When to eat and when to stop eating?

Thin Within and HEAL both encourage us to eat within the boundaries of physical hunger and physical satisfaction. This is the basic principle for the “mechanical” or “how to do it” part of our eating.

However, most of us have shut off this mechanism with years of dieting, bingeing or overeating, and/or starvation. The mechanism may seem “broken,” but it isn’t. It is dormant. I am fearfully and wonderfully made and I can trust my body because of the Maker of my body. But sometimes I need to work patiently with the consequences of my actions for the previous umpteen years! God is gracious and WILL teach me!

For those who have temptations toward not eating enough food–anorexic behavior–the HEAL book encourages you to be sure to get professional help, but also to consider prayerfully submitting to desire eating as a vehicle through which the Lord might resurrect healthy eating in your life. The authors say on page 60:

[The Lord] may give a woman who struggles with undereating the discernment that it’s helpful for her healing to eat when she experiences head hunger, while he may convict someone who struggles with overeating otherwise. (Emphasis added, HEAL, page 60)

For most of us, this is *not* the case however. We know how to eat and are all too eager to eat!

So what DOES stomach hunger feel like? The book mentions that for some there may be a growling sensation. However, Dr. Halliday has been known to say, “Hunger is not a sound.” Relying too much on a “growling” sound to signal hunger can cause a person to eat too much on some days (when the stomach “gurgles” as it digests something) and not soon enough on other days, causing headaches and plummeting blood sugar levels and potential dizziness. A stomach growl seems like an easy signal, but it isn’t the right signal for most of us. Some of us can become very legalistic about waiting for a growl and always eating with a growl. I urge you, if you are in this camp, to ask the Lord to show you the truth about what stomach hunger is like for you.

Since the stomach is somewhat “elastic” and like a bag, I liken it to a balloon. The analogy isn’t perfect, of course. Picture a deflated balloon and that is somewhat like an empty stomach (again, not completely). The stomach is located higher in your body than many people think. Follow your lowest ribs on both side of your body to the place where they join…your “sternum.” Behind this spot on the left is where your stomach rests.

As you can see from the image above, the stomach is definitely higher than most of us think. The very gurgles and growls that we are accustomed to waiting for are often lower. (Personally, I wonder if this illustration doesn’t show not only a FULL stomach, but one that is slightly disproportionate! It seems large!)

When your stomach is empty, there will be a very distinct empty sensation from the place in your body where your stomach lives! 🙂 See if you can distinguish this today. It is very distinct and may or may NOT be accompanied by a growl.

Some people describe it as an ache, a pain, or a vacuum sensation.

Here is the thing, too…something that really surprised me when I realized it. Even if I can’t eat right away…my stomach, once it is empty doesn’t get emptier, thus justifying eating more when I do get around to eating! I am either hungry (stomach is empty), or I am not! Being “sort of hungry” is like being “sort of pregnant.” Sort of an oxymoron. Hunger is an empty stomach pouch! If I am “sort of hungry” I may be at a 1 on the hunger scale, but I am not at a 0. Busying myself with other things can keep me from lamenting “Oh, gosh, I really WANT to be hungry because I WANT to eat!” And it will keep me from obsessing… “IS this hunger? Am I hungry? Maybe I am…hmmm…no, I am not sure!!!” and on and on.

Two things can help…

1.) Pray. Ask God to show you what is “stomach hunger” for YOU and your body.

2.) When in doubt, leave it out. (Again, if you are someone who has struggled with undereating, you will want to prayerfully surrender this to the Lord and choose to eat for a time when your signals are not yet discernible. Professional help is vital.)

For most of us, it takes about one fistful of food (chewed up and compressed) to have sense of stomach satisfaction. That is a LOT less food than most of us eat! Try it for a few days and see what happens, though! You might be amazed!

If you struggle with overeating, remember how easy it is to choose more food than your body really needs. With this in mind, you can courageously begin to select smaller portions. (HEAL, page 62)

I have found that if I eat half as much twice as slow, I end up thinking that I had just as much as I used to eat. 🙂

Truthfully, even now I must return to smaller portions. While I know that I am not eating anywhere near what I used to, I still can see where I have some room for improvement in this area.

As you try this, you will discover that often what we insist is stomach hunger is actually head hunger…desire eating. I eat because I want it. Truthfully, most of the time the antidote to desire eating is to “JUST SAY NO.”

Please know that I don’t mean when you feel like you *can’t*. This is when you just simply *won’t*. I have noticed that once again, for me, evenings tend to be most challenging in terms of desire eating. I think of something, I want it, so I have it. Well, stomach hunger never entered the picture, yet I rationalize and justify…”Well, I am close enough to a 0 and, besides, if I don’t eat now, then in a couple of hours when I am trying to sleep I won’t be able to because I will be hungry.” These are subtle ways my heart has of resisting what I know is right, turning my back on the Lord and refusing to be obedient to what God is calling me to do. He calls me to die to self. I just don’t want to! :-/ I don’t WANT to “Just say no!”

Stomach hunger is usually easier for people to begin to identify over time than stomach satisfaction. For me, I identify that stopping point as “no longer hungry.” The stopping point for this kind of living isn’t once I have eaten as much as I can, but I am not quite uncomfortable yet! It is learning how little I need. Again, for the person who struggles with anorexic tendencies, you will have to learn to eat without thinking in these terms. PLEASE get professional help with this!

But for the rest of us, there is a sense that we want to shovel in as much food as we can before we *have* to stop! This shows me that my heart is still attached to food in a way that God wants to rid me of! I am free to enjoy my food, but to do so without a greedy heart is so important for my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being!

So, note how your stomach feels during your meal. Try to especially be aware of if the sensation of hunger is gone and keep in mind it takes at least 10 minutes for your mind to know what is going on in your stomach! That is one reason why eating slowly is so helpful!

All of this sounds so mechanical, but most of us find we need the strength of the Lord in order to change our eating to these godly parameters. We have depended on food for so many things (other than fuel for our bodies) for far too long! So when we begin to try to eat between 0 and 5 on the hunger scale, we need to call on the Lord to help us! 🙂 It can be an awesome thing to see that God uses something as mundane as eating and drinking to draw us so much closer to him.