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Practical Hunger in Intuitive Eating: Why It’s OK to Eat When You’re Not Hungry — Registered Dietitian Columbia SC

Here’s a few more examples of times you might want to honor practical hunger in intuitive eating:

  • You’re going into a situation where you may not have access to food for more than 3 hours (i.e. a plane flight, meetings, classes/seminar, etc).

  • You have to take a medication with food.

  • You’re about to do a strenuous workout and know that your body needs fuel.

  • You’re in eating disorder/disordered eating recovery and following a meal plan/meal schedule.

  • You have IBS or another GI condition that makes it hard to feel hunger, and know that going too long without eating upsets your stomach.

Why It’s OK to Eat When You’re Not Hungry

Honor your hunger is one of the first principles of intuitive eating, but sometimes people translate it as only eat when you’re hungry. It’s so easy to bring the diet mentality into intuitive eating and turn guidelines into rules! And it sure doesn’t help that there’s lots of people out there co-opting intuitive eating language and principles for the purpose of selling intentional weight loss. Or just as annoying, explaining intuitive eating in simplified ways that define it as eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.

It is totally OK to eat when you’re not hungry! Not only that, but often it’s a smart choice, because most of us don’t have free access to food 100% of the time. We have lives that don’t revolve around food, which means we can’t always stop as soon as hunger hits. To not honor practical hunger means you’ll likely feel uncomfortably hungry at a time you can’t feed yourself, which impacts mood, energy and digestion. Also, it’s likely to lead to later eating experiences that feel impulsive or out of control.

Some people worry that if they’re eating outside of hunger, that means they’re eating “too much.” First of all, it’s important to recognize that is diet mentality and fear of fatness is fueling this anxiety. If that wasn’t present, a.) you probably wouldn’t eat outside of hunger all that often but more importantly b.) when you did it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Generally, hunger and fullness cues will guide you towards eating an appropriate amount of food for you day to day, but you don’t have to follow hunger and fullness cues to a T in order to fuel your body adequately. Honoring practical hunger might mean there are occasional days you end up eating more food than typical, or more food that your body “needs.” It’s OK! I promise your body knows what to do with that energy.

How to Honor Practical Hunger in Intuitive Eating

Generally speaking, if you know you’re going to get access to food again in 1-3ish hours, it’s probably smart to have a satisfying snack that contains at least a couple different foods. Eating a couple foods together means you’re likely to get a satisfying combo of fat, carbs and protein. Here’s some examples:

  • A handful of almonds with dried fruit and chocolate chips

  • An energy bar (I especially love Lara, Clif, KIND, and Perfect bars) – typically these contain all the macronutrients in one food.

  • Cheese and crackers, or one of those adult lunchables with fancy cheese and salami

  • Fresh fruit with almond butter

  • Yogurt with granola

If you think it’ll be more like 2-3+ hours before you get food again, you might want to eat a mini-meal, or just a regular ‘ole meal. Since you’re not hungry, you might want to focus on something that provides all your macronutrients in a smaller volume. And of course convenience! Here’s some examples:

  • A sandwich

  • Pizza

  • Frozen burrito (something we almost always have on hand!)

  • A snack plate, which could include a combination of foods like crackers, cheese, fresh fruit, raw veggies, hummus, pretzels, nuts, yogurt, olives, smoked salmon, deli meat, avocado, etc

  • A bowl of chili (big fan of Amy’s brand)

  • A frozen meal

In these cases, the primary goal in eating is just fueling your body. Other times, pleasure might be a higher priority, but in these situations, you may be thinking more about eating in a practical matter – what’s going to stave off hunger, keep my blood sugar steady, and what’s available. Not every meal has to be a gourmet eating experience, and that’s okay!

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