When we are born into this world, we have no expectations about food except we eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full. Yet, by the time we are toddlers we are programmed to believe that our meals should be specified to three times a day – even if we are not hungry at such times or starving in between meals. So unfortunately, our learned behaviors about eating disconnect us from body signals and this may lead us to an unhealthy relationship with food. Attuned eating is a way to get back to basics and a healthier relationship with food.
To begin, ask yourself “Do I know what it feels like to be hungry?” Many people struggle to answer this question. Beyond the familiar grumbling in the stomach, hunger can also produce symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, shaky hands, feeling faint, and irritability, among others. But the more in tune you are with how you feel when you are hungry, the easier it is to eat when you need to rather than when you think you are supposed to.
Once you have discovered what your hunger feels like, ask yourself “Do I know what it feels like to be full?” We all know what it feels like to overindulge and feel uncomfortable (think Thanksgiving). This is not full. Instead, fullness is having eaten just the right amount of food so that you have satisfied the hunger. One way to try and measure this is to takes breaks during meals. Let’s say your favorite meal is lasagna in which you usually enjoy a large piece in one sitting. After eating a third of the lasagna, take a break (no longer than 5 min) and sit with your body. Decide if your feelings of hunger have subsided. If no, eat the second third and take a break again to sit and re-assess. If you are now full, stop eating, put the leftovers away, and enjoy them later when your hunger returns.
So the basics are: eat when hungry, stop when full. But how do we practice attuned eating in a busy lifestyle? Attuned eating does not mean eating a full meal every time you feel hungry. Once you are able to recognize your feelings of hunger and fullness, you may find you just need a small something (think a handful of nuts) to satisfy that hunger between meals. Consider buying items that are friendly on the go. If you know you are not hungry when you wake up in the morning but hungry during your commute, find breakfast foods that travel well. Making sure you always have snacks available will allow you to continue attuned eating and avoid overeating later when you have let your hunger go too long.
And finally, be easy on yourself. Learning new ways of eating can be hard. It may take some time to reconnect with your body and find your hunger and fullness. It is important to note that this is only the first step in attuned eating. It may not be a good fit for everyone, especially those suffering from a medical condition requiring a regimented diet. Also, if you suspect you may be suffering from an eating disorder such as Bulimia or Binge Eating Disorder, it is recommend you incorporate attuned eating with psychotherapy.
~ Tiffany Tumminaro, LCSW, CADC