The desire to eat starts with a twinge, and before you know it, you’re rummaging through the fridge or pantry. But the real question is: Are you really hungry, or was that a twinge of habit, boredom, or some other emotion? Understanding your own eating habits and learning to recognise true hunger is an essential weight loss tool.
The decision to eat is affected by a host of factors: sights, smells, social settings, and more.
We eat to satisfy our appetites but also to soothe emotions, celebrate victories, satisfy cultural expectations and because it just tastes good.
Scientists have been researching influences on appetite and hunger for decades. The body’s systems are complex. “Hunger hormones” (ghrelin) in your blood and an empty stomach signal the brain when you’re hungry. Nerves in the stomach send signals to the brain that you’re full, but these signals can take up to 20 minutes to communicate, and by that time, you may have already eaten too much. This is why eating more mindfully is so important. TAKE YOUR TIME instead of woofing it down.
When you sit down to eat a meal, you want to be hungry, but not ravenous. (Letting your blood sugar get so low that you feel ravenous often leads to binge eating.) And your goal is to stop when you’re comfortably full.
To get into the habit of evaluating your hunger, rate your hunger and satisfaction level before and after every meal. Here’s a numerical scale you could use:
0: Ravenously hungry, salivating.
1: Hungry, belly growling.
2: Mildly hungry; you may need a light snack to hold you over, but you could hold out a little longer.
3: Satisfied; don’t need to eat any more.
4: More than satisfied; ate too much.
5: Stuffed like a Christmas turkey.
And whenever you’re about to run to the kitchen or lunch room or detour to the nearest drive-thru, ask yourself these questions first:
- When was the last time I ate? If it was less than 2-3 hours ago, you’re probably not feeling real hunger.
- Could a small, nutritious snack rich in fibre and protein tide you over until the next meal?
- Can you drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes?
If you find that you don’t easily recognise the signs of hunger, schedule your meals and snacks. Divide your eating plan into several small meals, spaced every three to four hours. Rate your hunger each time you sit down to eat, and try to become more aware of what real hunger feels like.
Deal With Your Hunger
Here are some more tips to help you get in touch with REAL hunger:
- Exercise portion control The old expression “your eyes are bigger than your belly” may be sage advice. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have found that the more food you’re served, the more you’re likely to eat. The theory is that the environmental cues of portion size override the body’s cues of satisfaction.
- Fibre can help satisfy hunger and reduce appetite. Choose high-fibre foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Starting a meal with a large salad can help you eat fewer calories during the meal because of the fibre and water content of greens and vegetables. Also keep in mind that fresh fruits have more fibre and water than dried ones.
- Include lean protein in your meals and snacks to help them last longer in your stomach. A handful of nuts, some low-fat dairy, or lean meat, fish, or chicken will tide you over for hours.
So the next time you have the urge to eat, pause a moment. Listen to your body. Get a feel for it. Take note of how you feel or what your feeling. It may well be that you don’t require a huge meal, or even food, there and then.