Recapture your appetite regulation – here’s how

Somehow we’ve lost our way. Eating is no longer a simple matter. Ask a group of people about food choices and you’re bound to hear something about keto, low carb, intermittent fasting, flexitarian diets or weight loss. Sometimes the recommendations come with judgement – something none of us need or should be subjected to.

It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week – a perfect time to get back to basics and consider the importance of appetite regulation – something that many people no longer experience. Appetite regulation is about eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full or satisfied. The reason I bring this up during this week is that restrictive eating can lead to fear of food – whether it be everyday food choices or decadent delights – and this can go hand-in-hand with developing eating disorders or disordered eating.

Did you know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness? While the numbers are climbing so are those with disordered eating – where eating behaviours may be reflected in very restrictive eating patterns or distorted body image.

I’ve often heard a client say that they can’t have foods like peanut butter, ice cream or cookies in the house, because they’ll eat them all in a flash. But then I suggest that they must eat some everyday or maybe even twice a day for at least two weeks– in other words, give themselves permission to eat their forbidden food. After a week or two, the desire to binge on that food disappears.

When you think about it, it makes sense. If you overeat a forbidden food and promise yourself not to eat it tomorrow, of course you need to finish it off today.

But in the words of Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day”. And you can enjoy it again tomorrow and the day after that and so on. So why would you then keep eating that food if you have had enough and you’re no longer enjoying it right now?

But being in touch with your appetite allows you to trust your body even more so and not fear being out of control.

Tap into your hunger

When I see clients and ask them about hunger, many say that they never feel hungry. Instead they may eat when they are glad, sad, mad or even bored. But they’ve lost the ability to feel hungry. And if you never feel hungry, you have no idea when you’re full or had enough food.

Learning to feel hungry is not as simple as waiting for hunger cues. Yes, when we were babies, we didn’t cry for food when we knew it was convenient to be fed. We just knew that it was time to eat and it was too bad for those who had to feed us if it was in the very early hours of the morning.

As we got a little older, we started eating due to schedules – rushing in the morning as we were going to school or having to wait for a late dinner.

Not eating became easy. Put that together with our society’s obsession with thinness, and skipping meals, restricting food and dieting became the norm for many.

But never feeling hungry goes hand in hand with a downside. Chances are when you start eating if you’re not hungry, you don’t know when to stop.

Give yourself time to retrain yourself

While many people recommend not eating if you’re not hungry, I disagree with this if you’re trying to tap into your appetite regulation. Then it’s key to eat regularly (about every 3 to 4 hours) – balanced meals and snacks for a period of time.

When I say balanced, I mean including protein, carbs and fat at these eating opportunities. If you just have a bagel or donut and coffee for breakfast, you’ll likely crave carbs and overeat later in the day. So if you want that breakfast pastry, have it for dessert at your morning meal but eat some fruit and cheese first.

One day after doing this for a while, you will feel hungry if you don’t eat. But accompanying that hunger will be a sense of satiety and an ability to stop eating because you’re satisfied. Then your appetite will be trustworthy. If you’re more active, then you’ll likely want more food and if you’re sedentary for a few days, your hunger will likely decrease.

If you’re afraid to give this a chance, then why not seek the help of a registered dietitian who can help you navigate the pitfalls.

It’s time, though to recapture what you had when you were an infant. It will definitely pay off big time.

Tags: , , , , ,

Categories: Eating disorders, Weight Management

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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