We have forgotten all about hunger. We don’t even know what it means. And if we, as parents, don’t have a sense of hunger, our kids certainly don’t, either.
Hunger is a sensation. A way for our brain to tell our bodies that we need energy. Yet we’ve fallen so far off the mark with diet rules, calories, what to eat, what not to eat, we don’t even recognize it when it’s right in front of us!
Can You Describe How Hunger Feels To You?
When I am really, truly hungry, I feel like my belly is caving in (even though after two kids in two years, there is no actual caving in). But that’s the best way I can describe it. That’s what it feels like. I feel an emptiness and an almost pinching sensation in my gut. I also feel slightly nauseas (I’m assuming because my blood sugar is probably on the lower side when I am very hungry).
Can you describe how and where you feel hunger? Can your child? If the words are difficult to find, spend five minutes with some crayons and paper. Encourage your child to think about what it means to be hungry and draw however it is that they view it. You should do it, too. Then discuss. You might be stumped at first. Because you’ve never really thought about it. So over the next few days, start noticing. Then try the exercise again.
What Does Hunger Mean To You?
Is it negative? Uncomfortable? Unpleasant? Does it make you angry? Afraid? Do you associate feeling hungry with losing weight?
Hunger to me, always felt like being good. I remember, even as a tween embarking on my lifelong journey of wanting to be “skinny”, waking up with a very empty stomach and feeling proud of it. Inversely, if I was full, I felt like I had ruined everything.
I didn’t listen to my hunger as a cue that I needed food. I ignored it until I felt miserable, and then overcompensated, which made me feel like a failure. At which point, I’d give up. It was a an exhausting, wide pendulum swing.
Are you afraid of feeling hunger?
Many of us are. I’m not talking about people who truly do not have enough to eat. I’m talking about the fear of feeling any source of discomfort at all. Maybe you’ve never even thought about it. But pinpoint those moments where you find yourself without food when you feel hungry and you panic. It happens. Trust me.
Get In Touch With Hungry and Full
Start to become more aware of hunger and fullness around the times that you eat. Having a healthy awareness is a lot more powerful than you think. Having open discussions about hunger and fullness will give your kids a very strong foundation for the rest of their eating lives!
1. Make a hunger scale, from 0 to 10. This doesn’t need to be Martha Stewart. It can be the back of an envelope and a pencil if you want, but the visual is important, especially for kids. At dinner, talk about how hungry each of you are. There is no right or wrong answer, no judgement.
2. Make a fullness scale, from 0 to 10. After first helpings, how full are you?
3. Teach your children to relax at mealtime. Rest your belly! Creating any hard and fast rules about portion size or second helpings or dessert can be extremely detrimental. But learning simple behaviors like resting your belly for five minutes teaches kids that the food will still be there. They don’t need to rush to the next bowl. They might still want more and that is fine! But they relaxed at meal time first.
Stay tuned for more activities and exercises to help you and your children develop a healthy relationship with food.