How can you trust your body’s cues for hunger?

author:  Kelly Gill, MS, RD, CSSD, LD


I recently listened to a very helpful podcast.  The podcast answers the question of how to know which voice to listen to when you’re having an urge to eat; the devil on one shoulder?  or the angel on the other?  The podcast is 36 minutes and is well worth the time.  However, if you don’t have time or the attention span, I summarize the podcast here, in this blog.  Expect it to take ~6 minutes to read it in its entirety, or skim quickly by focusing only on what I’ve printed in bold type.

Darya Rose has a PhD in neuroscience and a long history of dieting.  Her book “Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting” and blog was born out of a lifestyle change she made in the way she looked at and thought about food, diet, and weight related issues.  Her views line up with a mindful approach to eating and living.

Here is the link to Darya’s website, click: Summer Tomato, for more information on the “foodist” lifestyle.

In this podcast, Darya tackles the question, “how to know if an urge to eat (or skip a workout or other healthstyle behavior) is coming from a place of physical need or some other impulse that should be resisted?”

Here is the link to her podcast:

How to Tell If You’re Truly Hungry Or If It’s Something Else



As a chronic dieter, fluctuating by as much as 80 lbs depending on whether she’s “on” a diet or “off” a diet, Angela has had it with dieting.  She now has adapted Darya’s way of healthful living and started the “foodist” lifestyle.  In doing so, she has lost 33 lbs in about 6 months.   But more importantly, she says it’s the easiest 33 lbs she’s ever lost, as it is not born out of deprivation and restriction but rather a permission to eat well and enjoy good food.

Unfortunately, she has gotten scared a few times trying to decipher the difficult messages of her body telling her to eat and sleep more;     “… am I being lazy and hungry again, like back to my old self?”  Angela says sometimes her body wants “good” things.  But sometimes she wants “bad” things.  She says, “I’m afraid it’s the fat girl inside of me saying, ‘you’re hungry, eat.  Eat, eat, eat.'”

She is concerned that she can’t trust her inner voice.  After years of following diets, she trained herself not to listen to her body; “Shut up, you’re not hungry.  Shut up, you’re not tired.”


So, what is the answer?

Trial and error!  

You have to experiment with different options in order to discover what the best answer is for you!  And that answer may be different for each person.  Specifically, Darya advises, “You need to base your decision on the outcome you want.”

Desirable outcomes should include feeling good after you eat, having energy, and having that good feeling when you’re choices line up with your values.  Outcomes should not be weight/scale driven!  A healthy lifestyle is about making good choices.  The scale will eventually reflect those choices, but you should not focus on the scale.

I’ve gone ahead and taken the liberty to write some examples of what this might look like:

  1. Jennifer feels hungrier than usual.  She decides to listen to her body and eat more. She has crackers and pimento cheese.  She does not eat too many.

She feels better after eating.

Lesson learned from this experience for future reference:  if increase in hunger, it’s okay to eat more, but be wise in the choice and don’t overdo it.

  1. Rob feels hungrier than usual.  He decides to ignore the urge to eat, thinking it’s a false sense of hunger – that he’s just resorting to old behaviors and past desires.

Within 15 minutes, the urge to eat passes, and he is glad that he did not give in.

Lesson learned from this experience for future reference: if increase in hunger, wait it out and see if it passes.

In these examples, the individual got it right – they made the right choice and the confirmation that it was the right choice was how they felt afterward.

But it’s okay to get it wrong!

Taking the liberty, again, here are some examples of what this might look like:

  1. Suzy feels hungrier than usual.  She decides to ignore the urge to eat, thinking it’s a false sense of hunger – that she’s just resorting to old behaviors and past desires.

After 15 minutes, she does not feel better.  Her hunger continues to increase, and she continues to resist.  Eventually, she eats 2 bowls of ice cream.  Physically, her stomach feels uncomfortably full and a little queasy.

Lesson learned from this experience for future reference:  it’s okay to wait for 15-20 minutes to see if it passes (as per previous lesson learned).  If it does not pass, however, then go ahead and eat sensibly – do not continue to hold off.

  1. John feels hungrier than usual.  He decides to eat cucumbers to satisfy that increased appetite.

He does not feel better after eating cucumbers.  His hunger continues to increase.

Lesson learned from this experience for future reference:  if increase in hunger, vegetables may not be enough.

  1. Beth feels hungrier than usual.  She decides to eat a bagel.

She does feel more full (but not too full) from eating, but she has no energy now and her stomach feels a little queasy.

Lesson learned from this experience for future reference:  if increase in hunger, do not have a plain bagel; maybe try a handful of nuts with fruit or a yogurt, instead.

In getting the choice wrong, Angela is still able to learn a valuable lesson that will help her get it right the next time she’s in a similar dilemma.

Isn’t this a lot like life?  Live and learn, right?!  So long as you are committed to learn, you are on the right path!!

The reality is life is always throwing curveballs, and you are always having situations that will call you to assess your choices.  By committing to this process of living and learning, listening to your body becomes second nature and it becomes much easier to learn what the different signals mean.  It’s like a new mom learning what her baby’s different cries mean.  It takes time, patience, and little trial and error before you become an expert.  And even when you feel confident, there’s always a wrench thrown in the mix because it is life, after all!

Angela asks about keeping a journal to assess her choices, which Darya agrees is not a bad idea.  In my experience, keeping a short-term journal is a great idea.  It helps you find clarity and sort through the mess of all these different feelings.  However, if journaling lingers too long, then we tend to get obsessive and self-centered or self-consumed – so that can be the measuring stick for when to quit journaling.

Also, Darya recommends an app called Way of Life.  She says you set a behavior you want to change and record whether you do it or not.  It creates a graph.  If you’re motivated by visual success, this might be the perfect solution for you!

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