Hunger cues are something that a lot of people struggle with in recovery. After ignoring our bodies’ needs for so long, it often feels like there’s a disconnect between our stomachs and our brains.
It’s easy to think of hunger as black and white, either you’re hungry, or you’re not. Like a lot of other things in life, hunger is a spectrum!
I think a lot of people don’t recognize their hunger cues until they’re at about a 7 out of 10. This is no good for many reasons. Picture your body sending out these hunger cues that are maybe a little less intense (say, a 3 or 4) and our brains basically ignoring them!
Trying to be mindful with hunger can be scary and can lead your eating disorder to fear that it will “always be hungry.” This is so not true and so not possible. The intense hunger that people in recovery might feel and be afraid of is actually (prepare yourselves) your body doing what it is meant to do! It’s also your body’s physical reaction to being so controlled and not having a *normal* intake of food in a long time. More on the restrict/binge cycle here.
Now, to go on this side rant of the word “normal” for a minute…this looks different for everyone. Some people need more food to keep sustaining their energy levels, some people need less, but the fact of the matter is that our bodies know what we need, not our brains, and CERTAINLY not your eating disorder! A *normal* intake is not bingeing, not purging, not restricting, just eating food when you are hungry, stopping when you are full, and still allowing yourself to enjoy tasty meals and snacks. For information on intuitive eating, click here.
Listening to our hunger cues can be scary, especially when your eating disorder has spent so much time trying to ignore them. When we listen to our hunger cues and try to be more mindful, we’ll often experience a whole new level of hunger–sometimes more hungry, sometimes less. Instead of only experiencing hunger at the more extreme end of the spectrum, we start to experience hunger at the lower end!
This can sometimes trigger some thoughts like “what if my body doesn’t know when it’s full?” or “what if I just always am hungry and my body gains weight?” It can sometimes be easy to hear the irrationality of these ED thoughts, but sometimes those fears are still real. It can be helpful to recognize that hunger cues are innate and primal, and when my body asks for food, I need to give it food.
We can remind ourselves that ignoring these innate and primal needs of our bodies will cause more damage than weight gain ever could.