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Do you eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full?

Women on cell phone distracted while drinking beverage

Hunger:

Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.

Is it that simple?

No!

It’s downright confusing.

The main reason is because we have become disconnected from our bodies. We’ve lost connection to true stomach hunger signals and are influenced by a variety of external cues such as:

Sensory

You’re watching TV late at night and a commercial for Häagen-Dazs comes on. Your mouth starts to salivate for the taste of sweet on cue every time, right?! Häagen-Dazs knows what they’re doing. They know that people are more likely to give in to psychological hunger at night time, and so they plan their marketing accordingly. These ads play on external sensory cues things that tell your brain you want to eat that aren’t associated with true “my belly is empty” hunger.

Social

Your friends are eating so you will too even if though you just had dinner.

Stress

How many of us eat when we’re stressed? ✋

In a 2011 study, stress changed the appetite of 81% of the participants, with 62% experiencing an increase in appetite (hunger, binge eating, disinhibited eating, as well as the inability to regulate eating) while only 19% experienced a decrease in hunger. Which foods did the stressed hungry eaters choose? Sweet and savory foods such as desserts and burgers. What stood out for me most in this study is that even though 80% of the participants said they normally ate healthy, only 33% did when they were feeling stressed. That’s huge!

Memories

I loved grandma’s pumpkin pie last Thanksgiving so I look forward to having it again (despite being stuffed to the gills with 🦃)!

Culture

Our hunger is also influenced by our culture. For example, the French associate healthy food with tastiness and thus hunger for healthy food. They typically associate food with pleasure, part of social life, sharing, and health. (Psychology Today) Their meals are slow and leisurely which allows them time to connect to their bodies stomach hunger and fullness signals. They typically eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full.

Americans have been programmed to think of eating healthy versus unhealthy food in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.” We live in diet culture. Diet culture has us focus on restricting and suppressing our hunger for certain foods (the “bad” foods) as well as the quantity of food, portion control. In addition, Americans usually eat fast, distracted and look for convenience foods due to our “too busy” lifestyles.

As a result, many of us have lost touch with our internal body wisdom and the cues around physical hunger and fullness, and have difficulty differentiating between stomach vs. psychological hunger.

We may ignore true hunger or fullness and override it.

Restriction when still physically hungry:

  • Is it time to eat? ( I shouldn’t be hungry, I just ate two hours ago)
  • Is this too much? (Restricting eating to a portion size instead of meeting physical hunger needs which vary from day to day)
  • I’m too busy, I don’t have time to eat. (Delaying or skipping meals which usually backfires and makes us ravenous and making up for it later in the day)

Overeating when not physically hungry:

  • Distracted and fast eating. (Brain doesn’t register that you’ve actually eaten, so you eat more. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register fullness and satisfaction).
  • Thirsty! (Don’t forget to fulfill your body’s need for water or it may confuse thirst for hunger. Check-in, have you had enough water today - approx. 12 your body weight in ounces up to 220 lbs. of body weight?)

Finally, there are psychological reasons we hunger and emotionally eat.

I like to call this heart ❤️hunger, meaning that our hearts are hungering to fill up because we feel there is something lacking in our lives or we want to numb out from something that we just don’t want to feel. Remember that emotional eating isn’t “bad.” In fact it’s normal.

Humans were held, fed and loved as babies so it’s natural for us to seek food to fill up with or numb out from certain emotions. The challenge occurs when we lean on food and use it as our main coping mechanism. The solution is to tune-in to your bodies, identify the emotions and find new outlets and experiences. And by all means, it you need help, reach out!

So what are the physical signs of true hunger also known as stomach hunger?

You may feel:

  • Tired
  • Weak
  • Spacey - Difficulty concentrating, Lightheaded
  • Gurgling, grumbling, growling in your stomach
  • Irritated or Moody
  • Headache

Here is a useful Hunger and Fullness Scale (1-10) to refer to (Source):

Hunger Fullness Scale

So where’s a great place to start eating? Number 4 - at the first sign of hunger. And what about stopping? Generally around a 6 - satisfied. Most importantly, remember the hunger scale is an awareness tool, not another set of rules to follow.

Awareness is always the first step in understanding your hunger needs. Connect with your internal cues and identify external cues that influence your ability to sense hunger and fullness.

Try This Exercise:

Next time you head to the pantry, pause for a moment. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart and ask your body and heart, not your mind, what is it needing right now? Are you physically hungry, or is there another need that is hungering to be met?

This is the deeper exploration of Mind Body Nutrition. As a team we help you determine what you are hungering for and what best supports your overall health.

To your happiness and health,

  • Tanya

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