Are You Really Hungry?

When the clock strikes 1pm do you start salivating just because it’s lunch time for you?

What inspired me to write this article are the frequent questions I get asked about meal times and hunger awareness.

One of my clients recently asked: “Is eating 3 meals a day required for healthy eating habits even if I am not hungry?”

We don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. We eat to satisfy our appetites but also to soothe emotions, celebrate victories, satisfy cultural expectations — and because it just tastes good.

There are endless diet rules that when followed disconnect you from listening to your body natural hunger signals.

And to add to the above challenges – many women find themselves confused by all the conflicting reports, information, and diets available and don’t know how to tell when their body is hungry or if they are a just in a habit of eating by the clock.

– And what they need to eat to feel good, be healthy and maintain a healthy weight.

Are You Hungry?

But the real question is: Are you hungry, or was that a twinge of habit, boredom, or some other emotion? Understanding your own eating habits and learning to recognize true hunger is an essential weight loss tool.

Regulation of Appetite and Food Intake.

Over time, the regulation of body weight has evolved toward weight gain and storage of fat, so that the body could cope in times of less plentiful food supply. 

To desire food, begin eating and then stop eating is a complex process. The regulation of food intake and appetite is achieved by an interaction of signals (hormones, nutrients, neuronal signals) with the central nervous system. 

The hypothalamus is the key region in central nervous system involved in control of appetite and food intake. 

Short-term regulation is concerned primarily with preventing overeating at each meal, and long-term regulation is focussed on the maintenance of normal quantities of energy stores in the form of fat in the body. 

(P.C. Konturek, J.W. Konturek3, M. Czesnikiewicz-Guzik4, T. Brzozowski1, E. Sito, S.J. Konturek) 

Hunger and Satiety hormones.

Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that have been recognized to have a major influence on appetite and energy balance. 

Ghrelin is made by your stomach. Its primary aim is to increase hunger (tells your brain it’s time to eat.) When the stomach is full and stretched very little grehlin is produced. After a period of weight loss, the concentration of grehlin in the bloodstream is increased, which makes it hard to keep weight off once it is lost. 

When ghrelin is imbalanced, you have a hard time knowing when you’re hungry and when you’re full. Ghrelin levels are affected by stress and can impact your mood. Have you ever wondered about why you may be turning to food when feeling stressed?

Studies have found that rises in ghrelin occur in response to state of stress. The effects of these stress-induced increases in ghrelin likely include effects on metabolism-related physiology and behaviour as well as effects on mood.

Leptin, is the “satiety hormone,” is a hormone produced by the fat cells in your body. 

Its main role is to regulate fat storage and how many calories you eat and burn.

If you have a hard time knowing when you’re hungry and when you’re full, there’s a possibility that you have an imbalance in leptin or possibly even leptin resistance.

Studies have found that in overweight/obese individuals, there is often a high level of leptin which can lead to leptin resistance .

When leptin is imbalanced, then your feelings of hunger and satisfaction get disrupted which affects your hunger level before meals and level of satiety. This can lead to overeating and emotional eating.

Emotional Hunger

Emotional hunger is not satiated by food. The triggers that initiated the eating behaviour remain unresolved and may be further compounded by guilt, remorse and feeling of powerlessness. 

There are several distinct traits of emotional hunger which include: 

  • Rapid onset of hunger – the urge to eat occurs suddenly and without warning 
  • Craving for specific foods 
  • The hunger is not satisfied once you are feeling full 
  • The hunger comes from the head, rather than physical signs like growling stomach 
  • The eating is mindless and lacks awareness of the type or volume of food being consumed 
  • Emotional eating often leads to feelings of guilt, regret, lack of power or shame. 

If you’re an emotional eater, you may feel powerless over your food cravings. When the urge to eat hits, it’s all you can think about. And afterwards, you feel even worse. Not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for overeating. 

Refer to the table below to help you identify the difference between Emotional and Physical Hunger.

Satisfactory Feelings of Fullness.

It takes approximately twenty minutes from the start of eating for the brain to register the chemical and mechanical signals that the body sends to indicate that it has consumed enough food, i.e. satiety has been achieved.

Often, we do not allow sufficient time to pass before assessing if enough food has been eaten and consequently consume more than is required for satisfactory feelings of fullness. This must be considered when monitoring of fullness. 

Over time, people tend to lose touch with how physical hunger and fullness actually feel. To understand your “hunger” cues it’s helpful to decipher between being physically or emotionally hungry by paying attention to your hunger signals.

The following table describes the physical hunger sensations & the associated thoughts and feelings. Note :it is a different to the hunger scale.

Listen to Your Body.

By practicing mindful/intuitive eating, you can learn to pause between the hunger trigger and your response, change the emotional habits that have sabotaged your diet in the past, and regain control over both food and your feelings.

Being aware and listening to your body’s responses will give your brain time to realize what’s happening and help you to avoid overeating.

The best way to achieve awareness is by Intuitive Eating rather than eating by the clock.

Intuitive Eating Techniques.

Being aware of why we are eating is integral to changing behaviour. Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. It has been shown that by practising mindful eating people may control emotional eating and overeating, enjoy food and feel more aware of the body’s physical hunger and satiety signals. 

Here are some mindful eating techniques that you may find helpful:

Pause before eating and ask yourself these questions e.g. 

  • Am I hungry?
  • Am I thirsty?
  • How do I feel? 
  • Why am I eating? 
  • Ask what type of food/drink do I want? Will it satisfy the hunger? 
  • Sit down to eat at a table with food served on the plate. 
  • Do not eat standing or walking. 
  • Turn off the TV, radio or other distracters. 
  • Eat slowly and pay attention to the food, smell, taste, sound, texture. Use all the senses. 
  • Put utensils or food down between mouthfuls. 
  • Stop eating just before you feel full and wait 10-20 minutes before eating more food if still hungry. 
  • Enjoy and appreciate the meal. 

Intuitive eating techniques can also be reinforced with strategies including: 

  • Eating on smaller plates 
  • Drinking from smaller cups 
  • Repackaging or purchasing single-serving sizes 
  • Removing unhealthy foods from cupboards, and 
  • Avoiding buying problem foods. 

And lastly remember that hunger doesn’t follow a clock or adhere to someone else’s schedule!

The first step in managing emotional hunger and the resulting emotional eating is to identify the triggers for the eating. These will differ for everyone. Some of the more common triggers are stress, boredom, loneliness, childhood habits, avoiding emotions and social influences. 

Once identified, the individual must find a way to manage their emotions in a way that does not involve food.

Now I would love to hear from you….

  • What are you hungry for?

Irena Geller

Irena Geller is a Sydney-based health & wellness coach specialising in the 🍓food and 😃 mood connection. She loves helping professional women to find the motivation and energy to eat healthily and exercise regularly and be consistent with these habits.

Have you tried every diet you can think of and lost confidence in yourself that you can be successful?

If you’re ready to finally lose weight and feel more confident. Book a good-fit coaching session with me to see if we can work together.

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