How To Know When You Are Hungry
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Understanding Hunger And Fullness Cues
boy taking slice of pizza with long cheese st 

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 becomes especially 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.


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 intervention photo graphic of 3 kind of hungerfor 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)



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.
  • Honor 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.


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.


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 specializes 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?boy taking slice of pizza with long cheese st

If you are a parent or caregiver the best way to ensure kids learn to honor their hunger is to role model  honoring 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).

Listen to our CEO Andrea Holwegner discuss recognizing hunger on CHQR 7070

nutrition expert Andrea Holwegner on AM770

Listen to Part #1: Click here

Listen to Part #2: Click here 


Where can I find more information on Calgary Nutritionist services?

Are you struggling to determine the type of hunger you are feeling? Are you struggling with family mealtime? Contact us for practical, helpful assistance for your whole family.
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"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

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I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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