3 Tips To Strengthen Your Natural Hunger Cues, From An MD
It's important to listen to and honor your body's messages about what to eat. And in a perfect world, you eat when you're hungry and you stop when you're full—but many of us know it's not so simple. You may know it’s time to eat when your stomach growls or your mouth waters, but how do you know what your body is actually hungry for? And how do you know when your body is truly satiated?
Of course, everyone's body is different. However, as pediatrician turned master-certified life coach Katrina Ubell, M.D., author of How to Lose Weight for the Last Time, shares on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast: "No nutritionist is going to know how to feed your body better than you, if you actually pay attention." If you need a little help noticing those natural cues, feel free to give Ubell’s tips a try:
1. Taste slowly.
Says Ubell, "You should eat food that tastes good to you." Rather than scarfing down a meal, "make sure that you're actually in a positive emotional state to enjoy the heck out of [it]." As you let it melt in your mouth, think about the flavor experience—what does each bite genuinely taste like?
"Practice really paying attention to the taste and stopping as soon as pleasure starts to peak," Ubell adds. Meaning, once you notice the next bite is not as good as the one before, your hunger or craving is likely satiated. "We eat more because we think it tastes better, but if we actually check in with our taste, it's not tasting that good anymore," Ubell explains. "And then we just eat until the point where we don't even feel good." Rather, try to really tune in to your flavor preferences—they can tell you quite a lot about your genuine hunger cues.
2. What do your cells need?
Here's a helpful mindset shift: When Ubell feels hungry, instead of asking herself, "What does my body need?" she says, "What do my cells need?"
See, people often say, "Listen to your body!" which can feel a little elusive. After all, your body might want something a little on the unhealthier side. Of course, you should feel more than welcome to indulge every once in a while (sweets are good for the soul!), but your cells' needs are a little more straightforward. "They need hydration; they need vitamins," says Ubell. When you think about fueling your cells in this way, you'll likely reach for something nutrient-rich that will actually satisfy your hunger.
3. Create space.
It's common to crave something sweet post-dinner—and again, you should honor your cravings with balance. However, it's important to reflect on why you're feeling peckish post-meal and determine whether that treat will truly serve you in that moment.
"Don't tell yourself you can't have the treat, but see if you can create a little bit of space between the idea that you have of eating that thing and actually putting it in your mouth," says Ubell. Essentially, when you want to reach for something sweet, try not to give in right away. "You're not saying you can't eat it," Ubell emphasizes. "You're just saying, 'Hey, before I eat this thing, let me just check in with myself and find out what's actually going on…I'm just going to give myself 60 seconds and start to create more space.'"
Again, this doesn't mean you should deprive yourself—you're simply delaying gratification to potentially acknowledge any emotions that come up for you with a specific treat. "That's the place we want to get to," Ubell adds.
No one knows your own body better than you, so it's important to honor whatever cues it sends you. However, if you need a little help cutting through the noise, Ubell's tips might serve you well. "Become an expert in your own body," she says, and you can never go wrong.