Intuitive Eating For Moms: Honoring Your Hunger and Fullness

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For most mamas I know, it can be difficult to hear yourself think during a busy day of caring for little ones, let alone, prepare yourself a meal that you can sit down and enjoy.

Lunch may have been the leftovers from your kids plate or a handful of goldfish you stuffed down in between changing diapers and school pick-ups.

Trust me, mama - you are not alone.

Motherhood Makes it Challenging to Connect to Your Hunger and Fullness

Motherhood is busy - there is no questioning that; and busy might be an understatement. One of the most common areas I see mothers struggling with is feeding themselves enough throughout the day, especially when caring for little ones.

As busy mamas, it’s easy to wait too long to eat, sometimes until the point of feeling ravenous starving before actually having a decent meal. For some mothers, waiting so long to eat may actually trigger a binge eating episode or overeating, often because their bodies are going between extremes of hunger and fullness throughout the day.

Just like a pendulum, swinging from one side of the spectrum to the other in regards to eating can lead to a host of problems over time. For some mothers, not recognizing and honoring basic hunger and fullness cues can lead to a chaotic relationship with food, a dysregulated appetite, and an inability to trust what your body is needing.

Learning How to Listen to Your Body

For women who have had a history of chronic dieting or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it can be difficult to know what hunger and fullness may feel like in your body. The truth is that our innate hunger and fullness cues are actually very subtle, like your body is calmly whispering, “I am going to need some food soon”, or “I am satisfied, I can stop eating now.”

Cultivating a healthy relationship with food begins with learning to listen to your body and honoring the innate hunger and fullness signals your body is giving you.

The problem is, the more these cues are ignored, the harder it becomes to detect them. Hunger and fullness will then only be registered at the extreme levels. For example, hunger might feel like a mind-numbing headache, lightheadedness, or even irritability (hangry, anyone?).

After years of ignoring their bodies, many women may come to recognize fullness as something that feels painful or sickening, like eating too much at Thanksgiving dinner - but fullness is not meant to be experienced like this either. Again, these are the extreme sides of the spectrum, and in order to learn how to eat intuitively in motherhood, it is important to get back to basics and relearn what hunger and fullness feel like in your body.

Situations that can confuse your biological hunger and fullness signs might be:

  • Chronic dieting

  • Skipping meals, fasting

  • Chaotic environments (um, hello #momlife)

  • Inadequate nutrition

  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder

Understanding Early Hunger Signs

When it comes to understanding your hunger, remember, it’s helpful to be aware of the early signs that your body needs fuel and try to nourish your body relatively soon.

Think about how a baby demonstrates it’s feeding cues. Signs that baby is hungry might include:

  • Baby sucking on its fingers

  • Rooting

  • Smacking lips

  • Opening its mouth

When parents are responsive to these early feeding signs and offer baby nourishment during this window, feeding usually goes smoother. On the other hand, if a caregiver doesn’t respond to these feeding cues, signs of hunger in a baby will usually escalate to crying. By this point, baby is trying to communicate that he/she is in need of food immediately.

We have similar needs as adults, and our body continues to give us early signs that we need to provide ourselves with nourishment. This might look like:

  • Beginning to think about food

  • Growling noises

  • A gnawing feeling in your stomach

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Faintness

Honoring these hunger signals by nourishing yourself and not waiting until things escalate will allow you to begin rebuilding trust with your body and food.

Recognizing When You’re Full

Back to our baby analogy: think about signs that your baby is full. This might look like increased interest in surroundings rather than eating, closing mouth, turning head away, etc.

Fullness and satisfaction in adults are also signaled by certain signs. Like hunger, fullness cues become blunted when they are perpetually ignored.

Have you ever finished your plate without really tasting what you were eating?

Have you scarfed something down, even if you didn’t really enjoy the food itself? Do you habitually clean your plate, no matter how full you might be?

It’s important to distinguish fullness as comfortable satiety, not pain or feeling sick. If you’re reaching these levels when you’ve eaten, this may indicate that you have gone beyond what your body is needing for nourishment.

Once you become aware of this, you can begin paying attention to how you are feeling as you are eating. Signs that you are becoming satisfied from eating might include:

  • Feeling satiated and content, like you could walk away from your meal and not think about it anymore

  • Loss of interest in the food you are eating

  • A subtle sensation of stomach fullness

Fullness is something that should be respected in your own body; meaning, you don’t have to clean your plate or finish everything in front of you if your body has indicated that it is satisfied. One phrase I love to tell my clients is that, “Your body is not a trash can”. If your body is telling you it’s had sufficient nourishment, you can respect your body by stopping at that point of fullness.

How to Practice Honoring Your Hunger and Fullness as a Mom

Signs of hunger and fullness need to be experienced on a personal level, as they are highly individual.

As a mama, understand that this can be difficult, simply because of the chaos you may be experiencing in your everyday life. It’s also important to know that you can make little but powerful changes that can help you be better in tune with yourself and what your body is needing.

Respecting your body by honoring your signs of hunger and fullness is necessary for nurturing a healthy relationship with food.

Becoming more aware of what your body is needing is a necessary step toward change. Maybe it means planning ahead and keeping easy and nourishing snacks accessible. Maybe it involves planning certain times in your schedule or calendar where you can actually sit down, even for 5-10 minutes, to check in with yourself and what your body is needing.

Another way to better honor your hunger and fullness is to involve your children. So many mamas that I work with are deliberate about feeding their children regular meals and snacks and offering their kids food in adequate increments; yet this is something that can be difficult to do for themselves.

Try sitting with your kids for one of their scheduled meals or snacks - this not only gives you an opportunity to check in with yourself, but it also models healthy eating behaviors to your own kids.

Intuitive Eating Doesn’t Mean Perfect Eating

If you are hoping to build a more peaceful relationship with food and your body, just remember that you can continue to make progress toward your goals without having to eat perfectly. Intuitive eating is not about perfect eating at all but rather, taking a gentle, non-judgemental approach to food and your body and a curious exploration about how and what you eat.

Remember that hunger and fullness are not to be feared but embraced, as these cues can guide you in terms of how to best feed and care for your body. If you are finding yourself struggling in this area, reach out to an intuitive eating registered dietitian, who can help guide you through these important principles.

Eating in motherhood doesn’t have to be defined by the extremes of “fasting and famine”. You deserve to honor yourself by nourishing your body well. This begins by listening and responding to the signs your body is giving. If you need help with this, please connect with me today. I would love to hear your story and learn how I can guide you in your intuitive eating journey.