Originally published March 2020, updated February 2023.
So, you’re getting started with Intuitive Eating and are excited to be kicking your restrictive diets. You’re ready to get in touch with those hunger cues…but they’re not there.
“Why am I not hungry?” you wonder, feeling confused and maybe even frustrated.
Making progress on your Intuitive Eating journey can sometimes feel like you’re spinning your wheels. Why is it so hard to just “eat like a normal person”? Ugh!
Friends, there are four main reasons that you might not be feeling hungry in a predictable way just yet. In this blog post, I’ll explain what those reasons are and what you can do about them.
First time here? Welcome! I’m Colleen, founder of No Food Rules. Not only am I an Intuitive Eating dietitian, but I’ve also been in your shoes: trapped by my own food rules and struggling to break free. Now that I’ve found food freedom, life is SO much better – I get to focus on making memories instead of micromanaging my eating. I want the same freedom for you!
Where did our hunger go?
When we were kids, eating was more simple. But as we experimented with diets and manipulated our hunger, things got a little wonky, including our hunger cues and metabolism.
Let’s explain our first reason that your hunger might be missing (for now).
No hunger cues
One of the most common reasons we don’t feel hungry is that we’ve lost our hunger cues.
Um, Colleen – what are hunger cues?
Hunger cues are what our bodies use to regulate how much we eat in a day and when. When you’re tuned into your hunger cues, you hear them say “Hey, I need some food!” Or, they may say, “Okay, I’ve got the energy I need!”
But, after dieting and following food rules, we actually lose these cues. Our bodies get so sick of telling us “I NEED FOOD!” and being ignored that they don’t even bother sending us the memo.
These missing hunger cues are why we feel SO lost when we try to stop dieting, abiding by food rules, or a restrictive meal plan. We have no idea how to eat anymore without rules! When this happens we typically swing back and forth from hangry to being overstuffed when we ate far past fullness…even binged. Without our hunger cues, we’ve lost that sense of a comfortable middle ground.
If you feel like this is where your lack of hunger is coming from, don’t worry! I have an entire post on how to get hunger cues back.
Next reason your hunger cues might be missing? Overwhelming feelings by the bucketful.
The second most common reason why we find ourselves asking the question, “Why am I not hungry?” is because we’re experiencing super strong emotions.
When we feel stressed, anxious, nervous, or even happy and excited, these emotions can distract us from our hunger.
Think about the last time that you had a rough day at work, feeling super busy. I bet you looked at the clock and said “wait, it’s WHAT time?! How did I skip lunch?!” Am I right?! Then, by the time you realize it’s been so long since you last ate…
Surprise, surprise: you’re ravenous!
Whenever the girlfriends in The SociEATy say they feel like their hunger cues are weak I always ask them what else is going on in life. It’s really common for a loss of appetite to be tied to an abundance of emotions, but we don’t always know that the link is there. Now you do!
If you’re saying “Okay, Colleen, that’s me!” here’s my advice: ya gotta handle those emotions!
That means making time for self-care if you’re stressed or relieving anxiety. Pro tip? I recommend journaling: it’s SUCH a powerful tool! You can check out my post on how to start a happiness journal here and also grab some happiness journal prompts! The third reason you’re not feeling hungry right now might have to do with an illness or medication.
Illness or medication
When you’re feelin’ ill you probably don’t want to eat. When your body feels better your appetite will come back, too. Focus on staying hydrated and as comfortable as possible.
It is also worth mentioning that medications can alter your appetite. Some might make you more hungry, e.g., steroids and antidepressants, and others can squash your appetite, e.g.,
stimulants. Medications and illnesses (and dietary restrictions) can make Intuitive Eating a tad more tricky, but I promise you that it is still possible.
I explain how right here: Do Antibiotics Make You Hungry? Your Guide To Intuitive Eating On Meds.
And a bit more info here: How To Eat Intuitively With Dietary Restrictions.
Those are the top three reasons that you might not be feeling hungry, but I have another one…you just might not need any energy right now.
Your body has enough energy
And, last but not least, you may not be hungry because your body has enough energy!
It is 100% normal for our hunger to ebb and flow: it changes daily!
You may have less hunger after a big meal and your hunger might ramp up after a vigorous workout. You may also notice fluctuations in your hunger if you’re having a regular period. (And if you don’t have a regular period right now because of diet restrictions, here is how to get it back: How To Get Your Period Back – Period Diet To Regulate Your Cycle.
Now that we know the top four reasons why you’re not feeling hungry, it brings us to a logical next question. Should you eat if you’re not hungry…or should you wait?
The answer is “it depends.” Let’s explore!
Should I eat if I don’t feel hungry?
If you’re not feeling hungry it is time to check in with your practical hunger. In Intuitive Eating, we talk a lot about “listening to your body” and most often folks interpret that as listening to your tummy. All well and good, but this is my opportunity to remind you that your noggin is a part of your body, too.
(Practical hunger is one of four (yes, four!) kinds of hunger. I explain everything on this podcast episode: Everything to Know About the 4 Types of Hunger.)
So even if you aren’t feeling hunger cues consistently, you still need to eat consistently throughout the day.
I recommend sticking to foods you can tolerate and focusing more on overall energy vs. specific nutrients. It’s totally okay if it’s all carbs. Honestly, avoid the veggies: they might be less appealing right now and that’s okay – your body will guide you back when you’re ready.
If your tummy is feeling off, whether it is because of an illness or you’re cultivating your relationship with your hunger cues, opt for lower-volume meals first. Giant bowls of salad may really upset your tummy!
Onto the opposite question: what are you supposed to do if you’re not hungry but you DO want to eat? Let’s discuss.
…what if I DO want to eat?
Oh, this question! What if we’re not hungry but the bag of chips or the brownies on the counter are calling our name?! Eating when you’re not hungry isn’t always a bad thing. (This is probably shocking coming from a dietitian). However, it is something to be mindful of. Here’s what I mean: eating when you’re not hungry could be a sign of emotional eating. This is using food to mask your emotions. Again: emotional eating is OK sometimes – it is one tool in the toolbelt – we just don’t want it to be the only way that you manage your emotions. Doing physical activity, therapy and journaling are other, complementary tools to manage emotions outside of food.
Another reason that you might be munching without strong hunger cues is that you’re bored. Boredom eating is a super common reason for this and I have an entire post on how to get curious about when you are boredom eating and what to do about it, so be sure to check that out.
Key takeaways about hunger
If you go too long without giving your body the energy it needs you’ll likely have more intense hunger later. Getting in touch with your hunger cues and building trust with your body helps to stop that restrict and binge cycle that makes you feel completely outta control and binge-y because you’re body is desperate for your attention: “OMG I NEED ENERGY GIVE IT TO ME FAST!”
And – gasp – “what if she doesn’t give me energy again?! Better get some extra in just in case!”
If you’re not consistently feeling your hunger right now, I invite you to get started. But I’ll also caution you that you’re not going to hit the bullseye right off the bat. It’s unrealistic to say “I’m going to start listening to my body!” and actually do it in a way that feels good.
We have to learn.
When you shoot the bow and arrow the first time you might think, “Oh, man, that wasn’t great. I pulled way over to the left!” You take that experience, learn from it and try again. Same thing here.
If you’re ready to begin removing your food rules, I’ll invite you to download my free 1-Week Binge Free Meal Plan. This resource is designed for you to begin refueling your body so that you can begin to let diets go without free-falling into binge eating. The menu plan includes tasty, easy-to-prepare meals and snacks that you get to personalize to your preferences.
1 Week Plan For Binge-Free Intuitive Eating
Can’t skip tips & a non-diet-y meal plan to get you on your way to intuitive eating—without the endless binges!
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