If you’re coming off a long history of diets, it can be difficult to tell when you’re truly physically hungry. There’s an easy tool that’s called the hunger fullness scale. It’s helpful to determine your current level of hunger or fullness. The hunger fullness scale is one of my favourite tools to use with clients to help them eat more intuitively and mindfully.
The Hunger Fullness Scale
You were born knowing exactly how much to eat. Hunger is your body’s way of telling you that you need fuel for your body to function optimally. Kids are great at knowing how to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Watch them at a birthday party as they easily leave cake, fruit, lollies and sandwiches on their plate without any worries.
As adults, we lose touch with our appetite cues because we make food choices based on external tools. Such as dieting, calorie counting, meal plans, food rules, etc. This disconnects us from our bodies natural in built system of hunger and fullness.
It’s not unusual to look up from years of dieting and numbing or ignoring your hunger, to realise it’s difficult for you to tell when you’re truly hungry. Furthermore, if you have a history of an eating disorder or disordered eating, it’s highly likely you’re disconnected from your hunger signals or lost the ability to sense hunger accurately.
The good news is, this doesn’t have to be permanent. We can fix this.
By reconnecting with your natural signals, you can manage your eating naturally and mindfully, without restrictive dieting and obsessing over every bite of food you put in your mouth.
When I work with clients on intuitive eating, one of the first things we do is work on the hunger fullness scale to get you back in touch with your bodies internal cues for when and how much to eat.
The Hunger Fullness Scale and Intuitive Eating
Because two of the key principles of intuitive eating have to do with hunger and fullness, this is where the hunger fullness scale comes in particularly handy. It’s often called the hunger fullness scale because it’s an easy, visual way to assign a number or value to your current level of hunger or fullness.
The hunger fullness scale helps you get back in touch with your subtle (or not so subtle) signs of hunger and fullness. If you eat when you’re just getting hungry, and stop when you’re satisfied, but not uncomfortable, you’ll eat just the right amount of food for your body.
It’s important to note, however, the amount of food needed will change from day to day based on multiple factors. Things like your age, sex, physical activity, amount of quality sleep, stress levels, how long in between eating or that time of the month.
How to use the Hunger Fullness Scale
When you’re ready to eat a meal or snack, ask yourself, “How hungry am I on the fullness scale?” Ideally, you’ll be between a 3 and a 4.
Halfway through your meal, pause for 10 seconds or so and check in with your body. Ask again “Where am I on the scale now?”
Eat until you get to a 6 or 7, then stop
If you do this exercise and find that you don’t have normal hunger and fullness cues, ask yourself these questions:
Am I eating regularly?
Or – have I skipped meals and snacks, even when I am hungry?
Or – do I graze on food all day long when I’m not feeling hungry?
Do this exercise for five days in a row, or until you’ve become more aware of your hunger and fullness cues. And remember, this not a magic pill. The scale is to be used as a guide only.
Repeat this practice anytime you’re feeling out of touch with how and why you’re eating.
What if the Hunger Fullness Scale isn’t working?
If you’re struggling to determine your hunger and fullness using the scale, don’t stress! Don’t be too hard on yourself because the process of unlearning external food rules and relearning internal body signals isn’t easy.
Maybe you don’t sense the hunger in your stomach. Maybe your hunger shows up as irritability, moodiness, a headache, lethargy, or you’re unable to focus. Maybe it manifests in some other way. Pay attention to ALL of these body signals and over time you’ll recognise them as hunger.
Re-establishing body trust takes time and a lot of trial-and-error as you determine whether or not you’re hungry. Eventually, you’ll get to a place where you can ask, “Am I hungry?” and make that assessment without using a scale. Until then, maybe start with some of these tips.
Intuitive Eating is the polar opposite of a diet. Essentially, it helps you to connect with your body’s signals of hunger, satiety and fullness. So you can re-discover your natural ability to eat normally again. But does intuitive eating work and is it right for you?
I’ll explain in more detail below and you can decide if intuitive eating is right for you.
So, you’ve tried every diet on the planet, and you’re fed up.
But you’re unsure about what the next step might be. You know in your heart of hearts that you can’t keep dieting, and you can’t continue life with your unhealthy eating habits. So what do you do?
Intuitive eating offers you a way out of this struggle and a way in to a more enjoyable, easier eating life–with a lot less food stress.
But to move from a life of dieting to intuitive eating, you have to take a leap of faith and jump off the cliff into unchartered waters.
Will I gain weight? Maybe.
Will I be able to let go of the inner critic? Yes, it’s possible.
Will I like myself on the other side of this struggle? Yes, I think so.
The hard truth is, there WILL be discomfort whatever way you turn.
Disliking your body whilst cycling in and out of the hope that you will love your body if you only can do better or go harder on the next diet, and maybe temporarily lose some weight, is quite frankly nothing but an exhausting dead-end loop.
Honestly, you only have to look back on how many failed diets you have attempted. You’re your own guinea pig here. Diet’s don’t work! They’re cause of your eating issues.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You deserve more. You deserve better.
Okay, so if dieting doesn’t work, what should you do?
Introducing intuitive eating?
Enter intuitive eating and it’s set of 10 principles created over 20 years ago by two Dietitians.
These principles encourage you to understand your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that occur when engaging in dieting or restrictive eating patterns, that may lead you to become disconnected from your body and food.
In short, it’s a step-by-step guide to an evidence-based way of eating that helps you decide when, what, how and how much to eat, based on what feels good for you, instead of societies expectations of what you should eat.
Importantly, it also encourages you to feel good (or at least neutral) emotionally, mentally and physically about food. No more feeling guilty after eating, imagine!
Therefore, it’s about creating a healthy relationship with food, body AND mind.
So if intuitive eating allows us to eat what we like, when we like, does that mean we can just eat all the time and not be mindful?
No, not all of the time. This is not about reckless abandonment. Some flexible discernment with food is necessary, without it being obsessive.
What it does help you do is get to the bottom of why you want to eat a box of donuts and a tub of ice cream when your boyfriend dumps you. So that next time you feel upset, angry or bored, you know you have the option of either eating donuts or talking to a good friend for support.
As an intuitive eating practitioner, my job is to help you understand how your life experiences, and how your thoughts emotions, and behaviours with food and your weight, link to the way you eat. When you understand why you eat, you can become more aware of your available choices.
The people who find it the most helpful are those who tend to overthink food, eating and their weight. They may have also lost touch with their sense of hunger, fullness and appetite cues, and may be stuck in a dieting mentality.
How do you know if you’re out of touch with your hunger and fullness cues?
You feel guilty eating certain foods
You have removed certain foods or whole food groups
You think and speak of certain foods as “good” or “bad”
You count calories, macros or points
You track your food using an app or journal
You use exercise to offset what you eat
If any of these statements sound like you, it’s highly likely you’re not eating intuitively or listening to your body.
Is Intuitive Eating right for me?
Intuitive Eating is for everyone. But particularly for those with a history of chronic dieting. If any of the statements below resonate, you’re in a place where intuitive eating can help you:
You want to feel calm, confident and in control with food
You want to stop thinking about food all the time
You want to be able to trust your body when it tells you it’s hungry and full
You want to be able to trust yourself around all foods – even those foods that are “trigger foods”
You want to be able to eat all foods without any guilt, shame or regret
You want to learn how to cope with your feelings and life’s ups and downs without using food
You want to exercise because you enjoy it and it’s good for you, not to burn the calories you eat
You want to look after yourself and your wellbeing without the obsession.
Does intuitive eating work?
When you start to bring a more mindful and ’embodied’ approach to eating and living in your body (instead of dieting) and start eating enough, eating regularly and eating a wide variety of foods, you can begin to eat intuitively.
Although it sounds simple, intuitive eating can be challenging at first because it involves a lot of deep reflection, self-help work, and eating psychology. For those who want to pursue an intuitive eating approach, there’s often a learning curve involved. It does involve “work” or what I call “self-care”.
Which means you do need to put in some time and energy do to the work. If you only do half the work, you only get half the results. But it is no harder than sticking to a diet and the results are life-long.
It’s absolutely possible to transform your relationship with food and become a normal eater with the right support. I was once in your shoes. Forever riding the diet-binge-weight cycling merry-go-round. If I can get off the ride, so can you!
If this is something that you would like to try and you need personalised guidance, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me here>>
Will you write me a meal plan? This is a common question I get asked when clients start working with me. The short answer is: No. Sorry. I do understand why you think you need one. However, many meal plans are one-size-fits-all prescriptions, that are rigid like diets. Moving away from dieting and towards intuitive eating will help you to make a PERMANENT change to your relationship with food. Read on to see why I don’t recommend meal plans and what to do instead.
Why meal plans don’t work
I know you love meal plans because it gives you structure and tells you exactly what to eat. It’s one less thing you have to think about and surely the Nutritionist knows what is best for you to eat to achieve your goals, right? Nope!
In theory, meal plans sound great. Pay someone (ideally a nutrition professional) tell you exactly what to eat, how much food to eat and when to eat it. Most of my clients initially believe that if they just knew what to eat, they’d be able to reach their goals. Sadly, it doesn’t work this way.
In my almost five years of being a Nutritionist and Eating Psychology Coach, I’ve given out only a handful of meal plans, because people simply do not stick to them. Way back in the beginning of my private practice, I started doing this for clients. It seemed like the perfect win-win. They wanted to lose weight, I wanted to be a good Nutritionist, so I gave them exactly what they wanted.
Spoiler alert – They still came back to me week after week with the same issues surrounding food.
When we work together one of my goals is to empower you to start making small and meaningful changes to your relationship with food and your body, that you can sustain.
A meal plan does the exact opposite.
At its worst, it encourages dependency on the Nutritionist. It’s the diet equivalent of someone else doing your homework – you learn nothing! …so what are you paying for? …how is that serving you? It tells me that you may not ready to do the hard work it takes to make meaningful change. That’s okay. You have to be ready.
It’s also important to understand that when we limit food choices and create rigid plans that require sacrifice and leads to deprivation, the likelihood of bingeing increases. Also, most people are really enthusiastic for the first few weeks but then they can’t stick to it because life gets in the way. This is totally normal.
Thinking you have ‘fallen off the meal plan wagon’ can often to lead to giving up and binge eating too.
These are all valid reasons why meal plans don’t work.
Sure, some people do benefit from meal plans
Recovery from all eating disorders requires the normalisation of regular eating patterns. This is best accomplished through flexible planned and structured eating. If you’re trying to stop binge eating or in recovery from binge eating disorder the following meal planning tips may help:
Planning helps to make eating less impulsive.
Planning takes emotions out of eating.
Planning leaves you less vulnerable to binge eating.
Planning means the eating disorder will be less likely to take control.
Planning can also help put parameters around grocery shopping, leaving you less likely to make impulse buys.
Planning a few meals a week allows for the flexibility to explore a new restaurant or to pick up some takeaway depending on your mood. This flexibility is important.
For everyone else – you don’t need a meal plan to eat normally.
What to do instead?
Ultimately if you want to stop binge eating it’s about tuning in to what you want to eat in that moment and learning to trust what you are hungry for. This takes time but with practice, it is 100% achievable. Instead of looking outwards turn inwards and ask ‘what sounds good to me right now?’ ‘How hungry am I today?’ ‘How active will I be today and how much fuel will I need to get me through my busy day?’.
I know change is hard and letting go of a plan can feel like jumping off a cliff, with great distrust about where you will land. Most people are scared about letting go of the structure that diets provide, especially when sticking to the rules was the one thing that had (mostly) ensured they were doing it right with food. Even if it was just for a week or two.
But your body is really smart and more intuitive than any plan telling you what you can and cannot eat. You have unique needs that change season by season, week by week, day by day and even hour by hour.
Instead of following external factors like diets, meal plans or food rules. Instead of me telling you what to eat next Thursday for lunch, we focus on: meal prepping (very different to a meal plan), meal timing, meal and snack options, kitchen organisation etc. (ie: the things that get you sustainable long-term results).
Trust that underneath the anxiety and distrust, you are a smart and capable woman that knows how to take good care of yourself. You have a wise inner voice. You just have to be willing to slow down and listen to her.
Meal plans don’t work. Stop wasting your time and money.
You deserve to nourish yourself with the food you love and have a relationship with food that is easy and enjoyable. And that cannot be found in a diet plan designed by someone else or a computer program.
There’s an old saying…”Give a woman a meal plan and she’ll eat for 3 weeks. Teach her how to eat intuitivelyand she’ll feed herself for a lifetime”. I have no idea who said that, but I love it.
If you would like help with this, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me here>>
Halloween is here and there are sweet treats EVERYWHERE! I know when I was in the midst of my overeating struggle, I’d try to control myself around sweets foods. But sooner or later I’d lose control and then tell myself…“I better finish it all now, because I’ll get back on track tomorrow.” The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way!
How to eat sweet treats without losing control
If you’re looking for support to have it easy with food through Halloween and any time in life, then I am here for you. I once felt totally out of control with food. I binged and purged almost on a daily basis for 15 years.
But here’s what I want you to know:
You can have sweet treats without losing control.
You can eat nourishing foods without fighting to say no to sweets.
You can have any food (yes any) in the house without fearing you’ll lose control.
This can all be second nature, and it can be a part of your life without you having to force it.
The first step
Allowing yourself to eat these foods unconditionally.
Giving yourself permission to eat exactly what you’re craving and hungry for, enables you to take your power back from food. If you tell yourself you can’t have something, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that eventually builds into uncontrollable cravings.
What could have been one bar of chocolate enjoyed mindfully, ends up being a whole block of chocolate (plus more) later on.
I know you think you’re broken and a willpower weakling, however, it’s not you per se. It’s your avoidance and the subsequent deprivation of these foods that’s driving you cravings and constant thoughts about food, that result in you overeating.
Usually with overwhelming guilt and the promise to never eat these foods ever again. But we all know how that usually plays out, right?
I know allowing yourself to eat the foods you feel out of control with is really scary. I know you truly believe that if you let yourself eat what ever you wanted, you would sit on the couch all day and eat boxes of donuts.
I’m not setting you up to fail I promise. I’m setting you up to eventually win your fight against food.
How to do it?
It’s important to go slow. This does take practice and patience.
There will be a honeymoon phase where you may want to eat a lot of your previously forbidden foods. This is just a phase and it will pass in time. It’s a normal part of healing your relationship with food for good.
When you have permission to eat any food, you really get to ask yourself for the first time, do I really want it? Do I really want this food now? It removes the “Last Supper” mentality, wherein you eat as much of the forbidden food as you can because tomorrow you will start another diet.
There’s an area of research called habituation, which describes what happens when you have access to foods. The more you are exposed to a particular food, it diminishes the desire to eat it. This has been shown for a variety of foods, including chocolate, pizza and potato chips. However, when someone is chronically on a diet, they don’t go through this normative habituation experience.
And they continue to start their diet over every Monday. We can do better than that.
You can say goodbye to diets and deprivation, for good. It is 100% possible to eat chocolate bars, a donut or a bowl of ice cream, and not feel guilty about it. Or feel the need to keep eating them all ~ with practice.
Building trust with your body and making peace with food is an important first step to not feeling out of control around sweets (or any other food).
If you keep thinking “I can’t control myself around sweets”, please don’t hesitate to read more about my food and body image coaching program Stop Punishing Start Nourishing here>> or get in touch with me here>>
The food police are the unreasonable rules, feelings and thoughts that are deeply embedded in your head, developed by years of dieting and living in diet culture. It causes you to feel guilty before, during and after eating certain foods. Here’s how you stop your internal food police – a crucial step to having a healthy, normal relationship with food.
The food police
The food police are either your ~ SUPPORTER OR SABOTEUR…
It’s called the ‘internal food police’ – we all have them. They’re those thoughts in your head that declare you as “good” for ordering a salad or “bad” for ordering fries with your meal. The food police can also be a friend, family member, doctors, teachers or our society as a whole…
If you’ve been “bad” it makes you judge and feel guilty for your food choices. This is what keeps you in the dieting loop and sets you up on the restrict-binge-repent-repeat cycle.
By identifying and challenging the inner voices you can make neutral food choices based on hunger and satisfaction, rather than on diet rules or deprivation.
These thoughts will either serve you as your food supporter or saboteur.
In the Intuitive Eating book they describe the Food Police as a “strong voice that’s developed through dieting. It’s your inner judge and jury that determine if you are doing “good” or “bad”. It is the sum of all your dieting and food rules, and gets stronger with each diet. It also gets strengthened through new food rules that you may read about in magazines or messages you hear from friends or family.”
Common food police language
I shouldn’t eat too much bread.
I’m so bad for eating this brownie.
Saying no thanks to birthday cake, I’m being good today.
I shouldn’t be hungry yet, I didn’t eat that long ago.
Even though you are pregnant doesn’t mean you should “let yourself go”.
You failed today because you didn’t eat a single fruit or vegetable.
I can only imagine how many points/calories this meal is.
I could go on!
How to challenge and stop the food police
As your journey continues in Intuitive Eating you can begin strengthening other more helpful voices:
“The Food Anthropologist” – the voice that makes observations without judgement.
This voice allows you to discover new foods without judging yourself.
It allows you to honour the thoughts and feelings you’re having about how your body is being fed without judging it based on what someone else thinks you should be eating or doing. NO ONE ELSE can tell you what your body needs. We all need different things and what makes one person feel good doesn’t mean it will make everyone feel good. With that said you also have to reach a point that you can “hear” what your body is telling you.
“The Nurturer” – this voice is gentle and is how we would talk to our best friends or close family members.
“You aren’t bad because you had one cookie”
“It’s ok that you skipped your workout because you were tired. Sleep is just as important as movement”
“You are still YOU, no matter what the scale says”
“When you take care of yourself you are happier”
This voice isn’t an “excuser”, it’s actually a voice of reason. I’ve learned self-care and self-compassion is SO important when learning to repair your relationship with food.
When I went to eating disorder therapy nine years ago, the Food Police ruled my life! I had SO MANY RULES. Over the years, I’ve slowly released them and found food freedom and you can too.
Client’s often ask me, “how do I fix my relationship with food”? Allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat is the answer. Contrary to popular belief, unconditional permission to eat does not just mean, “eat whatever you want, whenever you want!” It’s more nuanced than that.
How to fix my relationship with food
It’s 11 am and you’re hungry. But it’s not “lunchtime”.
You’re starting to feel a subtle hollowing of your stomach. You feel pulled to eat.
Do you allow yourself to eat or do you ignore your hunger?
Maybe you’re confused? Should you eat 1,200 calories a day, or only a certain number of points, or only during certain hours?
The good news is, your body knows exactly what she wants and needs, you just have to learn how to listen.
Intuitive Eating is a framework made up of ten guiding principles, however, from a research and clinical perspective, we can breakdown these principles into four underlying constructs; you can think of the principles as the actions we take to become intuitive eaters, and the constructs are the characteristics intuitive eaters are made of.
I’ll go through the four constructs one by one – the first of these is unconditional permission to eat (UPE).
“Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat”.
There are three main components within the UPE construct:
1) No labeling of foods as forbidden or good/bad.
2) Willingness to eat when hungry (i.e. not deliberately staving off hunger)
3) Making food choices for health and satisfaction.
If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing.
When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.”
According to one of the founders of the Intuitive Eating movement, Evelyn Tribole, “One of the biggest misconceptions is that, without a structured diet, people will start to be unhealthy.
But if you look at the research, it’s clear that intuitive eaters have higher self-esteem, higher well-being, and they also tend to have lower body mass indexes.
They eat a variety of foods, they have more trust in their bodies—it’s really rather lovely all of the good that comes out of this.”
Can you trust yourself around certain food?
Many women worry that if they stop restricting what they eat, they’ll eat all day and won’t stop. This is understandable given they don’t trust themselves around food, but simply not true.
Take for example people who work in chocolate factories. They might eat a lot of chocolate, to begin with, but get sick of it very quickly. Habituation research explains why food becomes less enticing with exposure.
Sure, there’s an initial “honeymoon phase” where you may want to eat your previously forbidden foods quite a lot. But that will subside with time.
But when you know food will be there and allowed day after day, it doesn’t become so important to have large quantities of it and it eventually loses its power over you.
This is why it’s important to understand that deprivation leads to unwanted backlash eating.
The reason we crave foods that we label as ‘bad’ is because we put them off-limits or tell ourselves that we’re not allowed to eat them. This then leads to deprivation and inevitably a binge!
*Dieting* actually heightens the novelty and desirability for forbidden foods. When people go off a diet, they often eat those forbidden foods in excess, in part because of the lack of habituation.
Another reason not to diet
When you combine low habituation with the fear of never eating your favourite foods ever again (or that’s what you tell yourself), it becomes a powerful recipe for overeating. It’s called the “last supper mentality”.
Better eat it all now, because I start my diet again tomorrow.
Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat what you like, is an important mindset and skill that will put you back in charge of your own food choices without micromanaging every bite.
You’re finally trusting your body to guide you, without external conditions on why, how, where, when or what to eat.
Start with one food or food group that you want to challenge. Add it to one meal or snack a day and once you feel more comfortable, move on to the next.
You’ll find that some of those scarier foods feel less intimidating as you start to see that food is available to nourish, not punish you.
Eat foods that you find both nourishing and pleasurable for full metabolic power. Some days that will be brownies and other days that will be a salad. It’s called balance and unconditional permission to eat. It’s called peace with food.