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Intuition, Meet the Internet

Jul 11, 2022

An odd uncoupling happens within most of us as we get older. Somewhere along the way, we tend to lose touch with the inner signals our bodies constantly send to express our most basic human needs.

The presence of any cranky infant can remind us how, as children, we are acutely aware our body’s  messages-  telling us we’re hungry hunger strikes, or that it’s time for rest, play or affection.  But as we grow up, we end up brushing off these requests out of necessity. We have set lunch hours, jammed schedules, niggling weight goals- over time we are trained to suppress our needs,  to get things done. Eventually many of us fall out of sync with our inner compass altogether.

The concept of intuitive eating was developed in 1995, by two dietitians, Elyse Resche and Evelyn Tribole. It is an evidence-based framework to help people reconnect with the messages their bodies send to express hunger and fullness. They created the Hunger Scale to help us tune in and identify our feelings whenever we start and stop eating.

The idea sounds almost offensively simple…. until you try it and realize how confused or suppressed these internal messages have likely become for you. Intuitive eating is designed to wake you from auto-pilot and the assumption that your eating patterns match your actual needs. The humble act questioning when and why you start and finish a meal can upend everything you thought you knew about yourself and your food habits.

This is all well and good when it comes to food and hunger. As a society, we have fixated on our food consumption, in many different ways, for eons. But this is only the physical part of a much bigger equation. What about the things we take in online- all the information, content, media that we consume mentally?

We rarely reflect on the when’s, what’s, why’s, and how’s behind our digital habits, although they are a fundamental aspect of our daily life.

When and why do you tend to pick up your phone? Reach for your headset?  Flip on the news?  Have you ever really sat down and considered where this pull comes from?  What wealth of understanding could we uncover about ourselves and our personal patterns, if we took a minute to explore the sensation of needing to know? To connect? To sign on?

Let’s examine the way intuitive eating reconnects us with the sensations of hunger + fullness and how these relate to feelings of curiosity, accomplishment and other mental sensations.

 

 

Hunger Scale

Hunger 

One of the most common and unexpected realizations people come to when they first try eating intuitively, is how often we eat when we’re not actually hungry. Many people start eating when they’re stressed, bored, at a certain time, mindlessly out of habit, or for a million other reasons that have nothing to do with actually feeling hungry.  In these moments, you might actually somewhere between 5-7 on the hunger scale.

Those that consciously try to wait until hunger strikes, often wait too long; until they’re “starving”, crashing, or hangry. Essentially they only start to listen when the body is screaming for fuel (otherwise known as 1-2 range.)  This often leads to over-eating or making poor food choices out of desperation.

Those poor food choices often make you feel even worse. Sleepy, bloated, foggy- these are more vital signals from our bodies “This isn’t what I really want, and definitely not what I need!” Food’s not meant to make you feel sluggish. It’s fuel! But our habits, and resulting choices are instead zapping our energy, setting off a vicious cycle of lethargy, guilt, and more signal suppression.

Intuitive eating requires regular check-ins with the Self to ask- what do you really need right now? During these check-ins we may feel our focus drift towards the fridge or notice our stomachs starting to rumble. These are subtle, healthy cues that you need food (around 3-4 on the hunger scale.)

But when you start to listen more closely, many times your body is actually asking for a nap, a stretch, some water, a hug,  or a laugh. When we honor these universal human needs, and stop using food as a substitute for movement, connection, rest, etc., we find we naturally turn to food less often, and with more mindfulness and greater appreciation.

Fullness

Another important check-in comes up when we finish eating. So many of us rely on external cues to tell us we’re done, like a clean plate or an empty bag. Waste is never a good thing, but decades of being told to “finish your plate” have taught us to ignore our internal messages and simply push through. So many of us are used to eating to the point of discomfort, equating fullness with feeling stuffed to the point of unbuckling our belts, or slipping into a food coma (think 8-10 on the hunger scale).  It is shocking to realize how many of us don’t know what a healthy version of “full” or “satisfied” really feels like.

The amount you’ve been served has nothing to do with what your body requires, especially in cultures that believe “bigger is better.” Tuning into your body’s quiet cues is a much more accurate way to gauge your capacity and needs, which actually fluctuate day to day and hour to hour. Whenever you start to feel energized, like your craving’s been satisfied, or your stomach is pleasantly full (not stuffed),  this is the moment to quit while you’re ahead (aka 6-7 on the scale.)

To sum it up, intuitive eaters believe we operate best within the 3-7 range on the hunger scale.  

So what does that look like for our minds and all the media and information we take in daily?

 

Mental hunger scale

Most of us have no concept of hunger or fullness, when it comes to the things we consume mentally.

That means we have no way to wrap our minds around the needs or sensations driving the digital behaviors that take up the vast majority of our waking life.

Mental Hunger 

For a moment, picture yourself, outside of work. When do you tend to hop on your devices?  How often do you actually need to look up a piece of information? Complete a task? Communicate something?

Compare that to the number of times you sign on because you’re bored, can’t sleep, are procrastinating, or trying to win a pointless argument (the most annoying reason of all.)

You may realize that, more often than not, you usually sign on out of sheer habit (think of this as the 5 and above range of our mental hunger scale).  Drawn in by a dull, mindless pull, suddenly you’ve spent two hours on Youtube without even remembering when or why logged you on and forgetting most of what you saw. This unconscious tendency to sign on is another way we’ve learned to tune out messages our minds and bodies are sending- asking for rest, movement, affection.

Many times when we try to take control and try to create conscious digital habits- we put all our focus in resisting, delaying, detoxing. Again the limits and boundaries are great, in principle! However, many are unsustainable or unrealistic for you or your daily needs, leaving you feeling deficient in someway. Think of this as 1-2 on the mental hunger scale.

So what does intuitive intake look like for our internet vs food habits? It once again asks us to tune into ourselves and ask the question “What do you really need right now?”

There are all sorts of perfectly healthy reasons to seek information or virtual connection; when curiosity hits, or the urge to message a friend, or to chip away at a specific goal  (which may include the final boss of a video game).

In these moments, when we engage with devices and media with conscious, healthy intent- we are experiencing tech at its best. Exhilarating, empowering, expansive.   We can think of this as signing on in the 3-4 range of the mental hunger scale.

But so often the reason we sign on is much more vague, unconscious, or if we’re being honest, self-sabotaging.  At these moments, we’re aimlessly drawn to the senseless, life-sucking corners of the internet. You know the ones.  Those that leave you feeling hopeless, insecure, fearful- kicking off yet another lethargy, guilt, signal suppression spiral.

Once we stop turning to devices and content as a way to drown out our inner needs- like sleep, water, a meaningful conversation- we also find that we turn our devices less often and with greater appreciation and purpose.

Just like how food shouldn’t make you feel sleepy, access to information shouldn’t make you feel powerless. It’s another potent form of fuel that’s currently being misused.  

Mental Fullness

When it comes to our digital intake, how do we know when enough’s enough? Here again, we often rely on external cues to tell us when to stop. A season finale. The “end of new posts” indicator on Instagram or LinkedIn or DePop. The bottom of the virtual chip bag, so to speak. Sometimes we only stop when we physically shut down, falling asleep, phone in hand. Or other times it’s when our body yelps in pain, after our neck has been angled carelessly, throughout a 45 minute TikTok spiral. These are all indications that we have been ignoring the subtle road signs along the way, telling us to stop. We’re done. This doesn’t feel good.

We need to get used to the idea of mental fullness, or a 6-7 on the mental hunger scale. An idea that may sound silly or too simplistic, but is nevertheless a helpful starting place to explore our various appetites and capacities.

When you’ve done your tasks, answered your question, made your connection, or chipped away at whatever goal you initially signed on for,  there is a soft sensation of accomplishment or completion. You have no reason to linger. Your needs have been met. Of course there is always room for a little more, like an after dinner dessert, you can choose to finish once your craving or curiosity is fully satisfied.

Intuitive internet habits begin with us learning to operate within the 3-7 range on the mental hunger scale.  

There’s much more to consider and dive into around our inner messages: the science behind them, the ways different devices and platforms silence them,  and more powerful ways to enhance them. We’ll explore these topics and more to come, but for now let’s start with a deep breath and one small, but life-changing step forward: simply noticing.

Next time you go to sign online, no matter the device or platform you’re heading to, pause for a moment and notice where you currently place on the mental hunger scale.

When you sign off, pause again and notice where you are on the scale. 

Try doing this for one week. At the end, reflect on your personal patterns: What brings you online and where does it leave you?

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