Flunked intuitive eating? You may not know when you are hungry or full

Tuesday, February 04, 2014 by: Sharon Heller, PhD
Tags: interoception, fullness, hunger signals

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(NaturalNews) The latest trend recommended by weight loss experts to stop over-eating is to practice intuitive eating. Basically, intuitive eating means that you satisfy physical, not emotional, hunger by tuning into your body's signals: you eat when you are hungry; stop when you feel satisfied rather than when you feel full; and don't eat again until you begin to feel hungry.

Trouble recognizing hunger and fullness

But what if you don't know when you feel hungry or full? Sound strange? Actually, some people don't feel hunger or fullness. They have impaired interoception.

Interoception is the perception of the internal state of the body so that a person knows whether she is full or hungry, hot or cold, itchy or in pain. People who have problems processing sensory information, a condition called sensory processing disorder (SPD) may have impaired interoception and not recognize feelings of hunger or fullness. As a result, they overeat. Further, impaired interoception leads to emotional eating as being aware of the body's internal state underlies self-awareness and emotional experience.

Impaired interoception and eating disorders

Logically, if you don't feel hunger or fullness, you would find it difficult to practice intuitive eating to control your weight. And this is precisely what a new study published in November, 2013 in the journal Appetite found: interoception links to a person's ability to be successful at intuitive eating; the better your interoception, the better you are at intuitive eating.

Feeling your heartbeat

Researchers at the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at University Hospital Tuebingen measured 111 female university students from the University of Tubingen on their aptitude at Intuitive Eating (IE), current and long-term levels of anxiety, and their interoceptive sensitivity (IE). To test IE, researchers used the "heartbeat test" where you try to feel your pulse without actually measuring it. People with good interoception do well at guessing their pulse because they can feel the subtle rhythmic pounding of their heart. A previous study by the research team found that being able to guess your pulse links with being able to sense hunger and fullness, while another study found that those with anorexia perform worse on the heartbeat test than healthy women.

To eat intuitively, you need to feel hunger and fullness

The researchers found that those who scored highest on the heartbeat test also scored better on two of the intuitive eating (IE) subscales: eating for physical rather than emotional reasons and reliance on internal hunger cues. Impaired IS predicted emotional eating and body weight as measured by body mass index (BMT). In other words, to be successful at intuitive eating for controlling emotional eating you need to be able to feel if you are hungry or full. If not, you are likely to overeat.

Sources for this article include:

Herbert et al. (2013). Intuitive eating is associated with interoceptive sensitivity. Effects on body mass index. Appetite. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.06.082

Herbert et al. (2012). Interoception across Modalities: On the Relationship between Cardiac Awareness and the Sensitivity for Gastric Functions. PLoS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036646

Pollatos et al. (2008). Reduced perception of bodily signals in anorexia nervosa. Eating Behaviors. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2008.02.001

About the author:
Sharon Heller, PhD is a developmental psychologist who specializes in books on holistic solutions for anxiety, panic and sensory processing disorder (SPD). She is the author of several popular psychology books including "Uptight & Off Center: How sensory processing disorder throws adults off balance & how to create stability" (Symmetry, 2013), "Anxiety: Hidden Causes, Why your anxiety may not be 'all in your head' but from something physical" (Symmetry, 2011) and "Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world" (HarperCollins, 2002). She can be contacted via email at and via her website, You can also follow her blog at

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