Listening to Your Body’s Hunger Signals

by Jackie on March 24, 2015

As babies, we ate intuitively: Food is there, we eat it. As we aged, the world around us began influencing what, when and how much we chose to eat. We see advertising for food products, smells would emanate from local restaurants, and scheduled cafeteria meals were put into place when we were younger.

HungerBut hunger and cravings are very different, and by learning to distinguish the two, you can be more satisfied with your meals and reduce your calories without feeling the urge to continue eating.

There simply is more to healthy eating and weight loss than simply tracking your food. How you think about food and respond to hunger, eating cues, and cravings also affect your diet and overall health. We confuse cravings with hunger and end up overeating—or emotionally eating—as a result.

Hunger is “the painful sensation or state of weakness caused by the need of food.” It is a signal from your body that it needs food for energy. When you’re truly hungry, your stomach, brain, or both will give you cues to tell you to eat. Signals from your stomach may be growling, an empty, hollow feeling, or hunger pangs. Your brain may send signals such as a headache, trouble concentrating, irritability or fogginess. Some people even experience physical fatigue when they are hungry. Hunger does not go away over time—it only gets worse. And any food will satisfy your hunger and take the hunger signals away.

Do not ignore these hunger cues, but rather, tune back in to your body. Keeping a journal to track your hunger and satiety before and after eating helps in many cases. When assessing your hunger level, use a hunger scale of 1-10 to rank how your body feels in terms of hunger or feeling full.

As you notice the signals that your body has been telling you, then you can start to make changes in what and how much you eat according to your hunger. Studies have shown that it is best to eat when your hunger level is at a 3 or 4. Once you wait until you’re at a 1 or 2 and are feeling very, very hungry, you are more likely to overeat or choose less healthful foods. It’s best to stop eating at level 6 before you feel uncomfortably full (7-10). Your brain registers the signals that you’re full slowly, and learning to eat to satisfaction without overeating will take some attention and practice.

We’ve all been guilty of doing something as we eat, and before we know it, that bag of potato chips has all been emptied. A good practice is to eliminate all distractions and make food the main attraction of your meal. Watching TV, reading, using the computer or paying bills while eating can reduce your ability to recognize satiety (feeling full).

Cravings are very different than hunger, yet somewhat similar to appetite. Cravings, unlike hunger signals, will change over time, even over a period of 10 minutes. They are usually triggered by emotions (stress, boredom, and sadness), an attachment or fondness for a certain food, or proximity to appetizing food. Unlike hunger, where any food will suppress the sensation, only one specific food will satisfy a craving. Keep in mind that when you have a craving but are not physically hungry, you must look deeper into why that craving is there. Are you bored? Did you have a stressful day at home or work?

It is important to take pleasure from food and get satisfaction from the foods you eat. Cravings are normal and have a place in a healthy balanced diet. But learning to satisfy them in a controlled manner will keep your relationship with food in balance. Constantly giving in to your cravings—or confusing them with hunger—can lead to overeating and an unbalanced diet, especially since many of the foods we crave are high in fat, salt, sugar, or a combination of the three.

When you stop to think about your hunger and fullness levels, your appetite and cravings (both the triggers and your response), the more in-control you’ll be around food, which can help you return to an intuitive way of eating that helps you manage your weight without ever going hungry or feeling deprived. Now that’s a recipe for good health and weight-management!

Jackie

Jackie

Health Contributor at Creative Bioscience
I'm a fitness nut. I know what you're thinking, one of these people who has never been fat a day in her life, and can eat whatever she wants. The truth is I struggled with my weight growing up and lived in a household where everything seemed to be fried. Once I got away from home I realized I had the choice to eat and exercise how I wanted. I've gained a lot of insight into working as a personal trainer, and feel I can relate to others that were in my situation. I think if I can do it then you can to, and if you want to start kicking butt then hop on board and lets get started.
Jackie

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