think your body actually needs. So when you drink, do it in moderation. That means sticking to one or two drinks in the course of an evening, no more than a couple of times per week. And if you notice that you feel disconnected from your natural hunger signals every time you drink, cut back or cut it out altogether.
Stress | Your body produces a hormone called cortisol to respond to stress. When cortisol is released in your body, it also raises blood sugar levels and increases appetite. If you don’t find ways to deal with stress in a healthy way, you can end up with an out of control appetite and spiked blood sugar.
Stress isn’t going to disappear from your life, but you can use tools to manage it constructively. In particular, studies show that both meditation and EFT lower cortisol levels in the blood and reduce stress. So, if you create a daily practice that includes both of these exercises, you’ll be simultaneously supporting your natural appetite and your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Sleep | Many clients tell me that when they don’t get enough sleep on a particular night, the next day their appetite is voracious. That’s because even a single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin (the hormone that tells your body to eat). If you’re constantly sleep deprived, you’re going to be dealing with an out of whack appetite.
Implement these healthy sleep habits to help prevent sleep deprivation-induced appetite issues. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started:
+ If you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages, try to limit intake to the morning.
+ Wind yourself down at least an hour before you go to bed. Turn off your computer, shut off the TV and stop looking at your phone. To get yourself into a relaxed state, put on calming music, turn on a recorded yoga nidra session or listen to a guided sleep meditation.
+ Even if you don’t have a problem falling or staying asleep, if you’re not setting aside enough time to sleep, you’ll always be tired. Before you set your alarm, factor in enough time to make sure you wake up feeling well-rested.
+ Your tablet, computer and smartphone (and all LEDs) emit high levels of a blue light that disrupt circadian rhythm and suppress production of melatonin, an important sleep hormone. If you’re going to work on devices at night, one surprising solution is to wear blue-light blocking amber glasses to help reduce the disruption.
If you create a healthy sleep routine and are still struggling with sleep, talk to your health practitioner about whether a hormone imbalance may be triggering your sleep issues. Some common insomnia-inducing hormone imbalances that I help clients with in my practice include low progesterone levels, high nighttime cortisol and low melatonin levels.
The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs.
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