Stop Connecting Fullness with Shame

One of the most common questions we hear while working with clients is:

“What should my portion sizes be?”

Believe it or not, this is not a black and white answer. Although the portion plate is a great guide to get us started, that’s exactly what it is – a guide. The absolute BEST indicator of what portions we should be eating is from listening to your own body! 

Part of rejecting diet culture is learning to listen to what our body is telling us instead of external diet rules such as “you can only have ½ Cup of rice at a meal” or “you are not allowed to eat after 7PM.” One aspect of listening to our body is honoring our hunger and fullness cues. Our bodies are SUPER smart and know what they need. Therefore, if we honor our hunger and fullness cues, our portions will be exactly what our bodies need that day. 

Keep in mind these portions may vary day to day. Our bodies are not robots and our needs change daily. For example, if you did an intense HIIT workout, it is likely you will need more energy, and therefore be hungrier, the next day to help you replenish your energy stores lost during the workout. Same goes for when you are on your period! Our bodies expend a LOT of energy during that time shedding our uterine lining so it makes sense that we would need more food during this week.

Understanding Hunger and Fullness

The first step to learning to honor your hunger and fullness cues is to understand what hunger and fullness are. Let’s dive into some science!

Our bodies have two main hormones that regulate our appetite: Leptin and Ghrelin. Leptin signals the feeling of being full and ghrelin signals hunger. If we are honoring our hunger and fullness cues, these two hormones work in complete homeostasis. When you need more energy, ghrelin increases. When you have replenished your energy stores and no longer need fuel, leptin increases. Unfortunately, constant dietiting often throw off this homeostasis by ignoring biological hunger. 

Diet culture teaches us that being hungry all the time is “good” and feeling full is “shameful.” We do things like chug water or chew gum to distract ourselves and suppress our hunger. Overtime, this can throw leptin and ghrelin out of sync. After years of dieting, we can lose our ability to feel hunger and fullness entirely. Additionally, the more we ignore our hunger, the more our hunger hormone (ghrelin) increases. This makes your body think it is in starvation mode, stressing it out and causing it to hold on to fat stores to compensate. In our practice, we talk primarily work with clients on eating MORE to reach their goals – not less!

In order to reach our goals, it is key to build back our trust with your body’s natural cues.

Keep in mind that there are many different ways to feel hunger and fullness. Everyone is different and there are not right or wrong ways to experience it. Here are some common signs of hunger and fullness:

Common Signs of Hunger

  • Stomach growling
  • Feeling panicked/stressed
  • Dull ache in throat
  • Cloudy thinking, unable to concentrate, headache, thoughts about food and eating
  • Irritability/”Hangry”
  • Sleepiness/lack of energy

Common Signs of Fullness

  • Heaviness/bloating
  • Fewer thoughts about food and eating
  • Decreased desire to eat
  • Pleasant and relaxed mood
  • Energy changes: Either re-energized or for some, drowsy for others

As we are learning to look for and honor these sensations, keep in mind that there are a lot of aspects that can get in the way of feeling and responding to hunger and fullness cues. These are called attunement disrupters. Attunement disrupters may include distractions, thoughts, rules, beliefs, and a lack of self-care.

Attunement Disrupter Examples:

  • Eating while multitasking (watching TV, on phone, reading, driving)
  • Food rules (“I can’t eat after 7pm”)
  • Working through lunch break
  • Skipping breakfast
  • Not controlling stress levels properly
  • Not getting proper amount of sleep

If you are struggling to recognize hunger and fullness cues, reflect on these disrupters. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you overly stressed? Are you skipping meals? In order to re-regulate hunger and fullness hormones, we recommend eating every 3-4 hours and engaging in daily self-care activities.

Using Hunger and Fullness Cues as a Guide

In order to use hunger and fullness as a guide to portion sizes and meal timing, we recommend clients practice ranking their hunger and fullness levels after each meal and snack using the hunger and fullness scale below.

When you are getting ready to eat a meal or snack, ask yourself, “Where am I on the hunger and fullness scale?” Ideally, you’ll be between a 3 and a 4. When we drop below this, we tend to overeat as a natural body response to extreme hunger.

Halfway through your meal, pause for 10 seconds and check in with your body. Ask again “Where am I on the scale now?” You may choose to stop eating or continue based on what your body is telling you. Eat until you are comfortably satisfied at a 6 or 7.

“What if I fall below a 3 or eat to the point I am above a 7?” 

It happens to everyone and this is very normal! The hunger/fullness scale is NOT a rule – so start with showing yourself compassion. Shame is not a helpful emotion and does not promote progress. Avoid beating yourself up. It’s about progress not perfection!

Take this time to reflect with curiosity instead of judgement. Did dropping below a 3 impact your food choices and your hunger and fullness the rest of the day? Could you have done anything differently to avoid getting overly hungry such as packing a snack or prepping lunch that morning? If you overate, why do you think that happened? Could you practice being more mindful at meals and slowing down in the future?

Instead of dwelling on the fact you got too hungry or overate, acknowledge it, reflect with curiosity, and then move on to your normal routine.

*You deserve to have dinner even if you overate at lunch!* There is no need to “compensate” or “make up” for overeating.

Conclusion

Diet culture praises hunger and shames fullness – leading us to ignore our natural body cues and eat according to external rules. This not only leads us away from our health goals but also can damage our relationship with food. The truth is our bodies are super smart and tell us what they need through mechanisms like hunger and fullness hormones. Practice using the hunger and fullness scale and keep a log to help you see if you are getting too hungry or too full throughout day. 

If you are interested in ditching diets for good and understanding your hunger and fullness signals more in depth, we would love to help! Click here to schedule your FREE 15 minute phone call session today to learn more.

-Written by Allison Walters, RD, LD

Avoid Starvation Mode to Meet Your Goals!

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Diet culture tells us: “if you eat less food than your body burns, you will lose weight.” However, our bodies are not computers and do not work like calculators. What most people don’t understand is that the human metabolism is actually much more complicated than calories in vs. calories out.

Your body uses energy from food to perform all the activities you do in a day and all of the functions needed to keep you alive! Energy from food is used in three different ways:

  1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)– energy used at rest to maintain basic physiological functions (i.e. breathing and pumping blood to your body from the heart)
  2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)– this is the energy required to breakdown and digest your food
  3. Physical Activity (PA) – Fuel used for exercise and body movements

*When you don’t eating enough to sustain all of these activities, your body goes into starvation mode*

What is starvation mode, and why is it harmful?

The term “starvation mode” is used to describe how the body adapts to a caloric deficit. When calories are restricted, the body becomes more efficient by reducing the number of calories burned. Your body’s goal is to maintain energy balance and prevent actual starvation. The technical term for starvation mode is “adaptive thermogenesis” where the body slows down the metabolic processes to conserve energy. This means that when you restrict your food intake, your body reduces how many calories you are able to burn throughout the day to prevent starvation. This is why under eating and over exercising does not work!

The negative effects of under-eating:

  • Increases risk of health problems like eating disorders and heart disease
  • Increase in cortisol levels (stress hormone)
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Brain Fog
  • Fatigue

Being in an over stressed and underfed state will NOT help you lose weight. In an over stressed and  underfed state, your body will hold onto more fat stores because it doesn’t know when the next surge of energy is coming next.  Under-fueling slows down your metabolism, breaks down muscle, and as a result prevent individuals from meeting their weight/fat loss goals.

Set Point Theory  

Chronic Dieter: “But if I don’t control my food, I will spin out of control, and my weight will go up and up and up and all my hard work will be for nothing!”

Dietitian: “Not necessarily”

Let us introduce to you the Set Point Theory. The Set Point Theory explains that our bodies naturally maintain a constant weight range to keep our bodies functioning optimally. Our bodies are designed to maintain a healthy state and keep us alive!

Your body’s set point makes it much more difficult to maintain a body that is smaller than it needs to sustain these physiological functions. When we under eat, the body secretes more ghrelin (hunger hormone) to have you eat more to restore your body’s natural set point. This is actually really cool! Your body is working to protect itself and maintain a healthy environment for all the activities going on inside your body.

As the body starts to put on more weight, it doesn’t just keep going higher and higher up into space and out of control. Eventually, the body will stop around it’s natural set point. It may overshoot the set point at first, but give your body time and grace to recover. After all, it was starving for quite some time, so it will need extra energy for repairs. 

Watch this video to learn more about the Set Point Theory

4 Tips to avoid starvation mode & meet your goals!

You might be thinking “If I shouldn’t restrict my food intake, how can I reach my goals?” Start with these tips!

1. Eat Protein with carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy and are required for daily life functions, and adding protein will help you stay satisfied until your next meal and help you build lean muscle mass!

2. Eat incrementally throughout the day

We want to focus on *fueling* for our busy day! Having consistent meals helps balance blood sugar and will help stabilize energy levels throughout the day. Aim for a meal or snack something every 3-4 hours.

3. Leave room for fun foods

The great thing about our bodies is that it uses all kinds of foods for energy including our favorite fun foods such as chocolate, cookies, or chips.  We encourage to incorporating these foods into our clients weekly meal plan! Eliminating fun foods entirely could result in a binge later on. Additionally, it can isolate us from social activities! Establish a healthy relationship with these foods by incorporating them into your routine each week.

4. Work with the nutrition expert, a Registered Dietitian

Sometimes it’s best to ask for a little extra support during your journey to meet your goals. Working with a registered dietitian for one on one nutrition counseling, meal planning, and extra accountability can help. You can learn more about how Brittany Jones Nutrition Group can help you meet your goals in a sustainable way here!

Your body is incredible! It knows exactly what it needs to do with the fuel you give it. Don’t worry about controlling your food so tightly because your body will tell you what it needs at that time. You just have to learn to listen.

Here is a reminder that you deserve to eat today. You don’t need to “earn” your food, and you don’t need to punish your body for what you already ate. Choose to honor your body with love and respect today.

Written by Gabriella Childers, Brittany Jones Nutrition Group Intern & Brittany Jones, MS, RD, LD