How hungry are you, really?
I have to say, it's hard to believe it’s almost May 1st already! With all the April showers we’ve been having here in MN lately I sure hope it means we will be seeing May flowers soon :)
But enough about the weather – let’s go with a total non sequitur and talk about hunger. If I were to ask you what you ate today, you could probably give me a very accurate answer. But what if I asked you how hungry you got today? When was the last time you truly felt hungry or really tuned in to your hunger levels before and after eating?
This seems like it would be an automatic thing to do: notice when you get hungry and then eat. Stop when you are full. But in reality, we almost never do this unless we make a point to pay attention and practice listening to our body’s signals. And because we are human, we also tend to eat for a lot of reasons other than because we are truly hungry, whether that is boredom, stress, feeling tired or lonely or sad, or just because it’s lunchtime/dinner time etc.
Understanding what it really feels like to have true physiological hunger (eg: stomach rumbling or other physical sensations) is beneficial for many reasons, and not just for helping to avoid overeating or for weight management (although it is a great tool for those things as well!).
Allowing yourself to notice when you are experiencing hunger can give you insight into what other things you might be experiencing that feel like hunger but may be something else, and also allow you to notice what foods keep you feeling full and satisfied between meals. Not to mention that being a bit hungry always seems to make food taste better and meals more enjoyable!
In my nutrition coaching program, one of the ways we practice understanding hunger cues is to simply rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10. If you are below a 7 or so on that scale, try waiting 5-10 minutes and checking in again. If you aren’t sure if you are really feeling hunger or something else, pause, breathe, and see if perhaps you are feeling some other emotional or physical sensation. Maybe do another activity for a bit and then check in with yourself again.
Taking the time to ask yourself what else is going on around you or in your day can give you a moment to determine if what you need is food or something else. A good acronym to remember is HALT – before you eat, ask yourself: Am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? If you are hungry, eat. If you are feeling something else, there may be a solution other than food that would better suit your needs.
Hunger is not an emergency, and letting yourself get a little bit or even very hungry is not going to be a problem for most people most of the time (although this does not apply if you have a history of disordered eating or have any physical conditions that require you to eat regularly). If you’re really unsure of what true hunger feels like for you, trying out a fasting day or simply waiting until you experience obvious discomfort before eating can be an interesting experiment that allows you to pretty quickly understand how hunger feels. (Again, this is NOT recommended if you have a history of disordered eating or this feels triggering in any way.)
Even if you are trying to gain weight it is still useful to know your hunger cues, and this is especially true for those of you that tend to forget to eat – regularly checking in with yourself to see if you are hungry can help you notice the subtle signals so you can keep yourself properly fueled and avoid suddenly feeling hangry. (I’m a little surprised that my computer actually knows the word hangry, I thought for sure it would underline it as a typo!)
No matter what your health and fitness goals are, being able to understand and acknowledge your own personal hunger signs is a useful tool to have in your toolbox. This can not only allow you to better understand your own physiological sensations but also other mental and emotional experiences you are having and what actions are truly satisfying and nourishing for you.
So if you’re up for an experiment, check in and ask yourself how hungry you are: how hungry are you right now? How hungry are you before your next meal? What do you notice when you are feeling less hungry? What do you notice when you are super hungry? How do you know when you are truly hungry vs. something else that only feels like hunger?
If you notice anything interesting and you want to share, leave a comment and let me know, I'd love to hear about it! And to learn more about how coaching can help you understand your hunger and fullness cues and change your relationship with food, contact me here.
Onward and upward!