IIN Staff Picks: Honoring Your Hunger Cues and Supporting Blood Sugar Health

Published:

November 20, 2020

Last Updated:

November 24, 2020

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Why is your blood sugar important?

November is Diabetes Awareness month, so we’re taking a closer look at a key indicator for type 2 diabetes – your blood sugar health! Everything you eat is eventually broken down into sugar, providing energy that powers your organs, muscles, and nervous system. This blood glucose level will fluctuate throughout the day depending on the foods you eat, the physical activity you engage in, and even your stress and anxiety levels, all of which contribute to cravings or feelings of hunger.

Ever feel a crash in your energy after eating a candy bar or that extra slice of cake? This is your body’s reaction to a quick spike and consequential dip in blood sugar, leaving you feeling depleted once you’ve digested the sugary snack. On the other hand, when you fuel your body with foods packed with complex carbohydrates and fiber, like sliced apple with peanut butter or carrots and hummus, you’ll likely feel fuller longer and more energized, preventing those inevitable craving pangs that lead you to snack on empty calories later.

How can you navigate your body’s hunger cues and cravings?

One of the best ways you can improve your health is to pay more attention to the signals your body gives you, recognizing which foods satisfy your cravings and also determining when you’ve had enough to eat. Different foods impact your blood sugar in different ways, and everyone’s bodies will respond differently to those foods, a concept that we at IIN refer to as bio-individuality. Often cravings are a symptom of other things that your body may need, like a glass of water or an extra hour of sleep.

We asked our staff members how they listen to their own body’s signals and make an effort to eat more intuitively:

How do you honor your hunger cues?

“I can’t honor my hunger cues if I don’t notice the cues. So I really pay attention to my body, and when I feel anything that might be a hunger cue (empty stomach, rumbling stomach sounds, low energy, irritability), I pause and ask myself when the last time was I ate. If it’s been a few hours since my last meal, I can safely say I might be due for another dose of nutrients! From there, I ask myself what I’d like to eat (not what I should eat), and try to imagine what foods would make me feel full again (physically and emotionally). This usually helps me pick options that are both nourishing and pleasurable.”

 – Heather Freudenthal, Education

“When I feel ‘hungry’ between meals, I always check in with my body to identify if I am physically or emotionally hungry – or even if I am dehydrated! This little check-in gives me space to rest and reflect on what I actually need, whether that be a step outside for some fresh air or a snack. Above all, I do my best to honor my hunger cues and trust what my body is asking for.”

Sheri Vettel, Education

“I do a quick check-in with my body. The body does an amazing job of trying to balance itself. Often, that little grumble in your tummy is your migrating motor complex (MMC) doing its job, like a street sweeper, cleaning up the debris left behind that the body did not absorb. I like to honor that between meals and have water or herbal teas that will let it do its job.”

Janet Verney, Education

“I listen to my body and understand what type of hunger is being felt. There are different forms of hunger, and it’s not always the result of an empty stomach. I’ve found ways to recognize all of them within myself so I can resolve hunger cues in ways that are effective and align with my goals.”

Zack Bodenweber, Admissions

“I ask myself if I’ve gotten what I need in the way of whole-grain carbs, lean proteins, healthy fats, and veggies. If I have not, I will start by satisfying my hunger with those items. If I have, I then consider a healthy snack or beverage to hold me until the next meal.”

Marco Anzalone, Leadership Team

“I honor my hunger cues by listening to them and having what I’m craving. I’ve learned that for me, this helps me have certain snacks in moderation (rather than binge eating an entire bar of chocolate) since I allow myself to enjoy them when I want!”

Sujin Park, Marketing

“I eat when I’m hungry but also aim for every four hours. I listen to my cravings, but I try to satisfy them with the healthiest foods possible. And I crowd out other options with fruits and vegetables.”

Marissa LaRocca, Education

What kinds of foods do you crave?

“When my energy is low, I just crave something light and simple, like crackers or almonds. This is because I feel a little weak and therefore can’t imagine tolerating anything heavy or big. That being said, if my energy is low, it’s probably because I need something more substantial, like a big old sandwich or a massive turkey leg! I tend to compromise by eating small amounts of protein (thin slices of organic turkey breast or a scrambled egg) or a handful of crackers, and once my blood sugar stabilizes a little and I feel better, I’ll add something more filling.”

Heather Freudenthal, Education

“I crave carbohydrates when my energy is low. To avoid grabbing refined carbohydrates, which are all too convenient, I keep my fridge stocked with vegetables for a more sustainable energy source and nutrient-dense option.”

Zack Bodenweber, Admissions

“I usually reach for nuts, seeds, or whole fruit. This powers me for a few hours!”

Janet Verney, Education

“Coffee! Popcorn! Crunchy, packaged carbs!”

Sheri Vettel, Education

“I crave chocolate or peanut butter.”

Sujin Park, Marketing

“Sugar, carbs, or caffeine are my typical cravings.”

Marissa LaRocca, Education

“Something sweet is what I often crave.”

Marco Anzalone, Leadership Team

How do you determine when you’ve had enough to eat?

“This is all about taking it slow. I need to eat very slowly because the fullness cues are easy to miss if I’m eating a mile a minute! Also, sometimes it takes about 20 minutes after eating to really feel the extent of your fullness. So I take it slow and wait until I’m about 80% full (meaning I feel satiated and satisfied but not overly stuffed). I also do a little mental calculation and ask myself if my meal was balanced (protein, complex carbs, healthy fats). If my meal was too heavy in one macronutrient (such as carbs), I add in a little more protein just to emotionally feel like I’ve had enough. At the end of the day, your body will let you know.”

Heather Freudenthal, Education

“I have a sense of how much I need just by looking at my plate of food. I try to not overfill it, and use plate sizes that complement the meal so my plate doesn’t look empty. I also try to eat slowly so I give my body time to learn that it is getting what it needs.”

Marco Anzalone, Leadership Team

“I use a smaller, lunch-sized plate for an appropriate portion, then chew, and chew, and chew. This allows that ‘full’ signal to kick in sooner and say, ‘I’m all done.’ I even chew smoothies and juice, which makes for less bloating, too!”

Janet Verney, Education

“People in the Blue Zones tend to eat until they are about 80% full. I try to act accordingly. I naturally eat very fast, so I try to slow down to give my body time to recognize when it’s had enough.”

Zack Bodenweber, Admissions

“I feel content. Eating slowly allows me to be more mindful and observant. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking down at my next bite and realizing whether I need it or not.”

Sujin Park, Marketing

“I am very aware of ‘that point.’ I stop before I get uncomfortably full.”

Marissa LaRocca, Education

“I feel very satisfied, physically and emotionally.”

Sheri Vettel, Education

What’s your go-to satiating snack when your energy level is low?

“I love smoothies. I throw in spinach/kale, berries, and a plant-based protein powder with non-dairy milk. Sometimes I’ll add in avocado or MCT oil if really want to fuel up. I prep smoothie bags so they’re quick to make, and pour some in a Thermos if I’m on the go.”

Zack Bodenweber, Admissions

“A date or two with nut butter on top along with a cup of herbal tea (mint or chai) offers me a nice pick-me-up.”

Sheri Vettel, Education

“Sliced organic meat with baby carrots, or an omelet with any veggies I can find works well for me.”

Heather Freudenthal, Education

“A bit of nut butter on apple slices or celery is great.”

Janet Verney, Education

“Apples and peanut butter are my go-to choice.”

Sujin Park, Marketing

“I prefer fruit, nuts, or popcorn.”

Marco Anzalone, Leadership Team

As a practicing Health Coach, how do you coach your clients to honor their hunger cues?

“Clients who struggle to identify hunger cues often have other struggles around food, such as emotional eating, disordered eating patterns, shame, confusion, and/or a generally unhealthy relationship with food. Of course, this is not always the case, but it’s helpful to establish a nonjudgmental, guilt-free playing field when it comes to hunger and food so clients can feel safe and comfortable tuning in to their bodies.

I’ll usually start with asking a few fundamental questions: ‘What do you like to eat?’ and ‘How do you know when you’re hungry?’ These answers will give me more insight into how I can help them further. Additionally, I like to practice various mindfulness exercises and strategies to help them get into a very centered, relaxed, and aware state. This can help them stay attuned to hunger as it arises and make educated decisions about how to honor their hunger.”

Heather Freudenthal, Education

“I’m not a Health Coach yet, but I am a dietitian. I encourage my patients to practice intuitiveness and truly check in with what their body needs. I also encourage patients to lean into physical hunger cues and not suppress them. I remind them of the nourishment they may be needing and help them identify a variety of snack and food choices they feel great about to keep on hand.”

Sheri Vettel, Education

“I teach my clients about the different types of hunger. There are about five types that we identify, and eating is not always the solution. We learn to understand them intuitively and explore alternative options for meeting the needs of whatever hunger is being experienced. It’s always life-changing when they go through this process, and it significantly improves their relationship with food.”

Zack Bodenweber, Admissions

“I encourage them to play detective by stopping and checking in with themselves! If a client is craving something sweet, are they in need of some TLC, a hug, or maybe a snuggle with their pup? I like to encourage them to have a glass of water, take a walk, or call and chat with a friend as a first practice. Then they can check back in to see if they still desire something specific (and if they can satisfy the craving with a healthier option).”

Janet Verney, Education

“I am only working with one client, and we talk more about emotions than food. I guide her to honor her truth and desires in her life, and the food follows.”

Marissa LaRocca, Education

Eating intuitively means learning to identify the source(s) of your cravings.

Honoring your personal hunger cues requires an intuitive understanding of what works for your body and what doesn’t. Perhaps that means you’ve recognized you function better when you eat more whole grains and fiber in the morning, keeping you comfortably full until lunch. Or maybe it means noticing your sugar cravings tend to arise when things get stressful at work and choosing to indulge in an energy-boosting snack instead.

Often, fluctuations in your blood sugar and hunger cues are a reflection of your emotional health. From increased stress levels to relationship issues at home, external factors can take a toll on your physical body and the functions that regulate your blood sugar, digestive health, and more.

The path to healthier and more intuitive eating starts with redefining your relationship with food and finding strategies to combat unhealthy cravings at the source. Check out our Emotional Eating Course to understand how to make this mind-set a reality!

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