Hunger Confusion: How to tell if you are actually hungry or full
For many of the clients we see in our nutrition counselling practice it can be hard to tell if you are actually hungry, thirsty or full. This especially becomes challenging if you have grown up in a family that encouraged you to finish everything on your plate or have a history of dieting, an eating disorder or have struggled to lose weight. To sort out the hunger confusion read on to get a sense of some things that can help you reset your hunger cues.
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What is the difference between appetite and hunger?
Appetite is the desire for food often triggered by the senses such as seeing, smelling or thinking about food.
- Even if you are hungry, your appetite can stop you from eating (such as when you are sick or feel stressed.
- Even if you are full, your appetite can encourage you to keep eating (such as when you are bored or sad).
Hunger is the normal sensation cued by the brain when your stomach is empty. Signs of physical or stomach hunger are different for everyone but often include stomach growling or feeling lightheaded or grouchy.
How is hunger regulated?
Hunger is partly controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain, your blood sugar level and how empty your stomach and intestines are. There are also two main hunger hormones that shift appetite regulation:
- Leptin: hormone made by fat cells that decreases appetite
- Ghrelin: hormone that is released primarily in the stomach and is thought to signal hunger to the brain to increase appetite
What are the 3 types of hunger?
Different types of hunger have different types of need. Short timeouts and slowing down allows us to assess if our hunger is one of the following (as defined by Craving Change (a cognitive-behavioural interve ntion for problematic eating) that we use extensively in our nutrition counselling practice:
Stomach hunger (physical or medical necessity to eat)
Mouth hunger (craving related to the senses)
Heart hunger (emotional trigger or learned behavior)
What are some strategies to help satisfy Stomach Hunger?
- It is very difficult to manage mouth hunger or heart hunger if you first don’t take care of stomach hunger to make sure you are adequately nourished.
- Honour and respect your body’s physical need for food by choosing not to skip meals.
- Choose not to go on a diet and deprive yourself of enough calories.
- Eat breakfast every day as one of the most important ways to fix the evening is to fix the start of the day (after all, everything is connected).
- Eat every three to five hours throughout the day to manage your energy and prevent drops in your blood sugar that will trigger overeating.
- Choose not to restrict adequate carbs, protein or fat.
- Work with a registered dietitian to help you understand the science of food and your body’s requirements.
What are some strategies to manage Mouth Hunger?
- If stomach hunger has been addressed but you are still craving a specific food, take time to explore exactly what it is you are craving.
- Stop what I like to call “chewing around a craving” which is the act of sampling many healthy items from your kitchen to try and satisfy a particular craving for a so-called “forbidden food.”
- Take time to figure out specifically what you are craving. Is it a particular food? Is it something sweet, savoury, creamy, crunchy, warm or cold?
- Since most of us eat packages, not portions, provide yourself with a reasonable end point (buy small individual sized packages or portion out hard to manage foods).
- Remember that healthy eating can and should include soulful foods chosen for enjoyment, not nutrition.
What are some strategies for helping Heart Hunger?
- Everyone eats for emotional reasons sometimes. It is very normal to eat when you are sad, mad, happy or stressed.
- If you are struggling regularly with stuffing uncomfortable emotions with food seek help by a registered Psychologist that specialises in emotional eating that can help.
- Begin by taking a long time to explore these three important questions What is eating me? What in my life am I hungry for that has not come my way yet? How can I comfort, soothe and nurture myself without food?
How can I encourage kids to understand their hunger cues?
If you are a parent or caregiver the best way to ensure kids learn to honour their hunger is to role model honouring hunger cues yourself. Kids learn what they live.
Teach them that our body is different every day and that sometimes our body will ask for more food such as when it is growing and other times our body will ask for less food. Ask them to check in with their stomach and see what it says. Teach them awareness of how their body feels when they are stomach hungry and how they know they are full.
Also teach them to label stomach, mouth or heart hunger by ordering a copy of the fantastic kids book “Is this Stomach, Mouth or Heart Hunger?” written by Wendy Shah and Illustrated by Patrick Sully.
Data from observational research studies suggests that if you provide kids with access to a varied diet of foods without pressure or restriction from adults, the vast majority of young children will self-regulate their intake to consume adequate amounts. The best thing to remember is to follow the principals of the division of responsibility (i.e. parents are responsible for what their child eats and the child is responsible for how much).
Where can I find more information on Calgary Nutritionist services?
Contact Andrea Holwegner at www.healthstandnutrition.com to discuss the nutrition counselling services at her Calgary dietitian office and work one-on-one with a Registered Nutritionist that specializes in meal planning, weight loss, eating disorders and overall wellness through a non-dieting approach to enjoying food again.
You can also learn more about Andrea’s upcoming Online Nutrition Course: The Pursuit of Healthiness here: https://www.healthstandnutrition.com/pursuit-of-healthiness-online-nutrition-course/