You know what sounds good right now? A blueberry muffin and a latte from that little place around the corner. Or, wait, maybe something salty — ooh, yes, I think I have some leftover pita chips and hummus from my party last weekend. Maybe I’ll just pop downstairs before I finish writing this. I could use a snack!
The thing is — I’m not even really hungry. I’m just craving a little bit of a distraction from my stressful workload, and, if I think about it, I’m actually pretty thirsty. All too often, like me, you probably reach for food, thinking you’re hungry when you’re really not. How can you tell the difference?
First of all, there are quite a few things that can make you think you need to reach for a meal. “Fatigue and stress are the two most common things that I see trick my clients into thinking they are hungry,” says Marjorie Nolan, RD, national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
According to Nolan, the side effects of fatigue and thirst — such as weakness, heavy legs and a feeling like you’re moving slowly — are the same as the side effects of low blood sugar. The same goes for some of the side effects of stress, she says, such as poor concentration.
Some real signs you are hungry, says Nolan, are stomach growling and a feeling of emptiness in your tummy, and an inability focus. “Some people experience headaches, shakiness and stomach pain when they get too hungry,” she says.
It can certainly be confusing, because so many of the side effects are the same. And that’s not even bringing in the subject of emotional eating — SELF has a guide here for how to cope with that.
The important thing is to think before you eat. Are you really hungry and in need of a meal, or would it serve you better to have a big glass of water, or take a quick walk outside to relieve some stress? As SELF reported in the December 2010 issue, sometimes all it takes is simply asking yourself, “Am I hungry?” Contemplate the answer for 10 full seconds — you’ll either come to the conclusion that yes, it’s time for a meal, or no, not really — you need to take care of yourself in another way.
- How To Tell If You’re Really Hungry
- 4 Hunger Cues to Look For
- Things To Do Before You Eat To Make Sure You’re Actually Hungry
- What If You Ate, But Still Feel Hungry?
- The New Rules of Hunger
- Level 1: Cravings (10:00 a.m.)
- Level 2: Honestly Hungry (1:00 p.m.)
- Level 3: Ravenous (2:30 p.m.)
- Level 4: Satisfied (3:15 p.m.)
- Level 5: Stuffed (3:30 p.m.)
- In the comments below, please let us know your thoughts. We love hearing from you and we read and respond to every comment!>
- Today’s Topic: How to Be Hungry – 7 Easy Steps
- 1 – Feel your hunger fully
- 2 – Breathe into your hunger
- 3 – Be thankful for your hunger
- 4 – Be curious about your hunger
- 5 – Make good hunger decisions
- 6 – Monitor your hunger
- 7 – Observe the results of your decisions
- Trouble Eating? 3 Ways to Get Hungry Again
- What Causes Loss of Appetite?
- Adrenaline and The Process of Lipolysis
- The Blood Glucose Issue
- What Does It All Mean?
- How to Increase Appetite
- Should I Eat Even If I’m Not Hungry?
- What To Eat When You’re Not Hungry?
- Tips to avoid holiday weight gain this season
- Take the quiz to rate your hunger:
- Physical Hunger vs. Psychological Hunger
- 8 Easy Steps to Tell if You’re Physically Hungry or Not
- How to tell if you’re actually hungry
- Why do we eat when we’re not hungry?
- Recognise real hunger
- Set yourself up for success
How To Tell If You’re Really Hungry
If you’ve found yourself rummaging through the fridge late at night, or hitting the office vending machine even though you just ate lunch, you might be wondering: Why am I so hungry?!
Trying to make healthier choices and lose weight can be frustrating if you feel like you’re always hungry. But actual hunger might not be the culprit. You may be stress eating, or confusing hunger with thirst, or just eating out of habit.
While that “empty” feeling in the pit of the stomach is a good reason to eat, there are other reasons we turn to food. We’re tempted by smells, flavors, cravings, experiences, social pressure, time of day, yummy brunch photos on social media, and the list goes on.
Give it some thought: What are your cues to chow down?
For more tips on how to stick to your nutrition plan, sign up for Openfit for free today!
4 Hunger Cues to Look For
Listening to your body and understanding hunger cues is a smart (and important!) strategy for those who want to trim down. It sounds super basic, but it’s actually quite complex — because somewhere along the way, research suggests we’ve disconnected from the innate ability to determine hunger.
Eating should happen when you’re truly hungry. When you’re have a “why am I so hungry” moment, here are four cues that can help you determine if you’re really hungry:
- The desire to eat gets stronger over a little bit of time.
- Your stomach starts to growl. Real physical hunger builds gradually — and if you don’t eat when you’re truly hungry, your body will nag you until you do.
- Use the “apple test” to gauge your appetite. If you’re truly hungry, nutritious food — like an apple — will sound appetizing. If you feel as though you won’t be “satisfied” unless you bite into a greasy or sweet snack, that’s probably a craving, not physical hunger.
- The hungry feeling doesn’t pass. When you’re looking through the kitchen cabinets for a snack, drink a glass of water and wait about 10 minutes before you eat. If you’re just craving something, the desire will typically pass.
Check in with yourself before you start to eat — or, even better, when you begin to think about eating. Ask yourself, “How hungry am I?” Learning to listen to your hunger cues will likely take some practice, but you know what they say about practice.
Things To Do Before You Eat To Make Sure You’re Actually Hungry
So what should you when it’s not technically meal-time, and you’ve already had your fill of (hopefully nutritious) snacks for the day — but you’re still tempted to grab a snack out of boredom or stress? Take these steps to become a more mindful eater.
- Take a quick assessment.
Run through a mental checklist to make note of your food triggers. What are the reasons you’re turning to food? If you become aware and observant of your habits, you take a powerful step toward becoming a mindful eater who knows when they’re really physically hungry.
- Grab a glass of water.
If you don’t feel a rumble in your tummy, sip some water first. Drinking a glass of water not only provides hydration, but it can also give you the “pause” you need to complete the first step.
- Keep a log.
Use your phone’s note section (or put pen to paper, if that’s more your speed) to jot down your hunger level before you eat. If you want to be super-thorough, write down how you’re feeling, what you’re eating, and how you feel after eating. These notes can help you start making connections and identifying patterns.
- Change your setting.
If you reach for food often when you’re not really hungry, break out of your routine. Take a walk outside for some fresh air, do housework, or chat with a friend. Putting your body in the right place — i.e., not in front of the pantry — can encourage you to get more in tune with your needs.
What If You Ate, But Still Feel Hungry?
You waited until you were truly hungry to eat, but still feel hungry after finishing. What gives? And should you eat more?
Here are a few reasons why you might feel hungry after you eat a reasonable amount — and what to do about it.
- You ate too quickly.
Feelings of satiety result from interactions between the bloodstream, pancreas, brain, intestines, and stomach. It takes some time for the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety to trigger these feelings in the brain — so if you eat too quickly, you may think you’re still hungry when actually your body just needs time to recognize it’s had enough.
- You’re not getting enough healthy fats.
Research suggests that fat slows down digestion and may have the potential to increase satiety. If you feel like you’re always hungry — even after you’ve eaten — make sure you’re including healthy fats in your meals and snacks.
- The food you ate didn’t contain enough protein.
If you skimp on protein, you may not feel as satisfied as you expected. Research suggests protein-packed foods may help promote satiety, so make sure to include enough of it in your meals.
- You might actually need to eat more.
Wait, what? If you’ve already eaten, and you waited 20 minutes, and you still feel hungry, you might just need to eat some more — especially if you recently stepped up your workout regimen, or if you’re trying to lose weight and have created a significant daily calorie deficit to achieve that goal.
Other telltale signs that you might need more calories: You’re irritable a lot, you have new trouble sleeping, you’re consistently low on energy, or you can’t finish your workouts. In these cases, it’s recommended to add one of the following to your day: two servings of veggies, one serving of fruit, or a small serving of nuts or seeds.
The New Rules of Hunger
It’s amazing how feeling famished can suddenly sneak up on you. One minute you have an inkling for a little nibble, the next you want a gallon of cookie dough ice cream and you want it now!
Your temperamental tummy is likely not the problem-the issue is that you’re misreading its cues. “Not all hunger is created equal, but we often treat it the same,” says Susan Albers, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and author of Eat. Q. “We’re prone to say we’re hungry, and yet there are different levels of hunger.” And this miscommunication may lead to making bad food choices, which can result in sugar spikes, fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, and other health issues.
Learn how to interpret your stomach, however, and you can hone in on how hungry you truly are and act accordingly. Use this guide as your Rosetta Stone to keeping your healthy eating (and weight!) on track as you progress through a typical day.
Level 1: Cravings (10:00 a.m.)
You ate breakfast only an hour and a half ago, but you can’t shake this urge to munch on something savory, and the Cheez-Its in the vending machine would do just the trick. Don’t be fooled: If you’re pining for something specific, then odds are you’re not actually hungry. “When you need to eat, you’ll settle for whatever is in front of you,” Albers explains. So if you’re passing up the natural almonds you keep in your desk in favor of selection B5, then you’re simply having a craving. These sudden food desires usually stem from boredom, stress, an emotional response, and even thirst, not an empty belly, Albers adds.
Hold your tongue. Ask yourself, “Does it makes sense to be hungry right now?” If you had a filling meal earlier, then your next nibble should be in at least three hours. Keep your emotional eating habit in check by waiting it out; the craving should pass in about 15 minutes. In the meantime, tell yourself that succumbing is not worth it: Eating poor-quality chocolate soothed a bad mood for a mere three minutes in a study published in the journal Appetite.
Shine a new light on things. Trick your brain into thinking it’s getting what it wants with a sweet- or savory-scented candle, suggests Alan Hirsch, M.D., founder and director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. “It’s called sensory-specific satiety. About 90 percent of what we call taste is really smell. So if you get a whiff of something like chocolate, it’ll eliminate your craving for it and other sweet foods,” explains Hirsch, who has lead many studies on this subject. Conversely if you smell something savory, such as pumpkin spice, it’ll eliminate your desire for salty foods. One caveat: Lighting a scented candle only works in the absence of food, so be sure any coworkers’ candy dishes aren’t in sight.
Level 2: Honestly Hungry (1:00 p.m.)
Your pounding head, urge to crawl under your desk for a nap, or snippy outburst at your intern could just be PMS or that tough HIIT workout you did this morning-or you may need some fuel. “The biological signs that let you know that you need to eat soon are different for everyone,” Albers says. But your mind will help you figure it out. When your body needs energy, it’ll send a message to your brain to launch a mental slideshow of foods that can’t (and won’t) stop playing until you eat, she says.
Head off getting “hangry” (hungry + angry). Instead of lashing out at anyone, chew on this: a handful of filling, high-protein pistachios in their shells. A 2011 study published in Appetite found that people consumed fewer calories (86 to be exact) and were more satiated when they had to remove pistachios from their shells. “Anything that naturally slows you down will help you to be more in charge of how much you eat,” Albers says.
Leave a trace. Keep a pile of those shells as you snack to visually remind yourself how much you’ve eaten, a trick that research shows may also help you cut down on consumption. If you’d prefer something sweet, Albers recommends a medium mandarin orange. “They’re easier to peel than regular oranges, contain only 50 calories, and are loaded with vitamin C, which helps your immunity when you’re feeling stressed.”
Level 3: Ravenous (2:30 p.m.)
You don’t need to glance at the clock to know you’ve missed your lunch break-you can practically taste the juicy cheeseburger dancing in your head. You know better than to hit up McDonald’s, but your willpower is fading. Even the now-stale bagels you proudly passed up at this morning’s meeting are starting to look as good as a gourmet dinner.
Respond, don’t react. “At this point, your energy is too low to hunt down healthy food,” Albers says. “This is when people will go for the fast fix-like sugar or coffee-for a quick high.” But just because you’re thinking about a carby, sweet, or caffeinated treat doesn’t mean you need to commit to it. “There’s a seven-second gap between when we make a decision and when we’re aware of it. You do have the power to steer in a new direction,” Albers adds. In the case of the bagel, cut it in half and eat super slowly. There’s a chance you may not finish it if your body realizes that it’s full before the last bite. If you end up having the other half, really savor it (chew even slower) to ensure satisfaction, which may keep you from scavenging for more fast food afterward.
Reminisce. When you’re already in a funk, it’s easy to turn to comfort foods that are actually far from comforting. Eating an Oreo or two may feel good at the time, but devouring half the box in one sitting will leave you swigging right outta the Pepto-Bismol bottle. “Women are bad at taking out anger on themselves, so they may self-sabotage their diets,” Albers says.
Rather than let things shift from bad to worse, stop whatever you’re doing and close your eyes for a moment. “When you stop multitasking and block out all the stimulus in your sight path, you’re able to think more clearly,” she says. Doing this can give you a chance to recall how horrible it felt the last time you went to town on Oreos. “Focusing on the immediate consequences, such as an upset stomach, is much more effective than thinking about the future, like weight gain,” Albers adds. Conversely, it also helps to remind yourself how good you felt after eating a healthy meal, such as a soup or salad from a nearby joint. Where to order your late lunch should be a no-brainer.
Level 4: Satisfied (3:15 p.m.)
You’ve heard of this magical Goldilocks place where you feel “just right” after a meal. Sure, it’s not easy to find that happy medium where you’re neither hungry nor full, Albers acknowledges. It takes a level of mindfulness to become aware when you’re no longer thinking about or wanting food-but it can be done.
Feel the heat. “Hot food has a greater odor and therefore better flavor,” Hirsch says. Because you can’t scarf it down while it’s scalding, you’ll eat it slower, which will buy your body time to ring the satiety bell (it takes about 20 minutes).
End on a high note. Contrary to popular belief, the last bite is not the best. “It’s a lore that finishing your plate is going to make you happy,” Albers says. Put down your fork before you’re full, and you’ll stop thinking about your meal. Besides, nothing will ever compare to the first bite, which is the real showstopper. “So much of the sensory experience of the food is in that first bite,” Hirsch says. “Your sense of smell drops down with each subsequent bite. If you’re eating a steak and someone swaps it out for horse meat halfway through, you might not notice the difference.” Let’s hope none of your dining partners are jokesters.
Level 5: Stuffed (3:30 p.m.)
Did your loud, overzealous chomping drown out the tolling of your satiety bells 15 minutes ago? It’s not too late to fix your faux pas. As soon as you become aware that you have overeaten, put the fork down and follow this active recovery plan.
Keep up. While a siesta sounds tempting, going horizontal will only signal your body to shut down, literally go into sleep mode, and slow digestion. Stay upright-sitting, standing, or walking-to help flush out your meal.
Become the walking fed. A lap round the office or a stroll before you climb into your car after dinner will help speed up digestive transit a bit, Albers says. Sure, you make look like a zombie with your wide, labored gait, but at least you’re staving off a no-good food coma. If you can’t move, try rubbing your bloated belly gently in clockwise circles to relax your abdomen and aid digestion.
- By Cristina Goyanes
Do you know how to be hungry? For many people, this might seem like a no-brainer at first. After all, hunger is simply a physiological response to a lack of food in the digestive system, right? But in today’s world, so many of us devote so much energy to avoiding the feeling of hunger at all costs, that it’s become hard for us to actually receive the benefits that hunger has for us. In this heart-felt video from #IPEtv, Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, offers some great wisdom that can help all of us reconnect with the gifts of our hunger!
In the comments below, please let us know your thoughts. We love hearing from you and we read and respond to every comment!>
Here is a transcript of this week’s video:
Greetings friends, this is Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.
Today’s Topic: How to Be Hungry – 7 Easy Steps
It seems like hunger ought to be a pretty straightforward topic. You’re hungry, you eat. And once you eat, you feel fulfilled at some point, and you stop eating. But for many of us, hunger isn’t always quite so simple. That’s because the way humans are designed, we need to learn how to eat, to grow food, to harvest it, to prepare it, and then to eat it in a good way. On top of that, we humans indeed bring our humanity to the table. We bring our struggles to food, our hopes, our longings, our fears, our desires, and it all gets mixed in into this fascinating concoction that either leaves us feeling good, or leaves us with a problematic experience of eating.
If you’ve ever felt the challenge of over eating, binge eating, emotional eating, and dieting for weight loss – then you know that being hungry can be quite an interesting experience.
For many people, hunger automatically puts us into fear. If you’re trying to lose weight or doing battle with food, then in an odd way, hunger becomes the enemy.
So for those of you who go into any kind of discomfort around your hunger and your appetite, or if you’re the kind of professional who works with clients in this realm, I’d like to share with you my 7 easy steps on how to be hungry.
These seven steps are about how to be hungry in a good way – how to regulate hunger so it works for you and not against you. I’m going to read through the list of the seven steps just so you can hear them, and then I’ll break them down one by one so you can have a sense of how it all comes together:
- Feel your hunger fully
- Breathe into your hunger
- Be thankful for your hunger
- Be curious about your hunger
- Make good hunger decisions
- Monitor your hunger
- Observe the results of your decisions
1 – Feel your hunger fully
This is the foundational step when it comes to a healthy relationship with hunger. Simply feel it fully. Experience the sensation of hunger. Where do you feel it in your body? Do you feel it in your mouth? In your gut? In your mind? All over? Allow yourself to experience the sensations of hunger without going into your head, without worrying about it, or judging it. When we sink into the sensation of the body, we bypass some of the insanity of the mind and we begin to allow our hunger to simply be what it is – a natural sensation in the body.
2 – Breathe into your hunger
As you allow yourself to feel your hunger, take some deep breaths. Indeed, if you find yourself stepping into any kind of judgment or fear, some simple long slow deep breathing is a great way to help begin to harness the mind while putting your body into the physiologic relaxation response. The idea here is to welcome and relax into your hunger. Breathing is a powerful tool to help us do this.
3 – Be thankful for your hunger
Take one simple moment, and silently give thanks for your hunger. This is a great antidote for those people who have been conditioned to fight their hunger, fight their appetite, and see food as the enemy. Fighting the body’s natural inborn need to eat puts us in stress chemistry and de-regulates appetite. Stress chemistry also puts us in the higher part of the probability curve for digestive upset, nutrient excretion, and weight gain. Give thanks for your hunger. It keeps you alive. It means you ARE alive.
4 – Be curious about your hunger
This means be a detective, ask questions, and inquire of your body what you are indeed hungry for. Notice what you come up with. Are you really hungry for food? If so, what kind? Are you hungry for something else – connection, conversation, relaxation, movement, anything? This is your opportunity to see how you’re going to choose to nourish yourself in this moment.
5 – Make good hunger decisions
Here’s a place where it’s easy to get all tangled up. Choose and intend to make good decisions relative to your hunger. Sometimes you’ll surely make a good choice in terms of what you eat, and other times you won’t. This is all part of the journey of life. This is a learning experience. Setting the intention to make good decisions means we’re putting the best part of us on alert and asking our conscious and aware self to make good choices. In hunger as in life, have the inner fortitude to intend good decisions.
6 – Monitor your hunger
As you’re eating, take notice of your hunger. Has it abated any? Is it getting stronger? Are you starting to feel satisfied? How your body feeling? Are you paying attention? Do you feel nourished? Do you have a sense of how much more you’ll need to eat until you feel fulfilled? This is simply a process of noticing and responding. And as always, it’s simply about staying awake and curious during the eating process.
7 – Observe the results of your decisions
At some point after you finish eating, notice how you feel. In fact, it’s a great idea to notice how you feel even an hour later or several hours later. How’s your energy? What’s your level of alertness and brainpower? How’s your digestion? This is a time for you to simply listen to feedback from your body to see if your decisions were indeed good ones. It’s a time of simple reflection by checking in with the body. Lots of good information is always forthcoming. All we need do is listen. If a food choice didn’t quite work for you, then take note, as this is good information to remember the next time you notice yourself making choices around what to eat, or what not to eat.
Allow me to summarize by saying that hunger is a beautiful sensation that we can learn to love. If you’re the kind of person who is indeed blessed with having enough food on the table at each meal, then hunger deserves to be celebrated. This is a practice. It’s a practice in gratitude. It’s a practice in growing up, taking responsibility, and embracing life and the nourishment process for what it truly is.
Love your hunger and it will be happy to love you right back and guide you in a good way.
I hope this was helpful my friends.
To learn more about us please go to psychologyofeating.com.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating offers the most innovative and inspiring professional trainings, public programs, conferences, online events and lots more in the exciting fields of Dynamic Eating Psychology and Mind Body Nutrition! In our premier professional offering – the Eating Psychology Coach Certification Training – you can grow a new career and help your clients in a powerful way with food, body and health. You’ll learn cutting edge skills and have the confidence to work with the most compelling eating challenges of our times: weight, body image, overeating, binge eating, digestion, fatigue, immunity, mood and much more. If you’re focused on your own eating and health, the Institute offers a great selection of one-of-a-kind opportunities to take a big leap forward in your relationship with food. We’re proud to be international leaders in online and live educational events designed to create the breakthroughs you want most. Our public programs are powerful, results oriented, and embrace all of who we are as eaters – body, mind, heart and soul.
Please email us at [email protected] if you have specific questions and we will be sure to get back to you.
Again that is psychologyofeating.com.
This is Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.
Thanks so much for your time and interest.
Trouble Eating? 3 Ways to Get Hungry Again
Sometimes as we grow older, we lose our appetites. It’s common and nothing to be ashamed of, but it is a serious problem that can affect your health negatively, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. Don’t allow your meals to become unwanted tasks. Eating should be enjoyable. Here are three ways to put the spice back in your mealtime.
Prepare Your Own Food
One of the most natural ways to enjoy eating again is to prepare your own food. Cooking doesn’t have to be an all-day event; it should be quick, simple, and enjoyable. Be creative. Many people find inspiration and happiness in cooking, so maybe you will too. There’s just something about it. Why not give it a try?
For more information on preparing your own meals and diving into to the joys of cooking without recipes, I would suggest www.reluctantgourmet.com. This website teaches you basic cooking techniques. It allows you to enjoy cooking without the hassle of following instructions.
Are Several Small Meals Better Than Three?
If three square meals are too much for you, try six smaller snack sized meals. Instead of a large omelet and some bacon for breakfast, enjoy a small cup of yogurt and a peach. Two hours later have another breakfast by eating half a muffin. You can treat lunch and dinner pretty much the same way. Just split every meal into two meals and suddenly those mounds of food that never looked appetizing to you before have become nice little treats you just can’t wait to dig your hands into.
Comfort Foods Fuel the Soul
If all else fails, just think of the food that makes you the happiest. I’m talking about the comfort foods: mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken and dumplings, or maybe your own grandmother’s pot roast from when you were a little kid. Whatever it is, just sit back and visualize it. Imagine the aroma filling your nostrils. Feel the warmth in the pit of your stomach. I’m getting hungry just writing about it.
We all have foods that are important to us on an emotional level, and if you’re having trouble eating, why not use those emotions to get you back on track? Use some great memories to trigger some intense cravings, and then allow those cravings to take you back to some beautiful memories.
Have you ever had trouble eating? Did you find any other methods to increase your appetite? Please share your stories and experiences below.
You don’t eat for a while, and you realize you have a loss of appetite. Maybe you had to skip lunch at work, but instead of feeling famished at 5pm, you find you have no appetite and could go even longer without eating. Find out what causes loss of appetite, what hunger symptoms to look out for and more.
What Causes Loss of Appetite?
Adrenaline serves several purposes in the human body. The one most know about is the “fight or flight” response. When you get stressed, your body reacts as if it’s in danger, which as a result, causes your brain to release chemicals, including adrenaline, which makes your heart beat faster and slow your digestion. This in turn can curb your appetite, but typically only lasts for a short period of time. If you’re stressed over a longer period of time, your body releases cortisol, which makes you hungrier, especially for high-calorie foods.
- Cold or Flu
When you aren’t feeling well, your immune system gets put into overdrive, releasing chemicals called cytokines that can make you feel tired and not hungry. Your body is telling you that you need to simply rest so that you can restore your energy levels to fight whatever is making you ill.
There are many medications on the market today that contain the side effect of appetite loss. This is common when medications pass through a person’s stomach and digestive tract.
The most common medications and treatments often cause a low appetite:
- Muscle relaxants
- Drugs that treat anxiety
- Drugs that treat high blood pressure
- Hunger as Fatigue
An additional cause for a loss of appetite is that you actually are hungry, you just do not realize it. You most likely are not hungry in your stomach. But have you ever felt tired, grumpy, cranky, scatterbrained, lightheaded or irritable and notice these problems improve as soon as you eat?
In this case, your body is telling you that it needs food– just for whatever reason, the signal is not coming through your stomach. Instead of waiting for hunger pangs, start paying close attention to your overall mood. Are you quick to snap at someone? Are you finding it hard to concentrate at work? It may just be that it’s been a little too long since your last meal.
A lack of appetite can be more common in older adults. In fact, between15% and 30% of older people have less of an appetite than they used to. This can happen for a number of reasons.
- As you age, your digestion slows down, leading you to have a full stomach for longer periods of time.
- Your sense of smell, taste and vision gets weaker, making food less appealing.
- Hormonal changes or chronic illness can curb your appetite.
- Increased or decreased use of medications can contribute to a decreased appetite.
- Stomach Disorders
If you’ve recently noticed diarrhea, nausea, stomach pains or bloating after eating a meal, you may experience a loss of appetite. This is often associated with stomach disorders.
Common stomach disorders include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Food poisoning
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Food intolerances, such as lactose or gluten
- Crohn’s disease
Adrenaline and The Process of Lipolysis
What adrenaline does is drive a process called lipolysis. This is the process your body undertakes when it wants to break down your fat reserves to give itself some energy. Lipolysis also prevents you from burning through your muscle when you don’t eat for a while.
Lipolysis likely occurs as an evolutionary function. Early humans did not have what we have today. There was no intense agriculture. People didn’t have easy access to food. Instead, we were hunter/gatherers, which means there would be periods where earlier humans just couldn’t access food.
That’s where lipolysis probably started kicking in for those early humans. Their bodies would burn through their fat reserves so that they could keep going during long periods. The elimination of hunger pangs that comes from this would distract from the issue and ensure the humans could focus on getting food rather than how much he or she needed food.
This is something most of us don’t experience today. You probably have access to food even if you don’t eat for a while. Even so, not eating triggers the same sort of response and your body goes into a sort of survival mode if it does not receive food over a long period of time. Adrenaline plays a key role in keeping that going until you eventually decide to eat.
See More: How Caffeine Revs Up Your Metabolism
The Blood Glucose Issue
It’s not just your fat reserves you need to think about. Not eating means your body doesn’t get the sugars it needs to operate properly. This leads to a process called gluconeogenesis, which also causes the loss of appetite.
- Gluconeogenesis is your body’s way of telling itself that blood glucose levels are too low.
- When you undergo gluconeogenesis, your body starts producing more of a hormone called glucagon.
- Glucagon increases blood glucose levels while also dropping insulin production.
- Gluconeogenesis causes your body to start breaking down fats and tissues, kind of like how adrenaline does.
- Studies show that gluconeogenesis increases the number of calories the body burns – with no carbohydrates coming in, the body creates its own glucose using mainly fat.
- Eventually, the body runs out of these energy sources and fasting mode then becomes the more serious starvation mode.
- At this point, your metabolism begins to slow down and your body will burn muscle tissue for energy.
- However, true starvation mode is not entered until 3 days straight of not eating.
- After 3 days, your body will start breaking down vital tissues and organs as it enters a deeper survival mode.
- Your body will not reach this point if you have only skipped 1 meal or have only gone 24 hours without eating.
- The result of not eating for more than 24 hours straight while undergoing gluconeogenesis will simply be that your body will break down the fatty acid reserves of fat in the body and around the organs and turn them into fuel.
What Does It All Mean?
In a recent study, results found that Basal Metabolic Rate didn’t decline until 60 hours of fasting. BMR is how many calories your body would burn if you were motionless for a day without food and accounts for the majority of your daily calorie burn unless you’re very physically active. A separate study found that metabolism actually speeds up after fasting for 36 to 48 hours.
So, think of it this way – if you haven’t eaten anything in a while, you may experience hunger pangs. What is your body telling you? Probably to go find food. Our bodies encourage us to do that by flooding our tubes with adrenaline and triggers the release of glucose from energy stores, which makes our mind sharper and increases our basal metabolic rate.
The body is a powerful thing. It will take measures to halt further muscle loss because of its crucial role in keeping us strong and functional. Therefore, your body will not enter “starvation mode” until after about 3 days (72 hours) of not eating.
For many healthy adults, it’s not the worst thing in the world to occasionally skip a meal. But if you frequently reach the point where your hunger dissipates, here are some ways to increase your appetite in the long run.
How to Increase Appetite
- Change your eating habits (Ex. If you’re used to skipping breakfast, consider starting the day off with a nourishing meal).
- Eat nutrient-rich foods.
- Stock up on your favorite foods – you’ll find it’s much easier to eat something you really enjoy.
- Eat several, smaller portioned meals instead of a few large meals.
- Drink water between meals, not during.
- Exercise – physical activity releases brain chemicals that can improve your mood and stimulate your appetite.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Make mealtime an enjoyable social activity.
- Eat less fiber – diets high in fiber have been proven to promote feelings of fullness.
- Use carminative herbs and spices, such as peppermint, fennel, rosemary or parsley to help reduce bloating and improve your appetite.
Should I Eat Even If I’m Not Hungry?
Should you eat when you’re not hungry? Or better yet, when you’re not feeling hungry but know your body needs food, what should you do?
The right thing to do is to always eat when there is physiological/internal cue – in other words, when you either feel that hunger pang or become aware that your body is in need of a nourishing substance.
There are 2 guiding factors of what to eat and how much.
- Inner Wisdom
- How the body lets us know that we need food, or have had enough to eat.
- Outer Wisdom
- Knowing what your body needs even if it’s not exactly asking for it.
While it may be easier to identify hunger using inner wisdom, we cannot discount our outer wisdom. Outer wisdom is the knowledge to know that it’s been a little while since we last had something to eat and that our body needs food – even if it’s not showing any signs or hunger symptoms.
What To Eat When You’re Not Hungry?
After considering all the loss of appetite causes, you might decide that your lack of appetite is really nothing to worry about. You feel strong, you’re in a good mood and you’ve ruled out major causes like chronic disease. In that case, this feeling is completely normal.
However, a lack of appetite is not necessarily a sign that your body has enough food and doesn’t need more. It’s important to still eat even when you don’t feel hungry to make sure you are getting in the required nutrients to become the strongest you there is. For example, pregnant women would still need to eat in order to obtain those nutrients needed to support their body and their baby.
So, what to do?
- Choose calorie-dense foods, such as avocados and fatty meats. This way, you don’t have to scarf down a huge quantity of food when you don’t feel hungry.
- Consider making a fruit/vegetable smoothie that is high in vitamins, minerals and many other beneficial nutrients.
- Chug a glass of water to stay hydrated and refreshed.
- When you’re low on energy from either dieting or fasting and your glucose is low, consider an energy source packed with vitamins, such as Neuro’s gums and mints, to provide your body with needed vitamins like B6 and B12.
We eat when we’re stressed and upset. We eat when we’re happy and celebrating. And sometimes (often times) we eat out of sheer boredom.
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“Boredom is probably the number 1 emotional type of hunger,” says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD. “We often ignore, avoid or negotiate our true hunger signs – including when we’re already full and just looking for something to entertain us.”
But the thing is, there’s a difference between true physical hunger and emotional hunger.
Physical hunger is gradual and tied to the last time you ate. While emotional hunger is triggered by things such as stress, worry or fatigue.
Feeling hungry? Interview your hunger first
The most important thing you can do when you’re about to eat or if you think you might be hungry is to interview your hunger before acting on it, says Dr. Albers. Ask yourself: what do I want to eat and why do I want it right now?
It’s important to take your hunger thought seriously, but pause and try to figure out what’s going on first. Are you really hungry? Or are you just upset about something?
Often times, emotional hunger is your body’s way of telling you that you need comfort or something soothing. Instead of actually being hungry, maybe you just need a quick break or a walk outside to relieve some stress. Energy level is a big part of hunger too. If you back up and think about it first, you might find that it’s just low energy or your mind is wandering off.
“Identify what it is that you’re feeling and find the appropriate emotion that goes with it,” says Dr. Albers. “If you’re stressed find something that relaxes you. Or if you’re bored find something that’s going to entertain you for a little bit.”
Cravings are another cue that your emotions might be dictating your hunger. You can usually tell the difference between needing something to eat to fuel your body and a craving, which is just emotional hunger wearing a mask.
Maybe your body is craving a specific kind of chocolate because you’re feeling anxious. Or maybe you think you’re craving a big bowl of mac and cheese, but you’re actually just sad about some news you got.
Another reason for emotional eating? Too much distraction.
“People tend to overlook their emotional hunger and confuse it with real hunger because they’re on their phone or in front of the computer,” says Dr. Albers. “A good rule of thumb is that when you eat – just eat. Don’t eat in front of the TV or while mindlessly scrolling through your phone.”
Know your hunger patterns
Along the lines of emotional eating is being hangry – and yes it’s a real thing.
Often times people take the “wait and see” approach when it comes to hunger. The next thing you know you’re angry, starving and making a b-line for anything you can get your hands on.
But if you learn your real signs of hunger by its clues and subtle signs, you can avoid letting your hunger take over.
“Instead of waiting to see how your hunger goes throughout the day, be proactive about knowing when you typically get hungry,” explains Dr. Albers. “Maybe you know you get hungry everyday around 10 a.m. or you need an earlier lunch than most people. Be mindful about your hunger patterns.”
What am I hungry for? Tips to combat emotional eating
Dr. Albers recommends using new language around your hunger.
Instead of asking yourself if you’re full, ask if you’re satisfied by what you’re eating. Instead of asking what you want, ask what you need right now.
“Usually if you ask ‘what do I want to eat’ there is a huge range,” says Dr. Albers. “But asking ‘what do I need?’ helps you be more specific and mindful.”
If you think you might be dealing with emotional hunger, follow these tips:
- Interview your hunger and give yourself five minutes to pause before acting on it.
- Identify if you need to eat because of true hunger or if you’re just feeling hungry because of emotion.
- Distract yourself or take a break from what you’re currently doing.
Look for something soothing or comforting.
Still struggling with emotional eating?
If you’ve tried to decode your hunger and it’s a repeated pattern of emotional eating – it’s best to check in with your doctor.
Sometimes there are physical conditions that stand in the way of helping you understand your hunger – like thyroid issues or lack of sleep. Other times there might be emotional obstacles regarding mental health. And other times, it’s just being confused and not knowing what to eat since there’s so much information out there.
“There are people who can help you figure out what obstacles are standing in your way when it comes to emotional hunger,” assures Dr. Albers.
A major myth is that we need to “fuel all day” to sustain our energy levels. We’re often told that if we start to feel hunger pangs, we should snack on something or we’ll get “hangry” from low blood sugar, we’ll lose our will power and we’ll then voraciously load up on high-calorie foods.
Considering that many of us spend the majority of time sitting, and our bodies do a great job sustaining blood sugar, there’s no biological rationale for healthy people to nibble throughout the day.
In fact, being “a little hungry” is the best thing that can happen to you, whether you want to lose weight, maintain weight, or just eat healthier. It’s a true mind-body connection. If you can resist that nagging sensation of slight hunger — not ravenous or headache-provoking hunger — you’ll learn to recognition the true signs of biological need and also will be more sensitive to automatically recognizing fullness, keys to eating less and avoiding mindless snacking.
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Comfortable contentment is the goal.
Related: Here’s how to serve up some serious portion control
What to ask yourself before you eat, any time of day or night:
- Are you hungry or thirsty?
- When was the last time you ate or drank anything?
- Are you eating from boredom or stress?
- Can you distract yourself?
- How does your hunger rate? (see quiz below)
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We are born with the signal to stop eating when satisfied, but have learned to eat to another endpoint beyond this — too full to eat another bite. The good news is that this is a behavior that can be unlearned with practice.
Take the quiz to rate your hunger:
Aim for Level 3: You’re content and satisfied. You could eat more, but choose not to.
1. Running on Empty (Very Hungry)
You feel physical signs of hunger, such as headache, fatigue or crankiness.
2. Feeling Somewhat Hungry
You’re starting to get physical signs, thinking about food.
3. Content and Satisfied
You feel satiated, but you could eat more.
4. Very full
You feel like you ate too much, slightly uncomfortable.
5. Can’t Eat Another Bite
You are stuffed and uncomfortable, wondering why you ate so much
Remember that it takes at least 3 weeks to learn a new habit, and at first this might be challenging, but it gets much easier with time.
Madelyn Fernstrom is the health and nutrition editor at NBC News. Follow her at DrFernstrom
Do you stand in front of the fridge or pantry searching for something? Searching for a snack or something to eat…but you don’t know what? Do you constantly feel hungry, even if you just ate? Are you actually hungry…or maybe just bored?
There are many reasons to feel hungry. Of course, the most obvious one is that you are actually physically hungry. Perhaps your stomach is empty, your blood sugar has dropped, and your hunger hormones are having a party.
But other times, the hunger may not be physical hunger. It may be a craving or an emotional trigger. These are common reasons why some people eat too much. It could be brought on by a certain type of diet, stress, or other things going on in life.
It’s easy to mistake psychological hunger for physical hunger.
So let’s talk about the difference between both of these types of hunger, and I’ll give you some tips how to figure out which is which.
Physical Hunger vs. Psychological Hunger
Your physical hunger is regulated by the body through your hunger hormones. And of course, it should be. You don’t want to be completely drained of fuel and nutrients for a long time. So, you’re programmed to seek food when your body physically needs it. Some of those physical needs are that your stomach is empty or your blood sugar has dropped.
Psychological or emotional hunger is eating to overcome boredom, sadness, stress, etc. It’s based on a thought or feeling. It’s what happens when you see a great food commercial or smell a bakery. It’s not from your empty stomach or low blood sugar.
So, here’s how to tell which is which.
8 Easy Steps to Tell if You’re Physically Hungry or Not
The first thing you need to do is stop to evaluate. Scarfing down that protein bar at the first sign of hunger isn’t necessarily going to help you.
Now that you’ve stopped. Pay attention to where this hunger is coming from. Can you actually feel or hear your stomach growling? Did you skip a meal, and haven’t eaten in hours? Or are you seeing and smelling something divinely delicious? Perhaps you’re bored, sad, or stressed? Take a peek into all these areas and really pay attention.
Have a big glass of water. Now observe your hunger feeling for at least a minute. Really dig into the source of the feeling. It can be easy to jump to a conclusion, but that may or may not be the right one. So listen to your body and mind very deeply.
If you do find that your feelings may be the source, then face them. Acknowledge and observe them. They may just be needing comfort and recognition, even if they sound like they need food. Try deep breathing, having a stretch, or going for a quick walk to release some of these emotions; this also gives your mind a chance to focus on something other than the feeling of hunger.
If you’re pretty sure that your body physically needs nutrition, just wait a few more minutes to make sure.
Now you can be fairly sure whether your hunger was from emotions, boredom, thirst, or actual physical hunger.
If it’s physical hunger, feel free to eat healthy and nutritious food. To fill you up the food you eat should be high in protein, fibre, and water. Eat slowly and mindfully. Chew well and savour every bite of it.
Repeat at the next sign of hunger.
The feeling of hunger can manifest for many reasons. Of course, if you’re physically hungry and need the food and nutrients, then this is what it’s for! But often, there is an underlying psychological or emotional reason you might feel hungry.
Now you know my eight steps to figure out if your physical body is hungry, or if you’re bored, sad, or stressed.
Use this process over and over again to feed your body what it actually physically needs, instead of just mindlessly eating.
As you learned in the previous lesson, whenever you have an urge to eat, ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” If you’re like most people we work with, you’ll quickly realize there are a lot of times you want to eat even though there are no physical signs of hunger.
You’re in charge of what you do next.
One of the most important ways that mindful eating is different from dieting is that by increasing your awareness, you can choose your actions. You’re no longer dependent on outside sources for rules about when, what, and how much to eat.
Notice how different that is from trying to stay in control. Being “in control” means you do things even when you don’t want to and you don’t let yourself do other things even when you really want to. Control is what you need to follow the rules of a diet.
Being in charge means you get to make choices.
I’m NOT Hungry – What Now?
If you want to eat but you aren’t hungry, you have three choices:
- Eat anyway
- Redirect your attention
- Meet your true needs
Consider the pros and cons of each choice
When you’re in charge, all these options are acceptable once you understand and have considered the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Option 1: Eat Anyway
- It’s easy since you’ve done it many times before.
- Might give you temporary pleasure or satisfaction.
- Causes the discomfort of feeling too full and sluggish.
- You may feel regretful afterward. There’s no reason to feel guilty though; you’re in charge and it was simply a choice you made this time.
- When you eat food your body didn’t ask for, it has no choice but to store it.
Option 2: Redirect Your Attention
- When you take your mind off the food for a little while, the urge often passes.
- You’ll eventually become hungry then enjoy eating even more.
- Helps you break the link between certain triggers and the urge to eat.
- Great strategy if the urge to eat was caused by boredom or a trigger in your environment, like a plate of holiday treats.
- Requires a little forethought and preparation so you’re ready with appealing things to do in place of eating.
- If the trigger was an emotional need, redirecting your attention may not meet your true needs. Therefore, the trigger may come back again and again.
Which brings us to your third option.
Option 3: Meet Your True Needs
This means figuring out where the urge to eat came from then meeting your underlying needs. This is the most challenging option – but also the most satisfying! Not surprisingly, identifying and meeting your true needs leads to the best long-term results.
Think Direction, Not Perfection!
When you feel like eating but you aren’t hungry, it isn’t necessary to make a perfect choice every time. It’s simply a matter of recognizing you have options and taking small steps toward meeting your true needs. You won’t have to control your eating because you’ll be in charge of your life.
Food for Thought
The simplest definition of mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of what you’re doing is the first step to changing your behaviors, so curiosity and reflection are an important part of this process. Take a few moments to consider your answers to the following questions. It may be helpful to write out your thoughts so you can reflect on them later.
- Reflect on a time when you felt like eating when you weren’t hungry.
- Try to identify possible triggers. Was there a physical, environmental, or emotional trigger?
- Come up with a few ideas about how you might respond differently next time.
Hungry for More?
Do you struggle with binge eating? Take the Binge Eating Scale here.
Our book for binge eating, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating: A Mindful Eating Program for Healing Your Relationship with Food and Your Body will teach you new strategies for coping with the real reasons you eat. It covers topics including tough issues like negative thoughts, emotional eating, stress, relationships, body image, and meeting your true needs. Even if you don’t have a diagnosis of BED, it is highly recommend for people who want to address their triggers in more effective ways than eating.
Recipe for Success
- Notice when you feel like eating without any signs of physical hunger.
- When you recognize a desire to eat caused by a trigger other than true hunger, consider your options: eat anyway, redirect your attention, or meet your true need.
- Download our list of 101 Things To Do Besides Eat. Highlight those that appeal to you and add some of your own. Try to choose activities that are enjoyable, available, and preferably, eating incompatible.
- Prepare yourself for these moments by creating a “Redirection Kit” or drawer with everything you need to divert your attention away from eating.
- Try establishing a specific area in your home or office as a food-free self-care zone that is perfect for just for these moments.
Ready for your next helping?
Click here when you are ready to move on to the Fourth Course: Head Hunger.
Back for seconds? Click below to review previous lessons:
First Course: In Charge, Not In Control
Second Course: Trust Your Body Wisdom
How to tell if you’re actually hungry
“Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied.” As far as weight loss advice goes, it’s one of the simplest tips out there. But seeing it through can be surprisingly difficult.
“Part of your appetite comes from physical hunger, in which your body actually wants energy,” says Stephan Guyenet, PhD, author of The Hungry Brain. “But some can come from thinking that a brownie looks really amazing.” Of course, eating when you’re actually hungry gives your body fuel to get through the day. It’s that other kind of eating practically guarantees that you’ll take in extra calories that you don’t actually need.
So how can you tell the difference? Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think. Here’s what you need to know about your appetite, and how to decipher the confusing signals it can sometimes send.
Why do we eat when we’re not hungry?
The answer boils down to — you guessed it — biology. To safeguard against starvation, humans evolved to crave concentrated sources of fat, sugar, protein, and starch. Eating this stuff doesn’t just fill our bellies. These foods also trigger the brain to release the feel-good hormone dopamine, so they make us happy. “No matter whether you’re full and you already have enough body fat, you’re still going to find those foods attractive,” explains Guyenet.
Intellectually, you know that eating when you aren’t hungry can thwart your weight loss. But whether or not you’re actually able to pass on those tempting foods often depends on a host of factors. For one, your emotional state: Because tasty foods deliver a mood boost, eating them can temporarily ease feelings of sadness or stress, says Susan Albers, PsyD, author of Eat. Q.: Unlock the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence. They can also distract you when you’re bored.
That’s not all. We’re often driven to eat out of habit. If you always treat yourself to a cookie when you grab coffee with a friend, you might order one with your latte without even thinking about it. And other times, tempting stuff is just there. “Convenience is very, very powerful,” Guyenet says. “You don’t really have to be hungry to grab a handful of chips as you’re walking past them.”
You can even misread your body’s own signals. It’s common to mistake thirst for hunger. So even being mildly dehydrated can make you want to nosh — when all you really need is a glass of water.
RELATED: The do’s and don’ts of mindful eating
Recognise real hunger
There are an awful lot of things that can drive you to put food in your mouth. So how can you figure out if that slice of pizza looks so good because your tank is running low on fuel — or for a completely different reason?
First, tune into your body. Physical hunger is accompanied by physical sensations that are hard to miss. Your stomach might feel empty or start to rumble, while your energy might be a little low. And the longer it’s been since your last meal, the stronger these signals will start to get, Albers says.
RELATED: 5 ways to take charge of emotional eating
Notice what foods pique your interest, too. When you’re hungry, even simple, healthy foods like an apple or unsalted, raw almonds will sound appealing. But if you’re only in the mood for something specific — like barbecue potato chips or a peanut butter brownie — your desire to eat is probably coming from somewhere else, Albers explains.
Set yourself up for success
Being able to tell when you’re truly hungry can help you avoid eating for other reasons. But making a few simple changes can help prevent more of these confusing situations from happening in the first place. “If you modify your environment so it doesn’t present easy, tempting food cues, you’re not going to have to fight your impulses as much,” Guyenet says.
One way to do that is by making tempting foods harder to access. For instance, tucking snacks away in the back of the pantry instead of keeping them out on the counter where they’re easy to grab without thinking. Or, not having them around at all. “If your brain knows that you’d have to go to the grocery store to get ice cream, it’s easier to resist, and you might not even get a craving for it,” says Guyenet.
Stay on top of your emotional state, too. For many, feeling flustered or overwhelmed can trigger a feeding frenzy, Albers says. So take steps to keep your stress levels in check — like exercising, meditation, or even journaling. And get your z’s. It’s easier to get frazzled when you’re exhausted (which then often leads to overacting). However, findings show that getting enough sleep can act as a buffer against stress eating.
So the next time you think you’re hungry, do a gut check. Ask yourself:
- Am I feeling physical sensations, such as tummy rumbling and low energy?
- What am I about to put in my mouth? Would I still do so if it was an apple?
- What is the effort needed to quell your hunger?
- How are you feeling?
RELATED: 5 instant stress-less strategies