The Eating Guidelines: #1 Eat When You Are Hungry

In honour of this new “home” for the blog, I am doing a series based on The Eating Guidelines as developed by Geneen Roth (author of “Women, Food, and God” and many other books I highly recommend). 

Guideline #1: Eat When You are Hungry

The first guideline seems simple enough, and yet it is one we ignore over and over again. Our diet-crazed society teaches us we can’t trust ourselves, least of all our appetite, and so we are trained to ignore our inner cravings and, instead, to depend on the clock and our inner Food Police to tell us when we do or don’t deserve food. There is a four letter word I could use to describe this, but I shall refrain. “Eat When You are Hungry” seems simple enough; however, when we finally break free of the diet mindset we find ourselves unable to even know what this means, and suddenly something that should be innate and simple becomes really quite difficult.

How do I know when I am hungry?

“Being hungry is like being in love: if you don’t know, you’re probably not,” Geneen Roth says in her book Breaking Free from Emotional Eating.

I would like to add to that another quote from The Matrix, wise words spoken by, of course, The Oracle: “No one can tell you your in love, you just know it. Through and through.” The same goes with hunger; you cannot depend on other people to tell you when you are or are not hungry, including your inner Food Police and, yes, even Jenny Craig.

Geneen Roth offers several tips in her book for regaining your connection with your hunger cues:

  • Avoid eating at regular mealtimes for a couple of days and if that helps you get in touch with your hunger cues, then you can extend it for a week or longer. Note: this does not mean skipping meals, it simply means breaking the “clock cues” that can get in the way of our body’s natural ability to know when it’s time to eat based on it’s hunger level rather than the time.
  • Try to recognize the bodily sensations you feel when you are hungry. Making a list can help. Simply write down what you experience when you are hungry: where do you feel it (chest? throat? stomach?) And how does this sensation differ from others (e.g. excitement or loneliness). Once you learn your hunger sensations, this will help you recognize when you are feeling hungry.
  • Rate your hunger levels on a scale of 1 to 10. One represents ravenous, five is comfortable, and ten is filled to the point of discomfort. This will help you determine the extent of your hunger. Geneen Roth recommend that if you rate your hunger at five or above, you probably want to wait a little bit longer before you eat. Anything less than five is considered a green light – though you don’t want to let yourself get too hungry as this can throw off your ability to recognize your fullness queue (coming up in a future post, don’t worry!) Everyone’s “optimum” eating point is different, though I would recommend choosing somewhere between 2-4 – pay attention to when your body feels most comfortable eating and try to stick to that and also note at what point it reaches uncomfortable hunger and try to avoid letting yourself reach this point.

What if you want to eat, but don’t feel the physical signs of hunger?

If you are wanting to turn to food, but you don’t feel your sensations of hunger (as discussed above), usually this means you are turning to food to handle your emotions. What I learned is to stop and pay attention to what you are feeling that makes you want to turn to food. Here is an example (I had a template printed out that I would sit down and fill in every time I faced this situation. Overtime, I began going through the questions one-by-one in my head, and eventually I was able to naturally know what I was feeling and how to handle it without going through the steps so methodically).

Here is an example:

  • What are you feeling? I am feeling stressed.
  • Where do you feel it? In my neck and shoulders.
  • Will eating solve this problem?  No.
  • What will? Stretching or giving myself a neck massage.

Then you do that!

In the same way, if you are feeling lonely, you would go through the same process: determining food won’t make you less lonely, and that calling a friend will, so you call a friend. The same with anger, if you are feeling angry, food won’t make it go away, but one of your outlets will (e.g. screaming or punching a pillow)


I hope you found this post helpful – I will be back next week with Guideline #2: Eat sitting down in a calm environment. Happy eating!


Twitter: @lauren_b_sag

New posts go up every Monday, stay tuned!

7 thoughts on “The Eating Guidelines: #1 Eat When You Are Hungry”

  1. Pingback: The Eating Guidelines: #2 Eat In a Calm Environment | Honouring Appetite

  2. Pingback: The Eating Guidelines: #4 Eat What Your Body Wants | Honouring Appetite

  3. Pingback: The Eating Guidelines: #5 Eat Until You Are Satisfied | Honouring Appetite

  4. Pingback: The Eating Guidelines: #7 Eat with Enjoyment, Gusto, and Pleasure! | Honouring Appetite

  5. Pingback: Q+A: How do I know what to eat and when? | Honouring Appetite

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