When I ask my clients what hunger feels like to them, most describe the sensations of extreme hunger. The symptoms range from feeling irritable, hangry, and on edge to feeling dizzy and lightheaded with frequent complaints of a headache.
This powerful hunger and depletion can set the person up to eat in a way that leaves them feeling overly full, stuffed, bloated, in pain, or physically sick. Therefore, they often feel out of control, fearful around certain foods, and unable to trust their body cues.
It is easy to swing from extremes with eating, from restriction or under-eating to binge eating. It’s essential to find balance without dieting. When you add structure WITH flexibility around food, you can feel both nourished AND satisfied. You begin to self-moderate without strict food rules and learn to trust yourself and your body. This starts with INTENTIONAL EATING. Intentional eating is about CREATING balance; as balance is not something you find, we need to create it.
It’s time to stop falling into diet culture traps and create a realistic plan to boost your energy and stimulate your metabolism with intentional eating.
Intentional eating bridges the gap between tracking and dieting to intuitive eating.
This is often a shorter-term approach to eating that allows you to set intentions to build body trust and stay aware of what your body is asking for and honor those needs.
It requires more mindfulness (aka – Intention!) with food choices and timing.
It may feel like your internal hunger, and fullness cues are broken beyond repair after years of dieting and loss of body trust. But, with guidance and patience, it is possible to reconnect to your body’s signals with eating that will leave you feeling in control!
Our bodies work hard to keep us alive and in homeostasis. The body is continually assessing what it needs and makes adjustments accordingly. You are not a robot. You are not a machine. You live in a fluid body that is highly sensitive to changes and tightly regulated. For example, your body can maintain your temperature, breathing, heart beating, etc. When these systems break down, it is a medical emergency. It’s the very same intelligence in the body that regulates our nutrition.
Did you know that you were born into a body that has multiple ways to regulate your food intake? It is a coordinated effort between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract that includes hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, the presence or absence of food, and individual nutrients. The physical body is designed to take in, break down, and use food because it is necessary for life.
In other words, calories keep us alive! Infants are champs at this. These tiny humans have a high need for nutrition and clear signals to help regulate intake. But, as we get older, it can become very complicated. There are many reasons we can have interruptions (hello diet culture) that interfere with or block our hunger or fullness cues.
With practice and Intention, you will be able to tune in and find your cues. The very same hunger and fullness cues you were born with.
Intentional eating is the anchor for your non-diet journey. It is a personalized approach to adding structure with flexibility to your eating. So you can feel both nourished and satisfied as you begin to self-moderate without strict food rules and learn to rebuild body trust.
The goal is to help guide you on what to eat to keep you feeling secure and flexible with your food choices.
Begin by setting intentions with STRUCTURE – through TIMING and BALANCE of your meals and snacks.
Try to eat about every three hours to avoid going to extremes between eating. This is because so many undereat during the day only to experience intense cravings in the evening and end up overcompensating. Therefore, a good goal is three meals daily plus 2 – 3 snacks. This gives your body regular scheduled times to eat, making it such that you will never feel too hungry or the need to “stuff” yourself because you don’t know when you will get the chance to eat again.
When you eat meals and snacks, include a combination of all three macronutrients – protein, carbohydrate, and fat.
The macronutrients work together to help keep your energy levels steady throughout the day. Instead of the ups and downs of the energy roller coaster, you will find yourself on solid ground. You will have focus and can concentrate on the task at hand. Of course, you will still feel tired at the end of a full day, and all bets are off if you are not sleeping well. But, with practice, you can minimize afternoon crashes. Eating in a way that keeps your energy constant is a subtle shift that supports your well-being.
Prioritize Protein! Protein is the most helpful macronutrient when practicing connection to your body and is worth your attention. Especially if you experience intense food cravings later in the day. Protein takes work to break down, so it stays in the stomach longer. Therefore, protein helps you get full and stay full.
- Protein stimulates the release of the happy chemicals dopamine and serotonin.
- Protein helps to stabilize blood sugar.
Try to consume a variety of proteins throughout the day.
- Beef, pork, poultry
- Cow or soy milk
- Greek yogurt
- Cheese and cottage cheese
- Beans and Legumes
- Tofu, Tempeh, Seitan
Add in Carbohydrates! Carbs are the most misunderstood macronutrient. Cutting them out will lead to mood swings, low energy, and ravenous hunger. Your brain cells (neurons) need glucose and can’t store it, so you must eat it consistently.
Pay attention to fiber. Eating fiber-rich carbs will help you get a variety of vitamins and minerals & help you go to the bathroom regularly.
Higher fiber choices (also called slow burn or complex carbs) take longer to break down, give you more sustained energy and help you stay full longer. Lower fiber choices (quick burn or simple carbs) break down faster, give you quick energy, and don’t keep you full for long.
- Carbohydrates stimulate the release of the happy chemical serotonin.
- All carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels. More fiber means a slower rise and a more gentle decline, while the opposite end of the spectrum leads to the well-known sugar rush and subsequent crash! The type and the amount determine how high the levels go and how quickly they drop.
Notice how you feel after you eat different types of carbohydrates. If you tend to eat or drink a lot of sweet or higher-sugar items, see how it feels to try less simple carbs and add more complex options.
- Whole grains, vegetables, beans, peas
- Fruit, juices, baked goods, candy
Top with fats! Fat sends your brain a strong satiety signal that helps you know when you are full. It also takes longer to digest, and that helps you stay full longer.
- Fat stimulates the release of endorphins, “feel good” hormones signaling your body that you are satisfied and have had enough to eat.
Choose different fat options to help your body get the unsaturated fat to support heart health. Choose fat sources that also provide omega-3 fatty acids to help lower inflammation.
Dietary Fat Sources
- Monounsaturated Plant Sources: olive oil, avocado, peanut, cashews
- Polyunsaturated Plant Sources: Corn, almonds, walnuts, pecans, sesame, sunflower
- Saturated Plant Sources: coconut, palm oil Animal Sources: butter, cheese, meat, poultry, egg yolks, chocolate
What an intentional day of eating can look like by adding structure with timing and balance. Individual food preferences and portions will be unique for each individual. There are no good or bad foods, its about finding balance without diet and restrictions.
By setting intentions, not restrictions, to create a consistent and reliable eating pattern with balance and mindfulness, you will become more aware of what, how, and why you eat. So you can then take actions that help better align with YOUR unique body’s needs and wants. Creating lifelong health-enhancing eating behaviors that contribute to good physical and mental health takes time and attention, but it is worth it!
If you would like more information or to work with one of our dietitians, feel free to contact us. https://www.buildingbetternutrition.com/contact/